Surrounded by stone walls from one side to another, the Manasija Monastery in Serbia is one of the oldest monastery churches in Europe. The monastery is also one of the best pieces of medieval religious architecture and has been an official heritage site since 1979.
The Manasija Monastery was built between 1406 and 1418. The construction was the order of the Serbian ruler at the time Stefan Lazarevic. During that time in Serbia, the Morava School style was quite popular. The most distinct aspect of this style was the utmost attention to detail, especially of the sculptures, statues, and decorations.
The construction took more than a decade because the monastery was quite unique in many respects. Aside from the church building, a large refectory, lodgings, other buildings, and towers enriched the complex. With the additions of the fortifications, it more or less became a town by itself. Moreover, the monastery was the designated resting place of Stefan after his death.
Especially, the refectory was a medieval marvel. It was one of the largest single structures in medieval Serbia and all of the walls were painted with frescoes. As it was a characteristic of the Morava School, frescoes of the monastery were quite detailed and extensive. At the end of the construction, frescoes covered an area of nearly 2,000 square meters, only some of which survived.
The Manasija Monastery consists of 11 towers placed strategically along the walls. The towers served as a defense mechanism for any attack or invasion.
Furthermore, the monastery was home to one of the biggest collections of manuscripts and books in medieval Europe. The monastery library had nearly 20,000 religious texts and there were monks who focused on translating and transcribing these texts, again by order of Stefan.
Although the monastery remained abandoned for many centuries, in the 19th century, renovations began. The Serbian officials tried to bring back the authentic medieval identity as best as they could and succeeded in a sense. Moreover, in 2006, a team of archeologists found the remains of Stefan in the southeast corner of the monastery. So, it is possible to say that Stefan’s wish for the monastery to be his resting place came true.
Today, the monastery is one of the most popular destinations in Serbia. Aside from the religious influence, the monastery is also home to cultural festivals. Since 2015, the Manasija Monastery has been hosting the Just Out tournament, a medieval duel festival. Every year, contestants from all over Europe dress as knights and duel each other in friendly competition.