Friday, July 06, 2007

Manasija Monastery

The first of two main stops on our second day was the heavily fortified monastery of Menasija. Located just outside of Despotovac, Menasija was built between 1407 and 1418. Built in the Moravian School style, its “Resava School” became a cultural center for writers and artists from provinces that had already fallen to Turkish rule. Translations and writings that occurred here (even during the 15th and 16th centuries) changed the history of South Slavic literature and language, spreading its influence over all of the orthodox Balkans. Had the Turks not interrupted these artistic endeavors, the Resava School may have become the focal point for the Serbian equivalent of the Italian Renaissance.

The interior is protected by massive walls, 11 towers, and trenches, the structure’s construction definitely depicts the dangers of the times when Turkish raids were increasingly common. Despite the attempts at protection, Menasija also fell to the Turks, first in 1439, then 1456 (at which time it was looted and burned), robbed multiple times and then renewed several times between 1735 and 1854. During the Austrian occupation, the gunpowder kept in the church blew up most of the narthex, necessitating a large amount of rebuilding. Nearly half of the frescoes were ruined from roof leaks after the lead roof of the church was taken away by the Turks for munitions creation. What remains are some of the most beautiful frescoes of the Serbian middle ages and pinnacle of the Morava school of painting. Among the notable frescoes are what is considered the best portrait of Depot Stefan and the Holy Warriors, complete with realistic depictions of weapons of the time. Due to work on the 15th century marble tiled floor, the workers weren’t too keen have tourists inside, so I only had a few minutes to enjoy the view before I had to exit the church via a plank. Instead, we were left to admire the simply styled marble outside built during the Nemanajić dynasty. Standing 25.6 meters tall, the cathedral of Menasija is second only in height to the church of the “High” Dečani in Kosovo. The elongated domes were especially elegant.

To the south of the church are the remains of a stone refectory stood, hopefully being restored. Currently, bright red flowers lined the curved tops of the ruins.

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