The great diversity of building styles and architecture found in the medieval monasteries scattered all over Serbia demonstrates the various influences on its architecture and art, as well as on the Serbian state.
Over the centuries, monasteries have been the focal points of cultural and historic life. It was here that Serbian rulers were crowned and buried and here that printing shops, schools and many art workshops were founded.
Although the first mention of it was recorded in the 16th century, Fenek Monastery secured its place in Serbian history two centuries later, when it became the meeting point of Serbian political émigrés. The monastery owes its present-day appearance to major reconstruction works carried out at the end of the 18th century.
The church dedicated to the Holy Martyr Mother Paraskeva is designed as a single-nave building with a semi-circular altar apse, rectangular cantor’s stands and an octagonal cupola. Its lavishly adorned western façade is emphasised by a three-storey bell tower built in the baroque style.
Near the monastery, there is also a small oval-shaped chapel from 1800 which was, according to legend, built atop a healing well with magical powers.
The Belgrade community of Rakovica is home to the eponymous monastery built in the 16th century. Razed and reconstructed many times, it owes its present appearance to the Serbian royal house of Obrenović, who reconstructed it in the 19th century.Many illustrious Serbs are buried in the yard including commander Vasa Čarapić, general Milivoje Blaznavac and Serbian Patriarch Paul. It was also the site of the family tomb of Jevrem Obrenović, Prince Miloš Obrenović’s younger brother.
Not far from the town of Velika Plana lies Pokajnica church (“the Church of Repentance”), built in 1818. Its founder, prince Vujica Vuličević, had participated in the plot to assassinate his “kum” (best man) Karađorđe, the rebel leader of the First Serbian Uprising. To ease his guilty conscience, he built Pokajnica church near the scene of the assassination, a symbol of repentance for the part he played in this gruesome crime.
This curious log cabin of a church built from oak planks is covered by a striking, towering cone-shaped roof. Apart from the church itself, there is also a wood-made bell tower and a dormitory in Velika Plana.
This monastery complex dedicated to Saint Nicholas comprises the Church of Saint Nicholas, the Church of Saint Elias and the lesser Church of the Ascension. Built on a cross-shaped floor plan, with two domes and a spacious open portico, the Church of Saint Nicholas was first mentioned in the 12th century.
The present-day Church of Saint Nicholas was built in 1329 by Serbian King Stefan Dečanski and the building saw major reconstruction around 1570, after it had been razed by Ottoman Turks. Members of many noble families are interned here, while the two layers of frescoes, painted in the 14th and 16th Centuries, bear witness to the succession of devastations and reconstructions this monastery has experienced over the centuries.
The White Angel fresco earned Mileševa international glory: a photo of it was included in the first satellite video transmission in 1963 which Europe sent across the ocean. The same signal was also transmitted into space shortly thereafter.
Mileševa monastery was built in the 13th century by King Vladislav Nemanjić. To this day, Mileševa has remained a major spiritual and art centre of the Serbian people. It gained huge popularity among Serbs after the relics of the first Serbian archbishop Saint Sava were transferred from Trnovo in Bulgaria to Mileševa in 1236.
It was under the vault of this monastery that Tvrtko Kotromanić was crowned the King of Bosnia and Serbia and Stefan Vukčić Kosara received the title of “herceg” (Duke) in 1446.
During the 16th century the monastery ran a printing shop which copied liturgical books. The church is adorned with masterpieces of Serbian art, the highly vivid frescoes painted on a glittering golden background - symbolising resurrection.
Apart from the White Angel, visitors to Mileševa are greeted by frescoes portraying the ruling dynasty of Nemanjić, which are equally relevant as works of art and as historical evidence.
The monastery dedicated to Saint Nicholas in Kuršumlija was the first Serbian monastery with its own orthography school.
This 12th century shrine was built by Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja, who designated a section of the monastery as the place of interment for its patron.
His son Stefan Prvovenčani built the external narthex with two towers and the roofed portico between them, however only one tower and the central part of the church still remain.
Interestingly, this was where the first believers received their blessings after the Serbian Orthodox Church gained its independence in the 12th Century.
Poganovo monastery in Southern Serbia was built by one of the last Serbian noblemen in the 14th century, Konstantin Dragaš. Built from crushed stone and red brick, it stands out for its striking transition from the square-shaped base to the circular ring of the dome. The spacious portico in front of the dome is a 19th-Century addition, while the well-preserved frescoes dating back to the 15th century display the skills of medieval masters at their peak.
Roman IV Diogenes built the Prohor Pčinjski monastery to honour the saint who foretold he would be crowned emperor of Byzantium. The original 11th century edifice had been erected on top of the tomb of Venerable Prohor of Pčinja, but it has been razed and reconstructed several times since.
In the 14th century, the church was reconstructed by King Milutin, while the present-day multi-dome church was built in 1898.
Most of the frescoes at Prohor Pčinjski date back to the 15th century, while the southern side of the monastery boasts richly-coloured frescoes from the 16th century, made by fresco painters who had trained at the painting workshop which operated as part of the monastery at the time. The imposing monastery complex includes two dormitories and a beautifully decorated and maintained yard - an ideal picnic spot.