Modest by size but immense when it comes to the number to pilgrimage sites – that’s Herzegovina in brief. The Holy Land of Herzegovina, as we sometimes call it, attracts not only the believers but also curious travellers who are looking for historical and cultural discoveries. As many enlightened and holy people were crossing the southern part of today’s Bosnia & Herzegovina, we have inherited a significant number of valuable shrines. Since most of them are unknown to an average traveller, you are on the right page to learn more about Žitomislić, Zavala and Tvrdoš Monastery, all three of them worth detailed exploring. If you are into the religion, here is an ultimate trio of Orthodox monasteries to visit in Herzegovina.
A true symbol of resurrection, Žitomislić Monastery is a valuable Orthodox shrine from the 16th century. Located 15 km south of Mostar, on the road to Čapljina, just before an endangered town of Počitelj, this monastery is one of the most important and most beautiful Orthodox sanctuaries in the country. Surrounded by countless vineyards in the Neretva River valley, Žitomislić is an oasis of peace and contemplation. Dedicated to the Annunciation of the Holy Virgin, the monastery was built in 1606, after more than 40 years of tremendous work, as a legacy of the Miloradović-Hrabren family. The graveyard of the Miloradović-Hrabren family is a famous Radimlja necropolis, close to the town of Stolac, also enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
During its more than 400 years of existence, this monastery has been five times destroyed – three times by the Turks and twice in the 20th century. In spite of its turbulent history, the monastery boosts in cultural heritage and religious art. In the 16th and 17th century, the monastery was home to a prominent scriptorium and a rich library with many manuscripts, books and documents. Whether you take the road from Mostar to the seaside or one of the tours over the hinterlands of the Bosnian Adriatic coast, you will undoubtedly come across charming Žitomislić Monastery, that preserves an eternal Orthodox heritage. Whenever you come, be sure that you will be cheerfully welcomed by one of the monks, who will be pleased to show you a piece of the beauty hidden behind this monastic treasure.
Somewhere on the southwestern edge of the stunning Popovo Polje and 50 km in the northwest direction from Trebinje, hidden in the picturesque setting of a steep cliff, stands still an architectural wonder – Zavala Monastery, a fascinating Orthodox gem. Dedicated to the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the original sanctuary was founded by the Roman Emperor St. Constantin and his mother St. Helen, which makes it one of the oldest monasteries in Bosnia & Herzegovina. However, the oldest remnant of Zavala Monastery is an ancient seal, on which the year 1271 is indicated, while the first written documents mentioned it only in 1514.
A fascinating position is what makes this monastery looking impressive. Nested below the Ostrog Hill, its northern wall and altar are almost carved into a rock. If you observe carefully, you might notice how the constructors respected the natural shape of a cliff and how perfectly the church is attached to it. One would say that it is a supreme example of architectural symbiosis between a rock and a sanctuary. After being fascinated by its exterior look, I invite you to explore the interior of the church that dates back to 1619. As you will notice, all the walls of Zavala Monastery are covered with frescoes done by the greatest Serbian painter from the 17th century - Gregorije Mitrofanović. Before this monastery, he painted the walls of Hilandar Monastery on Mt. Athos (Greece), but also Dobrićevo Monastery near Bileća Lake. His work in Zavala Monastery is considered the finest example of medieval frescoes in Bosnia & Herzegovina.
In a pretty much scenic setting of the karstic elevation along the right bank of the Trebišnjica River, only six kilometers from Trebinje sits Tvrdoš Monastery surrounded by bountiful vines and orchards. Existing in continuity since the Late Antiquity, this monastery testifies that the Christianity has a long-lasting tradition in this part of the Balkans. Dedicated to the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, Tvrdoš Monastery was also founded by the Roman Emperor St. Constantin and his mother St. Helen in the 4th century. We can see the foundations of the old Roman church, a three-nave basilica, since a part of the floor of the current church is made of glass. Being destroyed and abandoned afterwards, it became an endowment of the Serbian King Milutin in the 13th century. During its long history, this valuable sanctuary was demolished and rebuilt many times.
The original church from the 16th century was painted in frescoes by a Dubrovnik-master Vice Lovrov and a monk Marko Stefanov. Five centuries later, some fragments of those frescoes we can still find on the walls of Tvrdoš Monastery. Another particularity of this cradle of Orthodoxy in southern Bosnia & Herzegovina is its role as the main spiritual centre and the most significant scriptorium of the south Slav’s territories at the beginning of the 18th century. Also, you should know that this monastery is renowned for Tvrdoš award-winning wines, a result of centuries-old wine-making tradition.
If the spirituality and Serbian monasticism are your interests, an ultimate trio of Orthodox monasteries in Herzegovina should be on your bucket list.
Photo credits: Tourism organization of Trebinje
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