January 29, 2009

Gracanica Monastery

This post is about a symbol that plays a major role in the Serbian culture in Kosovo and Metohija: The monastery of Gracanica (Манастир Грачаница).

Unfortunately, I never visited the area, and for the moment I don't feel confortable to travel in the Kosovo province with a Serbian Name in my Passport. But my architect-friend Jo was so kind, and gave me some pictures which sho
ws the beauty of the monastery and the reality of the surroundings of Gracanica that lays about 10km south-east from Pristina. What is unique about Gracanica (that since 2006 is on the UNESCO's World Heritage List of Sites in danger) is its location in the area of Kosovo Polje (where the famous Kosovo battle took place) and it's stunning architecture: it represents the culmination of the Serbian medieval art of building in the Byzantine tradition.

The m
onastery is endangered because already 8 Serbian Monasteries and a lot of churches in the Kosovo-Мetohiјa province have been damaged by Albanian terrorists (here a list from all the attacks).

The monastery

The Gracanica Monastery was one of the last monuments by Serbian King Uros II Milutin. It was errected in 1321 on the ruins of an older church. Of the former monastic compound, only the church has survived. The narthex (the entrance or lobby area) and the tower were added a few decades later, in order to protect the frescoes on the west facade. The narthex was heavily damaged by the Turks several times between 1379–1383 ( the tower was burned and the fire devoured a rich collection of manuscripts and other precious objects) and was reconstructed in 1383. Again, Gračanica suffered damages at the time of the Battle of Kosovo (1389). The monastery was exposed to new damages toward the end of the 17th century, in the war between Holy League and the Turks, after the second siege of Vienna - in which the Serbs took part on the Christian side. Turks removed the leaden cross and pulled out the floor tiles, together with the treasure hidden in the church by Patriarch Arsenije III. After Second World War it was renewed by nuns and has been serving as a convent since. After the Kosovo war of 1999 Bishop of Raška and Prizren Artemije transferred his official seat from Prizren to Gracanica.

The architecture of the monastery

Gracanica is the main work of palaeologian cross-in-square churches (palaeologus is the period called after the Byzantine Greek noble family who was the last ruling Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire).
It tops the byzantine originals by far, in its complexity, and in its architectural execution. The cross-in-square schema follows the byzantine tradition, but the surprising vertical dynamic achieved with high graduated vaults and lean semi- and pointed arches shows a wish to search for newer solutions.
The church has the shape of a double inscripted cross. The interior gets a vertical silhouette and has a graduated cupola that stands on 4 pilars. Over the in between-rooms of the inscripted cross are 4 smaller cupolas that accentuate the graduation even more. The Facade was built in alternate courses of brick and stone.

Critical voices call it an exageration of Byzantine tradition, however it's considered as a outstanding artistic model of a new architectonic idea and also one of the main work of Serbian-Byzantine style. The style was later copied for example in Belgrade with St. Marko Church.

The Interior

The Interior King Milutin The high quality freskos (1321–1322) by Michael Astrapas and Eustychios (as masterpainters) enfasis the artistic value of the monastery even more. The freskos rank highest among the achievements of Milutin's period, characterized by influences of the Byzantine splendid and luxurious style ( Paleologan Renaissance Style). Here a site where you can see all the pictures of the freskos.

The town of Gracanica

The town of Gracanica is a Serb-populated town in a predominantly Albanian-populated area and is controlled by Albanians. The population of the town itself is said to be 10,000 (some sources suggest 13'000 or even 30'000) many of which are refugees that have been driven out of Pristina.

Life in the refugee camp

Back in 1999 there were 120,000 inhabitants.
The enclave has a roughly ten kilometer radius, in which the Serbs have the freedom of movement, and are attempting to organize a meaningful life for themselves and their families. (read here!) The Gracanica enclave is a major problem for Albanian extremists, as it contains rich farmland and is strategically located in the center of Kosovo, on major roads and near to Pristina. They always saw it as a potential threat of Serbian intrigue.

The refugee containers provided by Russia

Relations between the two ethnic groups are tense and occasionally violent, like the Podjujevo Bus Bombing in 2001 when 12 Serb civilian, who were on their way to the Gracanica Monatery, were killed by a terrorist attack of Albanians.
The monastery still needs protection by the KFOR

January 22, 2009

Nikola Pasic Square in Belgrade

A remarkable square of Belgrade is Nikola Pasic Square (Trg Nikole Pasica) a big square in extension of Terazije that was completed in the 1950's. Because of the hilly topography, a lot of earth was removed and a flat and representativ square with important buildings and a notable park was created. Inaugurated as the Marx and Engels Square in honour of the famous communist idealogues, in the late 80's was renamed Nikola Pasic Square and in the 90's a monument to Nikola Pasic was errected.

Monument Nikola Pasic (picture by Rascian @ Skyscrapercity)

Monument to Nikola Pašić
(Spomenik Nikoli Pašiću) This was unveiled in 1998 and it's the work of the sculptor Zoran Ivanović. Nikola Pasic (1845-1926) was a stateman and politician, a dominant figure in the balkan politics between 1890 and 1926 who managed (together with his counterparts in Greece and Romania) to strengthen their small, still emerging national states against strong foreign influences (Turks, austro-hungarians and russians). He was also leader of the People's radical Party (Narodna radikalna stranka).
an interesting 360° view of the square (click here)

Dom Sindikata (picture by Rascian @ Skyscrapercity)

The Trade Union Hall

One of the outstanding buildings (that at the moment even represent the header of my blog) is the :
Trade Union Hall (Dom Sindikata) built by Branko Petričić. It is an inpressive structure built in the spirit of social-realism around 1955 that acts like a quartermoon shaped frame to define Nikola Pasic Square. Until the Sava Centre was opened in 1977, the Dom Sindikata was the largest and most suitable venue for the varied requirements of sociopolitical and cultural life in the city.
Today Dom Sindikata houses several movie theatres, shops and is suitlable for fairs and other public events (website).

Agrarian Bank (picture by Rascian @ Skyscrapercity)

Agrarian Bank Building

Another notable building is The Ministry of Culture Building (former Agrarian Bank Building or also known as: Museum of Yugoslav History) This building was errected around 1930 and designed by Petar and Branko Krstic.
The Museum of Yugoslav History is today housed in this building (the museum has some other bulidings) and in the 3rd floor the "Museum to the victims of Genocide" is situated. It was founded in 1992 and is like an extension of the museum of the concentration camp of Jasenovac.

January 12, 2009

Alexander Nevsky Church in Belgrade

In the occasion of a wedding I had the oportunity to visit the Alexander Nevsky Church in Belgrade. Situated in one of the old districts of the city, it's an academic style church designed by a woman architect.

This old church in Dorćol was built in 1877 and was dedicated to St. Alexander Nevsky. It has served its purpose until 1891 when a decision was made to build a larger church. The project was designed by the architect Jelisaveta Načić (she was the first woman that graduated at the architecture faculty in Serbia and was also the first town architect in Belgrade), and the foundations were consacrated in 1912.
Because of WW I the construction of the church were interrupted, so it was not completed until 1928-1929, while the marble iconostasis (originally designed for the church at Oplenac) was a gift of King Aleksandar Karađorđević in 1930.

The icons were painted in the same year at the artistic workshop of the Russian painter Boris Selyanko. In the choirs of the church, there are some monuments dedicated to the soldiers killed in the liberation wars (1876-1918) as well as the ones dedicated to the Russian czar Nicholas II and King Aleksandar I Karađorđević. Present wall compositions were painted in the secco technique by Jeromonah Naum Andrić in 1970-1972.