DECANI MONASTERY

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.

Highway Durres-Kukes Albania

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.

Metohija

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».

Patriarchate of Pec Monastery

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 complex of Visoki Decani Monastery

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.

Bistrica River - Decani Monastery

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.

Monastery Visoki Decani

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.

Dome of Decani Monastery

Church was built as the endowment of King Stefan of Decani who died before the building of the church was completed.

Stefan Uros III Decanski - Mural in Visoki Decani Monastery

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.

Fresco from the Monastery of Decani

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.

St. Nicholas returns eyesight to Stefan of Decani

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.

Fresco painting from Visoki Decani Monastery

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.

Fresco painting from Visoki Decani Monastery

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.

Tomb of Saint Nicholas in Bari - Italy

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).

Donation (made in 1327) of Serbian Tsar Stephen Uros III to The Saint Nicholas Basilica in Bari

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.

Fresco painting from Visoki Decani Monastery

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.

Stefan Decanski - Decani Monastery

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.

The celebration of St. Stefan - Decani Monastery

In the candlelight of processional cressets, blurred by the haze of incense that spread its fragrance through the monastery chambers, the monks sing harmoniously.

Monks in Decani Monastery

If you can time your visit, it’s an unforgettable experience to listen to traditional Orthodox chorals in this amazing setting.

Candlelight in Decani Monastery

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.

Dome of the Monastery of Decani

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.

Entrance to the Decani Monastery

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.

Monastic court - Decani Monastery

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.

Principal church (Katholikon) - Decani Monastery

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.

Manastir Decani

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.

Window in Decani Monastery

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.

Windows in Decani Monastery

The exterior is richly decorated with sculpture, while its interior is clad with Byzantine frescoes.

Frescoes monastery Decani

Several hundreds of compositions, organized is a number of different cycles bedeck the walls and the vaults of the church interior.

The Family tree of Jesse - Decani Monastery

The temple is up to 1350, painted some of the best fresco painters of Dusan’s empire.

Monastery frescoes - Visoki Decani

The frescoes of Decani are leaders of the medieval Serbian painting while the monastery treasury, by the richness and artistic value.

The iconostasis in the monastery of Visoki Decani

Special monastery preciousness are Reliquary Crosses of Emperor Dusan (left) and King Stefan of Decani (right).

Reliquary Crosses of Emperor Dusan and King Stephen-Treasury of the Decani Monastery

Over time, the church of Decani received donations that amount to a real treasure, comprising of icons, inlaid furniture, liturgical objects and books.

Treasury of the Monastery Visoki Decani

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.

The iconostasis in the Monastery of Decani

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.

Antique books from the Treasury of the Monastery of Decani

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.

Candle holder in Decani monastery

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.

Interior of the Monastery Visoki Decani

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.

Ancient Golden Plated Floor - Decani Monastery

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.

Figures of lions - Decani Monastery

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.

Magnificent candleholders - Decani Monastery

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.

Patrol of the Italian military near the Decani monastery

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.

Checkpoint at the entrance to the Decani Monastery

Other monastic buildings, including a refectory, kitchen, dormitories, as well as utilitarian buildings are organized peripherally against the outer wall of the monastery.

The priests in the Decani Monastery

The fountain with pure spring water flows peacefully – as it has for centuries.

Fountain in Decani Monastery

The Monastery is reminiscent of a large farm.

Monastery estate - Decani Monastery

The worthy monks breeding various animals: cows, goats, sheep. They keep chicken and maintain beehives.

Beehives in Decani Monastery

They cultivate orchards, vegetable gardens, fields of seasonal crop and vineyards.

Vineyards of Decani Monastery

Wheat, corn, apples and vegetables are grown on the monastery lands.

Tomatoes in the Monastery of Decani cultivated by monks

In autumn, after the harvest, the whole monastic community prepares ajvar, a classic Serbian speciality with red paprika as the main ingredient.

Monks prepare Ajvar - Decani Monastery

They operate a mill, build cabinets and paint icons. The monks produce excellent cheeses, rakija – the traditional Serbian brandy, wine and honey.

The monks produce excellent cheeses - Decani Monastery

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.

Quality red wine from the monastery Decani

Monastery has a gift shop where you can purchase wine from monastery’s vineyards, cheese, honey, candles, books and other items.

Gift Shop - Decani Monastery

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…).

Souvenirs made by the monks - Decani Monastery

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.

Decani church in the snowy surroundings

A charming Guest book, preserves witten traces of various people who visited the monastery over the decades.

The Feast of St. King Stefan of Decani

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.

UNESCO's World Heritage List - Decani Monastery

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.

Magical fairytale in Decani Monastery

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.

Winter evening at Decani Monastery

Price: from 90,00 € per person

Excursion map Decani Monastery