Top 4 Common Questions About Stecci Answered

stecci facts

Author: Professor Edin Bujak (University of Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina)

Where are stećci found?

Stećci (stećak sg.) are medieval tombstones that appeared in the period between the 12th and 16th century. The majority of stećci are found on the territory of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, a number of stećci is located in present-day Montenegro, Serbia, and Croatia. It is believed that there are about 100,000 of them preserved today and that there were substantially more in the past, based on some of the most recent research.

The Bosnian and Herzegovinian municipalities with the biggest number of stećci are Konjic and Nevesinje. Both have over 3000 monuments. In Croatia, the majority of stećaks are located around Sinj, in Montenegro around Nikšić, and in Serbia around Prijepolje.

The number of stećci in necropolises varies considerably. There are many necropolises where there is only one stećak. In these cases, it may be that they are solitary tombstones marking the grave of a man buried on his property. The most numerous are necropolises where up to ten stećaks have been preserved. These are usually smaller family cemeteries built on the family’s own property.

What are the differences among stećci?

All stećci have three dimensions. The first one is above-ground dimension, always present and manifested in the tombstone itself and its various forms. The second dimension is the grave under the stećak. Each stećak is a tombstone, so underneath each one there is a grave of one or more people. The third dimension is the intangible one. It is reflected in folk beliefs and traditions related to stećci.

Stećci are classified according to their shapes into slabs, crates, gabled, crosses, pillars, and amorphous stećci. Each of these basic forms can have several variants, depending on the height of the monuments, the presence of plinths, or some other typological characteristics. Based on that, one can speculate about the deceased’s social standing and his financial situation (some people could not afford to carve a better stećak). Sometimes certain shapes characterize the initial or final stages of stećak development and use.

What are stećci made from?

The stećci are mostly carved from limestone, a material very suitable for processing and quite resistant to atmospheric effects. Of course, other types of stone were also used, but much less.

Whenever possible, the quarries where the stećci were “cut” were in the immediate vicinity of the necropolis. There were also quarries quite far from the necropolis, even several kilometers, so it was necessary to make a considerable effort to transport the stećak and place it on the burial site. People who carved stećaks were called „blacksmiths“.  As a standard tool, they used serrated hammers and various chisels.

What is the heaviest stećak?

The heaviest stećak is located in Pavlovac near Sarajevo. It weighs a whopping 32 tons. On many stećci, there are exceptional ornaments through which artistic aspirations, religious features, social, economic, and other aspects of medieval society can be seen. Also, the inscriptions on them are a real treasure of the medieval language.

UNESCO world heritage

Today, stećci are included in UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites and stand side by side with the world’s most significant monuments.