Red Žiča monastery
Žiča is a Serbian monastery from the beginning of the 13th century.
It is one of the most important monasteries and monuments of the Serbian culture and the Orthodox church.
But it is also known for one interesting thing: it is coloured in red, which is a pretty much unusual colour for a monastery.
Building the endowment was very spread among the Serbian rulers in the Middle Ages. They built monasteries and churches, and one of them is the monastery of Žiča, as well.
Because of its significant role in history and its cultural treasure, it was declared a Cultural Monument of Exceptional Importance in 1979, and it is protected by the Republic of Serbia.
The foundation of the Žiča monastery
Žiča monastery is the endowment of King Stefan the First-Crowned and his brother, Saint Sava. It was built between 1207 and 1220. It is located in central Serbia, on the road between Kraljevo and Mataruška Banja, in the valley of the river Ibar, surrounded by beautiful nature.
King Stefan the First-Crowned (Stefan Prvovenčani) was a great Serbian king and ruler (around 1166-1227). He belonged to the famous Serbian ruler Nemanjic dynasty. Actually, he was the first crowned king among the Nemanjics in 1221. And therefore he is known as Stefan the First-Crowned.
King Stefan was helping his younger brother Saint Sava (born as Rastko Nemanjić) in establishing the Serbian Church. Saint Sava was the founder of Serbian law, writer and diplomat.
In fact, Saint Sava ordered that the facade of the church should be painted in red colour. During his life, he spent 14 years on Mount Athos and there he saw some monasteries coloured red. It is believed that the church rests on the blood of martyrs, and because of that, the church façade was painted in red colour.
It is important to say that the monastery Žiča was the first place of the Autocephalous Serbian Archdiocese since 1219. And Saint Sava was its first Archbishop.
One week after our visit to Žiča, on 6th October 2019, the Serbian Orthodox Church celebrated the biggest event in its history – the 800 years of autocephaly, and Patriarch Irinej served a divine liturgy in Žiča.
Žiča, during 800 years of its history
Considering that Žiča was the seat of the Archbishop (1219–1253), the kings were crowned in the Žiča monastery. The bishops were enthroned there as well. The Church is known as the “Seven door church” because it had seven doors for seven Serbian kings from the Nemanjic dynasty, crowned in Žiča. It is said that a new door was opened for every new coronation. And after the coronation, the door would be walled up.
During the turbulent medieval history in the Serbian territory, the Žiča monastery was several times ruined, burnt, plundered and rebuilt, as well. The valuable relics were taken away and most of the frescoes were destroyed. The first time Žiča was devastated by Bulgarians was at the end of the 13th century. After more than 20 years, during the rule of the Serbian king Milutin, Žiča was renovated and some new frescoes were added to the church in the period from 1310 to 1316.
Actually, in some periods it was completely abandoned, especially during the Ottoman rule.
In 1804, the Serbian leader Karađorđe Petrović renovated it again. But after the collapse of the First Serbian Uprising (1804-1813), the monastery was abandoned again. The new renovation was started in 1856 by Bishop Joaniki. Then, during the Second World War, Žiča was bombed and the German soldiers destroyed it, burning the monastery and its buildings, including the library with 50.000 books.
The bigger restoration and partial reconstruction of the Žiča took place in 1953, and also in the last few years. In mid-October, a decision was made to continue the conservation works on the ground floor and façade of the Church.
The monastery complex and architecture
Žiča monastery belongs to the Raška architectural school. Raška style was developed during the reign of the Nemanjić dynasty. It is a specific style, a combination of Slavic and early Christian church architecture. This church was built of bricks and stone.
Actually, the entrance to the complex looks like a little fortress.
The combination of different layers of stones and bricks makes this tower entrance very interesting.
So when you walk into this complex through the wooden door, first you will see its walls and ceiling covered by frescos.
And then there is the red-coloured church in front of you.
In a word, when you see this view, you know that you have stepped into a special, holy space.
The monastery’s complex
Besides the Church of the Ascension, the monastery’s complex includes a few buildings in the courtyard.
On the left side of the entrance, there are the souvenir shop and the Episcopal residence.
It was built in 1935, destroyed during World War II, and rebuilt in 1965.
Also, there is an interesting clock on its brick wall.
Al new dining room is located on the right side of the entrance, as well.
With a little porch, it is connected with a small and restored church Saint Sava, coloured in white.
Behind the church, there is a small baptistery of interesting shape and a blue painted dome.
Surrounded by perfectly trimmed grass and greenery, the baptistery looks fantastic.
And close to the baptistery, there is a small church dedicated to Saint Theodore Tyrone and Theodore Stratilat.
It was erected in the 14th century and restored at the end of the 18th century.
The Church of the Ascension in Žiča
The main church in the complex is the Church of the Ascension. It is a single-nave basilica. On the west side is a tower-shaped entrance with the narthex, and on the east, there is an altar. The chancels are located on the north and south sides.
Frescoes cover the stunning entrance to the church. You can see the figures of the apostle Peter, holding the church above his head, and the apostle Paul, holding the book of his epistles.
The frescoes in the Žiča monastery
On the sidewalls, there are two founding charters of King Stefan and his son Radoslav.
They are the oldest written historical traces of the monastery, dating from the early 13th century. Later, in the fourteenth century, they were transcribed on the walls of the entrance. The founding charters include information about the privileges and gifts in the land property given to the church.
But inside the church, there are only a few preserved frescoes.
According to the research, it is supposed that the first frescoes were made after the church got its independence in 1219. Then the second part consists of poorly preserved frescoes in the tower chapel from the beginning of the 13th century. And the most important frescoes were painted between 1309 and 1316, located in the main part of the church. Some of the frescoes are the Assumption of the Virgin on the west wall of the nave and the portraits of Stefan the First-crowned and his son.
Also, in the first part of the church (narthex), you can see some replicas of the most significant frescoes from Serbian monasteries. One of them is the famous fresco of the White angel from the monastery Mileševa. On the upstairs, there are also some frescoes from 1233 and 1234, but this part is closed for tourist visits.
Important note: taking photos inside the church is strictly forbidden.
More about the frescoes and what they look like, you can see here.
How to reach Žiča and the time for a visit
The Žiča monastery is located about 200 km from Belgrade and 6 km from Kraljevo, in central Serbia. It could be reached by car or by bus with organized tourist groups. Outside the complex, there is a large parking area and toilets for visitors.
And according to the legend, the location of the monastery Žiča was carefully chosen. It is located in the fertile valley of River Ibar. And something more: it is at the same distance from Byzantine Constantinople and from Latin Rome.
Žiča is open for visitors during the following hours:
during the summer period (1st April – 31st October) from 7 am – 7 pm,
during winter (November 1st – March 31st) from 8 am – 4 pm.
The entrance is free.
Since the Žiča monastery is a holy place, the visitors have to take care of the dress code and behaviour.
As I have mentioned before, taking photos inside the church is not allowed. Also, smoking in the monastery complex and the use of mobile phones in the church are not allowed either.
Today the monastery Žiča is the largest women’s monastery in Serbia. About 40 nuns live there and take care of the monastery. Many of them are college-educated. In the souvenir shop, you can find the products made by nuns in Žiča, such as icons, books, juices without additives, wines, brandy, jam, liqueurs, soaps, balms, creams, and various souvenirs. You can order these items from their online shop as well.
And if you want to stay one or more nights there and see what the monastic life looks like, it is necessary to announce yourself in advance and receive a blessing to come. But it is only possible for female persons.
The red monastery Žiča
Our visit to Žiča monastery on that sunny and warm day was a great experience.
For centuries, Žiča has been the sacred, moral, spiritual and administrative seat of the Serbian church and the Serbian people.
So we left Žiča and continued our trip to the great Serbian monastery Studenica, another endowment of the Nemanjić dynasty.
But Žiča, with its red walls, stays in thoughts bringing peace and serenity to the hearts of its visitors.
In a word, the Žiča monastery emits some special energy.
And it seems like you have come back home.