Moving and exploring the regions of Southeast Europe is always a pleasure. There is a great deal of things to see. And no matter how often one has an opportunity to be at a certain compelling place, the same reaction of fascination can repeat all over again.
That is a case with the mountain Durmitor, which is fabulous with all its natural, as well as cultural characteristics. Springtime brings additional cheerfulness to the slopes of this mountain which become a real lace intertwined with snow and pastures. Meadows are dotted with lilies, cherry trees are blossoming and UNESCO heritage “stećci” are visible again, after the winter snow finally goes away.
Aleksandra Kapetanović, the director of our network, recently was lucky enough to visit Durmitor and “stećci” for further research. Although these landscapes are not unfamiliar to her, she still got stunned by these astonishing sceneries, where srećci tombstones completely became an inseparable part of it.
Stećci Medieval Tombstone Graveyards were inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List in 2016 as a mutual project between four countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia. There are more than 4000 tombstones in 28 locations.
These monolithic stone tombstones (stećci) were created in the period from the second half of the 12th century to the 16th century, although they were most intensively made during the 14th and 15th centuries. The stećci are exceptional testimony to the spiritual, artistic and historical aspects of the medieval cultures of southeastern Europe, an area where traditions and influences of the European west, east and south entwined with earlier traditions. The stećci are notable for their inter-confessionality, used for burial by all three medieval Christian communities, including the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church and the Church of Bosnia (which lasted for about three centuries until the second half of the 15th century). The characteristics that distinguish stećci from the overall corpus of Europe’s medieval heritage and sepulchral art, include the vast number of preserved monuments (over 70,000 located within over 3,300 sites), the diversity of forms and motifs, the richness of reliefs, epigraphy and the richness of the intangible cultural heritage. The selected components represent a range of graveyard scales and settings.
Two out of three necropolis from Montenegro, Grčko groblje and Bare Žugića, that Aleksandra Kapetanovic visited and photographed, are located in the contact zones of the Durmitor National Park (1952), the Tara River basin as a World Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO, 1977) and the Durmitor National Park with part of the Tara River Canyon (inscribed on the UNESCO’s List of World Natural and Cultural Heritage in 1980).
Grčko Groblje, Riblje jezero, Novakovići, Žabljak
The site Grčko Groblje is located at 1,431 meters above sea level, 11.4 km southeast of Žabljak, in the small village Novakovići. The necropolis is located on the left side of the road, 200 meters northwest of the road and the coast of the lake Riblje jezero (Fish Lake). It was set on gentle grassy hill, shaped as an elongated ellipsis which extends in the north-south direction. On the mild, tallest slope a smaller necropolis of elongated shape extends, consisting of 49 tombstones: 10 slabs, 27 chests and 12 ridged tombstones. The central part of the necropolis is visible from the lower elevation of the surrounding area because of a ridge type tombstone of monumental proportions placed therein. Beside the 5 slab-formed tombstones of amorphous and natural shape, the remaining stećci are finely crafted and shaped. 22 of them are decorated - 12 chests and 10 ridges.
Stećci are made of local off-white and gray limestone, and differ in size, quality of processing and state of preservation. The decorations include engraved and embossed decorative, symbolic and figural motives and representations on the following types of stećci: ridges, chests and slabs higher than 30 cm. The most frequent are the band decorative motifs with oblique lines, which visually function as a frieze or a frame on the vertical sides of stećci or as a border on the top horizontal surface of the chests and slabs. Arcades as architectural decorative elements are visually the most impressive. Twisted cords, spirals and coiling vines are also common motifs. The most characteristic decorative elements are motifs of symbolic character, and most of them are the various cross motifs and their variations, then the circles, rosettes, stars, bows and arrows and heraldic motifs of sword and shield. There are also parallel line decorations, grid decorations in the central part of the horizontal sides of stećci. Among the figural representations, there is a stylized portrayal of a man holding a sword and a shield, and a hunting scene.
Based on the mentions exceptional location in which necropolis Grčko Groblje near Riblje jezero was built, and the construction and decorations of stećci, it can be easily assumed that it was the burial site for the members of the feudal aristocracy and their families in the fourteenth and the first half of the fifteenth century.
Bare Žugića, Novakovići, Žabljak
Bare Žugića is located at 1,416 meters above sea level and 13.6 km south-east of Žabljak, in the hamlet Novakovići. The local asphalt road leads to the site which connects Žabljak to the village Njegovuđa. The necropolis is located on the left side of the road, on a small hill whose flat surface slopes gently to the west. The necropolis was formed on this part of the hill, in irregular trapezoidal shape, with 300 registered stećci, of which 240 slabs, 50 chests and 10 ridges. Of 240 slab-formed stećci, only 10 are regular in shape and form while the remaining ones are thin and irregular, half-finished, and most of them are of natural, amorphous forms. The finely processed and decorated stećci extend down the edge of an elongated hill to the east, and are located in the central and northern part of necropolis. In the southern and south-western parts of the necropolis there are generally unfinished and amorphous slabs. All stećci are made of monolithic blocks, of local whitish-gray limestone. It is presumed that they were placed in rows extending in the north-south direction with their longer side facing east-west. Over time, due to terrain subsidence and atmospheric effects, they were partially dislocated and knocked down towards south. They are of different size, craftsmanship, decorations and state of preservation. Of all the registered stećci at the cemetery only 23 are decorated: 1 slab, 16 chests and 6 ridges. As confirmed also by the previous researchers of this necropolis, there are no standing stećci or stećci with inscriptions here. As regards the decorations, there are engraved and embossed decorative, symbolic and figural motifs and representations on the stećci of the types: ridge, chest and slabs higher than 30 cm. The most frequent decorative motifs include: bands with oblique lines which function as friezes or frames on the vertical sides of stećci or as borders on the top horizontal surface of the chests and slabs. Arcades as architectural decorative elements are visually the most impressive. Twisted cords, spirals and coiling vines are also common motifs. The most characteristic decorative elements are motifs of symbolic character, and most of them are the various cross motifs and their variations, then the circles, rosettes, stars, bows and arrows, swords and shields and parallel lines or ribs with circles (medallions) in the central part of the horizontal sides of stećci. Even though there are not many zoomorphic representations, they are extremely interesting, and amongst them the most important figure represented is the deer. Earlier publications had documented a visual composition with the image of kolo, but it has not been identified in the necropolis.
Based on the large number of stećci in the necropolis Bare Žugića in Novakovići, we can assume that the rural population of the villages in the area of the Jezera has been buried under them, while the wealthy merchants of Drobnjak and Jezera were buried below the monumental stećci that stand out for their exceptional decoration and high quality of processing. The necropolis in the village of Bare Žugića in the village of Novakovići points to a high population density in the area of Jezera between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
(source: Nomination Document for the Inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1504/documents/)