When the first morning ray crosses the Stolovi mountain and descends into the valley of kings, as a celestial sign, it illuminates one of Serbia’s greatest sanctuaries – Žiča monastery. It is also called “The mother of all churches”. As many as seven Serbian kings were crowned in it starting from the first Serbian king Stefan the First-Crowned. It keeps many secrets and legends, which is why you have to visit it at least once.
As soon as you step into the courtyard of the monastery, some inexplicable energy washes over you. The very fact of being able to touch the walls built in the Middle Ages fortifies this feeling. Žiča captivates you with charm, dignity and peace!
The spectacular monastery complex will not leave you indifferent, it will entice you to start exploring to see what is inside. And there is a lot, a whole story. You will almost wish the walls, the church, the monastery could talk…
The large monastery church attracts your attention immediately, it has many interesting details and decorations that adorn the facades of the St. Spas church, northern chapel dedicated to St. Sava and the southern one dedicated to St. Archdeacon Stefan. You should definitely not miss the frescoes which have been “miraculously” preserved. The Apostles, the Crucifixion and parts of the Deposition from the cross have been preserved in the northern and southern choirs, and the most important are those created in the period between 1309 and 1316. Some of them are Dormition of the Mother of God, the Charter of Stefan the First-Crowned and his son, as well as face images of the apostles Peter and Paul.
On the road with us to Žiča
Life in the monastery
The monastery awakens before that first ray of sun. More than 40 nuns are on their feet before 4 am when they begin their religious and work obligations in maintaining the monastery complex. When you cross the gate in front of the main church dedicated to the Ascension of Christ, you are overwhelmed by a pleasant feeling of peace which is further enhanced when you start a conversation with one of the nuns. Friendly and full of compassion, they bring additional peace, and they will never turn a deaf ear to any of your requests, no matter how curious you are. They are especially proud of the products they grow in a field near the monastery, as well as products they make by themselves, such as cheese, rakija, wine… We tried tea made of wild herbs the nuns pick and dry.
After this warm welcome and a consent to film and take pictures, the curator Milica Jakovljević took us on a tour around the complex trying not to omit any detail, which is a challenging task talking about a monastery that has been writing history of a nation for more than eight centuries:
Žiča monastery is a symbol of our country and our church, I am saying this because this monastery was built by Stefan Nemanjić, the would-be first Serbian king, and his brother Sava, the first Serbian archbishop, so that kings could be crowned here, and so that this place would become the centre of the Independent Serbian Orthodox church, and so that bishops, archbishops, abbots of all important monasteries would be ordained here...
History of Žiča
The Žiča is a joint endowment of the King Stefan the First-Crowned, his son Radoslav and his younger brother Rastko Nemanjić (Saint Sava) dating back to the beginning of the XIII century, 1206-1220. After the Serbian Orthodox church gained its independence in 1219, the monastery was the seat of the first Serbian archbishop Sava Nemanjić. In 1217, the King Stefan the First-Crowned was crowned here as the first king of the Nemanjić dynasty making Serbia a sovereign state among the Christian countries of that time.
The king Stefan the First-Crowned died as a monk Simon, and his holy relics rest in the Studenica monastery. Until 1253, all later rules of the glorious Nemanjić dynasty were crowned in Žiča: kings Stefan the First-Crowned, Radoslav, Vladislav, Uroš, Dragutin and Milutin, which gave the name to the city of Kraljevo (Serb. kralj – king). According to folk tales, the monastery of Žiča is also known as a shrine of seven doors because during each coronation of Serbian kings, a new door was opened through which the ruler approached the crown.
In the last decades of the XIII century, Žiča was desecrated and destroyed after the Tatar devastation. The Archbishop’s seat was transferred to Peć but the Serbian King Stefan Uroš II Milutin (1282-1321) undertook works on reconstruction of the destroyed monastery. During the Ottoman rule, the monastery was often the target of attacks. For more than 150 years, the church of the Žiča monastery did not have a roof. Renovation of the abandoned monastery started in 1855 thanks to the hard-working Bishop Joanikij Nešković. As early as in 1882, the king Milan Obrenović was crowned in Žiča.
Žiča suffered greatest during the Second World War when the Germans bombed the monastery. Part of the north wall was completely destroyed, all the buildings around the church were set on fire. After the bombing, the Bishop of Žiča Nikolaj Velimirović was taken to internment in the Dachau camp. Between the First and Second World Wars, the monastery underwent a major renovation, and the most extensive works on its conservation were carried out after the earthquake which hit the area in 1987.
Architecture and painting
The large monastery church belongs to the so called Raška architecture school. Žiča represents a fully mature architectural prototype which typologically completes a series of monuments composed of churches of St. Nicholas, Đurđevi Stupovi and Studenica. As such, it was a model for construction of numerous churches and monasteries in later centuries. The St. Spas church has monumental for its time dimensions and an altar space facing northeast. The base of the church has the shape of a free cross. The length of the base is 44 m, among the largest in Serbia in the Middle ages. To the east of the main church, there is another church of St. Peter and Paul dating back to the XIV century and a white church dedicated to the St. Sava.
Frescoes in Žiča belong to different epochs. Only small remains of the original layers of frescoes from 1220 can be discerned today. The Crucifixion of Christ is shown on the south and east walls, heads of apostles are preserved on other walls.
Visit to the monastery
A large number of people visit the monastery every day, and one of the “regular guests” here is Maja Kovačević from the vicinity of Kraljevo, a mother of 11 children. We asked Maja how she would celebrate the St. Sava’s day.
First thing in the morning, we will go to the liturgy in church in the village of Vrdilo where we live, after that together with children we will prepare a school event dedicated to the memory, traditions of the Serbian people and memories of St. Sava, our first bishop, and, of course, all the Saint Nemanjićs and Saint Anastasija, his mother, who gave us the finest and smartest child St. Sava after whom we are called Serbs today
This is our Serbia, beautiful, rich in historical heritage and magnificent nature, it seems to tell us that we have something to keep, something to truly enjoy and be proud of.
So travel with us, travel after us, visit Serbia, explore its treasures. And in two weeks we will take you on a new adventure.
Useful tips for your trip
- When you go from Kraljevo towards Mataruška banja, you will come across Žiča. In summer (1 April – 31 October), Žiča is open to visitors from 7 am to 7 pm, in winter (1 November – 31 March) from 8 am to 4 pm. Entrance is free.
- Žiča is a holy place so behave accordingly within its walls, be mindful of what you wear and how you behave. Taking pictures inside the church is not allowed but it is in the gate and on the plateau in front of the monastery so take the opportunity to take nice shots before you enter.
- If you are able to buy some products from the souvenir shop that nuns make themselves, you will definitely like them.