Velika Hoca Village – The Pearl of Metohija

Velika Hoca Village – The Pearl of Metohija

The village of Velika HocaGolema Oca – is situated 5-6 km south-east of Orahovac village and some 5 km from Zociste village, and 25 km away from Prizren. Velika Hoca village is one of the oldest Serbian settlements in the fertile Metohija valley of the Kosovo and Metohija Province. Village of Velika Hoca is situated in one of the Metohija ravines, hidden on the road which connects Orahovac and Suva Reka. Velika Hoca is one of rare villages in Kosovo and Metohija where the Serbs survived and remained after 1999 and was named ‘the place with God’s Blessing’ by the famous writer and Nobel-laureate Peter Handke.

In the earliest records which can be found, the Velika Hoca settlement was granted together with eight surrounding villages, and is first mentioned in 1198-1199 in the founding charter of King Stefan Nemanja as the Hotacka Metohija, and the metochion of the Chilandar Monastery. The Velika Hoca settlement was established along the course of the Hoca River around the main medieval road, but no detailed archaeological recognition of the whole area have been completed to provide data about borders of the inhabited place that existed in the Middle Ages. The entire area of Velika Hoca village is set at the average altitude of 400 meters and is traditionally rich in wine-growing and wineries, thanks to great number of sunny days and well exposition of vineyards to the sun. Wine production in Velika Hoca village generated through its long history a rich collection of buildings of historical and cultural interest.

Velika Hoca village is surrounded by the mountain chain of Milanovac Mountain /893m/ from the eastern side, Gradiste Mountain with medieval ruins of Zatric fortification /1039 meters/ and more than 30 km long Koznik Mountain range, protecting the village and the whole Podrimlje region from the north-east cold winter winds. Given that the river and streams valleys open towards the south and west, the region of Velika Hoca is highly exposed to the impact of the Mediterranean climate. Warm air current spreading over the valley of Beli Drim River has beneficial effect upon agriculture – wine-growing in particular.

All historical and written documents on the Velika Hoca village and the surrounding area indicate the traditional wine-growing and production of delicious wine and brandy for centuries. The Roman clay jar with cubic capacity between 300 and 400 liters, accidentally found in digging the foundation for a wine-cellar near Vrelo in Velika Hoca and Orahovac, prove that Velika Hoca was populated in the time of the Roman Empire and that its inhabitants were engaged in wine-growing and agriculture. In the time of reign of tsar Dusan / the 14th century/ the vineyards of Velika Hoca belonged to the Visoki Decani Monastery whose monks still run the wine cellar which is known in the village as the Decanska vinica – the Winery and wine cellar of Visoki Decani. Historic centers of the settlement are related to the churches and wineries and it is evident that the present square between the Decani Winery and the Church of St. Stephen used to be the main public point and the most developed urban space in the 15th century. The winery /vinica/ is the particular part of the house built for wine production and keeping of wine.

Velika Hoca village in Kosovo and Metohija is an extraordinary entity comprising thirteen Christian preserved churches and objects of vernacular architecture, forming an extremely valuable complex of cultural and historical interest. One of the oldest is the Church of Saint Nicholas built in the 13th century within the village graveyard, besides the stream, and reconstructed in the 16th century. It used to be the administrative center of the Metochy of Hoca. The Saint Nicholas Church in Velika Hoca is single-nave structure without dome, rectangular in plan and barrel-vaulted, built of dressed stone. The Saint Nicholas Church in Velika Hoca is covered with stone labs. A few meter to the west of the Saint Nicholas Church, a rustic belfry built of dressed stone is seen. The original frescoes of Saint Nicholas Church covering about 150 sq m are preserved in fragments : the best preserved frescoes represent the extraordinary composition of the portrays of Saint Sava and Simeon in the adoration of the icon of the Holy Virgin with the Child. The iconostasis of Saint Nicholas Church is made by famous medieval painter Longin, around 1557, after the reinstatement of the Patriarchate of Pec./Source MNEMOSYNE/

The Church of Saint Nicholas in Velika Hoča is located in the graveyard above the village. It was constructed and fresco painted until 1345 when here was buried nun Marta, mother of local lord Gradislav Sušenica, what is inscribed on her tombstone. The Church of Saint Nicholas is immovable cultural site as the monument of culture of exceptional importance. It is assumed that this shrine was erected by parents of lord Gradislav in the second quarter of the 14th century. It is one nave structure, vaulted with semi-circular ceiling, featuring outer three-sided and inner semi-circular apse. The wall between the narthex and the main church space was removed. Part of the original fresco paintings is preserved only on the western wall, and it belongs by stylistic features to the time of King Dushan. It is assumed that the donor of the Saint Nicholas Church in Velika Hoca was lord Gradislav Susenica himself. Among the scenes from the life of the holy patron there is the depiction of Saint Sava and Saint Simeon Nemanja who are presented bowing down to the icon of the Holy Virgin with Christ. The Church of Saint Nicholas was repainted after the reconstruction carried out in the 16th century. Above the zone of standing saints there are busts and cycles of the Holy Feasts, the Christ and Saint Nicholas passions, while the Akathist to the Holy Virgin, Christ miracles and the Last Judgement scenes are painted in the narthex. Conservation works of the frescoes of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Velika Hoca were carried out from 1970 till 1975.” Source: Wikipedia

The former Church, today the Saint John the Baptist Monastery in Velika Hoca, recognized as the cultural value of exceptional importance dating back to the 14th century, is situated on a spacious plateau on the top of the hill dominating the whole area, on the north-eastern border of the Velika Hoca village, besides the strong Vrelo stream. The Hocka River, along the course of which several water mills used to be, begins from this stream, featuring the healing powers, most probably due to the immediate vicinity of the monastery. The ground plan of the church of Saint John the Baptist Monastery is extraordinary, making the quatro-foil – tetraconchos form. It is the only preserved example of this type of church in Kosovo and Metohija. In the interior of the church, eastern and western apses are somewhat higher and deeper, semicircular, while the northern and southern apses are three-sided in the exterior. Both the nave and the narthex of St John Monastery are barrel-vaulted. The walls are built of dressed stone and limestone, with thick mortar joints. The church of Saint John Monastery has never been domed. The entrance to the church is on the west front. A well-proportioned belfry, built of ashlars and bricks, was built in the northwest part of the monastery yard. Fresco decoration of the church of Saint John Monastery dates back to the eight decade of the 16th century, but the restoration works recognized the older fresco lays dating back to the 14th century. Its major part is either destroyed or coated with mortar and whitewashed. The condition of preserved fresco paintings, covering over 70 sq meters testify to great skills of old unknown painters. The image of St. Simeon Mirotocivi is portrayed in the first zone of the western wall and next to him there is the depiction of Saint Sava. It is not known who and when painted the frescoes in the Church. The iconostasis is contemporary to the mural decoration, proved by its original position. Two big icons of the Christ Pantocrator and the Holy Virgin Hodegetria as well as the centrally positioned figure of the enthroned Christ were painted by famous medieval fresco-painter Longin. /Source MNEMOSYNE/
Church of Saint Stephen, dedicated to the Holy Archdeacon Stephen, is located in the center of the Velika Hoca village and date back to the 14th century. Church of Saint Stephen is the main church in the Velika Hoca village where church service is regularly held. The Saint Stephen church is single nave, rectangular in plan, with an apse semicircular inside and three-sided in the exterior, without dome, surrounded by wall encompassing the spacious court-yard with the well and the dormitory. The walls of the Saint Stephen Church were built of bigger pieces of stone and they are rather precisely dressed. In 1853 the church of St Stephen was entirely restored when the new narthex and the tripartite belfry were built. “The Church in Velika Hoča which is dedicated to Saint Stephen was erected in the 14th century and was reconstructed in the 16th century when the narthex was added.  The shrine was several times decorated with frescoes of which only partial wall painting from the 16th century is preserved. The majority of the wall paintings of the Saint Stephen Church is work of fresco painter Joseph from Lazaropolje, completed in 1864.” Biser Metohije

The Mausoleum in Velika Hoca, where the famous komitadji of this region Lazar Kujundžić and his companion combats were buried, was nominated as cultural monument. The memorial Kujundzic tower is situated in a small square where the streets from the center of the village meet. The event which preceded the death of the squad of Lazar Kujundžic probably happened on May 24 or 25, 1905 according to the old style calendar or on June 7 according to Gregorian calendar. During the crisis in the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century, little squads of komitadji fighting for freedom were organized. Lazar Kujundžić, a teacher born in Orahovac, was the leader of such a squad. On the above mentioned day Lazar Kujundžić and his companions Savatije Milosevic, a clerk from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Raška, Kosta Karaperić from Konjuh in Kosovo, Zivojin Rafajlović from Kruševac, Tasa Milovanović from Drajkovac, Staniša Šelić from Gotovuša and Stanoje Mikić, traveling from Kuršumlija to Macedonia, decided to spend the night in Velika Hoca, in the tower of Lam Uka who had promised that he would not turn them over to the Turks. In spite of that promise, the komitadji were betrayed in the night between the 24th and the 25th of May. While the komitadji were sleeping upstairs, the Turkish soldiers and quite a large group of Albanians surrounded the building and sneaked into the ground-floor. Attackers were shooting the komitadji between the beams of timber floor construction. Five of the komitadji were killed in the tower, while the two were shot while trying to jump out through the window. After that the tower was set on fire when bodies of killed komitadji were burnt. This event lived in the memory of the population of Metohija and on the site of the old tower a new memorial tower was built in 1936. The remains of the brave komitadji combats were placed in the stone sarcophagus, kept in the interior of the tower. The following text was incised into the marble covering of the sarcophagus: “This memorial tower was built in 1936 by Jovan Mihailovic, the Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in retirement, ex-member of the Executive Committee of the National Revolutionary Organization for Liberation of Southern Serbia, in Vranja, in the memory of his comrades who were killed here on the Ascension Day in 1905”. The memorial tower is built of rubble bound with lime mortar. It is rectangular in plan. The stone sarcophagus with the remains of the komitadji is placed in the ground-floor. The gallery in the upper story encompasses three inner walls. It is reached by a masonry staircase on the south side, accessed through a separate entrance. The gallery is supported by three semicircular arches. Arched windows can be seen in the upper part of the gallery. Such windows usually acted as loop-holes in the towers of Metohija. The front of the stone sarcophagus is positioned against the wall, into which a board made of black marble, with an incised wreath, was mortared. It is surmounted by another board with incised names of the killed komitadji. The southern and western sides of the Kujundzic tower were encompassed by a courtyard, which once had stone enclosing wall. The yard was entered through a masonry gate.   

Kujundžića majka – the Kujundzic Mother is tragic poem of forgotten poet Milosav Jelic. The poet describes the fights against the Albanian and Turkish terror in Velika Hoca, in which Lazar Kujindzic took part when none of the Lazar’s combats survived. When mother of Lazar was brought by Albanians to recognize his dead son, which would be the excuse to kill, torture and butcher more Serbs of the village, knowing that and the fact her confession would rescue the village and her and other grandsons, she calmly denied that the killed hero “beautiful by appearance as she was,“ had been “her blood”. Without blinking she refused to approach the dead body, and crossed over it silently. The Velika Hoca village, children and grandsons were saved, but the mother’s heart did not survive – it seemed as the mountain and birds and the whole nature have witnessed that the Kujundzic mother had renounced her son. When she got away, overwhelmed in pain and heartbroken, she cried after her dead son Lazar, and she collapsed. What a tragic and a terrifying feeling must be to watch own child killed and to consciously sacrifice and disown herself in order to save lives of children and the village, we, present day children can hardly understand….

Besides those churches, there are other Christian shrines preserved in Velika Hoca village: The Church of St. Elias, the prophet, The Church of St. Cyriaca /dedicated to one of the Christ’s brides/, The Church of St. Paraskeve, The Church of St. Anne, The Church of the Holy Archangel Gabriel, The Church of the Holy Apostle Peter, The Church of the Holy Virgin, nameless Church in Dugi Rid, The Church of St. Blase, The Church of the St. Savior, little Church of St. Tryphon /inside the Decani Monastery wine cellar, the patron of vineyards and wine/. /Source MEMOSYNE/

Gospodarska kuća or the Saraj kuća House in the center of Velika Hoča features lavish appearance and Oriental style is one of the significant cultural and historical monuments of Velika Hoca, of which there are no exact data. This wonderful house built of stone and wood date from the Turkish time and had often changed its function during history. As per stories of the locals here was the residence of the Turkish bey, while before the Second World War it used to be seat of the Municipality and of the county and the Registry office. This edifice now has national significance for Velika Hoča, housing the Homeland Museum. On the first floor of the Gospodarska kuca or the Saraj House are old items and preserved examples of traditional costumes and handwork, which best represent heritage and culture of Velika Hoča.

The village of Velika Hoča and its surroundings enjoy status of the specially protected zone by the law. Velika Hoca makes cultural and historical compound of great importance. The Gospodarska kuća House in Velika Hoča is surely one of the important facility of this compound, and of the heritage of this old Serb village.

Since the rule of Tzar Dusan, the vineyards of Velika Hoca belong to Decani Monastery, whose monks are ever-since and nowadays particularly engaged in the wine-growing and wine production using the existing traditional wine cellars. Vineyards in the surroundings of the village of Velika Hoca in private possession, occupied an area of 160 ha. Owing to highly favorable ecologic conditions, the wine-growers could plant between 10.000 to 12.000 vines on an area of 1 ha, from which major production was produced and sold to the Winery “Orvin”, as the export product of exceptional quality and highly prized in the domestic and international market. “Prokupac”, “Vranac” and “Game” among the red wines and “Smederevka” and “Riesling” among whites, were the most often cultivated and thriving sorts. The wine production in Velika Hoca is traditionally followed by the exquisite brandy production.
Until the NATO attacks to Kosovo and Metohija in 1999 in Velika Hoča there was not any house settled by Albanian inhabitants.

In spite of tragic times for Serb population living in this small village, the comprehensive Strategy on long-term protection, preservation and revitalization of the Heritage in Velika Hoca is prepared by MNEMOSYNE, the Center for protection of Heritage of Kosovo and Metohija, defining the acceptable and sustainable concept for the well-being of existing inhabitants. Production of wines with the protected geographic region is one of the major developing part of this economic strategy and should be funded and supported by both Serbian and international institutions.
Nowadays there are about 700 Serbs living in Velika Hoca in extreme difficult conditions, badly suffering from the tragic misfortune, out of basic human rights, experiencing the constant torture, retribution and violence, but irregular electricity and water supply, facing the constant fear for pure life, completely isolated in the hostile surroundings of the armed Albanian population. The cruel fact happens that locals of Velika Hoca are literally cut from their own estates and vineyards, so “Albanian neighbors” take advantage of the grapes grown and wine produced on their estates, taking all means of pressure for more than eight years to persuade the existing Serb minority, without the basic economy existence, unbearable life conditions and confidence in police or UN protection, to flee “quietly” from their homes.