Studenica Monastery is one of the largest and richest Serb Orthodox monasteries, best known for its collection of 13th- and 14th-century Byzantine-style fresco paintings.
It's a representative example of the typical Rascian architectural style, which has a mix of Romanesque and Byzantine elements. The monastery was founded in 1183 by Stefan Nemanja - founder of the medieval Serb state. Its fortified walls encompass three churches: the Church of the Virgin and the Church of the King, both of which were built using white marble, and the smaller and simpler Church of St. Nicholas.
The monastery was the cultural and spiritual centre of medieval Serbia. It produced the Studenica Typicon, the first book of literature in Serbian.
Map of Studenica MonasteryLoad map
I visited this WHS in 2022 visiting en route the uninscribed Zica monastery. The latter monastery is red no more, at least at the time of visit, but it still looks good without paint both outside and inside. Likewise, Studenica Monastery's red painted dome had its paint removed, but this seemed quite temporary as I noticed a number of buckets of red paint on the side.
The Studenica Monastery was built between 1186 and 1196 in a once desolate region, on the fertile slopes of the Radocelo mountain. Its founder, Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja, could be compared to Noah from the Old Testament, because with Studenica Nemanja created also the ship of salvation by which he brought his people to the Lord, as glorified in the hymns of praise echoing inside the monastery. Stefan Nemanja abdicated in 1196, took the monastic vows and a new name, Simeon. He is represented really well on the south wall of the church, as a monk with the Studenica church in his hand, a recurring theme I had also noted at the Zica Monastery and at the Gracanica Monastery in Kosovo. The crown on Stefan Nemanja's head reminds believers that he left the earthly treasures of fame, power and wealth, for the skae of a modest monastic life and in that way he became an unrivaled model for his descendants.
Stefan Nemanja built the gorgeous church of Studenica remembering his former imprisonment in Constantinople, and dedicated it to the Virgin Benefactress. Excellent builders and stonecutters for the Grand Prince created an extremely harmonious church of perfect proportions with a striking appearance with white marble. This can especially be appreciated on the rear side of the bigger church. Within the fortified walls with half-timbered towers, there are actually three churches, the main bigger church dedicated to the Virgin, the smaller King's church and the much smaller Church of St. Nicholas. Studenica Monastery is one of the largest and richest Serb Orthodox monasteries and apart from its striking exterior appearance, its highlight are undoubtedly its collection of 13th and 14th century Byzantine style frescoes. Photography isn't allowed inside the church but I seem to have timed my visit with the monks' lunch time, so I was free to visit completely on my own.
In the southwest part of the main church Stefan Nemanja prepared a tomb for himself and surmounted it with a white marble sarcophagus. Since he died in Chilandar Monastery in 1199, his relics were only interred in Studenica in 1207. The first hegumen of Studenica, Dionisije, died on 1st June in an unknown year, and was buried next to the church near the place where Simeon Nemanja is buried inside the church. His grace is marked with an inscription on the south wall of the church. Having parked near the western entrance tower to be far enough from any possible sign prohibiting the use of my drone, I could really appreciate the monastery's fortified walls with an axial east-west axis layout which is really accentuated when viewed from above. Inside there is the newer residence and the great old residence which are stictly out of bounds apart from a small gift shop. There is no UNESCO WHS inscription plaque but only a mere location map with the UNESCO symbol on it.
After a closer look to the white marble, I was really impressed by the frieze of blind arcades under the eaves of the bigger Church of the Virgin, sculpturally embellished with various carved floral and zoomorphic motifs, the most striking being those of human heads and heads of fantastic creatures. Also worth a closer look are the lavish Romanesque portals, especially those on the western facade, the three-light window in the centre of the main apse, and the rich decoration on the doorposts of the southern portal. On the lintel of the western portal, I really liked the double twisted tendrils with two carved birds, one with its wings spread, probably an eagle, and a bird of paradise with a human head and a Phrygian cap, symbolising Stefan Nemanja and Sirin or Alkonost respectively. Another lovely carving in the center of the tympanum is that of a dragon devouring a human figure turned upside down.
Serbia has quite a lot of inscribed and non-inscribed monasteries on the WH list but this probably is the best Serbia has to offer with beautiful highlights both on its exterior as well as inside with its great collection of frescoes.
Located in a rural and remote corner of Serbia, Studenica Monastery is the nicest Serbian Orthodox monastery and church I visited while in Serbia. It is a fortified monastery, with walls and a tower, that reminded me of the churches in Romania. And it has great murals and a good state of preservation, probably owed to the remoteness. I think the consistency was the part that impressed me the most.
You can get to Studenica from both Kraljevo and Novi Pazar. Take a bus between the two and get off at Usce. From Usce, there are a few daily connections to Miliće which stop in Studenica. The connection is timed to match the bus from Kraljevo. Details are found here. You should check with the bus driver regarding return times. There was ample time for the visit and having a sandwich before jumping the bus back.
I came in the morning by bus from Kraljevo and left in the afternoon for Novi Pazar. My original plan had been to catch a cab to the monastery, but Usce doesn't have cabs. I had already started a 2h hike when I saw a bus behind me heading the proper direction.
On my return to Usce via the same bus, I caught the bus to Novi Pazar. Note: Usce has an "official" bus terminal, but some buses stop along the road, 20m off the bus terminal.
While You Are There
Novi Pazar and Stari Ras is a natural next stop. There are direct buses. If you are in Kraljova (kings town), you may want to the Žiča monastery. It's not a world heritage material (too much rebuilt), but it gives a bit context to Studenica.
When you get to the place called Ušće, you take a right turn from the main road and after 11 km, you are there. There is a bus line from Ušće to Studenica and back, but it doesnt go so often. I walked from monastery back, but it wasnt so good idea, because there is now light where the road goes, only forests and mountains. I recommend to go by stop, there will be always someone from locals driving that way. Monastery is very important for Serbian history, founded by the Stefan Nemanja, first ruler of Serbia. In monastery you can see remains of Stefan Nemanja, his wife Ana and their middle son Stefan, who was the first king of Serbia.
Despite its prominent place in Serbian history, the Studenica Monastery nowadays is a simple and quiet place. I drove there from Vrnjacka Banja (a spa town near Kraljevo), stopping on my way at the rather grand Zica Monastery. Well, at least they have a car park that is made for hundreds of visitors. And its bright red colour (after Mount Athos) draws attention from afar.
None of that awaits at Studenica. It's a little more remote, uphill on a winding road through the pretty mountains that also are a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. I ended up at the backside of the monastery, where I took the last parking spot among 8 or so. The monastery is fully surrounded by a stone wall, including a tower and two gates.
The inner area of the monastic complex is quite small. Around the edges lie the rooms that are in use by the current monks - this is an active monastery. I visited on Sunday, May 5th, which happened to be Easter Sunday in the Julian Calendar which is used by the Serbian-Orthodox Church. The Serbian visitors were dressed in their Sunday best, and two families had their little babies baptized in the Church of the King by a bearded priest clothed in black.
The larger church (Church of the Virgin) has a pretty typical Rascian design, a mix of white marble and a romanesque front combined with Byzantine murals inside. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside, so I cannot show what it looks like. The paintings featuring mainly blue and gold colours cover most of the walls. The state of repair varies - the site does look as if it could use some extra money. No entrance fee is asked though.
What struck me most about this visit is the monastery's quietude and pleasant atmosphere. The areas between the churches are filled with flowering trees, great to smell, and a real attraction to large amounts of endless zooming bees. I sat on a bench in the garden for a while, just to enjoy it all.
Read more from Els Slots here.
Studenica Monastery is a huge complex including several churches, being the main one dedicated to the Presentation of the Holy Virgin. Besides this one there is another church dedicated to Saints Joachim and Anne, a small church dedicated to Saint Nicholas with beautiful frescoes inside and the foundations of another church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.
In order to get the Monastery you should leave from Belgrade heading for the town of Nis and taking a secondary road that is crossing the towns of Kragujevac and Kraljevo. In a short distance from Studenica there are some other monasteries such as Zica and Sopocani, being this last one a World Heritage Site as well.
If you are fond of orthodox churches, as for sure I am, this is definitely a place that you will enjoy.
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