There’s no surprise there when you learn that on the way from Negotin to Paracin town in Eastern Serbia there will be traces of rich history to admire, but the lavish nature as well. It’s always like that when you go around Serbia! The distance between the two towns is less than 160 km which can easily be covered in a couple of hours, but one just has to make so many stops in order to see everything in this area – that I needed a sleepover on the way. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible to visit even a small part!
In case you are wondering why I went from Negotin to Paracin, it so happened that I was on my way from Kladovo town (see the previous series’ article), the last point of Eastern Serbia towards Romania and Bulgaria, and I have decided to take the long road to the central part of the country. Why? Well, because this was a great opportunity to take a glimpse of wine cellars on Rajac mountain, have coffee in Zajecar town, to walk around the Roman Emperor Galerius’ palace and take numerous photos of river Grza reflection of surrounding trees. So, we’ll be starting off from Negotin town!
FROM BELGRADE: 237 km (take the highway to Pozarevac and then via Donji Milanovac)
FROM NIS: 150 km (the road to Svrljig and Zajecar)
When you reach Negotin, it’s immediately clear that you have entered the town zone. There is a small avenue with dense trees and a parking lot, then the square and the pedestrian street further on. I drove around the down town area, noticing the pedestrian part between the buildings. One small street after another and I found the parking spot in the shade. Let’s take a walk!
As soon as I went into the vast street with cafe terraces and stores, I was drawn to building decorations. Plaster ornaments, usually white, were hanging down the colored facades. There is the church on one side, the vast park on the other. People were chatting, sitting in cafés, the day was sunny. And there on the right, there proudly stands the monument to Hajduk Veljko, overlooking passers-by.
NEGOTIN The town almost lies between three countries – Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. The area consists of 39 settlements, while the population of the town itself is about 19,000. Traditionally, this is the town of wine, music and heroes, and for those interested in history and culture the Krajina Museum is a must. There are three parts of the museum complex – the Archaeology Museum, Mokranjac’s House and Hajduk Veljko Museum.
Hajduk Veljko Petrovic was Serbian army general who was responsible for the eastern border of the country during the Turkish rule. The famous 19th-century Serbian ruler Karadjordje gave him authority to build the fortification of the town. That is how Negotin became important in securing the border against the army of Turks.
The story says that Veljko ordered all metal things, plates etc. to be melted into ammunition when he was trying to defend the fortification against the Turks in 1813. He has even put coins into cannons, they say. But, Veljko was killed the same year. His quote that “he would rather give up his head than the Serbian land” is inscribed into his statue in Negotin.
This is the town where the important Serbian composer Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac was born, but also the physicist Djordje Stanojevic. The latter was to thank that Belgrade got its electric lighting in the 19th century. He was close friend to Nikola Tesla and the man who made first projects to build power plants in Serbia.
When you are aware of such information, you just have to be curious about the surroundings and the town itself. Next to the fountain, in front of the pastel-colored pharmacy building, a man approached me, drawn by the camera I was pointing all around.
“Good day, welcome. Are you a journalist? I am a real celebrity here, you know.”
He shook my hand while I was trying to answer at least one of those 20 questions I was covered with, but we said “happy travels” and “thank you” like we were old friends.
I was supposed to continue the journey. They say that 1,700 hectares of Negotin area is covered with vineyards and that the tradition of making wine is more than 7 centuries old. And I wanted to get to the core of (wine) things!
RAJAC PIMNICE This is the village with special houses called “pimnice” built for the purpose of grape growing and wine making. They were usually built by stone or wood with walls as thick as 60 cm. Such villages have widely disappeared nowadays but there are still few remaining in the area.
Pimnice of Rajac mountain are unique constructions of wine cellars that date back to the 18th century. There are 270 of these houses today that are spread around the village fountain. Cellars are partially buried in the ground in order to get the same temperature throughout the year, while there are small rooms on the first floor where owners could rest during the grape harvest season.
There are another 25 km to drive in order to reach the Rajac mountain from Negotin. It’s not that far and the road is not bad, but it turned out that there was some road construction work when I was driving through the area. There were small piles of dirt on the road – like the ones you find when the mole goes through – and some workers who were covering the holes. Further away there was one guy working alone, away from everything, in the middle of nowhere, in that heat. Here, those holes were almost impossible to spot, at least not before you come too close. And then it’s usually too late… “Oops!“ Oh well, there goes another one I couldn’t manage to miss.
Anyway, after a while, you reach a crossroad – turn left for Rajac, or continue to the overpass towards the border with Bulgaria. (This is where you should check your phone because of the Bulgarian roaming charges.) The road here gets narrow, making it almost impossible for two cars to pass by each other. But the scenery is beautiful with green meadows, vineyards on both sides, wide treetops, while you continue to drive up the road that seems deserted, at least today it was.
A sign on the road finally appears – two more km up the hill through the woods. And then you just find yourself on the top among small stone houses. Interesting scenery awaits with beige walls, dark rooftops, green climber plants that you can find on almost every wall. Make sure to take a walk. If the pimnica house is open – and they usually are, you can enter, peek into these interesting cellars and admire huge barrels of wine. If owners are present, you may take some time to chat, taste few samples and even buy a bottle or two.
And then, at least that’s how it was in my case – drive off to Zajecar town.
I was told in the village that I don’t have to go back to Negotin in order to take the road to Zajecar, but that it was possible to continue from Rajac along the Timok river. Found it funny that I was actually driving along the Bulgarian border. When the road goes up and you get greeted by fabulous landscapes on both sides, you should wave to the rest of Serbia on your right and to Bulgaria on the left. When I reached the Shipikovo village with about 200 houses in total and the population of 500, I remembered reading that it was 400 meters away from the border.
Along with a lot of other villages on the way, Shipikovo also looks more like a movie set than like an actual inhabited place. It looks deserted. A lot of people work abroad, while others moved to towns. If you need to ask for directions, it would almost be impossible to find someone here.
Anyway, the road between these villages was pleasant. At one point, I noticed something was moving further away. It was a pheasant! It got confused a bit, slowed down and then just raised its head up and walked away into the bushes. While I was still smiling, something else ran across the road. This time it was a chicken. I continued driving downwards next to the small forest and when I came close, a small pile on the road started to move. A snake! I tried to drive above it and checked the rearview mirror if it was okay. A small snake got surprised obviously, but it quickly took its defensive position with its head high up turning over and “threatening” the car. And it was such a small creature! One just has to admire the courage, right!
ZAJECAR The town in the central part of Timok area, 250 km away from Belgrade and 11 from the Bulgarian border. It was firstly mentioned in Turkish documents in 1466 and now it’s the town with the population of 59,000.
It’s a modern, clean town popular for its thermal waters (Gamzigrad Spa), culture, famous individuals such as publicist Svetozar Markovic, politician Nikola Pasic, renowned actor Zoran Radmilovic. There are also well-known manifestations here ranging from theatre plays to the famous rock festival called Gitarijada.
The first thing I spotted when coming into town were vivid colors. As I parked in the center and took a walk around, I noticed one (rose-colored) building that was opposite to the (yellow) building of the town court, while this one was next to the (orange) museum.
Nice park was all green with blooming flowers and full of people. Children were playing by the square fountain and there was also a pleasant restaurant terrace. Few buildings were all covered in ads for Zajecar’s beer. (No surprise there, right!)
If you take a walk, you will come across a more traditional part of the town and few interesting graffiti. I took a longer break here, had lunch and coffee. There are lots of cafes in the town center to choose from. I even got my map spread out all over the table. I was just told that I should turn right after the traffic light. After driving for another 10 km or so, I was supposed to reach – the palace of the Roman Emperor!
FELIX ROMULIANA As it was stated on numerous finds in the area, the complex of the royal palace in Gamzigrad place is built in the 3rd and the 4th century to honor Emperor’s mother Romula. Mother and son were buried in the mausoleum on the Magura hill, above the site.
Galerius was born in the area and later became the Roman Emperor. His palace was in Thessaloniki Greece, but he has built a grand palace in his birth place for his mother. The complex consisted of the royal villa, temples, altars and two mausoleums. They were richly decorated in wall paintings, floor mosaics and geometrical motifs. After the overrun of Goths and Huns, the site was known as the small Byzantine settlement, while the castle of Gamzigrad came to life for the last time as the Slavic village in the 11th century. The site is on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites List.
This important monument is possible to visit throughout the year. The entrance fee is 300 RSD (2,50 Euros).
When you drive off the main road, it will take you another 3 km going up the hill to reach the site. It’s nicely marked, not possible to miss. Upon arrival on the top of the hill, it was immediately clear that Galerius had a good eye. It must have been marvelous to sit on the terrace of the luxurious palace, among massive marble columns, and to admire such a spectacular view of the green hills all around!
The remains of the round towers on both side of the gate look impressive. As if they are calling you to step back in time, all those 17 centuries back! The red brick reminded me on Diana, the Roman fortress near Kladovo town (see the previous post in the series).
And every time I visit Felix Romuliana, I come back with piles of photographs of these incredible brick walls. Never know whether to delete them or to keep that many of them. But the brick decorations and mosaics from Gamzigrad are so beautiful to me still, so unique and yet unobtrusive in all their simplicity. Felix Romuliana has always been quite elegant location with no overly decorated and flashy pap.
Take a walk around. Peek between the columns, take a glimpse of the fountain, step from one “chamber” to the other, take the stairs towards the palace. It’s all still here! Who knows how many steps were made here back then, maybe even by small Vestal Virgin feet in sandals with tiny lather strings. You just can’t help but have such vivid and surreal images in your mind while looking at narrow windows, watchtowers and the temple hill. It would be so great to see some 3D image of the whole place as it once was during its glory!
MONUMENT OF NATURE, SPRING OF GRZA RIVER On the slopes of Kucaj mountains the small river Grza springs. It’s recognizable for the incredible nature that surrounds it, clean air and diversity of flora and fauna. The Monument of Nature consists of river springs, small lakes that are especially attractive to fishermen because of the abundance of trout, and of numerous trails.
There are 3 more km from the main road to reach the springs and on the way there you will find a hotel, restaurant and a mountain lodge for hikers.
Nothing is actually that far from here because the road is good and you can drive a bit faster than usual. I didn’t have time to stop by the Gamzigrad Spa which is near here, but if you are in the area, just turn from the main road when you see the sign and have a nice stroll around. As for me, I continued driving by Boljevac village and Rtanj mountain. (Here, I waved to the mountain and promised that I will come back for a special visit! It so happened that I have passed through here few times already, always eager to see more, constantly looking over to the small cloud that looked like it was wrapped around the mountain peak. “Next time! Next time!”)
Anyway, when you go from the Gamzigrad site, do pay attention on the road, because after 5 km or so, you will see the sign for Grza Springs. I have to admit that I have noticed the sign for the hotel first and turned that way curious to see “what’s actually there”, not knowing that I have hit the jackpot! I mean, I have only heard of Grza river and didn’t even know where it is exactly.
When I asked at the hotel, I was told to drive on for another 3 km and that I will reach the springs there. (“Really, what springs?”, I thought.) They said to keep it straight. But, since my curiosity got aroused and I have reached some bridge over the small lake, I took that turn to the left and up into the mountains. (“Who knows what’s up there, right!”) The road just kept going. It was just the kind of mountain road I love – going through the woods with dense treetops, curving up and down, with some sunlight pushing through the leaves. But then again, there was no way to know where I am going to end up if I continue to drive, and there was no one to ask up there in the forest. So, I have decided to go back after all. (“Next time, I will have more info and certainly more time!”) I grabbed the wheel, managed to turn the car around on the narrow road and drove back to the river.
When I have reached the marked parking lot, I took a trail by foot. And what a site! I got even more surprised given the fact that I didn’t know what really to expect. The small river was curving from up there through the rocks, it stopped in two small lakes, transparent, shallow, with spectacular reflection of treetops on the water surface. I took numerous photos! Up the hill, there are resting places on both sides, the trail, small bridge, the sign pointing to the small cave and – the spring! Water was bursting all around directly from the rock, going over stones covered in moss and algae, it spread widely and continued to crumble beneath the bridge. What a wonderfully random turn this came out to be!
After 20 km or so I reached the highway in Paracin town. (Toll fee was 540 RSD or about 4,50 Euros to Belgrade.) And I was still under the impression of the natural beauty of the Grza Springs…
How come that nobody has told me more about these springs before, incredible!
Next destination – Velika plana
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