Handing over our passports to the Italian NATO troops we waited in the crisp winter air to enter. The secluded canyon exuded peace and tranquility, at odds with the tank barriers, sandbag bunkers and matching barb wire. We weren’t crossing a boarder, or even trying to enter a military base. We were there to visit Visoki Decani Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site and probably the best preserved medieval church in the Balkans. Nestled in the embrace of western Kosovo’s Decan Canyon, surrounded by grapevines, chestnut trees and bucolic pastures the abbey is a lovely two hours drive from the capital Pristina.
Ten years since NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign and accompanying peacekeepers, tensions are still evident between  Serbians and Albanian Kosovars. Many of the Serbian cultural heritage sites have a NATO protection force camped on the perimeters. However, at Decani tensions are much lower and it offers a model of tolerance.
Constructed between 1327 and 1335 the Serbian Orthodox monastery survived the subsequent Turkish invasion and the Ottoman empire unscathed, due mainly to the sultan’s personal protection. The monastery has also enjoyed the protection of the surrounding population as Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim Albanians all believed the tomb of the Stefan Decanski, who ordered the original construction, has healing powers. While some Serbian Orthodox monasteries will not allow Albanian Kosovars to enter, Decani can be visited by anyone.
Unfortunately, many nationalists on the Serbian and Kosovar sides use the religious center as their own battleground for legitimacy. Reading some articles on the web you would think the Italian NATO troops are all that stand between the pitch fork and flame wielding townspeople, and the monastery’s certain destruction.  Visit in person and the harmony between town and monastery is clear.
The monastery lies hidden in the imposing mountains
Located a little over a mile from the town of Decan, walking in is a great way to soak in the tranquility of the area.
The monks support themselves by farming the land and raising livestock.
The church sits in the center of the monastery and looks amazingly new for 700 years.
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Thousands of Byzantine frescoes depict themes such as the life of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the multitude of kings under whom the monastery was created and sustained.
Amazingly you see almost exactly what a visitor would have experienced seven centuries ago.
The grounds are immaculate and black robed monks crisscross the visitors path as they go about their daily routines.
The monks even produce a good tasting wine…red of course! Best served with prayers for peace and tolerance.
If you go

Getting there:
Visoki Decani Monastery is located in western Kosovo at the foot of the Prokletije Mountains, about 1 1/2- 2 hours drive from Pristina. There is a car park at the monastery entrance and buses run from the Pristina , Peja and Gjacova bus stations. The buses stop on the main road in Decan by the roundabout. The  road to the monastery is off of the main roundabout and is a half hours walk, or you can negotiate a tax ride.
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5 Responses to “Behind a NATO checkpoint: Kosovo’s Visoki Decani Monastery”

  1. MarkManNo Gravatar says:

    It is useful to try everything in practice anyway and I like that here it’s always possible to find something new. :)

  2. Todd says:

    Hi Laurina, your right! Thursday's evensong is at 17:00 and choral church service on Sundays at 8:00

  3. Laurina says:

    Super! let's visit it on Thursday nights when they have mass open to the public! :)

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