Place:Stari Ras

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Short description: Archaeological site in Serbia
Stari Ras
Native name
Serbian: Стари Рас
Stari Ras.jpg
Overview of the Stari Ras (Gradina-Pazarište)
LocationNear Novi Pazar,  Serbia
Coordinates [ ⚑ ] : 43°7′42″N 20°24′56″E / 43.12833°N 20.41556°E / 43.12833; 20.41556
Elevation755 m (2,477.0 ft)
Criteriai, iii
Designated1979 (3rd session)
Part ofStari Ras and Sopoćani
Reference no.96
RegionEurope and North America
Official nameSrednjovekovni grad Ras
TypeMonument of Culture of Exceptional Importance
Designated22 August 1947
Reference no.SK 534
Stari Ras is located in Serbia
Stari Ras
Location of Stari Ras within Serbia
The view from Stari Ras.

Ras (Serbian Cyrillic: Рас; Latin: Arsa), known in modern Serbian historiography as Stari Ras (Serbian Cyrillic: Стари Рас, "Old Ras"), is a medieval fortress and area located in the vicinity of former market-place of Staro Trgovište, some 10–11 kilometers (6.2–6.8 mi) west of modern-day city of Novi Pazar in Serbia.

Old Ras was initially part of the First Bulgarian Empire (until 10th century), then Byzantine Empire (mid-10th until mid-12th century), in the end becoming one of the first and main capitals of the Grand Principality and Kingdom of Serbia (since mid-12th until early 14th century). Located in today's region of Raška, its favorable position in the area known as Old Serbia, along the Raška gorge at Pešter plateau, on the crossroads and trading routes between neighbouring regions of Zeta and Bosnia in the west and Kosovo in the south, added to its importance as a city.[1]

There exist two fortifications (gradina) around the site, Gradina-Pazarište and Gradina-Postenje,[2] while urban place Staro Trgovište below Gradina-Pazarište developed since the late medieval and influenced foundation of Novi Pazar eastward in the Ottoman period.[3] There are plans for future reconstruction of the site. In the close vicinity is impressive group of medieval monuments, including churches and monasteries. The 9th century Church of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul is one of the oldest early medieval churches in Serbia. The medieval Monastery of Sopoćani near Arsa is a reminder of the contacts between Western world and the Byzantine world. The site of Stari Ras, in combination with the nearby Monastery of Sopoćani, is already a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Stari Ras monastery (12th century) is being reconstructed and it too may be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List with the site. Stari Ras and Sopoćani World Heritage Site is not far from another UNESCO World Heritage Site of Serbia, the medieval monastery and churches of Studenica.

Stari Ras was declared Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1990, and it is protected by Republic of Serbia.[4]


The toponym Ras in Slavic form derives from pre-Slavic Arsa via metathesis.[5][6] It is considered that the settlement toponym derives from a hydronim of same named river.[7] The first mention of the fortress of Ras is from c. 1127,[8] while the oldest and only mention of the city of Ras in the native Serbian sources is from 1200, but as a toponym the region/župa of Ras is widely found.[9] In 1186 charter is the first attested use of the term Raška as a designation for the Serbian state, mentioning Nemanja as the ruler of Rascia, but in other sources would still be used alongside Serbia (even simultaneously as "of Serbia and Rascia").[10]

The 14th century semi-mythical Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja anachronistically projects the events of Serbian early medieval history before 12th century also in the region named Raška (Rassa, Rassam, Rassae, Rasse), but identified with Serbia east of river Drina.[11] For the 12th century onwards exist realistic topographic description of the surroundings of the Church of St. Peter (Caldanae is Novopazarska Banja; Bello is Podbijelje; the town could be identified with near fort Gradina-Postenje).[11] Gradina-Pazarište is deemed the capital with main fortress and Gradina-Postenje as the fort closer to the bishopric church of St. Peter.[12]


Archeological findings of fortified structures and early churches from the area of Stari Ras, dated from fourth to sixth century, correspond to testimony of Byzantine historian Procopius who wrote that Roman castellum of Arsa in the province of Dardania was refortified during the reign of emperor Justinian I (527-565).[13]

According to archaeological research, there exist two fortifications (gradina), Gradina-Postenje and Gradina-Pazarište. Throught history their development was interconnected and probably made a uniform defensive system.[2] On the site of Gradina-Pazarište existed Early Bronze Age prehistoric settlement which in 5th century BCE of Iron Age became desolated.[14] In the 2nd and 3rd century of the Roman period was on a crossroad, with mining fields nearby, and military settlement.[15] Seemingly the wider area was spared in the late 4-5th century by migration period invasions.[16] In the 6th century were found some German barbarian remains and material associated with the Frankish Merovingian dynasty.[17] In c. 518 the area of Ras was hit by a devastated earthquake which caused much damage in the Roman province of Dardania.[18]

Both gradina became abandoned in the late 6th or early 7th century.[19][20] They were re-settled and renovated in the mid-9th century by the Bulgarians (with the pottery findings typical of Pliska and Preslav, and other material, also with Bulgar runic inscriptions).[21][22][23] The 10th century De Administrando Imperio mentions that "Boris ... being about to return to Bulgaria and afraid lest the Serbs might ambush him on the way, he begged for his escort the sons of prince Mutimer, Borenas and Stephen, who escorted him safely as far as the frontier at Rasi",[24] usually dated around 880.[25] Not mentioned among the inhabited cities of Serbia,[5] in the scholarship there's no consensus whether Ras was located on the Serbian or Bulgarian side of the border,[26][27][28][29][22][30][31] and whether it was a reference to the city or a border area.[25] Newer research indicates that Ras since the mid-9th and in the 10th century was a western "frontier district of Bulgaria".[32][33][31][23] The lack of material of Bulgarian origin in Vrsjenice (assumed to be Serbian city Destinikon), indicates that the border between Serbs/Serbia and Bulgarians/Bulgaria in the 9th and 10th century was at Pešter plateau (and to the north at Čačak).[34][35] Pešter makes a natural border area, and in the direction in which the plateau is open, that's where the ruling power came from to Ras (i.e. Bulgaria).[5] The high medieval chronicle's also give an impression that Rascia wasn't considered as the central and capital part of medieval Serbia, but as a separate small domain within Serbia.[30][36]

The imperial charter of Basil II from 1020 to the Archbishopric of Ohrid, in which the rights and jurisdictions were established, mentions that the Episcopy of Ras belonged to the Bulgarian autocephal church during the time of Peter I (927–969) and Samuel of Bulgaria (977–1014).[37][38] It is considered that it was possibly founded by the Bulgarian emperor,[39][40] or it is the latest date when could have been integrated to the Bulgarian Church.[41] If previously existed, it probably was part of the Bulgarian metropolis of Morava, but certainly not of Durrës.[42] If it was on the Serbian territory, seems that the Church in Serbia or part of the territory of Serbia became linked and influenced by the Bulgarian Church between 870 and 924.[43][44][45] Anyway, the church would have been protected by Bulgarian controlled forts.[35]

According to archaeological research, the site suddenly became desolated near the end of the 10th century,[22] at least western part of it abandoned and without military strategical importance and signs of Byzantines in the 11th century, and was defensively upgraded in the end of the 11th century.[46] Byzantine Emperor John Tzimiskes re-established control of Ras in 971 and founded the Catepanate of Ras.[47][48][49] The seal of protospatharios John of Ras has been found from that era.[50][51] By 976, the Bulgarian state had regained Ras (according to Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja would be the Serbs who freed themselves and defeated the Byzantines[52]), but Basil II recaptured it about 40 years later in 1016–1018.[52] In the imperial charter of Basil II from 1020, rights and jurisdictions of the autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid were established, and one of the bishoprics in its jurisdiction was that of Ras. In 1032 overall commander of the region was strategoi and doukes Constantine Diogenes,[53][54] and meanwhile Ras was part of a defensive line of Byzantine watchtowers alongside Lipjan, Zvečan, Galič, Jeleč south of Ras and Brvenik north of Ras, watching to the west over a "no-man's-land" named Zygos mountains beyond which was Serbia.[55][56]

It remained a Byzantine frontier area until John II Komnenos lost the area as a result of the Byzantine–Hungarian War (1127–1129).[57] Recent archaeological research supports the notion that the Byzantines held control of Ras during Alexios I Komnenos's reign (1048–1118), but possibly not continuously.[58] Alexios's seal which dates to the period 1081–1092 was found in 2018 near the site.[59] It seems that the watchtowers commanders skirmishes into the Serbian eastern frontiers provoked Vukan, Grand Prince of Serbia in the early 1090s to counterattack and to conquer the border fortresses in the Byzantine–Serbian War (1090–1095), but although John Ducas regained most of them, in 1093 Vukan "ravaged the neighbouring towns and districts. He even got as far as Lipjan, which he deliberately burnt down", but when Alexios came close, Vukan escaped to Zvečan and started peace negotiations.[60]

In the 1120s, the fortress of Ras was again burnt and destroyed by the Serbs, a "Dalmatian nation".[8][61] Its commander was a Kritoplos who was then punished by Emperor for the fall of the fortress.[62][63][64] The Byzantines rebuilt the fortress by 1143.[57][48] It would be re-conquered by Uroš II in aim to distract the Byzantines from engaging with Roger II of Sicily.[65] The Serbian Uprising of 1149 caused that Byzantine emperor Manuel I Komnenos penetrated into "Dalmatia" destroying the Ras fortress and devastate everything along the way, "the countless multitudes that he made slaves, he left there with the army of sebastohypertatos Constantine Angelos". He continued into Nikava, conquering all the forts with ease. After storming the nearby Galič, whose people were partly warriors and herdsmen whom took away and settled in Serdika and other Roman regions to settle, and "having learned from Angelos that the Župan, waiting for an opportune moment, after his departure from there began to attack the Romans and that a fight had already taken place, set out as fast as he could from there with the intention of capturing him. But this one, hearing that the Romans were coming, fled over the mountain passes and escaped the danger on foot. The emperor headed through the country, since there was no one to stop him at all, devastated it, and after burning the buildings there intended for the archizoupanos as the ruling center, left".[66][67][68] In the next year continued to successfully fight off the Serbians and Hungarians, ending at the Battle of Tara (1150).[69][70]

The cave monastery active in the late 12th and early 13th century.

Although not recorded in the historical sources, somewhere in the second half of the 12th century, Ras should have been finally conquered and controlled by the Serbs, greatly renovating it and becoming centre of defence and residency for the Grand Principality of Serbia.[71] Stefan Nemanja, previously receiving the land of Dendra west of Niš, was the one who usurped the throne and expanded his territories in the late 1160s.[72] Nemanja supposedly in celebration erected the monastery of Đurđevi stupovi, with an inscription showing that the end of the construction was in 1170-1171.[10] During short war in autumn 1168 he was captured, and again in 1171–1172, both times pleading loyalty.[73] The city of Ras wasn't capital in the general meaning yet, but the wider area of Raška with various fortifications, as there's no evidence of urbanization in whole Grand Principality of Serbia and Kingdom of Serbia until the 14th century.[74] In 1188 Nemanja showed intention to make Niš as the centre of the state, also there was a royal court in Kotor.[10] Byzantine intervention continued until the end of the 12th century and the Serb feudal rulers of the region were often under Byzantine suzerainty. The full independence of Serbia including Raška's region was recognized by the Byzantines in 1190 after an indecisive win by Isaac II Angelos over Nemanja.[75][76]

Beneath the Podgrađe of the Gradina-Pazarište on a rocky cliff of the hill was constructed cave monastery of St. Michael (where later was active Monk Simeon who wrote Vukan's Gospel dated to c. 1202[77]).[78][79] In 1196 Nemanja held an assembly in Ras.[80] In 1230s there was located the mint of Serbian money, possibly also the royal treasury.[77] A big granary was also found.[81] Somewhere in the early 13th century became damaged amid civil war,[82] but extensively renovated again by the time of second Serbian king Stefan Radoslav (1228–1233). However, there's many archaeological evidences it was burnt and became desolated around 1230s, probably being the scene of noble battles in which Radoslav lost and Stefan Vladislav (1234–1243) came to the throne.[82] Seemingly it was not well renovated again, and from that point in time gradually losing its status as the Serbian state "capital", but until then Serbian's state name became closely associated with the name of Rascia, and Serbian people with the Rasciani.[48] The final desolation happened in the early 14th century during the rulership of Stefan Milutin (1282–1321).[82]

Remains of Trgovište part of Ras.

During the 14th century there was an important market-place below the Stari Ras, Trgovište, that started to develop.[83] The scholarly thesis of Novi Pazar being a continuation of Stari Ras by identifying it with Ras-Trgovište is by now rejected.[84] By the mid-15th century, in the time of the final Ottoman conquest of the region, another market-place was developing to the east.[85] The older place was known as Staro Trgovište ("old market-place", in Turkish: Eski Pazar) and younger as Novo Trgovište ("new market-place", Turkish: Yeni Pazar).[86] The latter developed into the modern city of Novi Pazar, and there's no medieval archaeological site found in the centre of Novi Pazar.[87] In the Ottoman administrative division, Ras in 1455 was part of the vilayet of Skopije, by 1463 existed nahiye of Ras within vilayet of Jeleč (fort 12 km south of present-day Novi Pazar), and in 1475 was founded Novi Pazar which soon became it's centre (but Novi Pazar itself shouldn't be considered as continuity of Ras).[88] The toponym of Ras vanished in the 18th century, influenced by the First of Great Migrations of the Serbs in the end of the 17th century.[89]


In the region of Raška also existed other ancient church-buildings, a basilica in village Pope north of Pazarište and a church within Novi Pazar/Novopazarska Banja borders (both outside fortifications), and churches in Gradina-Postenje and Zlatni Kamen (both within fortifications).[90] Such concentration could indicate existence of an ancient episcopy (with a seat at a basilica near Pazarište), possibly connected to the ancient Bishopric of Ulpiana.[91] The oldest early medieval church-building in Serbia, the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (also known as St. Peter's Church), was founded near Novi Pazar, sometime during the 9th century.[92] Its commonly considered to have been built on the 6th century Byzantine foundations.[93]

See also

  • Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance
  • Tourism in Serbia
  • Nemanjić dynasty
  • Spatial Cultural-Historical Units of Great Importance


  1. Popović 1999, p. 291.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Popović 1999, p. 291, 393.
  3. Popović 1999, p. 41–45, 393.
  4. Monuments of Culture in Serbia: СТАРИ РАС СА СОПОЋАНИМА (SANU) (in Serbian and English)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Popović 1999, p. 37.
  6. Bulić 2013, p. 216.
  7. Popović 1999, p. 295.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Popović 1999, p. 38, 301.
  9. Popović 1999, p. 39–41.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Kalić 1995, p. 147–155.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Popović 1999, p. 39.
  12. Popović 1999, p. 39, 41, 295.
  13. Popović 1999, p. 294–295.
  14. Popović 1999, p. 291, 393–394.
  15. Popović 1999, p. 292–294, 394–397.
  16. Popović 1999, p. 294, 296.
  17. Popović 1999, p. 294, 397–398.
  18. Popović 1999, p. 294, 398.
  19. Popović 1999, p. 294, 400.
  20. Špehar 2019, p. 118–120.
  21. Popović 1999, p. 155–161, 297, 400.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Curta 2006, p. 146.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Špehar 2019, p. 118–120, 122.
  24. Moravcsik, Gyula, ed (1967). Constantine Porphyrogenitus: De Administrando Imperio (2nd revised ed.). Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies. p. 155. ISBN 9780884020219. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Popović 1999, p. 37, 297.
  26. Popović 1999, p. 37, 297–298, 400.
  27. Živković 2013b, pp. 28, 31, 34.
  28. Bulić 2013, pp. 217.
  29. Ćirković 2004, p. 12–15.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Novaković 1981.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Ivanišević & Krsmanović 2013, p. 450.
  32. Popović 1999, p. 139–161, 297, 400–401.
  33. Curta 2006, p. 146–147.
  34. Popović 1999, p. 298.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Špehar 2019, p. 122.
  36. Popović 1999, p. 38–41.
  37. Komatina 2015, pp. 717.
  38. Komatina 2016, pp. 76, 89–90.
  39. Popović 1999, p. 401.
  40. Ćirković 2004, pp. 20, 30.
  41. Komatina 2016, pp. 76–77.
  42. Komatina 2016, pp. 75, 88–91.
  43. Komatina 2015, pp. 717–718.
  44. Komatina 2016, pp. 77, 91.
  45. Špehar 2010, pp. 203, 216.
  46. Popović 1999, p. 162, 299, 402–403.
  47. Popović 1999, p. 299, 402.
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 Ćirković 2004, p. 30.
  49. Komatina 2016, pp. 78–84.
  50. Stephenson, Paul (2003). The Legend of Basil the Bulgar-slayer. Cambridge University Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-521-81530-7. 
  51. Byzantium in the year 1000. BRILL. 2003. p. 122. ISBN 978-90-04-12097-6. 
  52. 52.0 52.1 Popović 1999, p. 299.
  53. Stephenson 2004, p. 66.
  54. Stephenson 2008, p. 667.
  55. Stephenson 2004, p. 125, 148–150, 155.
  56. Stephenson 2008, p. 668.
  57. 57.0 57.1 Popović 1999, p. 301.
  58. Ivanišević & Krsmanović 2013, p. 451–452:Recently found seals on the site The Fortress of Ras support the opinion that the Byzantine Empire held dominant (but perhaps not continuous) control over Ras during Alexios' reign
  59. Stojkovski 2020, p. 153.
  60. Stephenson 2004, p. 148–150.
  61. Ćirković 2004, p. 29.
  62. Popović 1999, p. 38.
  63. Ivanišević & Krsmanović 2013, p. 451.
  64. Curta 2019, p. 656.
  65. Stephenson 2004, p. 225.
  66. Popović 1999, p. 38, 302.
  67. Stephenson 2004, p. 224–225.
  68. Kinnamos 1976, p. 83.
  69. Stephenson 2004, p. 225–226.
  70. Kinnamos 1976, p. 83–90.
  71. Popović 1999, p. 38, 302–303, 306.
  72. Stephenson 2004, p. 267.
  73. Stephenson 2004, p. 267–269.
  74. Popović 1999, p. 304–305.
  75. Dimnik 1995, p. 270.
  76. Stephenson 2004, p. 301.
  77. 77.0 77.1 Popović 1999, p. 304.
  78. Popović 1999, p. 279–285, 304.
  79. Popović & Popović 1998, p. 105.
  80. Ćirković 2004, p. 33.
  81. Popović 1999, p. 305.
  82. 82.0 82.1 82.2 Popović 1999, p. 306.
  83. Popović 1999, p. 44.
  84. Popović 1999, p. 39, 41.
  85. Popović 1999, p. 41, 44–45.
  86. Popović 1999, p. 45.
  87. Popović 1999, p. 41–45.
  88. Popović 1999, p. 42–45.
  89. Popović 1999, p. 46.
  90. Popović 1999, p. 295–296, 399–400.
  91. Popović 1999, p. 296, 399–400.
  92. Popović 1999, p. 297, 399, 401.
  93. Komatina 2016, pp. 76.

Further reading

External links