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Stećak's - Medieval Tombstones

Date de soumission : 07/05/2011
Critères: (ii)(iii)(vi)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Permanent Delegation of Serbia to UNESCO
Etat, province ou région :
Ref.: 5619

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Geographic Coordinates

N43 57 452 E19 25 822 Mramorije - Perucac (above sea level 239m)

N43 56 741 E19 21 199 Mramorije - Rastiste (above sea level 520m) 

N43 17 57 E19 37 57 Grcko groblje - Hrta (above sea level 855m)

Stećak or the mediaeval tombstones are the monolith stone monuments found in the regions of the present Bosnia and Herzegovina, parts of Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. The available sources suggest that they appear from the second half of the 12th century, then last through the 13th century and are intensively made and decorated in the 14th and 15th centuries. But in the 16th century they completely cease.

Out of 70,000 recorded tombstones from about 3,300 sites, some 60,000 are in Bosnia and Herzegovina, about 4,400 in Croatia, about 3,500 in Montenegro and some 4,100 in Serbia. The elementary tombstone groups are the laid and the upright stone monoliths.

The majority is the laid ones, occurring in three types: slab, chest and gabled or ridged. Among the upright monoliths, the following types are distinguished: stele, obelisk, cross and turban-shaped. The laid stones are actually the primary tombstone shape and occur in all the identified regions. Artistic shaping is expressed in the stone forms and decorations. The basic artistic quality is in the decorations done in two stone carving techniques. Most often it is a low relief, but there are also carved, engraved drawings.

Along with their accentuated symbolism characteristic to the mediaeval art, among the tombstone motifs we can find secular and religious symbols and other ornaments, interlaced and combined. Generally speaking, the mediaeval tombstones ornamentation reveals an understanding a feeling of an era, of the people who participated in their make, as well as of the deceased ones, finding there their last dwelling place and according to some sources, upon whose wishes those tombstones were made.

Besides their regional differentiation manifested in the use of shapes, ornamental motifs and quality, the mediaeval tombstones are usually found in clusters - in cemeteries belonging to some families, containing only a few stones, then in cemeteries of the whole clans, with about 30 to 50 stones and in village cemeteries, sometimes with several hundred stones. Particularly significant are the special cemeteries belonging to certain noble families of the highest feudal social stratum.

Based upon surveys, investigations and literary sources, on the territory of west Serbia, 203 mediaeval cemeteries have been recorded so far, with monolith tombstones of the mediaeval type we are considering. By the variety of their basic shapes, dimensions and ornamentation, by the number and types of the applied motifs, the mediaeval tombstones of Serbia are behind those of Hum (Herzegovina), but are equal to those of Bosnia, and are analogous to those of the Bosnian side of the Drina river region, the east Bosnia. Even among the stones of Serbia there are differences in shapes and ornamentation and can be categorized as specific to a certain region, like those in Bosnia and Herzegovina For instance, the stones found in the Ra5ka State (mediaeval Serbia) bear a special artistic expressions built according to the church art and architecture models found in Serbia at the time. With regard to the total number of the mediaeval tombstones, the number of the decorated ones in Serbia is proportionally greater than in the whole area where they have been found, but the varieties and their relief motifs are fewer than in other regions. Astral and floral motifs often occur not only on the stones of Serbia but also along the lower course of the Drina river, in the contemporary or the latter monuments in the shape of a slab and of those put in the ground in an upright position, which have not been classified as the mediaeval tombstones. According to the inscriptions and ornamentation, burials under these stones were practiced in the 14th and 15th century. Also, certain shapes were used before and after the said period. In the same period there were cemeteries with stone slabs as the only one shape used as a grave mark, out of which many bear the same ornamentation as found on the mediaeval tombstones. These sites have not been recorded as the mediaeval tombstone sites, but have been found in great numbers all over Serbia

The mediaeval tombstone monuments have been recorded in all the regions of today border settlements between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, as well as in neighboring areas to western and south-western Serbia. The distribution of the cemeteries with these tombstones is not an even one. In the area of the lower Drina course and Krupanj as its center and in the mid Lim course (Prijepolje and the surroundings) a greater numbers of such cemeteries have been recorded. There is a cemetery with the mediaeval tombstones on the Mramorje (or Bagrusa) archaeological site, at the entrance to Perucac, 1 Okrn to the south-west of Bajina Basta, on the right bank of the Drina. At the cemetery 85 tombstones have been recorded (slabs, gabled stones with and without pedestals, chests with and without pedestals and two amorphous ones). The monuments are placed in rows. The same cemetery contains a great number of varied basic forms. According to some earlier sources, there were 112 tombstones. The grave mark stones orientation is west-east with some minor exceptions. The tombstones were made of limestone with well-dressed and polished surface by the use of a large grain hammer. There is only one chest featuring a motif of a circle.

In the Tara National Park, some 23 krn southwest of Bajina Ba5ta, and about 7 km of Perucac, in Rastiste, there are two cemeteries with the grave marks of the mediaeval tombstones type. Both sites are recorded under the name Mramorje. The two mediaeval tombstone cemeteries are 500m apart from each other, or 300 and 700m, respectively, from the local church in the village center. In the Mramorje cemetery, in the Urosevina hamlet, 38 stones have been recorded, out of which 19 gabled ones, 1 a double-gable, l a double-gabled chest, 12 chests, 4 slabs and 1 fragmented monument. The monuments are placed in rows, with a west-east orientation, and north and south exceptions. On the surface of three gabled stones the motifs are a bow and arrow and a sword. In the Mramorje cemetery, in the Gajevi hamlet, there are 35 monuments (26 chests, 2 gabled ones and 7 slabs). They are west-east oriented, with some minor exceptions. The chests are mostly without pedestals, of finely dressed surfaces and sharp edged. Three monuments have ornamental reliefs featuring a crescent with a circle and a cross.

In the Hrta village, some 16krn southwest of Prijepolje, in a very mountainous region, on the Gubica direction, there are the remains of a cemetery called the Greek Cemetery (Grcko groblje). It is divided into the Lower and Upper cemetery, with the monuments distributed upon two mounds surrounded by a road and a creek. There are 33 monuments (18 chests, 12 slabs and 3 amorphous ones) in the Upper section and 21 slabs in the Lower. They are of east-west orientation. Eighteen ones are decorated, out of which only one slab and one chest feature concentrated circles and a cross within a circle and they belong to the Lower Cemetery. The Upper cemetery holds monuments of various motifs: a rope and wavy line border and circles, zig-zag ornaments, concentrated circles, circles with a cross inside, a sword and an anthropomorphic figures. Upon the sides of some larger chests there are arcades in reliefs, which link these stones to the decorated chests found in northern Montenegro and in Herzegovina.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionelle

Made as a work of art, as a sculpture, intended to make the memory of the deceased immortal, as an organic part of the European sepulchral practice, these mediaeval tombstones are a specific phenomenon and a specific synthesis of language and alphabet, of faith and tradition, history and chronology, culture, art and aesthetics. Their primary interpretative context is the region of southeast Europe, as a transitional zone of European culture, marked by interlacing and mixing of both east and West Christian cultural influences, placed between the mediaeval European West and East.

An extraordinary value and a European dimension of the mediaeval tombstones as a specific expression of the mediaeval sepulchral art lie within a threefold historic context: the Western European, the Byzantine and the South Slavic one.

Bridging confessional, political, ethnic and geographical divisions within a broader South Slavic region, bringing together the two, otherwise distinctly separated, mediaeval cultural concepts - the aristocratic (the court or the cleric) and the one of the common people- making universal the concept of the end of human existence by combining the pagan and Christian motifs and expressions, the complex mediaeval tombstone art is an expression of the deepest truth about the world, and then made whole by their inscriptions- epitaphs.

Universality, general values and relevance of a complex phenomenon of the mediaeval tombstones are also reflected in the universality of the motif they featured in an artistic and visual manner- the motif of death.

 ii The mediaeval tombstones are an original artistic expression manifested in specific circumstances when different cultural tendencies amalgamate.

 iii The mediaeval tombstones are a unique phenomenon in the mediaeval European artistic and archaeological heritage due to their different types, their volume, lush decorative motifs, inscriptions of various contents and the historic context.

 vi Since their first origin and up to the present day, the mediaeval tombstones have been incorporated in various customs and beliefs. Phenomena linked to the tombstones (superstition, folk tradition and tales) show several very similar patterns which we encounter in the whole region of their occurrence. Their epigraphy and symbolism have had a significant impact on modem literature and other forms of art.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

 The nominated cemeteries are an integral part of a cultural phenomenon and are representative examples of the mediaeval tombstones which together deserve an equal status.

Through systematic investigations of the cemeteries with the mediaeval tombstones, which have been going on for more than six decades, these cemeteries have been covered by various protection and presentation programs, bringing a high level of awareness of their significance and contributing to the preservation of their authenticity and integrity. An investigative work of Sefik Beslagic made a particular contribution in his book Stecci - kultura i umjetnost (Mediaeval Tombstones - Culture and Art), in 1982.

 In addition, an inaccessible position of many of the cemeteries and their distance from the roads and settlements has been a key factor in preserving the authenticity of either the cemeteries and their natural surroundings, as well as in minimizing any human impact.

Notwithstanding, the cemeteries with the mediaeval tombstones have been occasionally exposed to some risks due to either public of private works conducted in the area, or the stones themselves have been inexcusably removed from the graves they marked, taken away or moved to some other locations, thus diminishing the authenticity and integrity of some of the sites.

 The nominated cemeteries with the mediaeval tombstones, their archaeological context, the variety of the types and ornamentation and of the inscriptions make the unified body of a phenomenon to be investigated.

 The cemeteries in the serial nomination have preserved the highest level of authenticity and integrity among all of the same class. The nominated cemeteries with their mediaeval tombstones constitute cultural monuments in all four states and are listed as legally protected.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

The mediaeval tombstones, in their decorative motifs in particular, can be compared with other mediaeval tombstones present all over Europe, as well as in the region concerned. Those are mostly grave marks, stone slabs in the mediaeval cemeteries or churches, which may be modestly decorated, but also with lushly ornamented images of the deceased (priests, noblemen or noblewomen or other relatively wealthy figures). Most often they could be compared in shapes (thicker or thinner slab) and in decoration motifs and inscriptions.

Certain motifs or scenes found on the mediaeval tombstones can also be found in works of art (pictures, reliefs) or on artefacts meant for trade (works by goldsmiths or on tapestry) of that period. By their number and monumental sizes, they could be compared to an extent with Irish or British high crosses, also various decorative motifs, but these occur mostly in the early Middle Ages and cannot be found after the 12th century. Furthermore, such monuments were not used solely as grave marks. Also similar are the Armenian khachkars, tomb and memorial stones, occurring from the 9th to the 17th century Armenia, particularly in the 14th century.