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Visoki Dečani

Coordinates: 42°32′48.9984″N 20°15′57.999″E / 42.546944000°N 20.26611083°E / 42.546944000; 20.26611083
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Visoki Dečani Monastery
Dečani Monastery
Манастир Високи Дечани (Serbian)
Manastir Visoki Dečani (Serbian)
Manastiri i Deçanit (Albanian)
Visoki Dečani Church
Visoki Dečani is located in Kosovo
Visoki Dečani
Location of Visoki Dečani within Kosovo
Monastery information
OrderSerbian Orthodox
DioceseEparchy of Raška and Prizren
Founder(s)King Stefan Dečanski
AbbotSava Janjić
Important associated figuresStefan Dečanski, Stefan Dušan
StyleSerbo-Byzantine style
LocationDeçan, Kosovo
661 m (2,168.6 ft)
Coordinates42°32′48.9984″N 20°15′57.999″E / 42.546944000°N 20.26611083°E / 42.546944000; 20.26611083
Public accessyes
Criteriaii, iii, iv
Designated2004 (28th session)
Part ofMedieval Monuments in Kosovo
Reference no.724
RegionEurope and North America
Official nameManastir Dečani
TypeMonument of Culture of Exceptional Importance
Reference no.SК 1368

The Visoki Dečani Monastery (Serbian: Манастир Високи Дечани, romanizedManastir Visoki Dečani, Albanian: Manastiri i Deçanit) is a medieval Serbian Orthodox Christian monastery located near Deçan, Kosovo. It was founded in the first half of the 14th century by Stefan Dečanski, King of Serbia. Dečani is often considered to be one of the most endangered European cultural heritage sites.[1][2][3] It is by far the largest medieval church in the Balkans.[4]

The Visoki Dečani monastery is located by the Deçan's Lumbardh river gorge at the foot of the Accursed Mountains, in the region of Metohija.[5][6] It is located about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from the town of Deçan.[7] The monastery is managed by the Serbian Orthodox Eparchy of Raška and Prizren. The monastery has been under the legal protection of Serbia since 1947. The monastery is part of the World Heritage list named "Medieval Monuments in Kosovo" and with a designation of Cultural Monument of Exceptional Importance.[8] Being officially within the jurisdiction of the Republic of Kosovo, the monument is protected under its law as part of the List of Cultural Heritage under Permanent Protection.[9]


Stefan Dečanski, King of Serbia and founder of Visoki Dečani monastery

The construction of the monastery began during the reign of the Serbian King Stefan Dečanski, in 1327. The original founding charter from 1330, also known as the Dečani chrysobull, has been preserved to this day.[10] After his death in 1331, Stefan Dečanski was buried in the still unfinished monastery, the construction of which was continued by his son Stefan Dušan, who became the King of Serbia in the same year.[11] The main architect of the monastery was the Franciscan friar Vito of Kotor.[11][7] According to Branislav Pantelić, the monastery represents the last phase of the Western, Gothic,[12] Byzantine-Romanuesque architecture and contains Byzantine paintings and numerous Romanseque sculptures, part of a "Palaeologan renaissance".[13]

The construction of the monastery lasted for a total of 8 years and covered an area of 4000 square meters. The outstanding artistic quality of the paintings took 15 years and were done by painters with origins from Serbia, Byzantine and Adriatic coast.[14] The wooden throne of the hegumen (monastery head) was finished at around this time, and the church interior was decorated. Dečanski's carved wooden sarcophagus was finished in 1340.[10] Those who contributed to the construction of the monastery were collectively gifted a village close to the city of Prizren named Manastirica, where many settled following completion.[15] Serbian princess and Bulgarian empress consort Ana-Neda (d. ca. 1350) was buried in the church.[16]

During the Middle Ages, entire Albanian villages were gifted by Serbian kings, particularly Stefan Dušan, as presents to the Serbian monastery of Deçan, as well as those of Prizren and Tetova (Tetovo).[17][18]

15th–19th century[edit]

The Turkish army guarding Visoki Dečani, around 1904.

Bulgarian writer Gregory Tsamblak, author of the Life of Stefan Dečanski, was the hegumen (monastery head) at the beginning of the 15th century. The painter-monk Longin spent two decades in the monastery during the second half of the 16th century and created 15 icons with depictions of the Great Feasts and hermits, as well as his most celebrated work, the icon of Stefan Dečanski. In the late 17th century, the Ottomans plundered the monastery, but inflicted no serious damage.[10] In 1819, archimandrite Zaharija Dečanac became Metropolitan of Raška and Prizren.[citation needed]

20th and 21st century[edit]

Following the end of the First Balkan War, the monastery fell within the administration of the Kingdom of Montenegro. The then King Nikola I of Montenegro placed much of the surrounding land under the monastery's jurisdiction.[19] During World War I, the monastery's treasures were plundered by the Austro-Hungarian Army, which occupied Serbia between 1915 and 1918.[20] The monastery fell within the territory of the Italian-ruled Albanian Kingdom during World War II, and was targeted for destruction by the Albanian nationalist Balli Kombëtar and Italian fascist blackshirts in mid-1941. The Royal Italian Army responded by sending a group of soldiers to help protect the monastery from attack.[21][22]


The monastic treasure was exhibited in the rebuilt medieval refectory in 1987.[5] The monastery's monks sheltered refugees of all ethnicities during the Kosovo War, which lasted from March 1998 to June 1999.[6] On 7 May 1998, the corpses of two elderly Albanians were found 400 metres (1,300 ft) from the monastery. They were reportedly killed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) for allegedly collaborating with Serbian forces. The KLA staged an attack not far from the monastery on 8 May, killing one person and wounding four others. That evening, Deçan's 300 remaining Serbs came to the monastery to seek shelter.[23]

Albanian civilians seeking refuge in the monastery returned to their homes following the withdrawal of Serbian military from Kosovo in June 1999. An Italian unit of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) was subsequently assigned to guard the monastery, which was attacked on several occasions.[22] Dozens of Romanis sought sanctuary in the monastery over the next several months, fearing retaliatory attacks by their Albanian neighbours, who accused them of collaborating with the Serbs and looting Albanian homes.[24]

Joe Biden, then Vice President of the United States, on a tour of the Visoki Dečani in 2009

During the violent unrest in Kosovo on 17 March 2004, KFOR defended the monastery from an Albanian mob trying to throw Molotov cocktails at it. Several Albanians were shot and wounded in the clash.[25] On 2 July 2004, the monastery was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).[7] UNESCO cited it as "an irreplaceable treasure, a place where traditions of Romanesque architecture meet artistic patterns of the Byzantine world."[6] The monastery, along with all other Serbian Medieval Monuments in Kosovo, was added to the UNESCO list of endangered World Heritage sites in 2006.[10]

Suspected Kosovo Albanian insurgents hurled hand grenades at the monastery on 30 March 2007, but caused little damage. In recent years, the situation around the monastery has stabilized and it has reopened to visitors.[6] Serbian President Boris Tadić attended a service at the monastery in April 2009.[26] U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited the monastery the following month.[27] In the annual International Religious Freedom Report, the State Department wrote that the Deçan municipal officials continued to refuse to implement a 2016 Constitutional Court decision upholding the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling recognizing the monastery’s ownership of approximately 24 hectares of land.[28]


Аrchitectural plan of the monastery
Battle of Velbazhd, a frescoe in the Visoki Dečani

Because of the dimensions of the church, which by far surpass the size of all the other medieval Balkan churches, the monastery has been popularly named High Dečani.[29] The church has five-nave naos, a three-part iconostasis, and a three-nave parvise. With the dome, it is 26 m high.[citation needed] Its outer walls are done in alternate layers of white and pink marble. The portals, windows, consoles, and capitals are richly decorated. Christ the Judge is shown surrounded by angels in the western part of the church. Its twenty major cycles of fresco murals represent the largest preserved gallery of Serbian medieval art, featuring over 1000 compositions and several thousand portraits.[citation needed]

Heritage site in danger[edit]

Dečani Monastery is one of four World Heritage medieval monuments in Kosovo designated as a heritage site in danger. Since the arrival of KFOR peacekeepers in the region in 1999, attacks on the Monastery have increased. Since 1999 there have been five significant attacks and near miss attacks on the monastery:

  • 27 February 2000 – Six grenades hit the Decani Monastery.[30]
  • 22 June 2000 – Nine grenades hit the Decani Monastery.[31]
  • 17 March 2004 – Seven grenades fell around the monastery walls.[32] This attack formed part of the 2004 unrest in Kosovo.
  • 30 March 2007 – One grenade hit the wall behind the church.[33][30]
  • 1 February 2016 – Four armed suspects in a motor vehicle were detained at the gates of the monastery. A search of their car found an assault rifle, pistol, ammunition and extremist Islamist printed material. It is unclear whether there is any connection between the case of Decani and an earlier attack in a mosque in Drenas.[34] Dusan Kozarev, member of government of Serbia had claimed a year earlier that the monastery gates were painted with graffiti that read "ISIS", "Caliphate is coming" and "UÇK".[35]

As of 2023, Dečani Monastery has a 24/7 guard from KFOR.[36] Of the four medieval monuments in Kosovo that are designated as a heritage site in danger, Dečani is the only one with a direct guard from KFOR.[citation needed]

In 2021, Europa Nostra listed Visoki Dečani as one of the seven most endangered cultural heritage sites in Europe.[37][38]

In popular culture[edit]

Visoki Dečani, three episodes of the documentary series "Witnesses of Times" produced by the broadcasting service RTB in 1989 was created by Gordana BabiĆ and Petar Savković, directed by Dragoslav Bokan, music was composed by Zoran Hristić.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Visoki Dečani na listi sedam najugroženijih lokaliteta kulturnog nasleđa u Evropi". rts.rs (in Serbian). RTS. 8 April 2021.
  2. ^ "Inclusion of the Dečani Monastery on the 2021 List of 7 Most Endangered heritage sites in Europe". europanostra.org. Europa Nostra. 8 April 2021.
  3. ^ "Europa Nostra and EIB Institute announce Europe's 7 Most Endangered heritage sites 2021". europanostra.org. Europa Nostra. 2 June 2021.
  4. ^ UNESCO, World Heritage Scanned Nomination. "DEČANI MONASTERY" (PDF). .. and is the largest of all medieval Balkan churches. (p. 1)" "Because of the dimensions of the church, which by far surpass the size of all the other medieval Balkan churches, the monastery has been popularly named High Dečani" (p. 5)
  5. ^ a b World Heritage Committee 2003.
  6. ^ a b c d Burke 2009.
  7. ^ a b c Elsie 2010, p. 72.
  8. ^ "Decani Monastery" (PDF). europanostra.org. UNESCO. 7 July 2004.
  9. ^ "Lista e Trashëgimisë Kulturore për Mbrojtje të Përhershme" (PDF). mkrs-rks.org. Ministria e Kulturës Rinisë dhe Sportit. 26 June 2023.
  10. ^ a b c d UNESCO 2006.
  11. ^ a b Judah 2000, p. 23.
  12. ^ Walter, Branislav Pantelić, Christopher (2003). Branislav Pantelić, The Architecture of Decani and the Role of Archbishop Danilo II. pp. 257–258. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  13. ^ DEČANI MONASTERY NOMINATION OF THE CULTURAL MONUMENT FOR INCLUSION ON THE WORLD HERITAGE LIST (PDF). Kosovo: UNESCO World Heritage. 2004. pp. 32–33, 122–123, 141, 143, 146–147. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  14. ^ "Decani Monastery" (PDF). europanostra.org. UNESCO. 7 July 2004. p. 9.
  15. ^ Novak 1954, p. 202.
  16. ^ Mile Nedeljković (2002). Srpski običajni kalendar: za prostu 2003. godinu. Čin. p. 180. ISBN 9788673740133.
  17. ^ Iseni, Bashkim (25 January 2008). La question nationale en Europe du Sud-Est : genèse, émergence et développement de l'indentité nationale albanaise au Kosovo et en Macédoine. Bern: P. Lang. pp. 77–78. ISBN 978-3039113200.
  18. ^ Pulaha, Selami (1984). Popullsia Shqiptare e Kosoves Gjate Shekujve XV XVI. Tirana: 8 Nëntori. p. 9.
  19. ^ Bop 2017, p. 48.
  20. ^ Mitrović 2007, p. 230.
  21. ^ Judah 2000, p. 131.
  22. ^ a b Judah 2002, p. 287.
  23. ^ Judah 2002, p. 158.
  24. ^ Judah 2002, p. 288.
  25. ^ King & Mason 2006, p. 14.
  26. ^ BBC & 17 April 2009.
  27. ^ Tanner & 22 May 2009.
  28. ^ State Department 2020.
  29. ^ UNESCO, World Heritage Scanned Nomination. "DEČANI MONASTERY" (PDF). .. and is the largest of all medieval Balkan churches. (p. 1)" "Because of the dimensions of the church, which by far surpass the size of all the other medieval Balkan churches, the monastery has been popularly named High Dečani" (p. 5)
  30. ^ a b "Decani Monastery Attacked Four Times Between 2000–2007". Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Archived from the original on 29 January 2008. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  31. ^ "News from Kosovo". Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  32. ^ "Cultural Heritage in South-East Europe: Kosovo" (PDF). UNESCO. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  33. ^ "International Religious Freedom Report 2009". US Department of State. Retrieved 6 October 2009.
  34. ^ "Kosovo Gunmen Arrested Near Serb Monastery". Balkan Insight. 1 February 2016. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  35. ^ "Remarks by Mr Dusan Kozarev, office for Kosovo and Metohija, Government of Serbia made at the Human Dimensions Implementation Meeting in Warsaw". Office for Kosovo and Metohija (Serbia). 30 September 2015.
  36. ^ "NATO-led peacekeepers guard medieval monastery in Kosovo". France 24. 25 June 2023. Retrieved 16 March 2024.
  37. ^ "Visoki Dečani na listi sedam najugroženijih lokaliteta kulturnog nasleđa u Evropi". rts.rs (in Serbian). RTS. 8 April 2021.
  38. ^ "Europa Nostra and EIB Institute announce Europe's 7 Most Endangered heritage sites 2021". europanostra.org. Europa Nostra. 8 April 2021.
  39. ^ Visoki Dečani – first episode on YouTube Official channel of RTS;Visoki Dečani – second episode on YouTube Official channel of RTS;Visoki Dečani – third episode on YouTube Official channel of RTS


Further reading[edit]

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