When you come to Western Serbia, make sure to stop by Prijepolje town as well. Whether you are interested in religious monuments, beautiful landscapes or an adrenaline holiday, this is the place to be. There will be a lot of nice memories and surreal photographs to bring back home!
FROM BELGRADE: about 290 km
FROM NIS: about 300 km
When one mentions Prijepolje to Serbian people they often think of the Mileseva (Milesheva) Monastery. Still, there is so much more to put on the list of must-see places in the area such as Kamena Gora village, medieval Milesevac town (with Sava’s Cave beneath and the 400-years-old Quran in the local mosque), and you will certainly climb up to the observation deck of Sokolica or to the Sopotnica waterfalls. I was chased by the constant rain while trying to go around the West Serbia, but regardless of the ever new and upcoming clouds I have managed to see most of the landmarks and natural beauty the town has to offer.
The Monastery is king Vladislav’s endowment, the grandson of the famous Serbian Prince Stefan Nemanja. He began to build it in 1218. Still, the Monastery became widely popular 19 years later when Saint Sava The Enlightener’s body was moved and buried here. St. Sava was Serbian Prince and Orthodox monk, Stefan Nemanja’s son. His relics were transferred to Belgrade in 1595 by the Ottoman order, and burned.
Mileseva was also equipped with the printing press in the 16th century. But the most famous relic of the Monastery today is by far the 13th century White Angel fresco (Beli andjeo). It is considered to be one of the most beautiful pieces of medieval art of Serbia and Europe in general. The first transatlantic television signal that was broadcasted from Europe in 1962 included the White Angel fresco in the greeting message to Americans. The same transmission was broadcasted to Space and besides pictures of landing on the Moon and the Great Wall of China, the White Angel was sent as a message of peace and human artistic legacy.
It’s not the first time I visited Mileseva. But, no matter how many times you come, you just can’t seem to resist the urge to stand in front of the White Angel once again and see if the Archangel Gabriel depicted in the fresco is really looking right into your eyes. This is what the fresco is also famous for – giving the impression that the Archangel’s gaze is following you around, where-ever you might move. (I remember having the same impression when visiting Da Vinci Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum in Paris.)
It’s almost impossible not to think of few details regarding the fresco I have read earlier, such as that the painting was covered by another fresco in the 16th century and that the White Angel was actually discovered as late as the 20th century during the restoration. It was praised for the perfect composition and artistic values not that customary for medieval times, but there were also various beliefs related to fresco wonders.
Nowadays it’s even possible to spend the night at the Monastery for less than 10 Euros per night. While I was walking by numerous tourists trying to take a picture of those white domes next to the fast river, another thing captured my eye – there was a high hill behind my back with the old town on top of it.
Old Town remains are to be found at the end of the Milesevka Gorge, beneath the village of Hisardzik. These lands were divided between Serbian Prince Lazar and Bosnian Tvrtko in 1373 when the Old Town fell under the Bosnian rule. It was once the fortification that protected the Monastery, but merchants and caravans as well. Due to its position Ottomans built their military base here in the 15th century.
This medieval town is also known for being close to the St. Sava’s Cave and the mosque that houses the 400-year-old Quran written by hand.
The road to Milesevac is a bit curvy and steep, but the landscape that welcomes you when you get to the top is just overwhelming – so worth of every curve and unpaved trail taken to get here. The day I came to visit the Old Town was wrapped in a huge gray cloud making the scene even more surreal. As soon as I got up to the heavy walls it was immediately clear why this was such an important place. The view was going all round in 360 degrees!
Beneath these walls there lies the small, white mosque. I was fortunate to be welcomed in by local workers who were paving the trail towards the old fortification while holding the key to the mosque. The 400-year-old Quran looks impressive – the great book was lying on the stand while the light was coming through the small window, revealing the elegant Arab alphabet.
I then took the small trail that seemed to go around the hill towards another observation deck with the view of the gorge and further down to the St. Sava’s Cave. It’s hard to imagine how monks even managed to get here, without this settled fence along the trail. They say that they were also copying old books here.
Inside the cave – a spring. According to beliefs, unbelievers and mean people are not able to drink from the spring because the water seems to vanish before them. The other story says that the spring goes dry for a while after it was used by sinners. Also, locals have always believed that the so-called St. Sava’s Water has healing benefits and that it can help heal one’s eyes.
DAVIDOVICA AND KUMANICA
The church of Davidovica is dedicated to the Baptism of Christ and the monastery was built by the monk named David, whose grandfather was Serbian Prince Stefan Nemanja. Hence the name of the place. The Monastery was active up until the 17th century. After it was demolished by Turks, locals kept coming and praying at the same sight. During the 20th century excavation, an older building was found under the church. It was most likely the 6th century Roman basilica. There was also a grave monument that was related to the 14th century Serbian Princess Milica’s father. In total, eight graves were discovered here that were believed to be the resting place of the famous Jugovic brothers. They died as heroes during the Kosovo Battle in 1389 and their remains, according to beliefs, were buried here by Princess Milica herself.
The Kumanica Monastery with the St. Archangel Michael Church dates back to the 14th century and it remained the renowned sanctuary throughout time. This is where the Kumanica Gospel was kept, the inscription dating back to the 16th century. Believers say that the Monastery has healing powers.
One doesn’t have to be an Orthodox Christian or to practice any religion for that matter, to be able to deeply respect these 13th and 14th century monasteries. The sole idea that these walls stood here for such an amount of time, being worshipped throughout centuries, has to leave a visitor in awe. It’s even more interesting that in order to get to Kumanica, you have to cross the border with Montenegro and after another 10 minutes or so, crossing over the bridge on your left, you will find yourself on Serbian soil once again.
I washed my face and drank some of that allegedly miraculous water, as one should do when visiting the Monastery, and took few traditional cookies made by nuns for guests to be welcomed with. There were steep rocks above our heads and a fast river below.
On the other hand, the Davidovica Monastery is situated on the nice green hill surrounded by the mountain range. The elegant white building is even more impressive in such surroundings. I couldn’t help but think of the possibility that those 14th century Serbian heroes were buried here while 7 centuries later – I was at the same spot, strolling around and admiring the view.
For all of the history buffs out there here is another information. On the outskirts of Prijepolje town, in Hrta village, it’s possible to visit the medieval necropolis dating to the 14th and the 15th century with stone monuments and richly decorated sarcophagi. The place is called the Greek Graveyard.
Sopotnica Nature Park is situated 17 km from Prijepolje at the altitude of 1,000 meters. The river makes a lot of small cascades at its spring creating three larger flows. Waterfalls are more than 20 meters high. Specific traditional mills are to be found here where grain was ground by locals in the past. The village itself is also known for its tasty lamb, good cheese, national drink rakija, honey and home-made pies.
I have visited these waterfalls earlier, but I couldn’t wait to see them again this year. There is a nice steep trail for tracking lovers. I rather went by car, while gazing around and admiring the scenery. Just imagine – you are driving up when all of a sudden, the road turns left leaving you with an impression that the car would almost fly above those green hills if it continued forward.
And up there you will be greeted by the splash of fresh water tumbling down the moss, by the surreal landscape on the top of the hill with mesmerizing view of old mills. Just look at these surroundings and think of what you might miss if not coming here from Prijepolje!
They say that this is the most beautiful Prijepolje village lying at the altitude of 800 to 1,496 meters. It’s 20 km away from the town. Kamena Gora is the nature reserve with more than 100 springs, being popular for its clean and fresh air as well. It is dominated by the old pine tree which is more than 400 years old.
When Milan from the local Tourism Organization told me about the pine tree, how it was worshipped according to the old Serbian tradition and how locals even added somewhat mystical features to the tree, I couldn’t wait to get there and see it in person. In addition to that, it turned out that Milan’s family originated from the same village. Well, I couldn’t ask for a better travel companion for this little excursion!
The road is curving upwards, over numerous hills, but the best view by far is the one next to the old pine tree. The gorgeous mountain range in a distance is creating one lovely landscape with few clouds seemingly lying on top of lush green forests and there, next to you – there lies the huge, branchy tree. It is so respected by locals that they don’t even touch its branches or a pine cone falling down on the ground. They often bring small offerings and put them by the tree.
It should be mentioned that Prijepolje is abundant in nature. On one side of the town you will find the Jabuka (Apple) Mountain at the altitude of 1,300 meters (there is not one single apple tree here, its name comes from the old Serbian costume instead), then Jadovnik and Ozren Mountain which is about 1,500 meters high (you will be recommended to visit the Ticije Polje village as a certain museum in the open), then there is the Milesevka Gorge and the Lim river, well known for its slopes, perfect for fishing and rafting.
The town is situated in the southwest Serbia near the border with Bosnia and Montenegro. According to the 2011 census, its population is 36,713. They say that the area was even populated in the Roman times. It was part of the old Serbian state of Rashka. The town grew along the caravan route that connected Constantinople with Balkans and the Adriatic Sea. Prijepolje is firstly mentioned in the 14th century inscriptions referring to it as a certain front yard of the Mileseva Monastery. Ottomans took over the whole region in the 15th century and Austro-Hungarians four centuries later.
If you are coming from Nova Varos town as I did, there will be some great scenery to admire on the way. It was early in the morning and the fog still being thick and heavy somewhat lessened the sight of the landfill by the road, right on the bank of Lim. This crucial problem is still unsolved, making such a damage to the landscape and the environment.
In order to get into town, one should cross over Lim’s bridge because the town stretches along its banks. Its historical heritage is immediately recognized by the look of its architecture. This is where you will find the Orthodox and the Catholic church, but also a mosque. They say that after Austro-Hungarians came in the 19th century, the left bank of the river was under their rule (where they have built the chapel), while the one on the right was controlled by Turks.
Ottomans built the Ibrahim Pasha Mosque in the 16th century which served as a shrine for their army. They guarded the bridge on Lim river and the trade route. Soon, the settlement came to life around the mosque which now adorns the town center. The recognizable Prijepolje landmark is also the 16th century Sahat Kula (Clock Tower). It was even described by the renowned 17th century Ottoman explorer Evliya Celebi in the book about his travels.
Strolling along the Lim river, numerous wooden sculptures are hard to miss, being a bench with animal motifs or a decorated tree. This is where a self-thought artist Golub Milanovic, according to his own words, tries to decorate every tree that Lim flushes out on its shores. There are about 15 such sculptures today all around the town which Milanovic takes care of, cleaning and painting them every spring. “Nothing is too hard when you love it”, says Milanovic, showing me the tree with 17 carved in characters.
One more stop for those who appreciate Serbian national drink! You can get the info at the Tourism Organization if the visit to the Ognjena Distillery is possible. This is the rakija cellar where 16 different types of fruit rakijas and liqueurs can be tasted. The distillery is usually open for tourist group visits. It represents the authentic opportunity to try national alcoholic drink made out of plum, apricot, honey, different herbs, mint, raspberry, cherry etc.
Next destination – Witty town of Ivanjica
The full Weekend In Serbia section