Dečani Monastery, KOSOVO*
With the creatively combined element of Eastern and Western artistic expressions, its encyclopaedic ensemble of frescoes in Serb-Byzantine style and Romanesque-Gothic architecture and sculptural decoration, the Dečani Monastery is the most distinguished heritage ensembles of its time. Built in the first half of 14th century, this Serbian Orthodox Christian Monastery is also one of the best-preserved medieval monuments in Europe. The monastic complex is enveloped by a beautiful forest which forms part of the surrounding cultural landscape which is inseparable from its priceless cultural heritage. Continuously inhabited for almost seven centuries, the Dečani Monastery is a functioning monastery with daily liturgical services and an active monastic community composed of 25 monks. They take care of the daily maintenance of the monastery with its surroundings, safeguard the intangible heritage of monastic life, and regularly welcome both pilgrims and tourists.
The Dečani Monastery was inscribed on the World Heritage List as a single site in 2004. In 2006, this status was extended to three other Serbian Orthodox Christian monasteries and churches in Kosovo, namely Gračanica, the Patriarchate of Peć and the Church of the Virgin of Ljeviš in Prizren. Since 2006, all four sites have been inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger.
Since June 1999, the Dečani Monastery has been under 24/7 protection by the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping troops. In spite of this, the monastery was a target of four attacks by mortar grenades by local extremists during the period from 1999 to 2007 as well as an attempted terrorist attack by ISIS in 2016, causing an easily reparable damage. At the same time, the monastery with its special protective zone are facing serious environmental threats. The local municipal spatial plan is not in compliance with the strict protection rules for a UNESCO World Heritage Site or the related national laws and regulations. There is a constant risk of unsuitable urban facilities being constructed in the vicinity of the monastery as well as the danger of expropriation of the land belonging to the Dečani Monastery. Especially dangerous is the plan to have a major international highway pass next to the monastery gates.
The Advisory Panel of the 7 Most Endangered programme noted: “This is the only monument in Europe under such robust military protection for a continuous period of 20 years. Yet, it constitutes a monument of ultimate historical and cultural importance for Europe and the world, as confirmed by its World Heritage status. It is regrettable that today, the Dečani Monastery with its heritage, both cultural and natural, and its monastic community, have become hostage of the unresolved status of Kosovo*. It is therefore urgent and imperative to ensure the full respect of the rule of law and to give stronger attention to the due protection of this World Heritage Site within the on-going talks on the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Prishtina/Priština. This should be placed in the wider framework of the need to ensure adequate protection and interpretation of the multicultural and multi-religious heritage of Kosovo as a prerequisite for lasting peace and prosperity in the wider region.”
Future for Religious Heritage, the European network for historic places of worship, which is a member of the European Heritage Alliance, nominated the Dečani Monastery to the 7 Most Endangered Programme 2021.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.