One of the jewels of the Serbian medieval
civilization, the monastery Visoki Decani (High Decani)
is located at the foot of the Prokletije Mountains,
in the valley of the river Bistrica. The construction
of the church, dedicated to Christ the Pantocrator started
in 1327. as the foundation of King Stefan Uros III Nemanjic,
later called Decanski. The architect was Vita, a friar
from Kotor, while the "building and fortifying"
of the church were supervised by Archbishop Danilo II.
In 1330. King Stefan issued his famous founding charter,
signed in gold, giving to the monastery rich properties.
After Stefan's death the construction was continued
by his son Dusan, who completed the monastery in 1335.
An adjacent hospital was built too. The alongside building
works were done by protomaster George and his brothers.
Painting started soon after finishing the building and
lasted until 1350.
The Decani church is one of the largest Serbian medieval
edifices. Its leght exceeds 36 meters, the width is
24, and the dome reaches the height of 29 m. At the
eastern end of the central space there is a large apse,
whereas two small ones belong to the prosthesis and
diaconicon respectively. There are five naves, the middle
one being the widest and domed with the support of four
piers. The aisles have their own parecclesions with
the apses eastward. The narthex is tripartite, somewhat
lower and narrower than the nave. Each nave has three
bays. The ribbed vaults rest not only on pilasters but
also on four octagonal piers made of marble in the middle
of the narthex. The church was built on marble slabs
in three colors. Its sophisticated architecture harmoniously
blends the western, Romanesque and Gothic movements
with the eastern, Byzantine style, keeping the tradition
of the Serbian arts.
In the Church of Christ Pantocrator
is found the most ornate and best preserved sculpture
in the Romanesque spirit, in the whole Serbian medieval
art. The west portal shows the temple's patron Jesus
Christ on the throne and with two angels. The lunette
over the southern portal represents the baptism of Christ
and contains a carved inscription about the monastery's
foundation. Above the north portal there is a foliation
in the form of a cross. The jambs and the capitals of
the adjacent engaged columns on all portals have floral
ornaments, while the north and west ones also have carvings
on the shape of centaurs and dragons. Over the west
portal, there are also free-standing sculptures of lions
and gryphons. The handsome two-light and three-light
windows add to the overall effect of luxurious ornamentation.
The painting works took fifteen years
and was carried out by several groups of the best Serbian
artists. The altar space has the common representations
of the Adoration of the Lamb and the Communion of Apostles.
Apart from the conventional scenes, several series of
paintings in the nave illustrate the history of Christianity.
The heigher registers of the subatomic space represent
the Festival Cycle, whereas the lower ground-lines contain
svenes from the life of Christ, his miracles, morals
and the Passion. Follow the scenes from the Virgin's
life and her Akathistos Hymn. A separate row of frescoes
is devoted to St. John the Forerunner, St. Demetrius
and St. Nicholas. Moreover, there are illustrations
of the Acts of the Apostles and the Old Testament themes.
On the vaults of the narthex the Seven Ecumenical Councils
are painted. The west wall there depicts the Genealogy
of the Nemanjic family, beginning with saintly Stefan
Nemanja. The rest of the Decani narthex is mostly illustrated
by the scenes that follow the Calendar. The founders
and the members of their families have been portrayed
on several places, so has Chancellor George, the one
to be thanked for the frescoes in the narthex. There
are five portraits of Emperor Dusan and four of Stefan
Decanski. In terms of the total area painted and the
number of scenes and figures depicted, Decani certainly
leads among the fresco-painted entities of the medieval
Serbian arts. Since the artists were many, one can see
unevenness in style and artistic quality.
The treasury of the Decani monastery
is the best-preserved one within the Serbian cultural
heritage in terms of number of items, artistic achievements
and historical endurance. There is also one whole gallery
of icons dating back to the XIVth to XIXth century.