Stari Ras and Sopocani, Serbia
When I arrive at the Church of St Peter, just outside the Serbian city of Novi Pazar, it’s all locked up. An old man sitting on a stool under a tree smiles, pulls himself up and wanders towards me. He’s got the keys to the church in his hand and for one euro will open it up for me.
I happily oblige and he takes his time with the large keys and the rusting lock. There’s no hurry, though. This is the oldest church in Serbia and has been around for more than 1200 years. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
The Church of St Peter is one of the buildings in this part of the country that made up the old Serbian Capital of Ras, which has now been designated as a World Heritage Site. It was the most important city in this small part of the world between the 8th and 13th centuries… although not much still exists of it today.
This church is one of the highlights and is an excellent example of early Christian architecture. Its frescoes are very well-preserved and, although it is small, it takes a while to see everything and take in all the details.
The nearby Fortress of Gradine is also part of the UNESCO listing, as is the Monastery of Sopocani, which was built by a king to hold the remains of his parents and… eventually… him.
But the Monastery of Djurdjevi Stupovi, a half hour walk from the Church of St Peter over a couple of green hills, is probably the best known site in this area. It was first built in 1171 and fuses Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. Although it is partly in ruins now, with the fortified wall lacking any fortification abilities these days, the church at its centre has been maintained and is used regularly.
Although the buildings around the old city of Stari are not huge tourist sites or particularly famous, they were one of the first places to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Their significance in the spread of Christianity in this region – and their good condition – can not be underestimated. As part of my week of World Heritage Sites in Europe, I would now like to share some photos of what is officially called ‘Stari Ras and Sopocani’.