UNESCO Sites in the Balkan Peninsula
The Balkan Peninsula countries of Croatia, Greece, Montenegro Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia keep the World Heritage people busy. Here are a few of the many outstanding reasons why that is so.
New: Discover the UNESCO sites of the Balkans with our interactive map!
The Skocjan Caves in Slovenia are listed by UNESCO thanks to of 6 km of underground passages, one of the largest known subterranean chambers, the world’s most extensive underground wetlands, it’s textbook karstic character (karst is a type of limestone formation) and extraordinary beauty. A tour of the cave will show you that the earth’s interior is every bit as majestic as its exterior. Among more than 7,000 caves in Slovenia, this one is a showstopper.
Durmitor National Park in Montenegro has gorgeous mountainous terrain polka-dotted with glacial lakes. What makes it World Heritage-special? 500-year old forests, a river gorge second only to the Grand Canyon in depth and length, the Ice Cave with it’s year-round ice stalagmites and stalactites, and 27 peaks over 2200 meters in elevation. The park is also home to many endemic species of plants and animals, and is a well-loved destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
You will not believe what you see when you behold the almost unreachable monastery complex of Meteora in central Greece. Dramatically perched atop soaring sandstone pillars, you can only marvel at the determination of the 11th century monks who built these 24 religious communities. In addition to its unimaginable location, UNESCO cites Meteora for its significant 16th century paintings, which are important because they mark a departure from the Byzantine esthetic.
What started out as natural caves where hermit monks took refuge in the 12th century became a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 20th century. The original Rock Hewn Churches of Ivanovo in Bulgaria were expanded at their height to a collection of around 340 churches, chapels, monasteries, and residential cells, all hewn entirely from solid rock. You can still enjoy looking at some of the exquisite and sophisticated 14th century paintings, some depicting royal patrons of the time.
The Studenica Monastery is Serbia’s most treasured monastery, as it was founded late in the 12th century by the founder of the medieval Serbian state, Stevan Nemanja, and was home to Serbia’s first archbishop. The complex includes two gracious churches that are faced in white marble, unique in Serbian medieval architecture, encircled by 18th century residential buildings. The churches house a fantastic collection of Byzantine frescoes from the 13th and 14th centuries as well, making it even more fitting to be listed by UNESCO. It remains the most important Orthodox monastery in the country.
Older than the hills - almost
The Dacian civilization flourished for centuries in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania from thousands of years B.C. until the Romans conquered them in the 2nd century AD. UNESCO notes the Dacian Fortresses of the Orastie Mountains because they unusually combine military and religious architecture and reflect influences of both the late European Iron age as well as Greek and Roman cultures. The surrounding scenery is a superb setting for the ancient fortresses of long-ago native Transylvanians.
Commanding a gorgeous, deep, natural harbor in Montenegro is Kotor, one of the best-preserved Mediterranean cities from the Middle Ages. It was a busy commercial and artistic center, with well-known schools of masonry and iconography. Enjoy exploring its winding, narrow streets and many squares in search of the Romanesque churches and views of the town walls; many have been restored with UNESCO’s assistance. The environs are of such scenic beauty that the not only the city but surrounding landscape are included in the inscription.
The lovely, walled, Old City of Dubrovonik, on the southern end of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, is known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic” for good reason. Strolling along its gleaming white marble streets or exploring the walk along its ramparts, you see a bewitching mosaic of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque religious and secular buildings. UNESCO notes the city for its ability, despite earthquakes and war, to protect many of its buildings and monuments, to the delight of all who visit Dubrovnik.