Stećci–Medieval Tombstones Graveyards were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List on July 15 2016.
This serial property includes a selection of 4000 medieval tombstones (stećci) at 28 sites on the territory of four states: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic of Croatia, Montenegro, and Republic of Serbia. Stećci bear an exceptional testimony to the medieval culture of Southeast Europe that was developed within a unique historical context in an area where traditions and influences of the European West, East and South meet.
There are several fundamental characteristics that distinguish stećci from the overall corpus of the European, and the world’s, medieval heritage and sepulchral art: a large number of preserved monuments (over 70,000), the diversity of forms in which they were hewed, the richness of decorative reliefs, epigraphy, multi-confessionality and wealth of intangible heritage related to stećci.
Recognizing their Outstanding Universal Value, the World Heritage Committee has designated Stećci–Medieval Tombstones Graveyards as a World Heritage site.
Stećci are medieval monolithic tombstones found on the territory of almost entire Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the western parts of Serbia and Montenegro and in central and southern parts of Croatia. The zone of outspread of stećci is limited to the north by the Sava River, the Adriatic coast to the south, Lika in Croatia to the west while the eastern boundary of their outspread reaches deep into western Serbia.
There are around 70 000 registered tombstones at about 3 300 sites on the territory of the mentioned states. However, since the inscription of stećci on the World Heritage List in 2016, we know that there may be a larger number of these monuments and sites.
It is assumed stećci first appeared in the second half of the 12th century and they were most intensively hewed in the 14th and 15th century, before gradually ceasing to be made in the 16th century. Certain forms (slabs, crosses) and decorative motives were being created for a much longer period, but it was no longer the classic “art of stećci.”
There are several names that were used in parallel to denote the tombstones (stećci), which shows a close bond of folk life with the tradition of stećci. The first type are expressions that rely on authentic historical sources – mostly inscriptions on stećci: bilig (mark), kâm (stone), zlamen (sign), kuća (house) and vječni dom (eternal abode). The popular names that took root among people include Mramorje, Mramori (marble blocks), Grčko groblje (Greek cemetery), Kaursko groblje (giaour cemetery), Divsko groblje (giants’ cemetery) and Mašet or Mašete – (big stones). Today’s name stećak first appeared in mid-19th century and is derived from the verb ‘standing’.