26 Jul The Manasija Monastery (Despotovac)
Head to the Manasija Monastery and visit one of Serbia’s most important cultural monuments, boasting a history stemming almost as far back as the bloody Battle of Kosovo. Built by Despot Stefan Lazarevic, the monastery sits on UNESCO’s Tentative List Process as of 2010 and is the final grand endowment of Serbia’s medieval rulers. Here you are invited to venture within the unrelenting 15th-century monastery walls that were once built to keep adversaries at bay.
The Manasija Monastery is located in the Resava River Gorge and as such is surrounded by lush hilly scenery. Named after Despot Stefan Lazarevic, Despotovac is the closest major town at just 2 km away, meaning that Serbia’s famous Resava Cave as well as the Veliki Buk waterfall are both nearby. Furthermore, Serbia’s big capital is just 126 km away, making the monastery and its surrounding area a great day trip option from Belgrade.
The story of this monastery begins in the early-15th century. Despot Stefan Lazarevic was on a quest to build a home of peace and silence. Legend has it that he watched his father, Prince Lazar build churches at a young age, and even then proclaimed that he would one day build a bigger and more beautiful church. He begun working on his ambition in 1407 and had achieved his goal by 1418. The end result – a church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, surrounded by tall walls and towers, serving as an unbreakable defence.
A grand total of 11 towers accompanied by imposing walls surround the inner monastery complex, each being identical save for the donjon tower. Otherwise known as the Despot tower, the donjon is the largest and most impressive. Unlike its fellow guardians, this tower is completely enclosed, features an elevated ground floor, and internal wooden structures partition each of its five levels. Meanwhile, the remaining towers feature a traditional ground-level, conjoining passageways running through the walls, and a grand total of six stories.
Stepping into the monastery grounds, you are immediately greeted by its church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Centrepiece of this medieval structure, the church derives from the Morava School of architecture and boasts partially preserved frescoes dating back to the monastery’s inception. Head to its western wall to find what is arguably its most important piece – a fresco depicting Stefan Lazarevic receiving a sword and scepter from Christ himself, while holding a model of the monastery in one hand and a charter in the other. Considered to be one of the most beautiful frescoes in all of Medieval Serbia, the Holy Warriors shows what 15th-century Serbian weaponry and clothing looked like.
The Manasija Monastery is undoubtedly one of Medieval Serbia’s most impressive military structures. Construction of the monastery began in 1407 and had taken just over a decade. The monastery quickly become a cultural centre for the Serbian Despotate and in 1427 it finally became the resting place of its founder.
Tips & Essentials:
Find a souvenir shop located at the monastery entrance. Here you may buy the monastery wine, hand-woven products, and even “slatko”, a traditional Serbian dessert.
The Serbian Orthodox Church canonised Stefan Lazarevic 500 years following his death, on July 19, 1927. The Manasija Monastery marks this day on an annual basis, as it’s the most symbolic day on its calendar.
Semi-formal and modest attire is advisable, as is with all holy sites in the country.
How to get to the Manasija Monastery:
Public transport presents a very viable means of getting to the Manasija Monastery. Buses travel directly from Belgrade to Despotovac, from which you can find a connecting local service or even walk to the monastery – easy.
If you’re coming here with your own transport, then take the E75 highway from Belgrade to Despotovac, through which you must pass to get to the monastery.