2011 – 2013


I was fascinated and interested in exploring the new role of monasticism in Europe during our century, when a friend of mine, a very passionate one about Balkans, said me that Kosovo is still rich of monasteries, from 12th and 13th-century, and that it is also the historic cradle of Serbian Orthodoxy.

I started to do some extensive research and found that since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999, more than one hundred Christian Orthodox places of worship have been destroyed or looted for ethnic-religious reasons in the self-declared state of Kosovo [2008]. Many important examples of the artistic and cultural roots of contemporary Europe have been lost. For centuries, Kosovo and its monasteries represented an artistic and cultural bridge between Western Europe and Byzantium. The region is proof that the Balkans have been a cultural melting pot at the roots of European identity, and not solely a battleground.

So I decided to move to Kosovo for first time on December 2009. From my first trip I came back in Kosovo just six/seven more times for periods of at least two weeks. I went to Decani Monastery, declared in 2004 World Heritage from Unesco. It has been in full renewal for years, 30 monks live here, many of whom entered during the last 12 years. I spent several trip before to be accepted for a long period so on December 2011 I was invited to spend two months there to document the situation of the few left monasteries. These monasteries, which are about twenty-five, are really closed enclaves, under the protection of KFOR (Kosovo Forces). The monks cannot venture beyond the fence to visit their followers, or just wander around, unless an armed military escort accompanies them. Today the situation slightly improved compared to a few years ago, but ethnic hatred is still very strong. Never monk would venture alone in one of the countries of Kosovo, they constantly could risk attacks by Albanian.

The first impression I had when I arrived at the monastery of Decani for the first time was peace and silence. This immediate emotion was the central theme of the work from the beginning: I wanted to talk about another world, where despite the extreme social and political difficulties there still exists a way to live in peace. Then, I also tried to describe the situation of forced isolation in which the monks live without being able to move freely. Their reclusion is dictated not just by their choice to abide by the monastic rule, but also by the constant danger they face from outside. They are not free to wander by themselves, as the risk of being attacked is very high. Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo still perceive the presence of the Serb minority as a remnant of the previous oppression and Orthodox monasteries are seen as symbols which need to be eradicated. 

I saw an isolated and poor but complete world. Getting to know the monks of the Monastery of Decani closely allowed me to get out of the habits and structures of my social class and culture. Getting rid of my conventions brought me to see, for the first time, a violent subverting of my reference points: everything, which in my life is fundamental, becomes relative and secondary in the Monastery. I learned to respect and share a way of life, which is different from mine. It is an extreme search for personal and spiritual independence that does not stop to fascinate and question me.

This project documents the living conditions of the monastic communities that continue to reside in the few Orthodox monasteries, still standing, and the efforts of those monks to preserve them.