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Stari Ras and Sopocani
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Serbia is a country located on the Balkan peninsula in Southeastern Europe. During its medieval history many Orthodox monasteries were built, and special styles in the construction and painting of these monasteries are differentiated. Serbia now has over 200 monasteries, many of which are still active. It is one of the reasons why the greatest number of Serbian localities in UNESCO list represents medieval religious sites.
Figure 1. Location of Serbia. Source: www.nationsonline.org
Stari Ras and Sopoćani is a joint name for four medieval monuments that testify to the development of the medieval Serbian state and religious practices and arts of the time. It is subscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage in 1979, and its appearance, decoration and architectural style, belong to a distinct Raska school of art developed in this region. The site includes: the town of Stari Ras with the fortress, St. Peter’s Church, the Monastery of Djurdjevi Stupovi ('St. George’s Pillars') and the Monastery of Sopoćani (UNESCO, n.d.).
The town of Stari Ras represents the remains of what is regarded as the first Serbian capital, while the St. Peter's church was once the religious center of Serbia. It was built in the 9th century on the ruins of the old basilica, and is considered the oldest preserved Christian building in the Balkans (UNESCO, n.d.). The Monastery of Djurdjevi Stupovi was founded by the Serbian ruler Stephan Nemanja in the 12th century and represents a mixture of Byzantine and Romanesque art, due to the contacts between Eastern and Western civilization. It is unique and famous for its pillars that are partly destroyed by the ravages of time. The fourth site, Monastery of Sopoćani, was built in the 13th century by Serbian king Stephan Uros I, as a tomb and a resting place of him and his parents. Of special artistic value are the frescoes in the church of the monastery, which are considered one of the greatest achievements of medieval painting in this part of the world (UNESCO, n.d.).
There are many managerial problems concerning those sites. Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of the Republic of Serbia is the main national institution responsible for the site, but there is no separate organizational unit that deals with this complex. The Board of Stari Ras and Sopoćani was constituted in 1984 and in 1990 it adopted a new five-year plan for the site but its implementation was interrupted due to the economic crisis and the war in the former Yugoslavia. The Board is still not re-established (Periodical reporting, 2014).
The Spatial plan for Stari Ras and Sopoćani, adopted in 2012, represents a breakthrough in the planning of this area, especially due to the risk of the territorial expansion of the city of Novi Pazar. However, the spatial plan deals with spatial planning, organization and protection of the area (Serbia. Republic Agency for Spatial Planning, 2012) but there is no any management plan, neither formal monitoring program or local tourism development strategy, although the importance of the implementation of these kind of plans was recognized (Periodic reporting, 2006; 2014). On two sites, traditional management is done by the Orthodox monastic community, while the other two do not perform nearly any management (Periodic reporting, 2006).
A particular problem is the promotion and visitor management. Official visitor statistics do not exist, and there is no adequate number of symbols that relate to the World Heritage Site (Periodic reporting, 2014). Religious monuments possess certain facilities such as parking lots or museum shops, while the fortress does not own any facilities for visitors and is quite neglected for a World Heritage Site (author’s personal observation). Although there are some funds coming from the national Ministry of Culture and certain assets of the Serbian Orthodox Church, there are no reliable and secure sources of funding (Periodic reporting, 2014). Three of total four monuments are religious sites that still perform their original function, thus there is no possibility of introducing a special fee for the visitors. The monuments are located near the mountains and areas of protected nature which may encourage tourism development. Tourism promotion is the task of Tourism Organization of Novi Pazar, a local DMO responsible for tourism promotion of the municipality to which this monumental heritage belongs.
Certain conservation interventions were carried out in all four monuments, while the Monastery of Djurdjevi Stupovi has renewed its original function in 2000, so it is no longer protected as an archaeological site, but got another traditional form of protection. Some buildings necessary for the revival of monastic life are reconstructed (Periodic reporting, 2014). While this is commendable in terms of the sustainability of the site, there are some risks and threats to the preservation of the authenticity of the site because the site needs to be adapted to its religious function after several centuries of inactivity. There is the desire of certain stakeholders to fully complete the reconstruction of the monastery towers, which was met with disapproval by UNESCO and restoration of the towers had to be interrupted, which led to dissatisfaction of monks and believers (RTS, 2011).
Author: Vladimir Sustersic
UNESCO. (n.d.) Stari Ras and Sopocani [Online] Available from: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/96. [Accessed: 13th November 2014]
SERBIA. REPUBLIC AGENCY FOR SPATIAL PLANNING. (2012) The Spatial plan for special purpose area of cultural-historical complex of Stari Ras and Sopocani. Belgrade: Republic Agency for Spatial planning. (In Serbian)
Periodic reporting. (2006). (Cycle 1) Section II Summary. UNESCO. Available from: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/96/documents.
Periodic reporting. (2014). (Cycle 2) Section II. UNESCO. Available from: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/96/documents.
RTS. (2011) Pillars 'shortened' by UNESCO. 13th November. [Online] Available from: http://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/st...atio%22+Unesko. [Accessed: 13th November 2014]. (In Serbian)
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