Stari Ras (old city) was the capital of the Serbian empire Raszien in the Middle Ages. Remains of various fortresses, monasteries and churches can still be found from this time. The Sopoćani Orthodox Monastery from the 13th century has significant frescoes and is a reminder of the contacts with the Byzantine culture.
Stari Ras and Sopoćani Monastery: Facts
|Official title:||City of Stari Ras and Sopoćani Monastery|
|Cultural monument:||at Ras Church of St. George with the oldest Byzantine frescoes in Serbia; Sopoćani monastery and mausoleum of Uroš I (reign 1243-76); Trinity Church with the fresco »Death of the Mother of God«, as well as a fresco depicting the death of Queen Anna Dandolo|
|Location:||Stari Ras, west of Novi Pazar|
|Meaning:||the first capital of Serbia, the nearby monastery Sopoćani an »intersection of the western and eastern churches«|
Stari Ras and Sopoćani Monastery: History
|6th century BC Chr.||first settlement|
|9th century||Peterskirche on the remains of a Roman rotunda|
|1265-70||Monastery foundation by King Uroš I.|
|around 1265||Fresco »Death of the Mother of God« in the Trinity Church|
|1389||Damage to the monastery after the Turkish invasion|
|1689||Task of the Sopoćani Monastery|
|1929||new roof structure for the Holy Trinity Church|
Treasures of Serbian fresco painting
The traces of the first capital of Serbia have largely disappeared in the dust of history. Only the “treasure trove of Byzantine art”, the nearby Sopoćani monastery, has survived the turmoil of time almost unscathed. This monastery is one of the most beautifully situated monasteries in Serbia. A gently rising road leads through a lonely forest landscape and past small rock groups to Novi Pazar, which still has an old, oriental-looking center between high-rise buildings.
The monastery complex at the end of the valley and the softly contoured hills, meadows and pastures form a harmonious ensemble. As tranquil and isolated as the region now appears to the visitor, in the High Middle Ages there was hustle and bustle here, as an important trade route between the Aegean and the Adriatic ran through Novi Pazar. Merchants with their caravans and crowned heads with their courtiers once wandered through the area, which today seems rather deserted.
The monastery was built in the second half of the 13th century as a mausoleum for King Uroš I. It is presumably due to his educated wife Helena of Anjou, who knew how to promote art, culture and science in the kingdom. During the more than 30-year reign of Uroš I, trade, agriculture and mining, which the Romans had already practiced, ensured modest prosperity.
In the time of Uroš I, the Holy Trinity Church was surrounded by chapels, farm buildings and residential buildings. The tower and outer vestibule were built long after the founder of the monastery died in the middle of the 14th century. The war between the Austrians and the Ottomans ended monastic life in the second half of the 17th century; the monks moved north and the monastery gradually fell into disrepair. Only extensive restorations in the fifties of the 20th century saved this unique monument for posterity.
The church looks rather simple from the outside; the plastic decorations are modest. One is surprised at the sight of the dignified wall paintings inside. About half of the frescoes, which originally covered an area of 1400 square meters, have been preserved despite all the adversities and give an idea of the splendor of colors in which the nave once shone, even though the gold background of most of the murals was destroyed.
The dominant large fresco on the west wall of the ship depicts a Dormition Virginis, the death of Mary. Here the unknown artist has succeeded in creating an extraordinarily harmonious composition of colors and shapes. Christ received the soul of his mother Mary, depicted as a baby in a child, in a moved attitude; two angels guide the soul into paradise. The finely crafted faces of the saints and apostles who hurried to express grief and affection.
Unfortunately, the figures of the apostles John, Peter and the very serious-looking Paul in the side choirs are only preserved in fragments. On the south wall of the apse the founder King Uroš I, who wears the monastery model, and his father Stefan Nemanjić – the “first crowned”, because he was the first of the Nemanjid rulers to wear a royal crown.
Who were these outstanding masters who worked here in Serbia in the second half of the 13th century? Perhaps artists from the Byzantine imperial court worked here. Because after the occupation of Byzantium by the Crusaders in 1204 and the subsequent looting, the once prosperous city fell. It led to the departure of Greek scholars and artists, whose paths may cross again in Serbia.