Stećci - mysterious “stone sleepers”

Stećci, or “stone sleepers,” as they were called by poet Mak Dizdar, are medieval tombstones. They are also a shared cultural heritage for the peoples of BiH, and one of the region’s greatest mysteries.


These stone blocks (monoliths) were erected between the 12th and 16th centuries in BiH, Dalmatia (Croatia) and the parts of Montenegro and Serbia bordering our country. There are about 60,000 in BiH; ca 4,450 in Croatia; ca 3,050 in Montenegro and ca 2,270 in Serbia.

The greatest enigmas surround their origins, the deceased buried beneath, as well as the carved messages, and they have been ascribed to the Illyrians, nomadic Vlachs and Bogomils (members of the Bosnian Church)….

Multi-confessional Bosnian state

However, the fact that those who are buried beneath belonged to all faiths practiced in BiH at that time (members of the Bosnian Church, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians), shows that the medieval Bosnian state was multi-confessional – a stećak was a territorial-cultural phenomena, and not associated with any one religious group.

The earliest written descriptions of stećci are found in Itinerarium (1530), a travelogue by Benedikt Kuripečić, a Slovenian interpreter who served Austrian Czar Ferdinand I of Habsburg. Systematic research of this topic started after BiH was annexed by Austro-Hungary in 1878.

In 1950, Miroslav Krleža, writer and president of the then-JAZU, exhibited his Art in Yugoslavia in Paris, where he presented the stećak to the world media as part of Yugoslavia’s cultural heritage.

Ordinary people call stećci: mramorje, biljezi, kamici, usađenici…; they can be upright or horizontal like a sarcophagus, and two identical examples have yet to be found.

The inscriptions in Bosnian Cyrillic-Bosančica on about 5,000 stećci indicate the literacy rates, social stratification and religious confessions of that time.

Many stećci have motifs: spirals, lilies, crosses, crescent moons, horsemen, human figures, hands, “the hunt,” apples, grapes/grapevines, weapons/tools, animals….

There are single stećci and even large necropolises: Radimlja and Boljuni (Stolac), Krekovi (Nevesinje), Grčka Glavica (Konjic), Dugo Polje (Blidinje, Jablanica), Ravanjska Vrata (Kupres), Mramorje (Perućac)….

World heritage

In 2009, BiH, Montenegro, Croatia and Serbia submitted a joint nomination for the stećak to be listed as their common heritage on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The request was accepted on July 15, 2016, and Stećci, Medieval Tombstones were listed: with 30 graveyards in BiH (22), Serbia and Montenegro (3) and Croatia (2).

The most well-known stećak, the so-called Zgošćanski Stećak, weighs 14 tons and is in the National Museum of BiH’s Botanical Garden. Richly decorated, it is assumed that it was the tombstone of a nobleman.

After 1463 and the fall of Bosnia to the Ottomans, the stećak gave way to the nišan (grave marker).