In the 14th Century, the region of Kosovo and Metohija was the political and spiritual heart of medieval Serbia. It was at this time that Serbian King Milutin erected more than 40 monasteries in a relatively small area, hiring only the best Byzantine building masters.
Influences of Byzantine art are visible both in architecture and inside the churches, on the frescoes which have been the object of admiration of visitors and art connoisseurs for centuries. Some of the frescoes found here are not just masterpieces of Serbian fresco painting - they are unrivalled on an international scale.
Due to the immense cultural and historic importance of these monumental buildings and the treasures they keep, Dečani and Gračanica monasteries, the Patriarchate of Peć and the Church of Our Lady of Ljeviš in Prizren have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Gračanica monastery is considered by many to be one of the finest monuments of Serbian medieval architecture. It is known for its harmonious proportions and heavy walls built of chiselled stone and red bricks. Of the once majestic monastery complex, only the Church of the Annunciation still remains.
The frescoes at Gračanica are painted in the style of Serbian and Byzantine art of the first half of the 14th Century and are exceptionally well-preserved. These frescoes of exquisite detail and enchanting beauty depict illustrious persons of the era. At the entrance to the church you will see portraits of the patron of the church, King Milutin and his wife Simonida. These paintings at Gračanica are the earliest known portraits of members of the Nemanjić dynasty.
The Patriarchate of Peć is a large monastery complex near the city of Peć, comprised of four churches built next to one another, creating a unique architectural whole.
The oldest among them, the Church of the Holy Apostles, was built in the third decade of the 13th Century, becoming the new seat of the Serbian Archiepiscopate. The Church of Saint Demetrius, the Church of the Mother of God and the small Church of Saint Nicholas were built in the early 14th Century.The walls of these churches in Peć bear witness to a succession of various styles in mediaeval fresco painting. The frescoes at the Patriarchate of Peć were painted between the 14th and the 18th Century.The frescoes at the Church of Saint Demetrius, painted in the first half of the 14th Century, are characterised by an unusual level of attention to detail. At the entrance to the church, you will see portraits of members of the Serbian dynasty of Nemanjić, a common motif on the walls of Serbian medieval monasteries. The treasury of this church keeps icons, manuscripts and other artefacts. Serbian King Dušan, the mightiest of all Serbian rulers, during whose reign the medieval Serbian state reached the peak of its power, was crowned in this church.
Not far from the Patriarchate of Peć lies Dečani monastery, the largest sacral building of medieval Serbia. It was erected by King Stefan Uroš III Dečanski in the 14th Century and it served both as a shrine and a family mausoleum.The underlying structure of a typical Byzantine temple is encased in a Romanesque-style façade, with patterns made of successive horizontal rows of light-yellow and purple-red marble and an abundance of sculptural decorations. An instantly recognisable feature is the imposing dome, measuring a full 28 metres in height.During the Middle Ages, the monastery gathered scholars and artists, who painted the monastery with more than a thousand individual figures and scenes from the history of Christianity, grouped into more than 20 cycles, including the portraits of the monastery’s patrons and other members of the Nemanjić dynasty.
Dečani is also one of the few Serbian churches where the original stone iconostasis and most of the 14th-Century icons have been preserved. The monastery’s treasury holds some 60 icons painted between the 14th and the 17th Century, as well as numerous manuscripts, books and church artefacts.
The Church of Our Lady of Ljeviš was built in the 14th Century on top of the remains of a 13th-Century church, as an endowment of King Milutin. The architect who designed the church, proto-master Nikola, merged the remains of the old three-nave church with the new cross-shaped temple to create a magnificent five-nave building built with successive layers of red brick and tufa.The unique artistic legacy of this church are its two layers of frescoes, which bear witness to the development of medieval art. The three preserved 13th-Century frescoes (Wedding at Cana, Healing of the Blind Person and the Mother of God with Christ the Provider) are characterised by vivid colours and grandiose compositions.The most notable frescoes of the second layer, painted between 1310 and 1313, are the larger-than-life portraits of members of the Nemanjić dynasty and the monastery’s patrons. The later frescoes, with noticeably more human figures and with strong symbolism, allegory and personification, are illustrative of a style change in mediaeval fresco painting which took place in the early 14th Century.The monastery of Our Lady of Ljeviš has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, in recognition of its immense cultural importance.
According to legend, Devič was formed by despot Đurađ Branković in the first half of the 15th Century to commemorate his virgin daughter (devica means virgin in Serbian). After several restorations and annexations, all that remains of the original monastery complex is the church with a semi-circular vault which holds the relics of Saint Joannicius of Devič.Saint Joannicius was also immortalised in one of the oldest frescoes in the monastery.The walls of Devič are adorned by three different layers of frescoes, the oldest of which date back to the second half of the 15th Century, while the most recent ones were painted in the 19th Century. During the 16th and 17th Centuries, Devič also had a reputable orthography workshop, where church manuscripts were copied.
Banjska monastery was erected by Serbian King Milutin in the 14th Century as his endowment and mausoleum. The architectural sculptures and relief are a blend of Byzantine and Romanesque art and the most intricate examples used to decorate the western gate.
Most of the ornaments and architectural figurines have been removed from the monastery. Thus one of the well-preserved figures, depicting the Mother of God with infant Jesus in her arms, is kept at a church in the nearby village of Sokolica.
During Ottoman rule Banjska monastery was converted into a mosque.