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Stećci - Medieval Tombstones

Date de soumission : 21/04/2011
Critères: (ii)(iii)(vi)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Ministry of Culture
Ref.: 5618

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Les noms des biens figurent dans la langue dans laquelle les Etats parties les ont soumis.


Velika i Mala Crljivica, Cista Velika, 16º 53΄ 33.97˝ E, 43º 30΄ 57.48˝ N

Dubravka - Sv. Barbara, Konavle,  18º 25΄ 20.57˝ E, 42º 32΄ 30.42˝ N

Stećci are medieval monolithic tombstones found on the entire territory of the present Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in parts of Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. Available data suggest that they first appeared in the second half of the 12th century, with the first phase lasting throughout the 13th century. A period of the most intensive production and decoration were the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 16th century their use completely ceased.

Out of 70,000 odd tombstones recorded at 3,300 odd sites, about 60,000 monuments are located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 4,400 in Croatia, 3,500 in Montenegro and 4,100 in Serbia. Stećci fall into two main groups: recumbent and upright stone monoliths. The majority are recumbent, appearing in three types: slabs, chests and ridged tombstones. Among the upright stećci, the following types can be distinguished: steles, pillars (obelisks), crosses and nišan monuments. According to the records 63 per cent of monuments are chests, 21.5 per cent slabs, 9 per cent ridged tombstones (sljemenjaci), 4.4 per cent columns, stelae and turban-shaped monuments, 0.6 per cent crosses, and 0.6 per cent amorphous monuments. So far 4638 items with decorations (rendered in relief) and 384 items with inscriptions have been identified.

The recumbent monuments represent a primary form of stećci. They are found in all of the distribution areas. Artistic shaping of stećci is expressed in their form and decoration. The basic artistic quality of stećci lays in decorations rendered in two stone-carving techniques. The most frequent is a bass relief, though engraved drawings are not uncommon

Along with their accentuated symbolism characteristic of the mediaeval art, decoration motifs also exhibit secular and religious symbols as well as other interlaced and combined ornaments. Generally speaking, the stećci ornamentation reveals the understanding and sensibility of an entire era, both of the people who took part in their creation and of the deceased who found their final resting place under them and upon whose wishes - according to inscriptions - stećci were made. 

Apart from the regional differences manifested in the selection of shapes, ornamental motifs and quality, stećci were usually organised in groups thus forming family graveyards with only a few monuments, kin graveyards ranging from 30 to 50 monuments and/or village graveyards, sometimes with several hundred monuments. Especially significant are representative cemeteries of noble families belonging to the highest rungs of feudal society.

In Croatia stećci are located in southern parts of the country, i.e. in Dalmatian hinterland and on the coastal belt, from the territory of Konavle to Northern Dalmatia and Southern and Central Lika region. They are the most numerous in the territory of Dubrovnik, in the territory of Neretva's mouth, in the Makarska Littoral as well as in the territories of Vrgorac, Imotski and Sinj. More than 400 sites with stećci have been registered in Croatia so far. Research of their typology, decorations, graveyards, arrangement, relationships with other sites and cultural influences on a wider territory give a clearer picture of appearance and development of stećci.

Stećci on the territory of Croatia represent a kind of culturological bond to other medieval tombstones in the region, which were created within a wider Mediterranean cultural circle.  

All aspects of their appearance and development make stećci a distinctive feature of the Croatian cultural heritage.

The two selected sites represent the best preserved sites of this kind in Croatia.

The archaeological site of Velika i Mala Crljivica, Cista Velika, Split-Dalmatia County

The site is located near the village of Cista Velika along the road Trilj-Imotski, in a length of 200 meters. Crljivica is a complex archaeological site with several occupation phases. The first phase is represented by three Bronze Age cairns (so-called Velika i mala Crljivica), north and south of the modern road. The second phase is attested by the route of the Roman road Salona - Tilurium - Novae - Narona, which was overlaid with modern road on this location, whilst on some other parts it runs more to the north. The third phase is associated with a medieval graveyard with stećci which in the 14th and 15th centuries (some of the burials are later) developed on the cairns and on the surrounding area, along the Roman, i.e. then contemporary medieval road.  To this day ninety odd monuments of all types (slabs, chests and ridged monuments) have been preserved. The repertoire of ornamental motifs is similar to decorations on other stećci in this area: all types of crosses, anthropomorphous lilies, hunting scenes, circle dance scenes, duels, various vegetal motifs, crescents, stars, half-knobs, etc. On two ridged monuments partly preserved are inscriptions in bosančica which mention the names of Jerko and Vladna Kustražić (today one of these monuments is located in front of the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments in Split). They can be dated to the first half or mid-fifteenth century.

South of sc. Velika Crljivica (eastern part of the site) lays a karst valley with seven wells constructed in the Middle Ages or even earlier. The entire area makes a unique complex which developed along the karst valley with water and the main road communication in this part of Dalmatian hinterland. Taking into consideration the state of preservation, number of stećci, context and number as well as diversity of decorations, Velika i mala Crljivica represent the most significant site with stećci in Croatia.

The archaeological site of Dubravka - Sv. Barbara, Konavle, Dubrovnik-Neretva County

The site is located near the village of Dubravka in the territory of Konavle (also Municipality of Konavle), Dubrovnik-Neretva County, near the three-border point of Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Two types of stećci are recorded: chests and slabs. With 84 monuments, it represents the largest preserved medieval necropolis in the Konavle region. Most common decorations include stylized wine grape tendrils, rosettes with crosses, bows and arrows, hands and arms. These stećci can be dated to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. At the site also located is the church of St. Barbara. It was built in 1889 on the location of an older church. The site is encircled with a drystone wall with a cairn next to it. There are two entrances to the graveyard with two tombstones used in their construction. Next to the necropolis ran a road connecting the inlands of Herzegovina and the valley of Konavle. It was in use from Prehistory to the Late Middle Ages.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionelle

Made as a work of art, as a sculpture, with an intention to make a memory of the deceased immortal, as well as an organic component of the European funerary practice, medieval tombstones - stećci represent a specific phenomenon and a specific synthesis of language and script, religion and custom, history and chronology, culture, art and aesthetics. Their primary interpretative context is Central and South-Eastern Europe as a transitional area of the European culture, marked by intertwining and blending of cultural influences of Eastern and Western Christianity, placed between the medieval West and East.   

An outstanding value and European dimension of stećci as medieval tombstones and a specific expression of the medieval sepulchral art is determined by their threefold historic context: West European, Byzantine and South Slavic.  

Bridging confessional, political, ethnic and geographical divisions within the wider South Slavic region and reconciling two, otherwise sharply detached, concepts of medieval culture - aristocratic (court and clerical) and popular concepts - and by making the notion of the end of human existence universal through the combination of the pagan and Christian motifs and art, the complex art of stećci exhibit the most profound artistic expression of a truth of one world. It is verbally accompanied by inscriptions - epitaphs.

Comprehensiveness, universality and applicability of a complex phenomenon such as stećci are a reflection of reflected in the universal nature of what they depicted and visualised artistically: death.

Criterion ii Medieval tombstones - stećci represent an original artistic expression originating in a specific context of the fusion of different cultural influences.

Criterion iii Stećci are a unique phenomenon in the medieval European artistic and archaeological heritage in terms of their typological diversity, number, variety of ornamental motifs, inscriptions as well as historic context.

Criterion vi Stećci have been deeply rooted in various customs and beliefs from the time when they first appeared to the present day. Stećci-related phenomena (superstitions, folk traditions and tales) exhibit several similar patterns encountered in the entire distribution area. The epigraphy and symbols displayed on stećci have influenced a modern literature and other forms of art.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

The nominated graveyards are integral part of a unique cultural phenomenon and representative examples of stećci which together merit equal treatment.  

Due to systematic archaeological excavations into the graveyards with stećci, conducted within the scope of research projects, and numerous publications and exhibitions on stećci, those graveyards have been included in various protection and presentation programs for more than six decades. This all has raised public awareness on the significance of stećci, thus preserving their authenticity and integrity. An investigative work of Šefik Bešlagić made a particular contribution in his book Stećci - kultura i umjetnost (Mediaeval Tombstones - Culture and Art), in 1982.

  On the other hand, inaccessibility of many of the graveyards, remote from roads and settlements, has been a key factor in preserving the authenticity of both graveyards and their natural surroundings as well as in minimising any human impact.

 Notwithstanding, the graveyards with stećci have been occasionally at risk due to public and private works. Stone blocks have sometimes been unsystematically removed from the graves they marked, taken to new locations, thus diminishing the authenticity and integrity of certain sites.

The nominated graveyards with stećci, their archaeological context and diversity of their types, decorations and inscriptions represent all embracing aspects of phenomenon and study of stećci.

The graveyards in this serial nomination have preserved the highest level of authenticity and integrity amongst all other graveyards with stećci. The nominated graveyards are protected cultural properties in all four countries, and are all subject to statutory protection.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

In certain details, particularly decorative motifs, stećci may be compared to other medieval tombstones in Europe, and even in their area of distribution. This primarily includes slabs located at medieval graveyards or in churches. Decorations on slabs vary from simple to elaborately decorated depictions of the deceased (priests, nobles and other relatively wealthy figures). Stećci and slabs share their shape (thick or thin slabs) and certain ornamental motifs and inscriptions.   

Some of the motifs or scenes depicted on stećci are also to be found in other works of art (paintings, reliefs) or artefacts (jewellery, tapestry) of that period. In terms of their number and monumentality, stećci can be to a certain degree compared to the Irish and British high crosses which are also covered with various ornaments. However, they appeared during the Early Middle Ages, and disappeared as late as the 12th century. Furthermore, these crosses were not used solely as grave marks. The same applies to Armenian khachkars - tombstones and memorial monuments created in Armenia in the period between the 9th and 17th centuries, reaching a peak in the 14th century.