The Serbian medieval art is unique in its combination of influences and elements of the Western European art and the Byzantine art in the east, due to its special location of the Serbian lands, at the crossroads of interests and influences.
The Dynastic Family, the Nemanjas, played a major role in the political life of the medieval Serbia and therefore had a great influences on the art, which boomed in the late 12th and particularly 13th century in Raska.
Kraljevo: The Zica Monastery
The Monastery with the Church of the Savoir (Ascension of Christ) is in Central Serbia, between Kraljevo and Mataruška Spa, and was commissioned by the Nemanja’s sons, Stefan and Sava. The time is not exactly known. It has been assumed that it was started in 1206 and most probably completed by 1220.
Žiča turned into the first Seat of the Serbian Archbishoprics in 1219, when Sava Nemanja became the first Serbian Archbishop. Sava crowned Stefan the First Crowned in Žiča as the first King of Serbia. Žiča is known as the Coronation Church, (seven Kings of Serbia were coroneted there) and the church of designation of the Serbian Archbishops. It was decorated in frescoes after the acquisition of autonomy.
The architecture of Žiča follows the earlier Nemanja’s endowments, but is characterized by a considerably more complex building program, which became a model for the entire later Raška architecture. A robust Romanesque turret was built in front of the added monumental narthex.The Romanesque influence was reflected in the decoration of the portal and windows of this edifice as well as in the characteristic friezes of blind arcades. Scarce remnants of sculptures still clearly indicate Romanesque impact, most probably brought by the artisans of Kotor.
Kraljevo: The Studenica Monastery
The Monastery is near the Ibarska Gorge, near the settlement of Ušće and is surrounded by a fascinating hilly and lush forest landscape. The construction of the Monastery is associated with the zenith of might of Stefan Nemanja. Within the Studenica Monastery compound the most important and best known building is the church devoted to the Mother of God Evergetida – Church of our Lady, which is the crypt of Stefan Nemanja.
It was built in the period between 1183-1196/7. The Byzantine view of the world and Romanesque elements were brought together in a unique manner to create this major monument. The exterior is built in the Romanesque spirit, while its paintings bear the Byzantine characteristics. The Romanesque elements are mostly decorative façade finishing. The highest levels of the façade are done in characteristic arcade shaped friezes. Monumental portals are as characteristic as the richly decorated windows,magnificent portals and particularly the triforium on the altar apses, which dominates the eastern part of the church.
Sculptural ornaments and the form of that triforium served as a model and were literally replicated on the altar triforium of the Church in Dečani. The Romanesque decoration of the St. Marry’s church in Studenica represents one of the richeststylistic creations in the Serbian Medieval art. In 1986 UNESCO placed Studenica on the List of the World Cultural Heritage.
Raska: The Gradac Monastery
The Monastery is on the raised plateau above the river Brvenica, on the woody slopes of Mount Golija. The year of its foundation cannot be determined; it is assumed it was in the last quarter of XIII century. It is the endowment of Queen Helen d’Anjou, wife of King Uroš I, where she was burried in 1314. Helen d’Anjou was born in France and thanks to her origin many Romanesque and, generally, Western European elements found its way to Serbia.
The Monastery complex is dominated by the magnificent Church of our Lady, a one-nave and one-dome edifice. The structure of the church differs from the prevailing architectural tendencies towards slimmer and elongated buildings, reverting to the old models, primarily the Studenica Monastery. The incorporation of Byzantine and Romanesque elements rank the church among the monuments of the Raška School, however enriched by new formal, constructive and decorative solutions, it is similar to the art of the West. The architectural plastic carries the properties of the mature and late Romanesque art, similar to some of the early Gothic buildings, all being reflected primarily in the finishing of the portal capitol, mostly marble framed windows and a series of blind arcades on the roof corona. After Studenica, it was the most richly adorned church of 13th century in Serbia.
Novi Pazar: The Sopoćani Monastery
The Monastery is situated near the fountain of the River Raška, not far from the ancient town of Ras, which once was the Serbian Capital. The Monastery, with the church devoted to Trinity, is the endowment of King Uroš I (1243-1276). It was built in the second half of th 13th century and became the mausoleum of the royal family.
From the outside, the church looks like a three-nave basilica. In that sense the Sopoćanska Church resembles, in its form, the Romanesque churches of the West. The portals and all the windows, except of the cupola, are Romanesque in shape. The westernmost part of the church with a tower was built on later and bears the characteristics of Romanesque art. Although Sopoćanska Church has not many rich adornments on the façade, portals and doors, its greatest artistic achievement and value is the internal decoration – frescoes as well as one of the most exquisite painting of the European art in 13th century. Because of its exceptional spiritual, cultural and artistic value, the Monastery compound of Sopoćani (together with the complex of the ancient Ras) was included in the list of World Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO in 1979.
Novi pazar: The Djurdjevi Stupovi Monastery
The Monastery is near Novi Pazar, on top of a cone-like elevation, which is a rare position in theSerbian Medieval Art for a monastery. The construction of the Monastery was most probably started in 1167, and, according to the endower’s inscription on the western portal of the church, it was completed in 1170/71.
It was commissioned by Stefan Nemanja, who dedicated this church to St. George for letting him out of the dungeon-cave, in which his brothers put him. Following that conflict with his brothers, Stefan Nemanja took over the power of the Grand Zupan of Raška. Uniquely, the staircase leads to the western entrance, due the position of the church. Craftsmen from the coastlands have brought along their Romanesque skills. Characteristics of the Romanesque style are the two domes that are included in the plan of the church situated in the west, to the left and right of the narthex. The plan and spatial layout of the church, portals and stylistic finishing were all done in the Romanesque style. Djurdjevi Stupovi was also included in the World Art Heritage by UNESCO.
Novi Pazar: The Church of St. Peter and Paul near Old Ras
This is the most famous preserved heritage of the beginnings of the mediaval monumental architecture in Serbia. It was built by the end of 10th or beginning of the 11th century.
It was the Seat of the Diocese of Ras. According to the myth, Stefan Nemanja was baptized in this church. The architectural concept is quite distinctive. Its internal structure has the form of a tetracontagon, with a dome above the central part; while externally, it has the form of a rotunda with a protruded semi-circular apse to the east. The building material is broken stone. The surface of the facade is flat and the only decorations are shallow semi-circular niches on the octagonal tambour of the dome. The church has an added asymmetrical antechamber in the western and northern part of the building.