Chroniclers have recorded that in this place, Nikoljac, around the church, there was “a flowercovered meadow with green hills, and beside it clear, healthy water. A place beautiful and pleasant, a vast and wide flat area, as if made for people to come and to meet when there are religious and other festivals, gatherings, fairs and bazaars. And from there roads lead in all directions, wherever a man wants to go. Later on it was also a place for trade, so it was named Nikolj-Pazar (Nicholas’ Marketplace) after it, and also after the Church of St. Nicholas. Many caravans stopped off there for overnight accommodation, to take a short break, or sell or exchange goods.”
It is not known with any certainty when the church dedicated to St Nicholas in Nikoljac was built. It is thought to have been founded at the end of the 13th or at the beginning of the 14th century as a legacy of King Milutin. Examinations have shown several construction phases and, in the grounds of the mint, coins found inside the wall of the testing area; it has been suggested that the foundations of the church date back to the period from 1370 to 1390. After the arrival of the Turks, the Church of St Peter the Apostle was transformed into a mosque, and its role as the spiritual and educational centre of this area was assumed by the Church of St Nicholas. In terms of architecture, the Church of St Nicholas is a three-aisle basilica with an octagonal dome, with three windows, a semicircular apse with a dominant nave and a dome. All aisles have their own, separate roofs.
The interior of the church, decorated with fresco paintings from the second half of the 16th century, is almost completely preserved. According to folk tradition, the church has been completely overgrown with weeds three times. It was left without a roof and then the frescoes in the lateral aisles were destroyed. One of the most interesting frescoes, unique in Orthodox wall-painting, is located on the western wall, on the inside, and it depicts the afterlife according to folk beliefs. In the upper section of the three-part composition there is a mythical creature, a centaur, shooting arrows at a murderer tied to a pillar. In the middle section a corrupt judge, a usurer, a slanderer, a fortune-teller, a harlot and a rake are represented, and in the lower section a miller and a (female) innkeeper are shown.
The richly decorated, curved iconostasis is the work of Maksim Tujković from 1723. Within the church over 30 valuable wooden icons are also kept, some of which have been exhibited at major international exhibitions in Paris and Moscow. Among these are Kozma and Radule, as well as the legacy of Priest Simeon, Aleksije and Lazar from the famous priest and icon-painting Lazović family from Bijelo Polje.
A well-known scriptorium whose monks left behind a rich library worked within the Nikoljac Monastery during the 16th and 17th centuries. Valuable documents f rom other monasteries abandoned during Turkish rule the works of the famous masters are also kept there (Zastup, Ravna Rijeka, Vranštica and the Church of St Peter the Apostle). Nowadays the church library is famous for its 86 manuscripts and more than 80 printed books. The manuscripts, the best-known of which are the Four Gospels from the end of the 13th century, written on parchment, date back to the period from the late-13th to the 19th centuries. Among the printed books there are also some fifteen books from our oldest printing house, that of Božidar and Vićenco Vuković.
Around the church in the 15th century a square was developed – a place where in the Middle Ages the purchasing and selling were carried out, and from which the whole Nikoljac settlement developed later on. The first mention of Nikolj-Pazar was found in the book of revenues and taxes of Živan Pripčinović, a merchant of Dubrovnik, from 1456-1458. Several years later in documents from Dubrovnik, it was also mentioned in relation to the trade in “human commodities”, which started to flourish after the arrival of the Turks. The establishment of Turkish rule resulted in the revival of trade and the development of Nikolj-Pazar. According to the census of 1477, the settlement of Nikolj-Church had 51 Christian households, 15 of which were unmarried men and there were three widows as well.