Sunday, 20 August 2017

The Serbian Convent of Gračanica: Heavens Made of Stone

Text by Balkan Travellers | Photographs Serbian Orthodox Diocese in Raska and Prizren   
This monastery is the smallest of the three key treasures of Serbian Orthodoxy in Kosovo, but it is arguably the most exquisite one. As the twentieth-century Serb poet Desanka Maksimović wrote, “O Gračanica, if you were not made of stone, you would be raised to the skies.”

The monastery was built by king Milutin at the beginning of the fourteenth century and is the epitome of the Serbo-Byzantine style.

If it were not for its monumentality and crosses, adorning the cupolas, it resembles a somewhat eccentric French villa. Its vestibule's high-arched windows let in a quantity of light unusual for a Balkan monastery and add a delicate beauty not typical for the region.

The frescoes inside the church date from various periods, as the building suffered damages during the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 and the walls were redone several times, including in 1570.

The medieval treasure of Gračanica was lost between 1379 and 1383 to the Ottoman invaders. Currently the monastery has in possession valuable icons from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and some important manuscripts from the same époque.

Yet the material heritage, which shrunk through the centuries, is surprisingly small for the role Gračanica had at the end of the sixteenth century, when it was an important cultural centre with highly valued library and thriving printing activities.

Practical information: Gračanica monastery is situated 5 km south of Priština, in a Serbian enclave with the same name.

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