Places of worship that are thousands of years old represent the most important symbols of Serbian history, tradition, and religion. Apart from their magnificent architecture and stunning art, Serbian churches are also significant because they preserve the relics of the most important figures in Serbian history. Even if you don't consider yourself a religious person, Serbian churches and monasteries are worth the visit. We'll go through the 10 most famous monasteries in Serbia, among which are:
- Studenica - Endowment of Stefan Nemanja
- Mileseva - Keeper of the White Angel
- Temple of Saint Sava - Largest Orthodox church in the Balkans
One of the most significant Orthodox monasteries in Serbia is the endowment of Uros Nemanjic I, who ruled in the middle of the 13th century. Its name comes from the Slavic word sopot - water spring, as the Raska River is located not far from the monastery. The monastery is known for its intricate frescoes and the relics of King Uros and the saints Kozma and Damian that are kept in it. Not much is known about how the life of the monastery looked during the Turkish rule, but we have evidence that the monastery maintained monastic life even then. Sopocani is located 17 kilometers west of Novi Pazar, which we recommend you visit on your way to the monastery. In 1979, this holy place was included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. Today it is a place frequently visited by locals and tourists, with 30 monks and novices. Facts and a historical overview of the monastery awaits you on the page - Monastery Sopocani.
One of the oldest Serbian monasteries was built by the founder of the Nemanjic dynasty in 1171, while the last paintings were completed in 1175. Stefan Nemanja built this temple as a thank you to Saint George, who rescued him from the dungeon, in which he was imprisoned by his brothers Tihomir, Stracimir and Miroslav. The Serbian king Dragutin, who is believed to be the second founder of the monastery, was buried in it. He decided to build a defense tower next to the church and turn it into a small temple decorated with frescoes in 1282. At the end of the 17th century, the monastery was destroyed by the Turks, and then again during the First and Second World Wars. Its reconstruction has been ongoing for the last 40 years, with a serious effort to preserve its authentic architectural style. Visit our Djurdjevi Stupovi page to learn more about the monastery.
Studenica - Endowment of Stefan Nemanja
A religious building of exceptional beauty and importance for the entire Serbian Orthodox world is located 60 kilometers from Kraljevo. It represents the endowment of Stefan Nemanja, who created it in 1190. Studenica is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, and it's significance can be seen throughout Serbian history. After the reconciliation of the brothers' quarrel, Sava Nemanjic transferred his father's relics to Studenica in 1199, where they still rest today. Apart from them, Studenica preserves the relics of Nemanja's sons, Vukan and Stefan Prvovencani. Sava made this monastery the holy and cultural center of medieval Serbia.
This is also the place where he wrote a famous sacred text Studenica typicon and gathered the rules of monastic life in Serbia. Studenica is known for the walls of the monastery that surround four churches: the Church of Bogorodica, King's church, Nikoljaca church, and the foundations of the fourth one. The most beautiful part of Studenica is the frescoes from the 13th and 14th centuries and a mixture of Roman and Byzantine architectural styles. Studenica has been under the protection of UNESCO since 1986.
Zica Monastery - The church of seven kings
A truly magical religious building in which 7 Serbian kings were crowned ranks high among the most influential Serbian monasteries. It is the endowment of Stefan Prvovencani, who was married there in 1217. Zica is located only 6 kilometers from the town of Kraljevo, in one of the most fruitful plains. Zica suffered several demolitions by Tatars, Turks, and Germans. It underwent its final renovation in 1987 when its original, medieval appearance was restored. It is known as the Church of the seven doors, as a new door was built each time a king was crowned in it. Once the king passed through the door after his coronation, the wall got bricked up. Apart from the coronation of the rulers, Zica was the place used as a headquarter by the patriarchs. All you need to know before visiting it is on our page - Zica monastery.
One of the most beautiful Serbian Orthodox monasteries was created on the initiative of St. Sava, with a joined effort of King Stefan Decanski and Emperor Dusan Silni. It was built in the first half of the 14th century and finally completed in 1335 when the frescoes were added to the interior. This monastery is located in the beautiful valley of Decanska Bistrica, in the town of the same name. UNESCO declared it a cultural monument of exceptional importance on the basis of this religious building being among the most valuable examples of the Palaiologos Renaissance and a precious record of life in the 14th century.
Visoki Decani, due to its turbulent history and location in which it is situated, is considered a symbol of struggle and defense against inhumanity. Back in 1692, the Turks attacked the monastery in order to turn it into a mosque, but they failed in doing so. Decani remains a witness to the bloody history in these areas even during the civilized twenty-first century. Albanian extremists have been trying to desecrate this holy temple for decades now. Unfortunately, there is no real legal or on-site protection against this scourge, and Visoki Decani are left to their own devices.
The Gracanica monastery was built in 1321 by King Milutin, who dedicated it to the Assumption of Mary. According to a famous story from Serbian lore, Milutin built this monastery as a sign of gratitude to the angel who appeared to him in a dream before the battle on the Gracanica River. Like Visoki Decani, Gracanica has been declared a cultural monument of exceptional importance and is protected by law due to its value. The monastery is located in the village of Gracanica, ten kilometers from the capital of Kosovo, Pristina.
Gracanica was most prominent during the 14th and 15th centuries when hundreds of monks of that time made it into a spiritual center where great works of art were created. Gracanica is the center of Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo, and ever since the late 90s, Serbs have gathered in it in hopes of establishing a normal life in these areas. Gracanica also houses significant frescoes, among which the fresco of Queen Simonida, Milutin's wife, as well as the genealogy of the Nemanjic dynasty stand out.
Mileseva - Keeper of the White Angel
Somewhat south of Zlatibor, 6 kilometers from the entrance to the town of Prijepolje, is situated one of the oldest monasteries in Serbia. Mileseva is the endowment of King Stefan Vladislav, who built this religious shrine in the Raska style in 1219. It was declared an immovable cultural asset, a cultural monument of exceptional importance. Tvrtko Kotormanic, king of Bosnia and Serbia, was crowned in it, the relics of Saint Sava were kept in it until the 16th century, and it is especially famous for its masterful frescoes. The most famous among them certainly is the White Angel, dating all the way back to 1235 and representing one of the most significant pieces of religious art ever created in Serbia. The Virgin from the Annunciation and the portrait of King Vladislav are also worth seeing.
Ravanica - Resting home of Lazar of Serbia
The Ravanica Monastery ranks high on the most famous Serbian churches list for its architecture and lore. The monastery was created in 1377, at the foot of the Kucaj Mountains, near the town of Cuprija. Its founder is Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic, who died in Kosovo and whose relics have been preserved in this holy place since 1392. Since then, this monastery has become a place of pilgrimage and the hotspot around which the cult of Prince Lazar is created. Apart from this, Ravanica is known for its stunning frescoes depicting Prince Lazar, Princess Milica, and their sons Stefan and Vuk. Ravanica is the best example of the early Morava architectural school in terms of building style and art. It shows a combination of the tradition of Svetogorje and the model of the inscribed cross with five domes, which was conceptually created during the reign of King Milutin.
Manasija or Resava is one of the most important Serbian monasteries of the Middle Ages, built in the same style as Ravanica. This intriguing holy place is located in the Pomoravlje district, not far from the town of Despotovac. Manasija was created by the despot Stefan Lazarevic in 1418. The monastery complex is unique, thanks to the large defense walls that surround it. Originally it consisted of 11 large towers, the most famous called the Despot's Tower. Thanks to its immeasurable architectural value and antiquity, as well as its frescoes that represent the peak of medieval art, Resava has been declared a cultural monument of exceptional importance. At the beginning of the 21st century, during the reconstruction of the monastery, earthen remains were found. The DNA analysis of these artifacts determined that they were objects that belonged to the despot Stefan.
Temple of Saint Sava - Largest Orthodox church in the Balkans
Using the Serbo-Byzantine style, the largest Orthodox temple in the Balkans and one of the largest Orthodox places of worship in the world was built. Consisting of four bell towers that are over 40 meters high, The Temple of St. Sava was built on the site of the burning of the relics of St. Sava and traces its roots back to the 1930s. On the ground floor, it covers an area of 3,500 square meters and contains 4 additional galleries. Its recognizable by the white marble and granite, which completely cover the facade. As many as 10,000 religious believers can attend the services and choir performances at once. In the immediate vicinity of the temple is the monument to Karadjordje and the building of the National Library of Serbia, and together with the landscaped plateau and fountain, it forms one of the most visited cultural centers of Belgrade.
Map of the monasteries in Serbia
As a parting gift, we've created this map that follows all the monasteries mentioned in the blog. Use it for orientation, to calculate and plan your trip, or just to see what other marvels await you around.
Our virtual journey ends here, but yours is just beginning. We hope we managed to inspire you to organize a tour of these magnificent holy places that Serbia has to offer and see for yourself everything we didn't mention. While you're there, don't forget to Explore Serbia.