The Studenica monastery is a 12th-century Serbian Orthodox monastery situated 39 km southwest of Kraljevo, in central Serbia. It is one of the largest and richest Serb Orthodox monasteries. Stefan Nemanja, the founder of the medieval Serb state, founded the monastery in 1190. The monastery's fortified walls encompass two churches: the Church of the Virgin, and the Church of the King, both of which were built using white marble. The monastery is best known for its collection of 13th- and 14th century Byzantine-style fresco paintings. Studenica was declared Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979, and it is protected by Republic of Serbia, and in 1986 UNESCO included Studenica monastery on the list of World Heritage Sites.
The monastery Studenica, dedicated to the Presentation of the Holy Virgin, is the mother-church of all Serbian temples. It was constructed over a quite long period of time. The first stage of works were completed by the spring of 1196, when Stefan Nemanja abdicated and took monastic vows at the monastery. When he later left for Hilandar, his son and successor Stefan took over the care of Studenica. Nemanja died in Hilandar in 1199. Nemanja's third son Rastko (Saint Sava), after reconciling with his brothers Stefan and Vukan, moved Nemanja's relics to Studenica.
Under guardianship of Sava, Studenica became the political, cultural and spiritual center of ´medieval Serbia. Among his other endeavors, Sava composed the "Studenica Typikon", a liturgical book of orders where he described the life of Saint Simeon (Nemanja), leaving evidence of the spiritual and monastic life of his time. Studenica enjoyed continual care by the members of the Nemanjić dynasty. King Radoslav added a splendid narthex to the church in 1235. King Milutin built a small but lovely church dedicated to saints Joachim and Anna.
Since the fall of the last of the medieval Serbian states in 1459, the Turks often assaulted the monastery. The first of the significant restorations of the damage took place in 1569, when the frescoes in the Church of the Virgin were repainted. In the early 17th century, an earthquake and a fire befell the monastery, and historical documents and a significant part of the artistic heritage were destroyed and lost forever.
The Virgin's Church is a domed single-nave basilica. At its eastern end there is a three-sided apse, while an extended narthex faces west; there are also vestibules on the north and the south. In the 1230s, a large exonarthex was added. The facades were built with slabs of white marble; inside, the church is revetted with tuff blocks. Externally, the Church harmoniously reconciles two architectural styles, the Romanesque and the Byzantine. The blending of these two styles eventually produced a particular style of architecture known as the Raška School.
Northwest of the Church of the Virgin there is the church of saints Joachim and Anna, known after its founder King Milutin as the King's Church. The church was constructed in 1314, in the form of a compressed cross, with the exterior structure of an octagonal dome. It is built of stone and tuff, with plastered facades.
The artistic achievements of the sculpture of Studentica culminate in four portals of the Virgin's Church, primarily the west one, inside between the narthex and the exonarthex. On the north wall under the dome, there is a window made of many square panes with medallions carved on a leaden plaque which represent eight fantastic animals - the symbols of the Virgin's virtues. There are also two rosettes denoting the Divine Eye. The masons came to Studenica most probably from the Adriatic region, perhaps from Kotor, where Nemanja used to have a palace. They left an inscription in Serbian lettering on the tympanum of the west portal.
The Virgin's Church was painted in the first decade of the 13th century. The original frescoes have been partly preserved in the altar area, under the dome, on the west wall, and in the lower registers of the nave. The most splendid representation is that of the Crucifixion, painted on blue background in 1209, one of the paramount achievements in Serbian art. On the south wall there is the "founders' composition" which shows the Virgin taking Nemanja (Simon) with the church model to Jesus Christ as the Magistrate Impartial. The narthex was painted in 1569. Those frescoes include an exquisite representation of the Last Judgment in the upper registers, and the portrait of Nemanja's wife Ana as the nun Anastasija.