Temple of Saint Sava on Vracar
One of the Largest Orthodox Churches in the World and Mosaic Decoration Without Precedent!
Construction works on the temple dedicated to one of the greatest Serbian saints started in 1895, thanks to the Society for the Construction of the Church of Saint Sava on Vracar. The place was chosen according to the location where it is believed that in 1595 the Turks under Sinan Pasha burned the relics of Saint Sava, the first Serbian archbishop. The idea was to move the smaller church, located in the same place, to build a temple. Construction was financed by voluntary contributions from citizens, as well as domestic and foreign organizations.
The building of the temple was interrupted during World War I, and in 1926 a renewed competition was announced, when the submission of Bogdan Nestorovic prevailed. Aleksandar Deroko, a professor at the University of Belgrade and a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, was also engaged in the project. World War II once again interrupted the construction, and the occupying army used the unfinished temple as a parking lot. Subsequently, the building was used as a warehouse on several occasions. In 1985, architect Branko Pesic was hired to continue construction. By the end of 2004, the facade had received its final version, and windows and bells were installed.
The main approach to the temple leads from the west across the Saint Sava’s Plateau, and the sanctuary has two more entrances: northern and southern. An artistic curiosity is the main double door made of oak with an engraved prayer in as many as 24 languages.
Regardless of the subsequent alterations caused by the changes in the technological sense and the fact that several architects worked on the building, the concept of Nestorovic-Deroko was followed. The temple was built in the Serbo-Byzantine style with four bell towers and a total height of 259ft. The floor plan has a form of a Greek cross with a dome over the nave. The sanctuary has a ground floor and three levels of galleries and can accommodate 10,000 worshipers. The second level has an observation deck around the temple, with a total space of 1,940 sq. ft. Special attention was dedicated to the facade, made of white marble, and the cornices around the dome and semi-domes were made of red granite.
The central dome weighs 8,8 million pounds and has a diameter of 100ft. The top of the dome, covered with a copper plate, is dominated by a gilded cross 39ft high. Three out of four arms of the cross have polished spheres on their ends, associations of the Holy Trinity. It is just one of the 18 crosses: four are placed on the bell towers, eight on the top of the towers next to portals, and five on the altar apse.
Seven meters below the level of the temple lies the Byzantine style grave church of the of Saint Lazar the Hieromartyr, a treasury and a crypt which is going to be the final resting place of Serbian patriarchs. The crypt is partly decorated with frescoes and partly with mosaics, with dominant representations of the Saint Lazar the Hieromartyr. In addition to religious services, exhibitions and concerts of Christian music are held there.
More than 129,166 sq. ft of the sanctuary is adorned with impeccable mosaics. It is one of the largest mosaic decorations made in history, and it consists of more than 50 million pieces, placed under the direction of Nikolai Mukhin, a Russian iconographer. The Byzantine iconographic tradition is followed, and the central part of the composition is occupied by the Ascension of Jesus Christ. The oval space where the representation of the ruler of the heavens is placed is supported by 4 angels in white vestments. Angels are arranged in the shape of a cross placed on a golden base, confined with representations of the Virgin Mary, apostles, and archangels.
Special attention is dedicated to the stone reliefs inside the sanctuary. The polychrome surfaces are dominated by the colors of the patriarchate: green, red, and white. In the construction was used stone from Vencac and Carrara (Italy), red and white travertine, white limestone, yellow and green onyx, blue lapis lazuli, and many others. The bas-reliefs are made according to Deroko’s idea, repeating the decoration of the capitals of the pillars on which the motifs of vines, lily flowers, and oval medallions with the name of Saint Sava are intertwined. The model for the medallions was a stone decoration from Serbian medieval monasteries.
The plan for the floor was made by the Russian Academy of Arts, and it was performed in a combination of granite, onyx, and white Carrara marble.
The temple is equipped with 49 bells, and each bears the name of the donor, mostly Belgrade citizens and Serbia expatriates. The larger bells are decorated with the Saint Sava’s seal and figure, a Byzantine eagle according to the designs of Aleksandar Deroko, and crowns with images of angels.
The temple of Saint Sava is the most visited location in Belgrade. Every year, a traditional Christmas Eve burning of the Yule log is organized in front of the sanctuary. The celebration is attended by officials and worshipers addressed by the patriarch. Also, there are organized fireworks in front of the temple for the Orthodox New Year according to the Julian calendar, and the event is attended by numerous tourists from the country and the world.