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Manasija Monastery

Manasija is a Serbian Orthodox monastery located near the town of Despotovac in central Serbia. Also known as Resava, it is sited deep in a forested valley bearing this name. It is the most spectacular fortified monastery in the country and was founded by Despot Stefan Lazarević (1377-1427) between 1406 and 1418. Lazarević was a renowned patron of the arts and a writer. He used his fortunes to pay for monks and scholars to come here and work on copying and distributing religious writings, which would help with the preservation of Serbian culture.

Manasija Monastery contains a church dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Due to his concerns of the expanding Ottoman Empire, Lazarević took the precaution of surrounding the church with very large and highly defensive walls, punctuated by eleven towers. However, in 1438, 11 years after his death, the monastery fell to the Turks. It was subsequently abandoned during five centuries of Ottoman rule and was wrecked on more than one occasion. The church lost its lead roof, resulting in two thirds of the frescoes inside being forever lost to damage from the rain.

Manasija is one of the most important monuments of medieval Serbian culture and major restoration work took place in the 18th and 19th centuries – preservation work and archaeological research is still ongoing here and the monastery, belonging to the "Morava school", is still active with nuns residing here. Manasija complex was declared a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979 and is protected by Republic of Serbia. The monastery and Holy Trinity Church are open to visitors. On visiting, it was initially thought by the author of this webpage that the signs by the entrance indicating no photography or bags suggested it was not possible to take pictures within the massive walls of the monastery. However, after asking inside the information centre and gift shop (located to the right after going through the main Gate from the car park), it was subsequently found out that photography is prohibited just within the Holy Trinity Church itself. And so, a quick trip back to the car, to get the camera(!).


The Holy Trinity Church is an early example of the Morava School and was built by Lazarević to serve as his mausoleum, or, as his chronicler Constantine the Philosopher put it, his “silent home”. Much of the façade of the church has been rebuilt and lost much of its original splendour, although the partially frescoed interior still retains its beauty; parts of the original floor inside - the rosette survives, having escaped damage in 1718, when gunpowder kegs stored by Austrian troops here exploded. Also inside the church, on the left-hand wall can be seen a portrait (fresco) of founder Lazarević. Perhaps the most  notable surviving fresco inside the church, though is the Holy Warriors Fresco. This depicts  Arethas, Nestor and Nicetas in the north choir. The style of this fresco suggests it was heavily influenced by the Renaissance. As for the whereabouts of Despot Stefan Lazarević's final resting place within the church, this is uncertain; A tomb beneath the original church floor, which was said to be his, was found during restoration work. DNA analysis of a skeleton which was found inside shows it belonged to a close relative of his father, Prince Lazar, although these remains could have equally belonged to his brother, Vuk, whom is likely to have been buried here too.

Just past the information centre/gift shop, to the right stands another notable site within the fortified walls, namely the Old Refectory Ruins (shown above). Despite their appearance, these are the best preserved of the original monastery structures. They would have originally had two floors and the interior would have been adorned with frescoes.  Next to the refectory stands the monastery kitchen, which originally had a large oven to prepare food for up to 300 people.

Perhaps though, to the general visitor, the monastery's main draw, stunning location aside, is the fortifications and towers. The eleven castellated towers each had six upper floors and are notable for their machicolations - in essence, a feature handy when it comes to dropping objects or pouring hot oil onto unwanted guests. The ramparts were a dizzying 39 foot (12m) tall and 10 feet (3m) in thickness, with a crenellated defensive wall running along the top. The largest keep (to be seen to the left of the Holy Trinity Church after entering through the main entrance from the car park), is known as the Despot's Keep. This imposing tower was built as a last defence and only had one entrance above ground level. It could store enough grain to feed 100 people for a whole year, should the monastery come under siege. More photos taken from the visit to Manasija Monastery featured on this webpage can be seen in the thumbnail gallery below.

[Photos: November 2017, Text: December, 2017]

For more information on this website about Despot Stefan Lazarević, click on the link Here (Text on a webpage about the Đerdap Gorge and the Golubac Fortress.

References and Further Information

1. In-Situ Literature and Information Boards
2. Mitchell, Laurence. (2005). Serbia. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.
3. Willis, Matt. DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Serbia. DK Publishing.

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