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ANCIENT ROMAN EMPIRE IN SERBIA

The territory of today's Serbia, an intersection of ancient roads connecting the cultures of the West and the East, was a significant frontier zone of the Roman Empire.  Where the roads intersected, large and rich cities emerged, became capitals of the Empire's provinces and they developed into cultural centers.  Many Serbian towns and cities guard rich and diverse ancient artefacts dating back to when what is now Serbia was part of the powerful Roman Empire.  They attest to the fact, among others, that 16 Roman emperors were born and lived in towns that are now part of modern Serbia – the highest number of Roman rulers born in a single province outside Italy.  

 

The most well-known and important of the Roman emperors was Constantine the Great, who was born in present day Niš, a city in the south of Serbia, around 240 km from Belgrade.  Constantine the Great was also one of the signatories of the famed Edict of Milan that gave Christianity equal status with other religions in the empire.  Today’s Serbia,  known back then as the Roman province of Moesia Superior,  was also home to the imperial city of Sirmium, present-day Sremska Mitrovica in the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina.  In addition, the Roman provincial capital of Viminacium, a number of imperial residences and villas – Felix Romuliana, Sarkamen, Mediana and Justiniana Prima, along with several forts and fortified frontiers were also built in Serbia.  The magnificent Felix Romuliana is enlisted by the UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site.

 

The richness of Serbia’s Roman heritage has led the county’s Institute of Archaeology to draw up a route connecting all the key sites in one 600-km historical route called The Road of Roman Emperors in Serbia – Itinerarium Romanum Serbiae.  We invite you to discover Serbia's unique Roman legacy -  a part of the world's cultural heritage, by getting to know the paths of the Roman emperors, the empire's cities and palaces...

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Tabula Trayana

Tabula Traiana, an inscription carved in a rock on the bank of the Danube, is one of the many building feats of Roman Emperor Trajan.It is situated in the Djerdap Gorge  at the least accessible spot of the Roman road carved by Emperor Trajan in the rocks above the Danube.  This was the road the Emperor and his warriors travelled in their campaign against the Dacians.

When the last and most difficult section of Trajan’s Road was finished in the year 100, an inscription was carved in rock to mark the completion of works. The plaque was originally placed 1.5 metres above the Roman road, by the side of the Danube.  However, in 1969, Tabula Trajana and a whole section of the road were moved to avoid the risk of submersion as a result of construction of the Djerdap I Hydro Power Plant which subsequently raised the water level of the Danube in this region. Today, the memorial plaque cannot be reached by land, but it can be seen directly from the river.
The inscription on the memorial plaque was originally carved in six rows.  However, only three of those rows remain legible today. Those who know Latin will be able to decipher the following wording on the plaque: “Emperor Caesar, son of the divine Nerva, Nerva Trajan, the Augustus, Germanicus, Pontifex Maximus, invested for the fourth time as Tribune, Father of the Fatherland, Consul for the third time, excavating mountain rocks and using wood beams has made this road…”


The frieze depicting an eagle and winged genii is proof of a once-rich relief decoration, only fragments of which have survived. Beneath the inscription itself, you can see a kneeling figure, believed to be a representation of Danubius, and above it a canopy with a coffered ceiling with rosette decorations.

Constantine The Great

On Gradina hill near the city of Novi Pazar stands Stari Ras, a 12th century fortress. Built to defend the capital city of the same name, it bore witness to the emergence, development and consolidation of the first Serbian state.The monastic compound includes three archaeological sites; the fortress on Gradina, the cave with Holy Archangel’s Monastery and the settlement of Pazarište (also known as Trgovište).

 

Stari Ras, the oldest military structure in the medieval Serbian state of Raška, was built in the shape of an irregular quadrangle. Its wide walls made of crushed stone and limestone mortar had a footpath with spiked edges on top, where Serbian rulers once walked.

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Ilustration: Marinko Lugonja

Sirmium

The Sopoćani Monastery, an endowment of King Stefan Uroš I of Serbia, was built from 1259 to 1270, near the source of the Raška River in the region of Ras, the centre of the Serbian medieval state. The monastery was once surrounded by a high stone wall with two gates. The completion of the painting of the main parts of the church can be indirectly dated to between 1263 and 1270. In Sopocani a decorative plan was carried out which was formed throughout the thirteenth century - in the chancel there are liturgical scenes, in the nave Christ's salvation work is shown through a cycle of the Great Feasts, in the narthex the Old Testament, dogmatic and eschatological themes are presented. Through the iconographic portraits of the Nemanjic family and through historical scenes Simeon Nemanja and Saint Sava. After Gradac (about 1275), the endowment of Queen Helen of Anjou, the wife of the founder of Sopocani - King Uros I - whose painters were high on the scale of creativity, there was a hiatus in creative artwork in Serbia.

Viminacium

The Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, also known as the Church of Saint Peter, is one of the oldest mediaeval sacral monuments in Serbia.

The exact date of founding is unknown; it is mentioned in the 9th century as the seat of the eparchy of Serbia. Excavations on the site have unearthed Greek sculptures and Black-figure pottery dating to 7th and 6th century BC, as well as a 5th-century BC princely grave (with regalia, robes, gold-silver jewelry, masks, beads and Attic pottery), underneath the floor of the church in 1957–58. The findings are presently at the National Museum of Serbia, in Belgrade. Roman, Byzantine and medieval Slavic tombs surround the church.

 

The present church has been built on several earlier churches of which remains have been well preserved.

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Ilustration: Marinko Lugonja
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Ilustration: Marinko Lugonja

Gamzigrad - Romuliana

Felix Romuliana in Gamzigrad is the only site of classical antiquity in Serbia to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The imperial palace built by the Roman Emperor Galerius in the 3rd and 4th Centuries to honour his mother Romula is flanked by massive walls, which used to protect the city from barbarians in ancient times.


Visitors find the northern part of the palace with a small temple particularly attractive because of its well-reserved ancient altar and the strong pillars around it. In the southern part of the palace, you can see the ruins of a large temple with two crypts, a horreum and a Roman thermae – a luxury bath for Roman emperors.


Owing to its well-preserved buildings, which are among the finest examples of tetrarchic imperial architecture in these parts, as well as its beautiful frescoes and floor mosaics with geometric and figurative patterns, Felix Romuliana is a classical antiquity site of immense international importance.

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Justinian Prima

Not far from the Patriarchate of Peć lies Dečani monastery, the largest sacral building of medieval Serbia. It was erected by King Stefan Uroš III Dečanski in the 14th Century and it served both as a shrine and a family mausoleum.The underlying structure of a typical Byzantine temple is encased in a Romanesque-style façade, with patterns made of successive horizontal rows of light-yellow and purple-red marble and an abundance of sculptural decorations. An instantly recognisable feature is the imposing dome, measuring a full 28 metres in height.During the Middle Ages, the monastery gathered scholars and artists, who painted the monastery with more than a thousand individual figures and scenes from the history of Christianity, grouped into more than 20 cycles, including the portraits of the monastery’s patrons and other members of the Nemanjić dynasty.


Dečani is also one of the few Serbian churches where the original stone iconostasis and most of the 14th-Century icons have been preserved. The monastery’s treasury holds some 60 icons painted between the 14th and the 17th Century, as well as numerous manuscripts, books and church artefacts.

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Ilustration: Marinko Lugonja

"It is that from the past which affects the present but also conditions the future.” – Ivo Andrić

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