Visoki Decani listed as one of the 7 Most Endangered Heritage Sites in Europe in 2021

Visoki Decani Monastery has been included in the list of one of the most endangered monuments and heritage sites in Europe in 2021. Europa Nostra, which has been active in the field of heritage for more than fifty years, published a list of the 7 Most Endangered Heritage Sites in Europe this year after surveying over forty European countries. In addition to Visoki Decani, the list also includes sites in Zagreb and Skopje.

The announcement of the 7 Most Endangered sites 2021 was made at an online event co-hosted by high-level representatives from Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank Institute, with the participation of Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

The 7 Most Endangered sites for 2021 were selected by the Board of Europa Nostra from the 12 sites shortlisted by a panel of international experts.

In addition to Visoki Decani monastery, the list includes the Achensee Steam Cog Railway, in Tyrol, Austria, the Historic Cemetery Complex of Mirogoj, in Zagreb, five Southern Aegean Islands in Greece, the Giusti Garden in Verona, the Central Post Office in Skopje, and the San Juan de Socueva Chapel and the Hermitage in Spain.

The selection was made on the basis of the outstanding heritage significance and cultural value of each of the sites as well as on the basis of the serious danger that they are facing. The level of engagement of local communities and the commitment of public and private stakeholders to saving these sites were considered as crucial added values. Another selection criterion was the potential of these sites to act as a catalyst for sustainable socio-economic development as well as a tool for promoting peace and dialogue within their localities and wider regions, Europa Nostra stated.

The Future for Religious Heritage, which is a member of the European Heritage Alliance – an organization Europa Nostra is also a member of, nominated the Decani Monastery to the 7 Most Endangered Programme 2021.

The Advisory Panel of Europa Nostra noted that Decani is the only monument in Europe under robust military protection for a continuous period of 20 years, although it constitutes a monument of ultimate historical and cultural importance for Europe and the world.

“Built in the first half of the 14th century, this Serbian Orthodox Church Monastery, with harmoniously combined elements of Eastern and Western artistic expressions, its encyclopedic ensemble of frescoes in Serb-Byzantine style, and its Romanesque-Gothic architecture and sculptural decoration, is among the most distinguished heritage ensembles of its time.”

They noted that the monastic complex is “surrounded by a dense forest that forms part of an unspoiled cultural landscape which is inseparable from its priceless cultural heritage,” Continuously inhabited for almost seven centuries, the Decani Monastery is a functioning monastery with daily liturgical services and an active monastic community, they added.

“As part of the EU enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans, it is urgent and imperative to ensure a holistic protection by all parties concerned of this endangered World Heritage Site through full respect of the rule of law and other key European values. Adequate protection and accurate interpretation, communication and education related to the multi-cultural and multi-religious heritage in Kosovo are a prerequisite for reconciliation and dialogue leading to lasting peace and prosperity in the wider region,” the Board of Europa Nostra stated.

Europa Nostra recalled that he Decani Monastery was inscribed on the World Heritage List as a single site in 2004. In 2006, this status was extended to three other Serbian Orthodox Christian monasteries and churches in Kosovo, namely Gracanica, the Patriarchate of Pec and the Church of the Virgin of Ljevis in Prizren. Since 2006, all four sites have been inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger.

The monastery, they add, has been under protection by the KFOR peacekeeping troops since June 1999.

In addition to security threats, the monastery is also facing “a constant risk of unsuitable local development” which would “undermine the values of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”

“Especially worrying is the plan for an international road – connecting the municipalities of Decani in Kosovo and Plav in Montenegro – that would cross the special protected zone and pass next to the monastery gates.”

They recalled that in summer 2020, road works have been suspended and agreement was reached, under the aegis of the international community, to build a by-pass for this road.

“The overall situation requires to be closely monitored to ensure the full respect of the rule of law, and especially of the 2008 law on special protected zones which does not allow for such a road. In this context, it is also important that the 2016 ruling of the Constitutional Court of Kosovo – confirming that the property of 24 hectares of surrounding land belongs to the Decani Monastery – is duly enforced by responsible authorities and this without any further delay,” Europa Nostra underlined.

The Abbot of the Visoki Decani monastery, Sava Janjic, reacted today, saying that he is “very honored that Decani Monastery is on the list of the 7 most endangered.”

“I am deeply convinced it will significantly contribute to protection of our vulnerable heritage in Kosovo and raise awareness that cultural heritage is meant to bring us more together than drive us apart,” Janjic tweeted.

 

Clausse: 7 Most Endangered – an alarm bell about serious threats

Speaking at the online event, Guy Clausse, Executive Vice-President of Europa Nostra, emphasized that the 7 Most Endangered List 2021 aim is to “ring the alarm bell” about the serious threats which these sites are facing.

“From an outstanding medieval monastery to a remarkable Renaissance garden, from industrial and modern constructions to iconic cultural landscapes: these sites are important testimonies of our shared past, memory and identity. At a time when our continent is experiencing an unprecedented crisis, Europa Nostra wishes to express its solidarity and lend its support to local communities across Europe who are determined to save these endangered heritage treasures,” he said.

Clausse underlined that Europa Nostra, together with its wide pan-European network of members and partners, will mobilise diverse expertise and resources to help save these heritage sites.

“They should be recognised as powerful vectors of sustainable development as well as vital tools for peace and dialogue between various communities. Together, we can do it!” – he concluded.

The selected 7 Most Endangered heritage sites are eligible for an EIB Heritage Grant of up to €10,000 per site.

The EIB Heritage Grant, this European organization underlined, can be allocated to the eligible selected 7 Most Endangered sites to assist in implementing an agreed activity that will contribute to saving the threatened site.

Teams of experts representing Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank Institute, together with the organisations that nominated the sites and other partners, will assess each case by collecting information and by meeting with key stakeholders, they added.

“These multidisciplinary teams will provide expert advice, identify possible sources of funding and help mobilise wide support to save these heritage landmarks. At the end of the assessment process, they will formulate and communicate a set of recommendations for future action.”

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