Morava monasteries

The tragic defeat of the Serbian armies by the Turks at the Battle of Marica in 1371 had two long-term consequences for the fate and future of the Serbian state and its people. The northern regions of the former kingdom, which especially in the time of the first Nemanjić rulers were neglected regions, in the time of Prince Lazar and Despot Stefan Lazarević became exceptionally important. They became the centre of Moravian Serbia and of the Despotate, where despite a lack of prior strong tradition or cultural movements a new school of art was born, which in the originality of its expression went far beyond the relatively constrained borders of the rejuvenated state.

The Morava school of architecture, the last great epoch in mediaeval Serbian art, lasted from 1371 to 1427. However, its reverberations can be traced all the way to Serbia’s loss of independence in 1459, when artistic activity was extinguished, and its last expression disappeared.

In the almost deserted and empty region of Pomoravlje and its neighbouring areas a form of art arose which synthesised previous artistic movements from the Byzantine empire and Serbia, and blended in certain native elements, especially in architecture. Serbia, as one of the last free Orthodox Christian states in the Balkans, became an oasis and refuge for a great many gifted and intelligent people, among whom architects, painters and writers made the greatest contribution to artistic and cultural rebirth.

The religious architecture of Moravian Serbia saw the establishment of the old symbol of the trefoil (three leaves), brought via Macedonia from Mount Athos. The arrangement and stepped configuration of building materials lends a pronounced vertical aspect to structures, above which rises a single central dome, or five domes – one central and four at the corners. The façades – built of stone and brick, broken up by cordon cornices, arcades and archivolts, decorated with a mixture of sculpted braids and rosettes, ceramic ornaments and other relief decorations around the windows and portals – bestow on the Moravian churches and monasteries the refined sense of taste and poetic feeling of the craftsmen who built them and those who ordered them built.