Visoki Dečani and Pećki Manastir in Kosovo

"I am not a religious man, but closer to God than here, I will never be", I always say when I am overwhelmed by the beauty of the interior and surroundings of these Orthodox churches and monasteries. 

Visoki Dečani Monastery, 17th of June 2018. Photo: Casper Molenaar.

Manastir Pećka patrijaršija, 17th of June 2018. Photo: Casper Molenaar.

Ofcourse, but unfortunately, I can not share photos from the inside, because it is not allowed to take photos. I respect that. Well, this time, both at Dečani and the Orthodox Monastery of Peć (Pejë in Albanian, but I will use Peć when I refer to the Monastery and Pejë when I talk about the city), I respected that. At other occassions, at other monasteries I did take photos, though it wasn't allowed there either. Here I was being watched the whole time. Ánd I was the only visitor at the time. This, ofcourse, made the experience even more special for me. Maybe it is better to keep what I saw and felt for myself? As images in my head and feelings in my heart, and leave it there and between me and God, as I was asked by an Orthodox priest on several occasions. When travelling around the Balkans in 2004-2006 we often stayed for the night at these Orthodox Monasteries in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina quite often, also due to the lack of campsites. But not this time in June 2018 since I came by plane and rented a car so I stayed at hostels for the night. I visited both monasteries on the same day.

Both monasteries are under protection of UNESCO. 

Visoki Dečani Manastir

After passing some KFOR roadblocks, I recognized the looming Visoki Dečani Monastery. I saw cameras hanging beside the road and I decided it would be wise to ask premission from the troops to walk back the road to find the right place to take the photo Kurt Hielscher made over 90 years before. The parking lot was empty and it was clear that I was the only visitor here. 

When I walked back that road passing the cameras again, I really felt alone here in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, but actually was quite close to the city of Deçani, which I did not visit, with some 40 thousand inhabitants. There was a new road and more trees beside it. When I walked away from the monastery, I kept checking distance and angle, but I could not find the characteristic tree from the old photo from Kurt Hielscher. Was it cut down for this new road? Am I looking well? After a while, I decided it wasn't possible that Kurt Hielscher went there to take his photo and I was not going up there in the bushes anyway. That would never result in a nice photo since the view was blocked by other trees and who knows how the soldiers would react if the saw me climbing the steep hill into the bushes? I could feel their eyes through the cameras on my back and I also wanted to be able to visit the monastery when I made the photo. So with the cameras and the guards, it might no be such a good idea to start roaming through the bushes for a while. So, I made this shot from the road. I think I got close anyway. And I felt rewarded when visiting the monastery in the end: what a beauty!!  

Visoki Dečani Monastery, 1926. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Visoki Dečani Monastery, 17th of June 2018. Photo: Casper Molenaar. 

Within the monastery walls, but outside the main chirch with all its frescoes. I was not allowed to take photos from its interior and I was being watched since I was the only visitor at the time.

Portal of the Visoki Dečani Monastery in 1919.  Photographer unknown, but from the Russian Institute of Constantinopel. Source: I probably came across this photo on Facebook in the The Balkans Group.

Portal of the Visoki Dečani Monastery, 17th of June 2018. Photo: Casper Molenaar.

In the shop I had a nice chat with a priest and bought myself a nice souvenir, which I always try to do when visiting Orthodox monasteries so I have a collection of these kind of commemorative plaques, minipaintings and other stuff.

Manastir Pećka patrijarhija 

Later that day, I arrived at the other monastery here in the Western parts of Kosovo, only a half an hour drive up to the North. It took a while before the only policeman here came back from his guardhouse, he nodded and returned my passport after he checked. With one hand he put the barrier up while puffing on his cigarette with other. It was still a few hundred meters to the entrance of the monastery, but I already saw the extensive protected wall when I passed the complex missing the barrier and the guardhouse in the first place. 

Manastir Pećka patrijaršija, 1926. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Manastir Pećka patrijaršija, 17th of June 2018. Photo: Casper Molenaar. 

Built in the 13th century, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2006. It is beautifully located at the edge of the city of Pejë and the Rugova Canyon towards the western border with Montenegro. It was colored red only in 2008, probably to make it look more like another monastery, the one of Žiča in Serbia, which led to some quarrels of course. 

It is a special and impressive place to visit with such a serene atmosphere. This time an enthusiast guide really wanted me to listen to the audio guide and him at the same time, which I tried. At first I enjoyed his enthusiasm and interesting information, but in the end I was happy I got kind of rescued by some French tourists and found some space for some tranquility for myself to fully enjoy the scenery. 

Below: detail of the portal of Visoki Dečani Monastery.

In the footsteps of  Kurt Hielscher