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On Gradina hill near the city of Novi Pazar stands Stari Ras, a 12th century fortress. Built to defend the capital city of the same name, it bore witness to the emergence, development and consolidation of the first Serbian state.The monastic compound includes three archaeological sites; the fortress on Gradina, the cave with Holy Archangel’s Monastery and the settlement of Pazarište (also known as Trgovište).
Stari Ras, the oldest military structure in the medieval Serbian state of Raška, was built in the shape of an irregular quadrangle. Its wide walls made of crushed stone and limestone mortar had a footpath with spiked edges on top, where Serbian rulers once walked.
Points of entry to the fortress were the western and the southern gates. In the southern section stood a tower which measured eight metres in diameter, while the main gate was defended by two towers of different size. The western gate was bricked up in the 12th century, when Ras became the main stronghold of the Serbian state and was replaced with a new gate next to the main tower.
Underneath the fortress, there is a cave monastery with a church which preserves the remains of 13th century frescoes and 16th and 18th century records. It is believed that the famous Vukan’s Gospel, an illustrated manuscript and one of the oldest monuments of Serbian documentation science, was written here.
The remains of settlements dated to two different periods have been found not far from Stari Ras, in Pazarište. The older remains, dated to the 14th century, were mainly log houses, while the newer remains have been traced to the 17th century when many stone structures were built in the settlement under the Ottoman rule. The remains of some of these structures can still be seen on site. The remains of a church, a necropolis and other structures suggest that the area of Pazarište was already an important spiritual centre in the 12th century.
Stari Ras fortress, together with the medieval monasteries of Sopoćani and Đurđevi stupovi and Saint Peter’s church, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a monument under the joint name of Stari Ras with Sopoćani.