Take the opportunity to during your stay in Montenegro visit another jewel of the world cultural heritage from the list of UNESCO – Visoki Decani Monastery in which church was built century and a half before Columbus was sailed to the coast of America and where history is under the protection of a saint.
The road to Decani follows the coast of Montenegro, plains and foothills of the giant peaks of Prokletije in Albania and Kosovo where passes modern highway.
Although surrounded and protected from all sides by high and seemingly impassable mountain ranges of Prokletije, Sar planina and Kopaonik, the region of Kosovo and Metohija is accessible through natural passes through which influences of various civilizations reached it over the centuries.
More than eight travel directions meet at this point, some of which were the main medieval communications between Europe, the Adriatic Sea, the Middle and the Far East.
Kosovo lies in the eastern part of a fertile valley. In the Middle Ages the western part of the territory was covered by «metochions» (the monastic establishments, properties) and thus its name «Metohija».
When we get closer to the Decani monastery view on surrounding hills will especially enchant you. The hills covered with chestnut with a lush and large treetop adorned this untouched landscape.
The Visoki Decani Monastery is located in the valley of Decanska Bistrica River, below the mountain range of Prokletije, close to the town of Decani, in Kosovo and Metohija.
Between the flat grounds of the valley and the mountainous backdrop, appearing from the access road as the central object in the vertical axis of the gorge, the monastery church dominates, monumental not only in the architectural sense, but in the historical and artistic, cultural, spiritual, and traditional as well.
Visoki Decani Monastery is the largest Serbian Medieval structure 30 m wide, 36 m tall, dome 29 m high and thus the name «Visoki Decani» (High Decani). The church is dedicated to the Ascension of Christ.
Church was built as the endowment of King Stefan of Decani who died before the building of the church was completed.
King Stefan was born in 1285 from the marriage of King Milutin, the founder of the monastery of Gracanica, and Princess Anna of Bulgaria. At the age of 10 he became a hostage of the Tartars in Mongolia, sent there as a live token of a secure border. He spent three years in the Tatar plains only to return to Serbia after the death of Nogai Khan. Back in Serbia, although not of age, he married Princess Theodora, daughter of the contemporary Bulgarian sovereign.
Following a conspiracy, inspired by the new Queen, second wife of King Milutin, and a group of noblemen who were young prince’s adversaries, King Milutin became convinced that his son wanted to seize the throne. Consequently, he blinded his son for, according to the Byzantine law, because no blind man could ever ascend to the throne. On the night when he was blinded, Stefan was visited by St. Nicholas in a dream and eased the prince’s pain by placing his palm over his burning eyes.
King Milutin proceeded to send Stefan to Constantinople, to the court of Andronicus II Palaiologos, who took mercy on the boy, allowing him to live in the monastery of Christ Pantocrator (currently Zeyrek Mosque). After five years in exile and a holy and modest monastic life, Milutin’s son decided to return to Serbia, rendering the entire court speechless when presenting himself in front of the court without a blindfold. St. Nicholas miraculously returned sight to Stefan during a night vigil.
After the death of Milutin, Stefan became king, crowned by Nicodimus the Archbishop of the Pec Patriarchate on 6 January 1322. From 1324 to 1326 the King defended Serbia from invaders, defeating the mighty army of the Bulgarian empire and laying siege to the free city of Ragusa in Dalmatia (now Dubrovnik) that had previously rebelled.
As a sign of gratitude to the Lord, he decided to build churches in Jerusalem, on Mount Athos, in Constantinople and in Alexandria. Not forgetting the help of the Saint, he donated the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari with a silver altar and several holy icons.
King Stefan of Decani is in gratitude because return of eyesight, donated to Saint Nicholas 1327 with gold and silver encrusted icon of St. Nicholas, which is still located in the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari (Italy).
He was generous with clerics, involved in helping the poor. Finally, he started the construction of the monastery of Decani, which was later finished by his son and Serbian Emperor Dusan. King Stefan died at the Fortress of Zvecan on 11 November 1331.
Stefan’s fame soon started to spread when miracles and miraculous healings started to occur in Decani where he was buried. The Serbian Orthodox Church venerates him as a Martyr Saint. His Feast falls on 24 November.
In honour of the Holy King Stefan, every Thursday night at the monastery of Decani, a special rite – The Canon of Holy Petition to King Stefan – is being officiated. It is a deep and impressive ceremony, chanted in its entirety by monks. The verses inspire admiration and hope in the holy benevolence the King.
In the candlelight of processional cressets, blurred by the haze of incense that spread its fragrance through the monastery chambers, the monks sing harmoniously.
If you can time your visit, it’s an unforgettable experience to listen to traditional Orthodox chorals in this amazing setting.
The construction of the Church of Christ Pantocrator was started in 1327. According to the architectural complexity, and permeation of western and Byzantine forms, Decani church is a unique medieval monument.
Its construction is completed son of King Stefan – Dusan in 1335. At the same time as the church, were built dormitories and monumental refectory, the monastery is surrounded by a high wall with a tower above the entrance, and it was built also and monastery hospital.
The layout of the Monastic court is based on the concept common in Serbian medieval architecture since the 12th century. Accordingly, the boundary walls of the Monastery form a circle which encloses all the buildings required for daily life.
The principal church (katholikon) is in the centre, oriented west to east. The other monastic buildings are positioned along the circular boundary wall, on the west and north sides: Leontije’s dormitory, south-west entrance, west entrance, kitchen, refectory, Archimandritia (head of the monastery), Milo’s dormitory.
The church represents the last important phase of Byzantine – Romanesque architecture in the Balkan region. Built in marble, it is the largest of all medieval Balkan churches, and is exceptionally rich in wellpreserved Byzantine painting and Romanesque sculpture.
On all sides, only entrances into the church are marble portals, and alongside them, as well as on the areas of the naos and the altar area, single and double windows with semi–circular or interrupted arches and characteristic Gothic profiles.
Of large dimensions and well placed, all the openings are enough of a source of light for the interior – in the central area of the naos, light comes in through the dome, and from the western and eastern ends – over the great portal and on the apse of the sanctuary – through wide three-light mullioned windows.
The exterior is richly decorated with sculpture, while its interior is clad with Byzantine frescoes.
Several hundreds of compositions, organized is a number of different cycles bedeck the walls and the vaults of the church interior.
The temple is up to 1350, painted some of the best fresco painters of Dusan’s empire.
The frescoes of Decani are leaders of the medieval Serbian painting while the monastery treasury, by the richness and artistic value.
Special monastery preciousness are Reliquary Crosses of Emperor Dusan (left) and King Stefan of Decani (right).
Over time, the church of Decani received donations that amount to a real treasure, comprising of icons, inlaid furniture, liturgical objects and books.
The Decani collection includes more than 90 icons, dating from the 14th to the 17th century. The oldest icons are of an exceptional artistic quality, representing the artistic peak of the Serbian and Byzantine painting. Many of the icons from the 16th century are thought to be made by the famous iconographer Longin. There are testimonies of his presence in the Decani monastery from at least three independent sources.
Decani also treasures a rich collection of 160 manuscripts and 17 printed antique books. Most are of a liturgical content and have been used while officiating the Divine Liturgy to the present day. The collection mainly contains Gospels, Missals and Books of Prayer. However, one can also find writings of the Holy Fathers, as well as manuscripts that narrate the life in the monastery.
Many sacred objects have a long and interesting history, from the lead ampullae, found in the Reliquary of St. Stefan Decanski, via the candleholder for votive candles, from the 14th century, cast in bronze with lion-shaped feet and cube-shaped ornaments and the Bells of Gregory (donated by a blind son of the Serbian Prince Djordje Brankovic), dating from the 1440s, up to Mastrelena from 1458, with an inscription in Greek.
The church still has most of its original furniture (altar tables, iconostasis screens, two royal sarcophagi, the royal throne, etc.) a unique occurrence among Balkan churches of this period.
The church appeared even richer in ancient times due to gold plates that used to cover its black marble floor. Only few fragments of the ancient golden floor remain today.
In the interior, protected under the roof, the reliefs on the portal in front of the naos have preserved, among other things, excellent figures of griffins and lions and strong lion’s body on which free-standing columns are rest.
Two magnificent candleholders (svećnjak in Serbian) dominate the south side of the narthex. Their higher parts are reserved for small votive candles, lit by churchgoers while praying. Two lower parts of candleholders are traditionally reserved for candles for the dead. In candleholder, a large candle lit for the Italian Army, which is not only engaged in the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, but serves are a patron of the monastery, burns continuously since 1999.
The church survived the hostilities of 1999 unharmed, though the monastery was threatened by hostile neighbours until its security was put into the hands of KFOR troops that guard the complex around the clock.
The monastery complex is surrounded by a tall wall with a massive barrel-vaulted gate where you’ll need to surrender your passport or ID card while visiting.
Other monastic buildings, including a refectory, kitchen, dormitories, as well as utilitarian buildings are organized peripherally against the outer wall of the monastery.
The fountain with pure spring water flows peacefully – as it has for centuries.
The Monastery is reminiscent of a large farm.
The worthy monks breeding various animals: cows, goats, sheep. They keep chicken and maintain beehives.
They cultivate orchards, vegetable gardens, fields of seasonal crop and vineyards.
Wheat, corn, apples and vegetables are grown on the monastery lands.
In autumn, after the harvest, the whole monastic community prepares ajvar, a classic Serbian speciality with red paprika as the main ingredient.
They operate a mill, build cabinets and paint icons. The monks produce excellent cheeses, rakija – the traditional Serbian brandy, wine and honey.
The most famous winery in this region is Winery of Decani (Decanska vinica), where monks of Decani make wine. The Monastery complex has a wine cellars, too. There you can taste and buy the best Metohija’s wines.
Monastery has a gift shop where you can purchase wine from monastery’s vineyards, cheese, honey, candles, books and other items.
Several popular publications have appeared so far and they could be bought at the monastery. Beside the books, visitors have at their disposal postcards with architectural and fresco motives of the Decani church, as well as souvenirs which are mainly made by the monks themselves (small crosses, icons…).
There are no continuously present expert guides in Decani Monastery. A number of monks has a very good knowledge of foreign languages and completely satisfies the criteria for expert presentation of the cultural and historical values of the monument, to domestic as well as to foreign visitors.
A charming Guest book, preserves witten traces of various people who visited the monastery over the decades.
In recognition of its extraordinary qualities, the monastery church of Decani was one of the sites inscribed in 2004 on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The luxurious beauty of the church literally breathtaking for those who saw her for the first time and never ceases to amaze. The facade of the Visoki Decani Monastery is covered with beautiful white, gray and pink marble, always has a different reflection in relation to the time of day and weather conditions, and always is in contrast with the green lawn so that they dominate its magnificent surroundings.
Our little walk in the monastery’s yard, the cheerful spurting water from the water-fountain and the stunning picturesque view, all these things deserved the long trip and all these passed kilometres.
Price: from 90,00 € per person
More about this beautiful monastery, the cultural heritage of Serbs but also the cultural heritage of the whole world you can find out on the official web presentation of the Decani Monastery. Their site is multilingual and information about this jewel are available in Serbian, English, Russian, Italian and Greek.
We wish you a pleasant visit to the Decani Monastery and the wonderful people who take care of the monastery.