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Guide to UNESCO World Heritage Cities in Serbia

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites are places of importance to cultural and natural heritage as described in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. Serbia had its first sites included in 1979, and since 2007, has 4 sites on the list. Of those 4 sites, all 4 are cultural, and Medieval Monuments in Kosovo are traditionally shown as four separate sites, and Stari Ras and Sopoćani as two separate sites also.

Gamzigrad-Felix Romuliana 

Gamzigrad  is an archaeological site, spa resort and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Serbia, located south of the Danube river, near the city of Zaječar. It is the location of the ancient Roman complex of palaces and temples Felix Romuliana, built by Emperor Galerius.

In the vicinity of Gamzigrad lie the ruins of a huge Roman complex called Felix Romuliana, one of the most important late Roman sites in Europe. Early explorers believed the ancient ruins to have been a Roman military camp, because of their size and numerous towers. Systematic archaeological excavations conducted since 1953 revealed that the site was, in fact, an Imperial palace. It was conceived and built by one of the Tetrarchs, Emperor Galerius, the adopted son and son-in-law of the great Emperor Diocletian. Galerius started construction in 298 (after a victory over the Persians that brought him admiration and glory) to mark the place of his birth. The name Felix Romuliana was given in memory of his mother Romula, who was also a priestess of a pagan cult. The complex of temples and palaces served three main purposes – a place of worship of his mother’s divine personality, a monument to his deeds as emperor, and a luxurious villa for Galerius. Romuliana survived until it was plundered by the Huns in the mid 5th century. Later the site became a humble settlement of farmers and craftsmen, finally to be abandoned at the beginning of the 7th century with the arrival of the Slavs.

Studenica Monastery 

The Studenica Monastery  is a 12th-century Serbian Orthodox monastery situated 39 kilometres (24 mi) southwest of Kraljevo, in central Serbia. It is one of the largest and richest Serb Orthodox monasteries.

Stefan Nemanja, the founder of the medieval Serb state, founded the monastery in 1190. The monastery’s fortified walls encompass two churches: the Church of the Virgin, and the Church of the King, both of which were built using white marble. The monastery is best known for its collection of 13th- and 14th century Byzantine-style fresco paintings.

Studenica was declared Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979, and it is protected by Republic of Serbia, and in 1986 UNESCO included Studenica monastery on the list of World Heritage Sites, with the description:

The Studenica Monastery was established in the late 12th century by Stefan Nemanja, founder of the medieval Serb state, shortly after his abdication. It is the largest and richest of Serbia’s Orthodox monasteries. Its two principal monuments, the Church of the Virgin and the Church of the King, both built of white marble, enshrine priceless collections of 13th- and 14th-century Byzantine painting.

Old Ras 

Ras known in modern Serbian historiography as Stari Ras (Стари Рас; meaning Old Ras), was one of the first capitals of the medieval Serbian state of Raška, and the most important one for a long period of time. Located in today’s region of Raška, the city was right in the centre of the early medieval state that started to spread in all directions.

It was founded between 8th and 9th centuries and got deserted sometime in the 13th century. Its favorable position in the area known as Old Serbia, along the Raška gorge, on the crossroads between the Adriatic Sea and state of Zeta, Bosnia in the west and Kosovo in the east added to its importance as a city. There is an impressive group of medieval monuments consisting of fortresses, churches and monasteries. The monastery at Sopoćani is a reminder of the contacts between Western world and the Byzantine world. Today the city lies in mostly unenclosed and unprotected ruins close to the city of Novi Pazar, which probably began its own life as a trading enclave for Ras. However, there are plans for future reconstruction of the site.

The site of Stari Ras, in combination with the nearby Monastery of Sopoćani, is already a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Stari Ras monastery (12th century) is being reconstructed and it too may be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List with the site. Stari Ras and Sopoćani World Heritage site is not far from another UNESCO World Heritage Site of Serbia, the magnificent medieval monastery and churches of Studenica. The 4th century Church of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul is one of the oldest in the Balkans.

Justiniana Prima

Justiniana Prima was a Byzantine city that existed from 535 to 615, and currently an archaeological site, near today’s Lebane, Leskovac district in southern Serbia. It was founded by Emperor Justinian I and served as the seat of an Archbishopric that had jurisdiction of the Central Balkans. In 1979, Justiniana Prima was added to the Archaeological Sites of Exceptional Importance-list, protected by Republic of Serbia.

The city was founded by Emperor Justinian I. It existed from the 530s to 615 and was designed as a splendid bishop’s seat. The city was a completely new foundation in honour of the nearby village of  Tauresium (identified with today’s village of Taor in the Republic of Macedonia, near Skopje), the birthplace of Justinian. Serb scholars also identify it as the site of Bederiana, birthplace of Justinian’s uncle and mentor Justin I. The city planning combined classical and Christian elements: thermae, a forum, and streets with colonnades. Typical Mediterranean features went along with numerous churches.

Justinian himself ordered the foundation of the city by law in 535, establishing the Archbishopric of Justiniana Prima, making it at the same time the capital of the prefecture of Illyricum instead of Thessaloniki (although this is disputed among historians). It also was chosen as the seat of the Dacian diocese.

Thessaloniki, however, did not actually lose much of its administrative functions during the short lifetime of Justiniana Prima. Still, the new foundation was not without importance and Justinian made sure that this city, which was one of his favourite projects, received all the necessary support. In 545 Justinian issued another law underlining the episcopal rights and status of Justiniana Prima, which is also confirmed by letters that were exchanged between Justinian and Pope Gregory I at the end of the 6th century.

In 615 the city was destroyed by invading Avars coming from north of the Danube.

Sopoćani 

The Sopoćani monastery an endowment of King Stefan Uroš I of Serbia, was built from 1259 to 1270, near the source of the Raška River in the region of Ras, the centre of the Serbian medieval state. It is a designated World Heritage Site, added in 1979 with Stari Ras.

In the 1160s, the Great Zupan Stefan Nemanja consolidated his power on the throne in Raska. Although Nemanja’s sons got the title of king and established the church as independent by making it autocephalous, developed the economic system and coined money, became richer and more sophisticated, the times, the work and person of Stefan Nemanja remained a great model and an example to be emulated by the younger generations. Sopoćani was an endowment of the Serbian King Stefan Uroš I, son to Stefan the First-Crowned and Nemanja’s grandson. It was built in 1260 by King Uroš I Nemanjić as a church which would serve as his burial place, and was extended and renovated in the mid-14th century by his great-grandson Dušan. The church is dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Of the former larger monastery complex, which comprised numerous structures (dining rooms, residential buildings and others), today only the Church of the Holy Trinity remains. The monastery was once surrounded by a high stone wall with two gates. The completion of the painting of the main parts of the church can be indirectly dated to between 1263 and 1270. In Sopocani a decorative plan was carried out which was formed throughout the thirteenth century – in the chancel there are liturgical scenes, in the nave Christ’s salvation work is shown through a cycle of the Great Feasts, in the narthex the Old Testament, dogmatic and eschatological themes are presented. Through the iconographic portraits of the Nemanjic family and through historical scenes Simeon Nemanja and Saint Sava.

Dečani Monastery 

The Visoki Dečani monastery is located by the Dečanska Bistrica river gorge at the foot of the Prokletije Mountains, in Metohija. It is located about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from the town of Dečani. The monastery is owned by the Serbian Orthodox Church, Dečani Monastery Administration; it is managed by the Eparchy of Raška and Prizren. The monastery has been under the legal protection of Serbia since 1947.

Construction began during the reign of Serbian King Stefan Uroš III Dečanski in 1327 and the original founding charter from 1330 has been preserved. Dečanski’s son, Stefan Dušan, seized the Serbian throne in 1331 and had his father strangled to death in the Zvečan Fortress shortly afterwards. Dečanski was buried in the still incomplete Visoki Dečani monastery in 1331 and its construction was continued by Dušan. The monastery’s main architect was Fra Vita, a Franciscan monk from the Montenegrin coastal town of Kotor. Construction of the monastery lasted for a total of 8 years, and ended in 1335. The wooden throne of the hegumen was finished at around this time, and the church interior was decorated. Dečanski’s carved wooden sarcophagus was finished in 1340.

Patriarchate of Pec

The Patriarchate of Peć is a Serbian Orthodoxmonastery located near Peć, in Kosovo. The complex of churches, built in the 13th and 14th centuries, is the spiritual seat and mausoleum of the Serbian archbishops and patriarchs. It is situated by the Peć Bistrica, at the entrance of the Rugova Canyon. It is part of the “Medieval Monuments in Kosovo”, a combined World Heritage Site along with three other Orthodox monuments.

The precise date of the foundation of the Patriarchate is unknown. It is thought that while Saint Sava (d. 1235) was still alive that the site became a metoh (land owned and governed by a monastery) of the Žiča monastery, at the time the seat of the Serbian archbishopric. In the 1230s, Archbishop Arsenije I (s. 1233–63) built the Church of the Holy Apostles on the north side, as he wanted the seat of the Serbian Church to be at a more secure location and closer to the centre of the country. It was decorated on his order in ca. 1260. Archbishop Nikodim I (s. 1321–24) built the Church of St. Demetrius on the north side, while his successor, Archbishop Danilo II (s. 1324–37) built the Church of the Holy Mother of God Hodegetria and the Church of St. Nicholas on the south side. In front of the three main churches, he then raised a monumental narthex. In the time of Archbishop Joanakije II, around 1345, the hitherto undecorated Church of St. Demetrius was decorated with frescoes. Emperor Stefan Dušan (r. 1331–55) raised the Archbishopric at Peć to Patriarchal status.

Our Lady of Ljeviska 

Mother of God Ljeviška  is a 14th-century Serbian Orthodox church in the town of Prizren, located in southern Kosovo. It was converted to a mosque during the Ottoman Empire and then back into a church in the early 20th century. The construction of the church was commissioned in 1306–9 by Serbian King Stefan Milutin. It was built on the site of the ruins of an earlier Byzantine church, whose original name Metera Eleousa was preserved in Slavic as Bogorodica Ljeviška. In 1990 Serbia designated it a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance, and on 13 July 2006 Mother of God Ljeviška was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as an extension of the Visoki Dečani site (named Medieval Monuments in Kosovo), which as a whole was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Gračanica

Gračanica  is a Serbian Orthodox monastery located in Kosovo. It was rebuilt by the Serbian king Stefan Milutin in 1321 on the ruins of a 6th-century early Christian three-naved basilica. Gračanica Monastery was declared a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1990, and it is protected by the Republic of Kosovo and considered as a protected monument by the Republic of Serbia because of the unaccepted self declared independence of Kosovo, and on 13 July 2006 it was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List under the name of Medieval Monuments in Kosovo as an extension of the Visoki Dečani site which was overall placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The Gračanica Monastery is one of King Milutin’s last monumental endowments. It is situated in the municipality of Gračanica, part of the Community of Serb municipalities in Kosovo. It is located 5 km (3.1 mi) from Pristina. The monastery is in the close vicinity of Lipljan (ancient Roman town of Ulpiana), the old residence of bishops.

Đerdap Nacional Park 

The Đerdap National Park  stretches along the right bank of the Danube River from the Golubac fortress  to the dam near Sip, Serbia. It spreads over 640 square kilometres and the park management office is in the town of Donji Milanovac on the Danube.

The main feature and attraction of the Đerdap National Park’s natural beauty is the Đerdap gorge – the famous Iron Gate – the grandiose gateway through the southern slopes of the Carpathian mountains where the longest and biggest river accumulation in former Yugoslavia is located.

The Đerdap gorge, which is some 100 kilometers long (from Golubac to Tekija), is actually a compound river valley made up of four gorges (Gornja klisura, Gospođin vir, Veliki and Mali kazan and Sipska klisura), separated from each other by ravines. In Gospođin vir, one of the greatest river depths in the world has been measured (82 m). The cliffs of the canyon in Kazan are about 300 meters high while the riverbed in this part is narrowed down to 150 meters.

Djavola Varos

The Djavolja Varos natural landmark is situatod on the south slopes of Mt. Radan, on the right bank of the tuta reka (Yellow river), in the central part of eastern Serbia. Djavolja varos is a unique example of the action of erosion. It is a complex of stone pyramids located in the watershed between Djavolja jaruga and Paklena jaruga (Devil’s Gully and Hellts Gully). On an area of 4,300 sq.m. water erosion has shaped andesite material and volcanic tufa into over 200 pyramids – towers standing from 2 -15 m. tall, width at base 4 to 6 m. and at the summit 1 – 2 m. Most of these pyramids have caps or heads – andesite blocks protecting them from fast decey. The absolute height of the locality is 700-720 m. Stone pyramids are ephemeral forms, for they disintegrate relatively quickly (when they lose their protective “cap”), and are formed equally quickly through water erosion. Hence the name Djavolja Varos (Devil’s Town), because the locals believe that these changes occur as devils fight each other for power. These pyramids came into existence by water erosion, in heterogeneous material; the more massive block on the surface prevented the material beneath it from being destroyed and eroded away, resulting in the formation of the “towers” – pyramids. Two hydrological phenomena characterize the locality: one known as Devil’s Water ( a highly mineralized spring, the water of which is used in traditional medicine), and another called the Devil’s Well (a pressurized spring). The water is of a markedly red colour, while the area surrounding this natural phenomenon, the soil and the rocks, as well as the pyramids themselves, are of different colours giving a bizarre appearance to the entire scenery.

This miraculous worid also features acoustic phenomena which justity the designation “Devil’s Town”: the wind which hums between the pyramids crestes strange murmurs, howling, sighs, squeaking, which has frightened the local population for centuries and is behind their superstitious lore. The remains of two old churches stand in the vicinity of this natural sculpture; the rich tradition and folk customs of this region are closely associated with this natural phenomenon. Throughout the centuries this area has seen an intertwining of natural phenomena and the life of man.

Tara National park with Drina river canyon 

Tara is Serbia’s westernmost projection, a section of mountains partly encircled by the Drina. It is approximately 50 km long and about 22 km wide, with an area of 183 km2. It’s average altitude is 1200m, therefore it would be classified as central highlands. There are certain points when nearly 1000 meter depth is yawning below us. In the Drina canyons, in certain areas the river is no wider than 100 meters, and 7-800 meter-high cliffs tower above us.

The Serbian spruce or “Pančićeva Omorika” is one of the unique qualities of the mountains, as they only grow in this area. The spruce got is name from Josip Pančić, the explorer who first described the tree in 1855.

Action was taken in 1950 to declare the area protected, but the founding of the national park was only accomplished in 1981. The area which has been declared a national park is 19. 175 ha large.

Deliblatska peščara 

Deliblato sands is a large sand area covering around 300 km² of ground in Vojvodinaprovince, Serbia. It is located in southern Banat. It is situated between the river Danube and the southwestern slopes of theCarpathian Mountains. The sand is named after the village of Deliblato, in the municipality of Kovin. Its main masses are elliptical shaped hills with steppe grassland plains and steppe forests. The Deliblato sands are the largest sandy terrain in Europe, once part of a vast prehistoric desert. It is home to many rare, endangered or endemic species of plants and animals in Europe and the world. Due to its forest and surroundings, it was proclaimed to be a Special Nature Reserve, on national level, it represents a natural asset of special importance falling under protection category I.

It originated from the withdrawal of the Pannonian Sea.

Negotin breweries 

In the area of the Negotin Frontier, famous for its vineyards dating from the ancient times, the village population, living off viticulture, used to establish secondary settlements – compounds not far from their permanent homes. The settlements were named after the wine cellars called “pivnice” in this region. These cellars were used to process grapes into wine and brandy, as well as storage facilities. Out of the many settlements located to the north-west and south from Negotin only a few remained: the Rajačke, Rogljevske (Rogljevačke), Štubičke and parts of Smedovačke, Trnjanske, Sikolske and Bratujevačke. The rest of them, such as Badnjevske, Rečanske, Mokranjske and many others no longer exist.

Smederevo fortress 

 Smederevo Fortress is the last great creation of the Serbian military construction, and one of the largest foritifications in the south-east Europe. It was built with great efforts in order to replace already lost Belgrade, which in 1427, after the death of Despot Stefan Lazarević it was handed over to the Hungarians. As a new centre of Serbia and a Despot Ðurađ Branković’s court, an uninhabited place on the confluence of the Jezava and the Danube rivers was chosen, which conditioned a triangular shape of the fortress ground plan. Unlike Belgrade, the new Smederevo Fortress covers a somewhat smaller defence area, with a simpler interior arrangement. During the first stage, between 1428 and 1430, a castle was erected with the ruler’s court, originally designed as an independent fortification. Soon after that, in the 1440’s, the ramparts were built around the area between the Jezava and the Danube rivers, covering an area of about 10ha, meant for an urban settlement.

Historical place of Bač

On the borders of the Pannonia plain and Danube regions, in the Vojvodina Province, there is the town of Bač which lent its name to the whole region between the Danube and Tisa rivers – Bačka. The flatlands bordered by rivers were once a marshy land with ponds and forests, but with time, man was starting to win battles with water, balancing the ratio between land and water. The area around Bač, with the Mostonga river meanders and its confluence with the Danube, testifies to the geomorphologic changes of the terrain, as well as on how it used to look in the distant past, before the waters started to be regulated and the land irrigated. All around Bač there are forests, ponds and marshes, listed as special natural reservations, with their specific forest ecosystems, habitats to natural rarities and to the globally endangered species. There are also archaeological sites, confirming the presence of man and the use of the marshy lands throughout the millennium. The preserved architectural heritage, built in the vast period from the 12th to the 19th century, under the influence of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Byzantine and Islamic art and the baroque represent a definite testimony to the cultural diversity, interlacing and linking the cultures of the Balkans with the West.

Manasija Monastery

Manasija  also known as Resava is a Serb Orthodox monastery near  Despotovac founded by Despot Stefan Lazarević betwen 1406 and 1418. The church is dedicated to the Holy Trinity. It is one of the most significant monuments of medieval Serbian culture and it belongs to the “Morava school”. The monastery is surrounded by massive walls and towers. Immediately following its foundation, the monastery became the cultural centre of the Serbian Despotate. Its School of Resava was  well -known for its manuscripts and translations throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, even after the fall of the Despotate to Ottoman Turks.

Stećak Medieval Tombstones 

Stećak or the medieval tombstones are the monolith stone monuments found in the regions of the present Bosnia and Herzegovina, parts of Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. The available sources suggest that they appear from the second half of the 12th century, then last through the 13th century and are intensively made and decorated in the 14th and 15th centuries. But in the 16th century they completely cease. Out of 70,000 recorded tombstones from about 3,300 sites, some 60,000 are in Bosnia and Herzegovina, about 4,400 in Croatia, about 3,500 in Montenegro and some 4,100 in Serbia. The elementary tombstone groups are the laid and the upright stone monoliths.

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