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Project RastkoHistory of Serb culture
TIA Janus

Vojislav Korac

Architecture in medieval Serbia

Chapter from the book
"The history of Serbian Culture"
The history of Serbian culture  


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Buildings were constructed with excellent craftsmanship and high artistic value in Serbia in the second half of the twelfth century, and they overshadowed all that had been constructed before that. Edifices sprang up one after the other according to a design which was the fruit of new ideas about the sense and nature of construction projects. Projects could now be carried out with the use of large amounts of material investment. It could be said that Serbian monumental architecture appeared suddenly, and that nothing significant had been happening in this field before that. In essence, the preceding trends followed events in the territories beyond the central part of the Byzantine empire. Great disturbances were caused by the disintegration of the classical system as a result of the Great Migration of Peoples. On the broad temporal scale of adaptations, followed by the development of the Serbian states, places existed which were suitable for the beginnings of monumental architecture.

Peter's Church near Novi Pazar, from the ninnth or tenth century, the see of the Bishopric of Ras

The most prominent early monument in the continental Serbian territories is the church of St. Peter in Novi Pazar from the ninth or tenth century. The architectural design is special. Externally it is a rotunda with an extruding semi-circular apse, while internally it has a tetra-conchae structure, with a cupola over the centre. An asymmetrical wing has been added to the west and north sides of the church, and there is a choir loft raised in that part of the church. Built of rubble, the church has flat surfaces on the outer walls, and the only decorations are shallow niches with arched tops on the exterior of the octagonal cupola. The architectural concept of the church of St. Peter is a free rendition of early Byzantine churches with a similar design. According to the way in which the architectural plan was realized, the church of St. Peter belongs to the architectural group built in the early Middle Ages in the peripheral territories of the Byzantine Empire. This conception probably reached Serbia via the Adriatic coast of the Serbian state. The church of St. Peter was built along with an ecclesiastical see, or perhaps a secular town, but whatever was there no longer exists.

According to archaeological surveys done to date, several churches on triconch plans might have been the work of the first Slavic missionaries in the Bulgarian and Serbian territories. Those churches were built in the tenth or eleventh century.

In the Serbian coastal territories, Duklja and Zeta, several monuments have been preserved in varied forms. Coastal towns were either existent as a continuation of the late period of classical civilization, with a Romance population, or they disappeared relatively early and then reappeared in the vicinity as towns founded by Slavs. The urban tradition, whether from uninterrupted urban life or from newly built towns in the Middle Ages, was important for the entire revival of architectural activity. In addition to this, the work of the Benedictine monks who came from southern Italy, and probably the work of the so-called "eastern monks" who arrived from the distant Byzantine provinces by way of southern Italy should be looked at. The three-nave (single-vault) basilica, as the most common construction of the late classical and early Christian periods, continued its existence in the architectural revival of the early Middle Ages in the western Serbian territories as well. Cruciform churches with the cupola placed on pillars appeared at the very end of the eighth century or the beginning of the ninth century, at the time when the first churches of that type were appearing in the Byzantine Empire. These churches are the earlier version of St. Triphonos in Kotor and St. Thomas near Kotor, and possibly the church of St. Peter in Dubrovnik. The single nave church with the cupola over the centre was very widespread later on. Its internal structure was built according to a model characteristic to Byzantine churches of the time, and the appearance of this type is thus attributed to stimuli from Byzantine architecture. A representative example is the church of St. Michael in Ston, founded by King Mihailo (Michael) of Zeta (end of the eleventh century). This church should be included among the churches of proto-Romance architecture because of its stylistic characteristics.

The Church of St. Michael in Ston, end of the eleventh century.

The church of St. Nicholas and the church of the Holy Virgin at Kursumlija (1160s and 1170s), the churches of Djurdjevi Stupovi at Novi Pazar (1171), and Studenica (1183-1196), built through the wish and financing of the Serbian Great Zupan, Stefan Nemanja, are architectural works which mark the beginnings of the Raska School of architecture. Built in accord with the greatest experience and knowledge of the art of construction in the cultures of neighbouring territories, the edifices set the trend in the nature of the further development of Serbian monumental architecture, between Byzantine and western European architecture.

The great amount of financing and the effort which Stefan Nemanja invested in constructing these endowments speak of the exceptional political importance of the custom of giving endowments to churches and monasteries. It was an affirmation of the state in the time when Serbia united the coastal and continental territories in itself and became an important partner to the neighbouring states. The founding of churches and monasteries, the founding of endowments, continued to be an important activity until the end of medieval Serbian political independence, at all levels of government. Thus, its great importance for culture is understandable.

The church of St. Nicholas in Kursumlija is of a simple design, remarkable for its brick walls and thick mortar joints. Its central part is prominent which bears the cupola. However, the facade surfaces bear the highlights of the skeleton of the building in a way common to mid-Byzantine architecture. It belongs to the same architectural territory in its spatial conception; it has a single nave with three fields along its length, and the cupola rests above a central, square bay. Along the central part of the south side, there is a small chapel with a cupola. Perhaps the chapel was intended to be the final place of rest for its founder. It is built to the dimensions common to mid- Byzantine architecture. By its remarkable workmanship and overall aesthetic design - the concept of the whole and the relation of the parts to the whole - St. Nicholas is closest to the architecture of the Byzantine capital, and was probably built by artisans from there. On the west wall of the church a closed wing was later built on, an exonarthex, with symmetrically placed towers on its main facade. The towers were built under the influence of similar conceptions, along with the cathedral in Kotor finished in 1166, just like the towers on the church of St. George in Ras, which was built only a few years later. This church, mentioned in the legends by the name Djurdjevi Stupovi, promoted the founder's wish to make his achievements as a statesman known through great works of monumental architecture. From the entire monastery of the St. George hill, not far from Nemanja's capital, two high bell towers and the sturdy, compact church with its cupola stand out. In its spatial design, in which the earlier edifice is continued, a composition was created which is closed off by flat Romanesque walls. The walls indicate the work of western craftsmen. Previous to their construction of this church, these same craftsmen had probably been in Kotor where vigorous architectural activity was taking place at the time.

The Church of St. Nicholas, in Kursumlija, built in the 1160s and 1170s

The Byzantine artistic conception and Byzantine workmanship shown on the church of St. Nicholas, as well as the Romanesque workmanship and primarily Romanesque artistic conception built into Djurdjevi Stupovi, were combined in a unique way in the greatest work of Stefan Nemanja, the stately mausoleum church of the Holy Virgin at the monastery of Studenica. In the uniquely designed whole of the fortified monastery, whose original layout can now only be reconstructed through the parts which remain, the main church was built for the demands of Orthodox rituals in a way which was common to Byzantine architecture. The single nave church with its cupola, in the rhythmic plan of its parts, with vestibules on the sides which were a novelty in Raska, and in its internal structure - the cupola, the arches, the highly developed substructure - has everything which is characteristic of Byzantine architecture, including inner walls of mixed materials (crystalline calcium carbonate and bricks). Externally it is done in the Romanesque style. Flat surfaced walls, built of perfectly cut and polished marble blocks, divided by shallow pilasters placed to the rhythm of the internal structure and which are topped with characteristic arcade friezes. They can be compared to the most luxuriant facades of the most famous Italian Romanesque works. Studenica's exterior includes the monumental portals and windows, single, double and the triforium on the apse. The central part of the structure, topped by the cupola, sets Studenica apart from the common outlook of the luxuriant whole of Romanesque architecture. The cupola with its twelve sides inside and out, is Byzantine in its entirety. The bay under the cupola - strictly defined geometrically - is done in Byzantine style on its sides. On the facade surfaces, the internal structure of two walls is shown, with arches at the top which correspond to the arch under the cupola. The windows on both facades are adapted to that arch. Thus, the interweaving of two artistic styles is done in a unique way, never to be repeated.

The portals of Studenica are most valuable in their artistic type. The most highly developed and most solemn - the main west portal - is closest to the style of portals in southern Italy in its architectonic and relief decorations. The entire iconographic concept of the portal, with the Holy Virgin holding Christ in her lap and an angel on each side, came from the style of Byzantine art. The other portals are also done in perfect stonemasonry and sculpture as well.

A Frieze on one of the capitals on the door jamb of the outer wall of the Church of the Holy Virgin at Studenica

Of the windows, the triforium on the apse is unique; it is the counterpart to the main portal. The placement, architecture and relief decoration in their value and significance, the main portal and triforium, two symbolic pictures of the church best represent the architectural and sculptural decoration of Studenica. The total harmony of the two entireties - the relationship of the basic dimensions, the placement of the decoration and carefully conceived rhythm of the architectonic elements - could have been created only by tastes cultivated according to the standards of the highest quality in Comnen art. The probable southern Italian background of the craftsmen is indicated by the fact that the territory in question had many towns that were advanced in every way in all vital artistic activity. At the midpoint between the Byzantine tradition, direct Byzantine influence, and highly Romanesque style, the craft work is unique. However, the role of the patron was central in the outlook of the whole at Studenica, along with its portals, windows and other relief decorations. It should not be forgotten that the same group of patrons chose, with equal flawlessness, the best painters for the frescoes on the walls of Studenica.

That the stonemasons of Studenica were highly trained is testified to by the drawings for the details of the portals, drawn to life-size scale at several places on the marble facades.

Studenica had a great impact on the architecture that would follow in Serbia. There were two reasons for this. The first is of an ideological nature. Studenica was the mausoleum church for the founder of the dynasty, who was canonized soon after his death. The second reason was Studenica itself: its portals and windows, its facades, and probably its luxuriant interior outfitting.

The spatial design and the architectural concept of the whole continued to be the two important elements of Serbian architecture in the thirteenth century. In Zica (1207-1219), founded by King Stefan and his brother Sava (the first Serbian archbishop), the spatial plan appears completed in its essential elements. The church is a single- nave structure with a cupola in the centre, bays for the choirs along the naos and a separate narthex, with paracleses along the sides - all of which became an obligatory part of future monuments. Additions to the plan done for particular utilitarian purposes. At Zica, the exonarthex, with its second floor and tower in front, was probably raised at the request of the first archbishop. The extended needs of Studenica were the reason for the construction of a large exonarthex for King Radoslav and at Mileseva one was built with another conception, probably at the request of Sava. Sava was buried in that narthex. One of the bishopric sees, the Holy Virgin in Hvosno in Metohia, also got a narthex with two stalwart towers. For certain reasons, Sopocani also has an added narthex.

The Monastery of Studenica, the endowment of Stefan Nemanja, built 1183/1196

Master builders, educated in those workshops characterized by a distinctly Byzantine style, built in smaller structures for a brief time at the beginning of the thirteenth century. In later works, all which could be considered the vivid style characteristic of the Byzantine area was omitted. The craft work was done by artisans who came from centers where the Romanesque, and afterwards transient Romanesque-Gothic style, flourished. If they came from local workshops, they sculptured and built as if they were educated in the workshops of the Serbian coastal towns, where construction and other trades were constantly advancing.

In brief, the craftsmen of the basic construction trades were most easily found in the vicinity of large construction sites. In the period in question, in contradistinction to painters, no experts came from the shattered Byzantine Empire in the arts of brick-making and stonecutting; connections between the workshops there and the building sites in Serbia were not maintained. Thus, the total craftsmanship done on the exteriors of significant buildings moved toward tastes that were closer to western European architecture. Structures were enclosed with flat walls, with or without pilasters, and windows and portals of decorative stone (usually more humble in an architectural sense than those at Studenica), were the plastic decoration. The special relationship to colour - the fact that interiors were always covered with frescoes must be kept in mind - resulted in the appearance of coloured decorations on plastered facades.

At Mileseva (1220s) the described characteristics are existent in their entirety - the Byzantine origins of the interior and the exterior craft work done under the influence of the Romanesque style, or after the model of Studenica. Moraca (1252) consists of interiors established by Raska architecture, with facades that are close to the Romanesque style of the town of Kotor in their appearance and craftsmanship. The church at Sopocani, which served as the protector of the most valuable frescoes of the time (1265), is a remarkable example of the dual sources of the architecture of Raska from which the style arose. Although it was built under the strong influence of mature Romanesque style, the church at Sopocani - which resembles a three-nave Romanesque basilica externally - has an interior which strongly reminds one of the monumental interiors of mid-Byzantine period architecture. Built a few years later, the church at Gradac holds, within its total form, a monumental combination of richly detailed volumes. Its special characteristics are elements of the Gothic in its structure and shapes. They were introduced by craftsmen who probably came from southern Italy. A clearly Romanesque style is seen in the facades of Arilje (1295-96), in which traditional internal structures were consistently adhered to as well.

The Complex of Churches at the Patriarchate of Pec. The churches were built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries

The great monuments of Serbian medieval architecture, with which the classical period of its history began and which will mark its main trends, belong to monastery complexes. The monasteries were damaged one after the other in the difficult times of the Turkish rule over the Serbian lands. Many of the monasteries were destroyed. Among those destroyed were some of the most valuable. Some should be mentioned: the monastery of the Holy Virgin in Hvosno, one of the first Serbian bishoprics, which was razed to the foundations; Banjska, of the church only a small part remains, without decoration, converted to a mosque and a set of living quarters, all the rest having been destroyed; the monastery of the Holy Archangels in Prizren, destroyed completely; finally, the churches in cities like Skopje, Novo Brdo, Belgrade, and Smederevo, as well as others in smaller towns. The monastery churches that are famous for their frescoes in the world today mostly entered into the modern era in ruins. Only the most famous will be mentioned: Djurdjevi Stupovi in Ras, Mileseva, Sopocani, and Gradac.

These church monuments survived mostly because the people in their surroundings had the will and strength to rebuild them after their abandonment, after their destruction and after they had been set fire to. Everything else which belonged to the monastery complexes was destroyed and fell to disuse more easily, and if there was strength enough for rebuilding, those structures were replaced by new ones. Therefore, our knowledge of the dining halls, residences and other kinds of buildings for other practical purposes is meagre. This is true even more so for those monasteries built in urban areas.

The Monastery of Ssopocani, the endowment of King Uros I, built around 1265.

In the historiography of Serbian art, the architectural works built from the end of the thirteenth to the end of the fourteenth centuries were given the name "the Serbian-Byzantine school". The beginning of that period was marked by the first great work of King Milutin, the renovation of the monastery of Hilandar (1293). In the series of structures built at Hilandar at that time, the main church is outstanding in its size, and also because of its complex structure and because it has the highest degree of craftsmanship and artistry. The building is a continuation of the mid-Byzantine type of structure, with the cupola in the centre. At Hilandar that type is realized in a well-developed conceptualization of space and structure, in the forms and means of construction that were characteristic of the Byzantine capital. The artistic whole of the church at Hilandar includes the mosaic floor and the stone relief decorations on the portals and windows. The origins of the decoration are found in two sources: the bas-relief sculptures on the flat surfaces are congruent with the Byzantine art of the time, and the stone consoles in the form of animal heads were done by craftsmen from one of the stonemason workshops in Serbia.

The name of King Milutin (1282-1321) is associated with the complete turn of the country toward the Byzantine spiritual world and Byzantine civilization. This can be clearly seen in the architecture. All of its important traits originated in Byzantine architecture. In place of the single nave churches which were built up to that time, adapted to the special plan of the Raska school, the cruciform church with a cupola, widespread in the Byzantine world, was introduced. In Serbia, after the construction of Hilandar, a whole series of churches was built in two basic styles: one style had a conception closer to the simple cruciform church with a cupola, such as that of St. Nicetas on Crna Gora near Skopje; the other was the developed variant with its origins in Constantinople and Salonica. In Prizren a new municipal cathedral church was built, the church of the Holy Virgin of Ljevisa (1306-1307), a structure with five cupolas. It was not destroyed in the urban milieu because it was converted to a mosque. A new church was built on the partial remains of the older basilica. Its design is similar to that which is known in the history of Byzantine art from the church of the Apostles in Salonica: the core is made up of a cruciform church with five cupolas, and around it is a large nave on the north, west and south sides. In the masonry, material and forms of this endowment of King Milutin, a representation of the Byzantine style of construction in those times is represented in the best way. The august west facade is especially outstanding, consisting of the arcades of the ground floor, the symmetrical and rhythmically placed decorative niches above the vestibule and the high bell tower boldly constructed at the axis of the composition. The architect Nikola - only his first name is known - built a church which had no equal in Byzantine architecture at the beginning of the fourteenth century. The church of St. George in Staro Nagoricino (1312) was built similar to the cathedral at Prizren. As in Prizren, the walls of the older building were kept out of the customary respect for a cultic place. In Staro Nagoricino, the ideal plan of a five-cupola church exists in a somewhat more highly adapted form, because the old walls were retained, and the large nave was exchanged for arcades along three sides of the building.

The Monastery of Hilandar on Mt. Athos, Built at the time of the renewal of Hilandar in 1293

The concept of a five-cupola church with a large nave was realized in a special way at Gracanica (1315). Gracanica was the final work of the unique development of complex conceptions of churches with multiple cupolas, a concept originating in early Byzantine architecture. The anticipation of the five-cupola church in the form that it has in Serbian architecture was probably located in Salonica. At Gracanica that conception is realized in a solid and closed system, in which the entire structural-spatial complexity is covered, a characteristic of Byzantine monuments of the time. The interior space has been preserved (that is, the large nave), surrounded on three sides by the central structure together with the main cupola, but the whole is linked together by the upper construction; the forms there with their pyramid-like structure hint at the design of the interior. In the dynamic composition of the whole, Gracanica not only seems to be a building with five cupolas, but an assembly of separate cupola structures. Its facade surfaces, built in a regular rhythm of stone and brick, have a form that is characteristic of late Byzantine architecture; from the architectural heritage of Raska, they are accompanied by pedestals in the cupola bays and by broken arches. With its highly developed spatial relations, according to the tastes and demands of late Byzantine architecture, with its harmonic composition of forms, in which the relationship of the parts toward the whole is carefully measured - especially of small cupolas toward larger ones - in the dimensions which were characteristic of late Byzantine architecture, Gracanica is (as an entity) closest to the ideal image of a multi-cupola structure. It is thus understandably counted among the greatest achievements in those territories where Byzantine culture once flourished.

The Monastery of Gracanica, the endowment of King Milutin; construction 1315/1321

In a series of structures built in the early decades of the fourteenth century, attention should also be given to the monuments which are small in dimension, raised at existing monasteries or as the endowment of lords with humble financial resources. The greatest attention should be paid to the King's church at Studenica (1313-1314), also the work of King Milutin. It is almost square, covered entirely by a single cupola which is supported by a compact sub-structure, with regal relationships in its measurements. The interior is the representation of the ideal church, a picture of the cosmos as conceived by early Byzantine architecture. This church is the outcome of the return to the old models. It can be concluded that it is one of those renovations in Byzantine art which are considered to be a sort of classicism.

At the end of the 1320s, the Patriarchate at Pec obtained its final form. That great unity of the space developed was formed so that the church of the Holy Apostles (of Raska design) was appended on its north side by the church of St. Dimitrios in the second decade of the fourteenth century - a single nave structure with a cupola. Along the south side, the church of the Holy Virgin was added, in the form of a developed cruciform church with a cupola, and along the west side of the three structures a large exonarthex was built on. The whole is brought to a finish by the church of the Holy Virgin on the south side, with its large narthex, chapel and vestibule built under the care of Archbishop Danilo II (1328/1330). From the outside, the Patriarchate is a panorama of forms characteristic of the Serbian architecture of the times. On the facades of much of the structure, painted decoration replaced relief work in stone, along with decoration in brick and stone.

The Church of the Holy Archangels in Stip, built before 1334.

The absolute orientation toward the Byzantine construction tradition and practices continued in the next period. In the southern areas newly included in the Serbian state, a series of important edifices was built. The patrons were from the highest class of nobles. The basic type of spatial design was retained in the larger monuments with variations in the details. Those variations are to be found in the forms and means of construction and, in those terms, in the decorations on the facades.

The most significant works are several monuments of architecture with an anthological value within the Byzantine cultural sphere as a whole. The church of the Holy Archangels in Stip (1332, endowed by Duke Hrelja), which has a characteristic interior design with geometrically distinct proportions and rhythmically constructed walls is marked by carefully cultivated forms. Decorative arches on the north, west, and south sides reflect the internal structure, and on the east side they frame, together with the apse, each individual architectonic surface in a two-step system. At Ljuboten (1337, founded by Lady Danica) the spatial conception, structure and facade architecture are similar. The larger surfaces are covered with decorations in the upper zones.

The Church of the Holy Archangels in Lesnovo, built between 1341 and 1349.

The conception of space, similar to that which was characteristic of architecture in Greece, remained constant in the works of the following decades. The concept "similar" could also be used for the overall structures of the edifices, and particularly for their exteriors, which leads one to the conclusion that the planning was in the hands of informed patrons who were in contact with each other. It is also possible to assume that a single group of craftsmen was at work, travelling from one site to the next. Their knowledge and practice originated from somewhere between those trends found in the Byzantine capital (or in Salonica using the concepts existing in Constantinople) and the architecture in the western territories of Greece, primarily in Epirus. Therein, the long tradition of Serbian architecture in the conception of the entire structure was respected: the grouping of areas into a closed entirety, and attention to proportions with an emphasis on the vertical aspects of the structure.

Marko's Monastery - the Church of St. Dimitrios near Skopje, finished in 1371.

The church of the Holy Archangels in Lesnovo (1341, narthex 1349, founded by Despot Oliver) has two parts of two different conceptions: a church in the narrow sense and a narthex. The church edifice is done as an enclosed whole, similar to the previous ones, marked by rhythmical series of decorative arches which are two staged and placed in two zones, one above the other. The concept of the semi-circular colonettes which are joined to the pilasters, hinted at in the church of the Archangels in Stip, is materialized consistently at Lesnovo. It originates either directly, or by way of Salonica, from the Byzantine capital. Without fail, the concept of the narthex can be attributed to a representative source. With its masterfully built structure, with the cupola in the centre, wide open walls, the bifora and other details in the facade-work, it is very close to those works coming from the best of Byzantine workshops. As a whole, Lesnovo was a model for Psaca (1358, founded by Sevastokrator Vlatko). Though decayed during its long history, the church of the Holy Virgin in Kuceviste, near Skopje (1348, founded by Zupan Radoslav), is a work of high architectural value. Along with details that indicate the best of construction workshops, such as the shape of the apse and the semi- circular niches on its external walls, the work on the decorative surfaces is also remarkable, accompanied by colouristic traits characteristic of the architecture of the late Byzantine world. The tendency toward decoration, colour and ornamentation, construction with the support of brick and mortar, is shown to the greatest extent on the facade surfaces of Zaum (on Lake Ohrid, 1361, founded by Kesar Grguric). The complex was built in the traditional Serbian-Byzantine school. Among the unequally conserved and unequally researched monuments from the last decades of the fourteenth century, Marko's monastery near Skopje must be mentioned (founded by Kings Vukasin and Marko, finished in 1371), along with St. Andrews (Andreas) on the Treska (1389, founded by Andreja, King Marko's brother), Matka on the Treska (1371, founded by Bojko, the son of Lady Danica), and Konca near Radoviste (1366, founded by Nikola Stanjevic). Marko's monastery, of large dimensions and solid craftsmanship, and Andreas, more humbly built, with facade surfaces decorated with mortar and paint, carry the marks of those concepts by which forms are grouped into horizontal zones. Thus, they reflect the ideas that came about in the Paleologus renaissance, and hint at the innovations which would be created in the forthcoming periods of Serbian architecture.

A special trend in Serbian monumental architecture was done in three great and representative churches, built as mausoleums for monarchs: Banjska, built by King Milutin (1312- 1316); Decani, erected by Stefan Decanski and his son Dusan (1327-1335); the church of the Archangels near Prizren, raised by Czar Dusan (mid-fourteenth century). According to the testimony of the king's biographer and collaborator, Archbishop Danilo II, Milutin built Banjska inspired by the model of Studenica. In its prominent elements, according to which the model should be identified, the king's wish was respected: in the design of the entire complex, especially in its chancel and cupola bay and in the exceptional portals and windows. In the rest of the model, those elements of Raska architecture which appeared after Nemanja's Studenica have been added. A large and priceless complex, which can be reconstructed today from the preserved remains, Banjska is in a special manner halfway between the middle Byzantine construction tradition and western European architecture of the time. In its general appearance, it is a stalwart, enclosed complex with flat facades covered with decorative stone in three colours in a checkerboard pattern; it could be said that it is related to the best works of northern Italian or Apulian Romanesque. However, in important details Banjska continued the tradition of the Raska school, not only because of the fact that functional needs imposed themselves, but also because of the types of lower and upper construction, in the internal spatial designs and partially in the decorations in stone. The masonry, without external panelling, is Byzantine, done in a combination of materials. Like Studenica, the design was conceived by two different master craftsmen, or by a master craftsman and patron from two different cultural settings.

St. Andrew's, finished in 1389.

Decani could more easily be included in the corresponding series of Catholic Romanesque or Romanesque-Gothic cathedrals than Banjska could. Its builder, a Franciscan from Kotor, built a three-nave basilica with a cupola. From the construction sites of enthusiastic Romanesque-Gothic architecture in the western Serbian lands at that time, Gothic vaults, windows and exterior two-coloured stone panels were introduced. Yet, at Decani an Orthodox house of worship was built with all parts of the design done in the Raska style. That the model of Studenica was also respected in Decani is confirmed by the solemn portals and triforia. The construction of Decani was a great undertaking. In eight years a church was erected which was larger than the cathedral in Kotor, and probably larger than the old cathedral in Dubrovnik whose construction had lasted about one hundred and fifty years.

The Monastery Church at Decani, begun in 1327 and finished in 1335.

Respect for the dynastic tradition, obviously in a certain ideological sense, was also accepted by Stefan Dusan when he built his capital work, a church which was meant to be his mausoleum as well. Those characteristics of Studenica evaluated as being important were transferred to the new construction in their conception, and that construction was designed according to the principles of the Serbian- Byzantine school in terms of the spatial and formal design. The church of the Holy Archangels, the main endowment of the emperor, is of large dimensions, carefully crafted, with facades of decorative stone, marble portals and windows, and a mosaic floor; it is the largest and most valuable edifice built in the fourteenth century in the entire territory of the Byzantine cultural sphere. The ideal reconstruction of that monumental church (which was destroyed, the materials being used to build Sinan-Pasha's mosque in Prizren) indicates a church with five cupolas, an exceptional harmony existing between the interior and the facade surfaces, with portals and windows whose primary model were the portals and relief decorations of Studenica. This indicates once again that the mausoleum churches of the dynastic founders were a type of unique Serbian design. The church of the Archangels in Prizren was a model for other endowments of the Empire, such as Matejic (on Crna Gora near Skopje, west of Kumanovo), founded by Empress Jelena and Emperor Uros (1450s). With minor adaptations, the spatial design of the church at Prizren was repeated. In the five-cupola design of the upper forms in their grand proportions, built with a combination of materials in the style of the Serbian-Byzantine school, the craft work was more humble than that of the church at Prizren.

Matejic near Kumanovo, built in the 1360s.

Two of the most famous constructions of Prince Lazar are Ravanica (1377-1381), intended to be the mausoleum of the founder, and Lazarica (1377-1380), built at the prince's court in Krusevac; both in a symbolic and in a real sense they are at the head of the works of the last style in Serbian medieval architecture. This style is known as the Morava School, the name taken from the territories where lively architectural activity developed from the 1370s to the mid-fifteenth century. The main trends in architecture continued to be sacral in character, and the most valuable structures were built in monastery complexes. There is somewhat more data about the towns of that period; in the towns, monuments of the Morava style were built as well. The architecture of Morava grew out of earlier architectural work in Serbia. The new characteristics by which the Morava school is differentiated from earlier Serbian architecture and other events unique to Byzantine architecture, are the general outlook of the whole and its internal harmony, the conception of forms and the craft work on the facade surfaces. The basic floor plan is rhythmical and solidly constructed. The harmony in the forms and volumes, and the architecture of the surfaces and the apertures is done according to the original concepts of middle Byzantine architecture. The relief decorations and colours on the facades in the Morava school are innovative.

The spatial design, or simply stated, the plan, is an extension of the preceding designs. The highly developed and compact cross-in-square with cupola design is a novelty, with conchae added to the sides under the influence of the architecture of Athos. Two of the variations of this design can be seen in Ravanica and Lazarica. The spatial and construction features are revealed in the upper zones of the buildings and on the facades, which are divided into three horizontal surfaces. The placement of the apertures is in accord with those surfaces, and they are set off in a horizontal direction, in rhythmic sections divided by pilasters or colonettes, finished with decorative arches, whether they are arches reflecting the interior structure or if they are simply the continuation of the rhythmical decoration of the facade surfaces, such as the apses. The masonry is done in the alternation of a horizontal line of stone squares with a section of three layers of bricks. This is visible in the two lower zones of the facade, while the surfaces in the third (the highest) zone, are finished with decorative arches, or walled in a similar way, or even covered with intersecting tracery. In those fields, there are special Morava rosettes, cut from stone relief decoration. These rosettes are placed in those fields with which the building's structure is marked, and in which there are corresponding apertures in the lower zones.

Lazarica, built in the court of the fortress at Krusevac 1377-1380.

The distinctive Morava style decoration, primarily stone relief, covers all the frames of the windows and portals, the rosettes, the apexes of the arches and the capitals of the colonettes. This decoration is mostly geometrical. It is significant not only because of its quantity, but also because of its influence on the forms of the classical architectonic elements. Finishing the apexes of the arches, the relief decoration also transforms the jambs, giving them the form of biforas, or other forms, and the capitals are replaced by stylized floral or geometric entablatures. In the group of monuments of mature style - Ljubostinja (before 1393, endowed by Queen Milica), Rudenica (1409-1410, endowed by lord Vukasin), Kalenic (1413-1417, endowed by Commissar Bogdan) - many variants of the form developed under the influence of relief decoration.

Two traits of Morava architecture are important: its architectonic decoration as an absolute novelty, and its strict symmetry in the conception of the whole and of the details, thus departing from the late Byzantine conception of harmony and returning to the forms of earlier architecture. In this unique revival the highlighted role of decoration, primarily relief in character, has a definite effect, and it could therefore be said that the architecture is understood as integral. The establishment of unity between exterior and interior was attempted.

The Monastery Complex of Manasija (Resava), built from 1407 to 1417.

A special place in the Morava school is held by Resava (Manasija), the endowment and mausoleum church of Stefan Lazarevic (1407-1417). It is of large dimensions, a five-cupola church, similar to Ravanica in its spatial design. Its facades of stone, its frieze of small arcades, and the form of its dual windows remind one of the Raska style of architecture. It is possible that its patron had that tradition in mind, in terms of the special relationship of the rulers from the Nemanjic dynasty toward Studenica. The architecture of Resava had repercussions at Vracevsnica (near Mt. Rudnik, 1428-1429, founded by Radic Postupovic).

The Turkish conquest brought an end to the Morava renewal, a revival which was a powerful and vivid stimulus for the continuation of not only Serbian architecture, but also for Byzantine art as a whole.


In the ideal conception of the Serbian lands in the Middle Ages, fortifications should figure strongly, probably more than any other form of edifice. Most often fortifications were built of stone, very large in their dimensions, closed complexes placed in locations that were carefully defended in a strategic sense, and thus they were easily noticed by the incidental traveler. They were erected on dominating hills, at the entrances to ravines, at the edges of fertile plains or along important waterways, protecting the most important human settlements. White stone ramparts enclosed urban communities, the homes or mansions of local or regional authorities, royal courts, and great monasteries; they also served as actual fortresses for professional soldiers, guarding the most important centers of commerce and mining operations.

In the wars in Serbian territories, medieval fortresses suffered a lot of damage, either because they were directly attacked or because they were abandoned and left to fall to ruin. Therefore, the modern understanding of them is built on those fortresses which have been better preserved.

Over the centuries - from the early Middle Ages to the middle or end of the fifteenth century, that is, to the fall of all Serbian lands to the Turks - the way fortresses were built changed, certain fortresses were changed or even disappeared to be replaced by others; however, these imposing edifices remained a characteristic of the state, of its existence and, in a certain sense, of its civilization. The changes caused by Turkish rule speak vibrantly, if indirectly, about that.

The Smederevo Fortness on the Danube, built by Despot Djuradj Brankovic as his capital from 1428 to 1430

The builders of fortresses relied upon the tradition of the late classical period in terms of their basic conceptions and their forms. Later, the influence of the country's position between the Byzantine Empire and the western European world was felt. However, in their most important characteristics - the natural need for a fortification, the most common dimensions, and in a certain sense the actual way they were built - and in the overall picture, fortresses were similar to those found in the territory of the Byzantine Empire.

The landmarks that are to be found in the coastal towns are special, together with their fortresses. Stara Budva (the old town centre of Budva) attracts attention because of its placement on a promontory, on the northern point of a calm bay. The existing citadel - from the time of Venetian rule - only brings to mind the medieval fortress, but in its foundations there are remains of hellenistic and medieval walls.

Kotor, at the back of a bay under a mountain rise, has attracted attention since ancient times because of its appearance. Constructed on a flat terrain near the sea, resting against a steep rocky mountainside at the foot of the mountain hinterlands, it is framed by powerful ramparts on all sides. The characteristic picture of the town has appeared in artistic representations from ancient times: the settlement is in a strip along the coast and the hill above it, set along the edge of the ramparts, with the fortress on top. The town's ramparts, with powerful bastions placed in characteristic spots, a total of about five thousand meters in length, have a form which originated in the time of the Venetian rule, but the walls and bastion contain the medieval walls inside them, strengthened by towers. As a city and episcopal see it is mentioned at the end of the eighth century, and recent archaeological findings indicate that it has existed from ancient times.

A significant political, economic, cultural and ecclesiastical centre in the Middle Ages, Bar - known today in geography as Stari (Old) Bar - is built several kilometers from the coast on a rocky terrain which is somewhat raised in relation to the tame flat lands near the Bay of Bar. Abandoned and partially destroyed, the imposing ramparts have remained with their bastions, likewise built in the time of Venetian rule. The Venetian ramparts covered the medieval defense wall, and it can thus be concluded that the general outlook of the town was not changed significantly. From there, it is easy to reconstruct the original image of the Mediterranean coastal town in its picturesque surroundings, steadfastly surrounded by sturdy walls which were strengthened by towers.

The oldest written records of towns in Serbian lands, which were fortifications at the same time, are to be found in the writings of Byzantine Emperor and writer Constantine Porphyrogenitus (from the middle of the tenth century). Apart from the towns in the western territories, he mentions Dostinik (modern Drsnik) in Metohia as the one farthest south. Information about the appearance of those towns is not given. In that sense, help is to be found in a town not far from ancient Duklja, near the little town of Spuz (in Montenegro), which is called by the generic name "Gradina" ("the ruins of a fortress"). On a stone promontory above the plains of Zeta, it is made up of a rampart fortified with semi-circular and square towers which enclose an irregular oval piece of land. In the centre, on the highest part of the terrain, there was a cluster of buildings, laid out close to the edge of the rectangle, with the remains of a great tower in one corner. This was obviously a palace at one time. The entire conception of the town relies on the late classical tradition, and it found parallels in areas where that tradition was strong. This was perhaps the town of Lontodokla mentioned in Constantine Porphyrogenitus.

Old Bar (Stari Bar), was built at the time of the arrival of the Slavs in the province of Prevalis.

Monastery fortifications can be classified into a wide range of different categories by their very nature, from the unavoidable individual edifices for basic defense, to the more luxuriant solutions, in which they were realized as ideally designed complexes or even as real fortifications. Monastery fortifications have their own history. Although their beginnings in Serbia are not quite clear, the oldest of those partially preserved complexes, such as St. Nicholas near Kursumlija, have mighty towers for protection, modeled after the Byzantine towers (pyrgos). At one of the oldest monuments of the Raska school, Djurdjevi Stupovi in Ras, the concept that was characteristic of Byzantine practice can be reconstructed. The land intended for the monastery, in an irregular oval shape, is enclosed by a defensive wall along which the appropriate buildings were erected. The church is in the centre, and a tower has been added to the lot, through which the monastery was entered. A representative solution of that kind was indeed built at Hilandar, and later in Banjska and Decani. The real tower (pyrgos) at Banjska is worthy of special attention, as it is quite similar to those at Hilandar.

The monastery of Studenica was an exceptional complex. Although the original structures have mostly disappeared or been replaced by new ones, even today the monastery offers the basis for reconstructing its original lay out. As far as it can be ascertained, this important work of Stefan Nemanja was to have the transposed appearance of the ideal, heavenly city. The edge of the monastery is outlined by a circle whose centre is beneath the cupola of the large church. On the edge along the east and western entrances that are flanked by semi-circular towers, there are bulwarks built and reinforced by triangular towers set in a regular rhythm. To this, the possible symbolic meaning of the number twelve must be added, the number of the reinforcements - two entrances and ten triangular towers. In the architecture of the Studenica fortification, a kind of classicism is to be seen. Both the rounded and triangular towers took their models from the late classical period fortresses.

In the face of the Turkish advance and the long, almost unceasing wars, in the last decades of the fourteenth century and first half of the fifteenth century, monastery fortifications became real fortresses. Good examples of this are the monastery of Ravanica, built by Prince Lazar, and Resava, raised by Despot Stefan Lazarevic; they are two of the most dominant structures of the Serbian late Middle Ages.

Among the fortresses intended for the protection of important economic centers, two have been preserved well, and both were significant in their dimensions; thus it is easy to present them. Prizren was an important trade centre in the Middle Ages, and it developed into a large town. The city, set on the bank of the River Bistrica, was under the protection of a sturdy fortress on the hill above the town. The fortress stood even in the time of the Turks, and it underwent many changes. Even so, the remains of a powerful medieval fortress can be recognized, among which there are visible reminiscences of the late classical forms.

In the Middle Ages, Novo Brdo, famous far and wide for its mining resources, developed into a significant town, above which rise the remains of a sturdy citadel that have only been partially investigated. The foundations were laid in an irregular fan-like shape within a relatively small area, consisting of six massive, sturdy towers that were connected by bulwarks. Along the external circumference, there was a path protected by a low bulwark which, as a concept of a defense system, was surely taken from Byzantine fortifications. It should be remembered that this system was well developed in greater dimensions in the land bulwarks of Constantinople. The towers of Novo Brdo, rectangular in shape and built of whitish-grey rubble, get their characteristic form from rough dark red blocks of breccia, with which the corners of the towers and the frame of the entrance to the citadel were built. The town was also protected by the bulwarks.

Golubac, a medieval town on the Danube, entrance to the Djerdap Gorge, built in the fourteenth century.

Very little is known about the fortified towns held by rulers, because they were razed to the ground. To a certain extent, their form can be indicated by the preserved seats of the regional lords. In Prilep, the residence of King Marko - who was a legendary figure in Serbian folk songs - relatively large parts of the medieval fortification have been preserved. Heavy bulwarks were built on a rocky promontory, reinforced by square towers according to the customs of the Byzantine world. The capital of Prince Lazar, Krusevac, has been studied archaeologically in recent times. At a crossroads not far from the River Morava, a well-fortified royal court was built. Along with the court's church, Lazarica, the remains of the palace, bulwarks and high, strong towers can still be seen today.

By its general outlook, dimensions and consistently built defense system, special attention is due to the fortifications at Smederevo. The fortified court of Despot Djuradj Brankovic was built first (1428- 1430), and then a larger area was enclosed by bulwarks where the town subsequently sprang up. Smederevo was the final work of Serbian medieval fortification architecture. It was an exceptional architectural undertaking: the fortress is of large dimensions, and it was built in a relatively short time. Under the supervision of Dimitrije Kantakuzin, a Byzantine and the brother of Despina Jerina, a fortress was built in which the principles and practices of Byzantine fortification architecture were applied. On a flat piece of land, at the mouth of the Jezava in the Danube, its foundations were built in the shape of an equilateral triangle. Its smaller part at the upper right along the river belonged to the court, with its tower being the highest and being completely enclosed like a Byzantine tower. The fortress consists of the bulwarks having a path and protective parapets along the top, with rhythmically placed high towers, open toward the interior. In the details at Smederevo, and in several other fortresses of that time, Byzantine practice was maintained: masonry work in rubble and lime plaster, with decorations here and there made of brick - in Smederevo and in Ravanica there were inscriptions done in brick. Along the walls and towers, there were battlements and protected defensive balconies (parapets).

Although firearms were already in use when Smederevo was built, there is no indication that any kind of adaptations for the new weaponry was made, either at Smederevo or at other fortresses of the time. Even so, the Turks were only able to take Serbian towns with great effort. As an example, Novo Brdo could be mentioned. It was captured in 1456 by the army of Mohammed II, after the fall of Constantinople. In the ruins of the bulwarks of Novo Brdo, stone cannon projectiles of exceptional size have been found.

// Projekat Rastko / The history of Serbian culture //
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