Being on the crossroads of Balkan routes, Serbian culture has for centuries preserved the identity and authenticity of Serbia and its people.
Positioned on the crossroads of the main Balkan routes, Serbia has inherited a considerable cultural wealth. Among the remains of the tens of centuries old civilizations, there are traces of people who lived in this region 40,000 years ago, impressive Roman heritage, as well as medieval material and immaterial cultural wealth. All of the people who inhabited or still inhabit Serbian soil have included something of their own into Serbian cultural heritage, thus making it more valuable and interesting.
During the territory’s prehistoric period some of the most complex cultures were developed such as the culture of Lepenski Vir, then Starčevo and Vinča culture. Their legacy is seen as a colossal gift, not only reserved for Serbia’s enjoyment, but for the entire mankind, which is evidenced by the vast number of tourists visiting the archaeological sites in Serbia.
However, since the Middle Ages, mainly in the period of the reign of Stefan Nemanja (12th century) and his successors, an accelerated development of culture began that was shaped largely by the influence of the Byzantine Empire. However, even then, the ties with the Catholic West were not severed. In the coastal parts of Serbia, along with the Orthodox church existed the Catholic one, that was, together with the coastal cities, responsible for the Western influence on the Balkans inlands, which then extended further on to the East.
The first cultural monument written in Cyrillic script is the 12th century “Miroslavljevo Jevanđelje“ (Miroslav Gospel), written using gold on a white parchment, which UNESCO included in the most significant works of the world documentation heritage.
Due to the strengthening of Christianity, and after the Serbian church became autocephalous, the Nemanjić dynasty built monasteries in the Byzantine style, many of which are under the protection of the UNESCO organization. Frescoes on their walls are considered to be among the most beautiful in the world. Besides hagiography, a unique history of the events in this region is written on them.
The first specialized school for women in Europe was established in the 14th century in Serbia, while in that same century, Serbia had a female writer, nun Jefimija, whose works are considered the jewels of medieval literature.
During the Turkish rule over the region, an oral epic and lyric literature of extraordinary beauty developed. It was passed down from generation to generation, orally, while they were best sang and told by the folk singers accompanied by “gusle” (a bowed string instrument with one or two strings). Folk songs, stories and beliefs, were collected and published by Vuk Karadžić, who reformed the Serbian script by writing “Alphabet of the Serbian language” (in 1814), a work known as the first Serbian grammar.
Literature has always had an especially significant place in Serbian culture. Inside the books of Serbian writers, in the last few centuries, tales have been preserved about the past living conditions in Serbia, the suffering of the people, mentality of people from different parts of the world… The novel “The Bridge on the Drina” by Serbian writer Ivo Andrić even made a mark on the world literature by winning him the Nobel Prize in 1961.
An important part of the material culture of Serbia, besides the extremely valuable fresco painting that ornaments the walls of the Serbian monasteries, are works of the famous painters like Sava Šumanović, Paja Jovanović, and Uroš Predić.
Music is an essential segment of the Serbian cultural wealth, and is reflected mostly in the songs and dances from this region. Serbian folk dance is kolo, performed differently from region to region, while the famous folk instruments are before mentioned “gusle” and “frula” (an instrument resembling a small recorder or a flute), and a small tamboura in Vojvodina. A trumpet is also very popular in Serbia.
The backbone of the Serbian culture consists of ethnic heritage and rich and unique tradition of the country that is best observed in its customs and the region-specific values. One of such values is the Orthodox custom of celebrating the family saint, which will soon be included in the representative list of the immaterial cultural heritage of the mankind, compiled by the organization UNESCO.
Displayed in numbers, the list of immobile cultural property consists of 2109 cultural monuments, 72 regional cultural and historical sites, 167 archaeological sites and 71 sites of significance. There are about 250 cultural centers, 160 libraries and 100 museums.
Culture has always been a crucial part of the Serbian identity, so much that in certain difficult historical periods, it only existed and survived through culture. Today the culture of Serbia is being more developed under the influence of the cultural legacy of the West, while, at the same time, striving to maintain the cultural uniqueness of this region.