Gathering Place of Old Monasteries
The most important monuments of Serbian sacral heritage, abbreviated history of Serbian golden Middle Ages, are collected in a space of around ten acres. Milenko Ilić, a mining engineer from Despotovac, erected these small buildings by faithfully recreating the originals, down to little details visible only to the best experts. Thousands of people have already visited this place, increasingly recognizable on the cultural and tourist map of the Resava district

By: Vlada Arsić
Photographs: Dragan Bosnić

Surrounded by mountain heights, thick chestnut and pine forests, Visoki Dečani, the greatest endowment of holy king Stefan Dečanski, has been dwelling for centuries. At some distance from it to the north rises the beautiful Gračanica, and after it there are Sopoćani, Gradac, Studenica, Žiča... More to the south than to the west, more in the sky than on the ground, there is the lonely Mileševa and its White Angel. Before the eyes of the travelers, far in the horizon, emerges Ravanica, and soon after it Despot’s Manasija...
In order to visit all these holy places, the most sumptuous temples of Serbian medieval architecture, contemporary pilgrims travel hundreds of kilometers and, on the way, they often stay there for days. Thanks to Milenko Ilić, a mining engineer from Despotovac, this surreal image can also be seen in a different way. On his land, on about ten acres, he has built a unique natural park, a miniature model of the entire Serbian history and culture. Not far from the road that leads from this little town in the Morava valley toward the Resava Cave and Veliki buk, arranged one next to another, gather the most valuable Serbian relics and cultural monuments. This time, however, as faithful models of famous buildings, built in the same way and almost with the identical materials as the originals.
Milenko came to this unusual idea while reading the book History of Serbian Monasteries and Churches, the literature which, as he said, has changed his life to a large degree. Before that he had a permanent job, decent salary and certain future, but also a kind of personal dissatisfaction.
– I felt that it was not fulfilling, that I was not fully realized – says Ilić. – So I gathered courage and bit into something completely new.
A few years ago he has accepted a social program in the company where he worked, bought land and soon started to work. Together with his wife, a construction technician, he first built a model of Ravanica, and since they were satisfied with their work, they carried on. In ten years they created about twenty models.
– Everything was built with mortar, industrial powder, brick and stone – says our host. – It would have probably been easier to use gypsum, but in that case they would not be so durable, especially since they are built outdoors, exposed to rain, wind, snow and other elements.
Ilić confesses that the original intention was not to build the models by himself. He was planning to hire experts, professional modelers, but it just did not happen...
– For months I was searching through newspaper ads for ”craftsmen and builders” – says the owner of this unusual complex. – Many people contacted me, but when they realized these would not be typical models, that I actually wanted to ”build monasteries”, they would soon give up. The only person who took serious interest in this work was a professor of architecture from Belgrade. But when he told me that he would need a year and a half to finish one model, and especially when I heard how much it would cost, I got headache. Only then I decided to try to do this myself.


That is how Ravanica was created, and soon afterwards Sopoćani, Gradac, the Church of St. Peter and Paul, Kalenić, Veluće... Other monasteries followed, as well as churches and ethno houses. The park was slowly gaining its final appearance. Meanwhile, the Tourist Organization of Despotovac included this complex in its offer, and people began to arrive en masse.
– Thousands of people have visited this park by now. There were many ambassadors, attachés and representatives of foreign countries, art historians and other curious people. There have been many local minters, but also one American lady, an expert at their Institute for Conservation. She was visiting Manasija on business and was truly amazed when we told her how old some temples were. She simply could not believe that they have survived after so many centuries – says Ilić.
Milenko admits that he has the jitters with every guest and that every visit is like a test of maturity for him.
– Different people come here, even those who are very well educated in this area – says our host. – Recently there was a girl who was about to take an exam at the university, and the question was related to one window in Sopoćani Monastery. Namely, one of four windows was a little smaller than the others, and when she realized that I had also noticed that detail, she smiled. She admitted that she came to this park just because of that window.
The model park in Despotovac opens at the same time as the tourist season in Gornja Resava. Milenko is using winter days to supplement the complex and erect a new building. It takes two to three months to build one. In addition to models, the Ilić family also has a souvenir shop with diverse products which, in its content, resembles Serbian history and the rich cultural heritage.
Ilić is also planning to build a small chapel where the visitors would be able to pray and lit a candle, but for the time being his priority is to arrange all the details surrounding the models themselves.
– There is still a lot of fine work to do, everything must be in its place, and at the same time not too crowded – says Milenko. – Every cent that we make from selling tickets we invest into new details, and I hope that this place will eventually become a valuable tourist attraction of the Resava district.


Everything is Shipshape
The intensity of will, enthusiasm and seriousness with which Ilić approaches this entire venture is reflected in the fact that many models, just finished, soon ended up as scrap.
– It has happened that I finish everything and only at the end to notice an error – says Milenko. – My wife tells me that it is not visible, that it is quite good, but the more I look at it the more I am bothered. Then I destroy it completely and start all over. I went so far that I was counting bricks on the original building so that everything would be shipshape on my model.


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