Wednesday, April 23, 2008

High Decani Monastery

One of the jewels of the Serbian medieval civilization, the monastery Visoki Decani (High Decani) is located at the foot of the Prokletije Mountains, in the valley of the river Bistrica. The construction of the church, dedicated to Christ the Pantocrator started in 1327. as the foundation of King Stefan Uros III Nemanjic, later called Decanski. The architect was Vita, a friar from Kotor, while the "building and fortifying" of the church were supervised by Archbishop Danilo II. In 1330. King Stefan issued his famous founding charter, signed in gold, giving to the monastery rich properties. After Stefan's death the construction was continued by his son Dusan, who completed the monastery in 1335. An adjacent hospital was built too. The alongside building works were done by protomaster George and his brothers. Painting started soon after finishing the building and lasted until 1350.
The Decani church is one of the largest Serbian medieval edifices. Its leght exceeds 36 meters, the width is 24, and the dome reaches the height of 29 m. At the eastern end of the central space there is a large apse, whereas two small ones belong to the prosthesis and diaconicon respectively. There are five naves, the middle one being the widest and domed with the support of four piers. The aisles have their own parecclesions with the apses eastward. The narthex is tripartite, somewhat lower and narrower than the nave. Each nave has three bays. The ribbed vaults rest not only on pilasters but also on four octagonal piers made of marble in the middle of the narthex. The church was built on marble slabs in three colors. Its sophisticated architecture harmoniously blends the western, Romanesque and Gothic movements with the eastern, Byzantine style, keeping the tradition of the Serbian arts.

High Decani monastery

In the Church of Christ Pantocrator is found the most ornate and best preserved sculpture in the Romanesque spirit, in the whole Serbian medieval art. The west portal shows the temple's patron Jesus Christ on the throne and with two angels. The lunette over the southern portal represents the baptism of Christ and contains a carved inscription about the monastery's foundation. Above the north portal there is a foliation in the form of a cross. The jambs and the capitals of the adjacent engaged columns on all portals have floral ornaments, while the north and west ones also have carvings on the shape of centaurs and dragons. Over the west portal, there are also free-standing sculptures of lions and gryphons. The handsome two-light and three-light windows add to the overall effect of luxurious ornamentation.

The painting works took fifteen years and was carried out by several groups of the best Serbian artists. The altar space has the common representations of the Adoration of the Lamb and the Communion of Apostles. Apart from the conventional scenes, several series of paintings in the nave illustrate the history of Christianity. The heigher registers of the subatomic space represent the Festival Cycle, whereas the lower ground-lines contain svenes from the life of Christ, his miracles, morals and the Passion. Follow the scenes from the Virgin's life and her Akathistos Hymn. A separate row of frescoes is devoted to St. John the Forerunner, St. Demetrius and St. Nicholas. Moreover, there are illustrations of the Acts of the Apostles and the Old Testament themes. On the vaults of the narthex the Seven Ecumenical Councils are painted. The west wall there depicts the Genealogy of the Nemanjic family, beginning with saintly Stefan Nemanja. The rest of the Decani narthex is mostly illustrated by the scenes that follow the Calendar. The founders and the members of their families have been portrayed on several places, so has Chancellor George, the one to be thanked for the frescoes in the narthex. There are five portraits of Emperor Dusan and four of Stefan Decanski. In terms of the total area painted and the number of scenes and figures depicted, Decani certainly leads among the fresco-painted entities of the medieval Serbian arts. Since the artists were many, one can see unevenness in style and artistic quality.

The treasury of the Decani monastery is the best-preserved one within the Serbian cultural heritage in terms of number of items, artistic achievements and historical endurance. There is also one whole gallery of icons dating back to the XIVth to XIXth century.

Sirmium - historical tourism

Sirmium entered the history in the course of the last decades of the old era, with the arrival of Roman legions, but the founders of the town (civitas) were the Pannonian Amantins and Celts, as inhabitants of the pre historical Sirmium. As a Roman settlement, Sirmium developed very rapidly and in the period of the Flavian dynasty (69 – 96 of our era) the town was granted the status of a colony. The important military needs at the susceptible Danubian frontier have contributed to the importance of Sirmium where there were frequently seats of headquarters of Roman troops. Several rulers, such as Traian, Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Maximinus and Gallienus visited Sirmium. The first rate importance of the town was confirmed by the events the middle of the III century, when the »Illyrian caesars«, born in Sirmium or in its surroundings (Decius Traian, Aurelian, Probus, Maximian Herculius), came to the throne of the Roman empire. The great Diocletian's reform made Sirmium, in 294, one of the capitals of the Empire. In the course of the rapid evolution, the town changed several times its town planning physiognomy and a military fortress in the beginning, Sirmium was transformed into an opulent and luxurious imperial residence, with the institutions accompanying the Roman administrative apparatus as well as the economical, religious and cultural life.
Numerous monuments of Sirmium point out a multinational population, composed of Romanized Illyrians and Celts and of immigrants from Italy, Greece, Gaul, Germany, Syria and Africa. In Sirmium there were large workshops in which weapons, glass, ornaments and metallic dishes and plates were manufactured. The Mint, founded by Constantine the Great. developed an important activity, it struck the famous gold bars with the figure of Fortuna, patron goddess of the town of Sirmium. The archaeological excavations brought to light the rests of the great Imperial palace, emperor Licinius's thermae, municipal granary, fragments of monumental town walls and dozen of other edifices and constructive details which corroborated the words of the ancient historian Amianus, Marcellinus, who qualified Sirmium as »glorious and populous Mother of towns."