Saint Sava (prince Rastko Nemanjić, born 1174, died 1236) was the youngest son of Stefan Nemanja, who is considered to be the founder of medieval Serbian state. Saint Sava was the first archbishop of the independent Serbian-Orthodox Church (1219) and spiritual leader of Serbs throughout the centuries. Serbs deeply respected and revered the remains of their biggest saint, gathered around it, and sought consolation in times of despair, especially since they lost their freedom to increasingly growing Ottoman empire in 1459 (fall of the last Serbian fortification in the City of Smederevo, near Belgrade). Believing in their shepherd, St. Sava, Serbian population never accepted submission. They continuously showed the will to endure, to preserve their Christian-Orthodox tradition, their culture, and hoped to restore their sovereignty.
In 1594, Serbs supported Habsburg Monarchy in what is commonly known as the "Thirteen years' war" (1593-1606) against the Ottoman Turks. To punish them, Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha burned St. Sava's remains (brought from the monastery of Mileševa in southern Serbia to Vračar plateau in Belgrade, or to Tašmajdan Park as it is disputed by some historians) on April 27, 1594. He thought that this action would finally break people's spirit, and force them to accept their doom. He was wrong. Serbs were determined more than ever to regain their freedom. After two turbulent centuries of uprisings, great migrations, and sufferings, finally in the 19th century Serbia was independent once again.
In loving memory of St. Sava, exactly 300 years after his remains were burned in Belgrade, in 1894, the initiative of building a grand cathedral on the spot of the incineration appeared. After more than 10 years of planning, everything was set. However, the political situation in Serbia around that time was very unstable. The conflict with Austro-Hungarian empire was growing, then came the First and Second Balkan Wars, and in the end the Great War (World War I). In 1926 the plans for building the St. Sava's church were renewed, and in 1935 the small church was built in just 7 days. In 1936 the foundations for the grand church were set, and by the 1941 and beginning of the World War II, the walls about 10 meters high were constructed.
After the World War II, the communists came to power in Yugoslavia, the land was nationalized, and the space was used as a warehouse. There were initiatives even for "removal of the ruins", or to convert the place into a Museum of Religions. But the Church endured, and continuously asked the authorities to resume the construction. However, for this to happen, Tito, Yugoslav supreme communist leader, had to die. And five years after his death, in 1985, the construction of the temple was finally resumed. In 2017, the works on the exterior of the church were completed. Now, the work on the interior of the temple is in progress.
The architectural design of the church is comparable only to the Haghia Sophia in Istanbul and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria. Cathedral ("Temple", as the Serbs call it) of Saint Sava is one of the 5 largest orthodox churches in the world, and the largest one in the Balkans (South-Eastern Europe). The basis of the church is 91x81 meters and it is about 70 meters high. It is the symbol of Serbian essence, pride, tradition, and freedom.
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