Zavala Monastery

Zavala Monastery is national monument of culture of Bosnia and Herzegovina, located about 40 km southwest of Trebinje, on the south-western side of Popovo Polje /Popovo Field/. The Zavala Monastery is set below the Ostrog Hill, which in Russian, Old-slavonic and Serbian language means stronghold or fortified place. The area of Popovo polje – Popovo Field is located in the south of Herzegovina, and bears the earliest name of Popovo. The earliest written document which specifies the Popovo as the significant settlement is the letter of the Popovo Municipality to the Dubrovnik Municipality, dated 1169-1170.

The tradition of the antiquity of this shrine has it that the original church was build by Emperor Constantine and his mother Helen. The population of the whole Primorje in the 14th and the 15th century was Serbian and of Orthodox confession, and the Serbian prince Miroslav, brother of Stefan Nemanja had his court in Ston on Peljesac peninsula. In Zavala, on the localities around the Medieval ruined churches and monuments of the Medieval Hum Diocese there are remains of 45 Medieval churches, as well as at the very entrance to the nearby Vjetrenica Pecina Cave, making the entire spiritual complex. One of the Medieval monuments of Herzegovina was the medieval fortification of Popovski grad, in the hills above the Zavala Monastery, which is known in historical records as the seat of Herceg Stefan Vukčić Kosača – the Herzog of Sveti Sava.

The Zavala Monastery is dedicated to Entrance of the Holy Virgin to the temple. The monastic church of Zavala is semi-cave church whose northern part comes below the rock, and belongs to the advanced types of churches with rolled-on arches. The later added part of the Zavala church was constructed from dressed stone and features one-have structure of 12 meters lenght and width of 3,50 to 6,40 meters with semi-circle apse, covered with stone slabs.

According to the national oral tradition, the Zavala Monastery is endowment of Serbian Kind Dragutin. The year of 1271, inscribed in the old seal of the Zavala monastery is often mentioned in regard with the foundation of the Zavala Monastery. In 1587 the Zavala church was reconstructed as per historical records of names of the Hrabren – Miloradovic Dynasty who donated numerous churches of Herzegovina so it could be persumed that it was them who have also helped this reconstruction. During the 16th and the 17th century Zavala Monastery maintaned close relationship with the Studenica Monastery and Hilandar when here was developed copying shool. Monastery Along with Žitomislić and Tvrdoš monasteries, Zavala Monastery is one of the most important centers of cultural life in East Herzegovina. Stojan Jovanovic in Zavala Monastery made his vow to religious life and became the Saint Vasilije Ostroski – the Saint Basil of Ostrog. He was born on 28 December 1610 in the nearby village of Mrkonjici, by the father Petar and mother Ana Jovanovic.

The uniqueness of Zavala Monastery architecture is determined with its solitude secluded location what makes it true monastic sanctuary. The tiny church has one-have base with semicircle apse on the eastern side from the outside. The norther side of the church and altar are carved into the large cliff. The famous fresco painter Georgije Mitrofanović who fresco-painted Chilandary Monastery on Athos Mountain stayed here during the 17th century before he had arrived here. He also had decorated Monastery of Dobrićevo near Bileca in Herzegovina.

The earliest document on Zavala Monastery date from 1514 which testified that its Abbot had bought large vineyards. Many significant church manuscripts were written during this period. Along the course of the next century monastic library was enriched with new books from Sremski Karlovci and Belgrade, among which were numerous Russian books on lives of saints and gospels. Saint Vasilije Ostroski started his monastic life in Zavala Monastery.

During the Second World War Zavala Monastery experienced serious damages when Ustashas destroyed and plundered its valuable collections. In the most recent wars, 1992-1995 after the break up of Yugoslavia, dormitories and structures of Zavala Monastery were burnt, when the village of Zavala was completely destroyed. Zavala Monastery was restored after the war when the reconstruction works were carried out and its monastic life was recovered. Zavala Monastery together with Tvrdos and Zitomislic Monasteries represent the core of the culture and the Orthodox religion of Herzegovina.