One can write reams about the history of Serbia. Belgrade, the capital city is the central character in this story and I anticipate that it would take long to document and write about it. But I want to share parts of our trip right away and so I have decided to describe Day 2 of our itinerary here first.
Day 2 found us in Novi Sad and Sremski Karlovci. It was a bright, sunny, and cheery day and we left Belgrade for Novi Sad at 9.30 am. Novi Sad, which is Serbia’s 2nd largest city has a population of about 250,000. It is also the capital of the Autonomous Region of Vojvodina. Located about 80 km north of Belgrade, it took us about an hour, and our very knowledgeable, and friendly guide Nikola drove us to this historic town that has had a very chequered past.
Some key points about Novi Sad…
- Novi Sad has been inhabited since Neolithic times, but in recent history, Novi Sad was founded in 1694 when Serb merchants formed a colony across the Danube from the Petrovaradin Fortress, a strategic Habsburg military post.
- Historically, it was known as Petrovardinski sanac (Petrovaradin’s trench), but later it came to be known as Novi Sad (New Plan) following a 1748 royal decree.
- It got to be known as ‘Serbia’s Athens’, during the 19th century, when Novi Sad became famous.
- A large part of Novi Sad was destroyed in 1848 during the garrison revolt by Hungarian soldiers, who bombarded the city from a vantage point. Though they were tricked into surrendering, two-thirds of the city was already flattened by then.
- During World War 2, Novi Sad was once again occupied by Hungarian troops, while across the Danube in Petrovardin Croatian troops were in control.
- In 1999, NATO attacked Slobodan Milesovic’s regime and Novi Sad again came under bombardment destroying three bridges, oil refineries and more damage and this went on from March to June 1999.
As a visitor to this beautiful town, I couldn’t help admiring how the town had bounced back and we found it so pretty, neat, and happy with outdoor cafes and people relaxing. Touchwood!! I hope we realise the madness of war and learn to live in peace.
Trg Slobode (Liberty Square): After the one-hour drive from Belgrade, we arrive at the Trg Slobode (Liberty Square). The is the city centre. The City Hall and Roman Catholic Church of the ‘Name of Mary’ are some of the buildings that dominate this square. In the centre of the square is the bronze monument of Svetozar Miletic. He was a Serbian lawyer, journalist, author and politician who served as the mayor of Novi Sad between 1861 and 1862 and again from 1867 to 1868. He was a political and ideological leader of the Serbs of Vojvodina during the revolution of 1848-1849.
On the west side of the square is the Town Hall built in the year 1895 in Neo-Renaissance style, designed by architect George Molnar. On the opposite side of the square, is a tall catholic church ‘Name of Mary’ and this was built in 1895 in the Neo-Gothic style.
Vladicanski dvor or The Bishop’s Palace is located at the very end of Zmaj Jovina Street in Novi Sad. This building is a masterpiece in architecture in Novi Sad built by the famous architect Vladimir Nikolic. It was built in 1901 on the site of the old one which was destroyed in the 1849 bombing. The Bishop of Backa, Irinej Bulovic, now lives here and he is also currently a professor at the Theological Faculty in Belgrade. In 1984, a bronze statue of one the most famous Serbian children’s poet Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj was installed in front of the palace.
We walked along the Zmaj Jovina Street, one of the oldest streets in Novi Sad, which is lined with cafes and shops and has a lively vibe to it.
Novi Sad also has the Museum of Vojvodina and the Historical Museum, that one can visit. In addition, there is Dunavski Park, which is the oldest and most beautiful park in Novi Sad. After a calm morning at Novi Sad city centre, it was time to visit the Petrovaradin Fortress.
Petrovaradin Fortress: The fortress is not in Novi Sad, per se, but in a separate town of Petrovaradin across the Danube emerging from the mountain of Fruska Gora. Three bridges link the two sides of the river that were previously destroyed during the hostilities of 1999. But they have been replaced since. Petrovaradin fortress was a significant military fort of the Austrian rulers who, at the time of Napoleon’s conquests, hid their treasures here.
Now after 300 years the fortress is demilitarised and now gets to be the gathering place of people from around the world, of music and art instead of soldiers. The Exit Music Festival, which started as a modest event now attracts music biggies. It is now the largest and most visited music festival in south-eastern Europe. This year (2022), it is scheduled to be held from June 7th– 10th. Perhaps, you can plan your trip right away!
According to some texts, the name Petrovaradin is derived from these words – “Petra” means rock in Latin, “var” in Hungarian means town, and “din” means faith in Turkish, and hence it means ‘the town on the rock – firm as faith’. The fortress is on top of a cliff by the River Danube. The fortress has a long history and it would be beyond the scope of this blog to cover it. The Clock Tower is the distinctive structure at the Petrovaradin fortress. The clock is situated at the St. Louis’ bastion at the Petrovaradin Fortress and originated in Alsace, France. We learn that the clock had to be wound by hand every day. A unique feature of the clock is that the hour hand was much larger than the minute hand. This baroque tower has black dials on its four sides. The numbers on the dial are Romans and their diameter is greater than 2 meters. This allowed sailors and boatmen to know the hour of the day even from a distance. Another interesting fact that has to do with this clock is the way it functions in different types of weather. When it’s cold, the clock is a few minutes late, while when it’s warm, the hands move a few minutes ahead. This probably has something to do with its mechanism. Due to this, the clock was named ‘The Drunk Clock.’
We walk around the fortress and see that the fortifications are solid and we can see the panoramic vista of the Danube and the city of Novi Sad. No wonder, that it is called the ‘Gibraltar on the Danube’.
Sremski Karlovci (pronunciation: Sremskee Karlovtsee): 8 kilometres from Novi Sad is the town of Sremski Karlovci. The town has been the seat of the Orthodox Serbian Church. It is also a city surrounded by vineyards and wineries. Our guide tells us that perhaps each building and house in the town has a story to tell.
- The grand Patriarchate Court dominates the city centre and today this building is the permanent building of the Bishop of Srem and the court itself has shifted to Belgrade. The palace was built between 1892 and 1895 as a project of Serbian architect Vladimir Nikolić.
- Situated next to the Patriarchate is the white Cathedral with its green domes. This church was designed by Zaharije Orfelin (a prominent Serbian poet, historian, copper engraver, calligrapher, baroque educator, and lexicographer). The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas.
- Right next to the Cathedral church, is the Roman Catholic church dedicated to the Holy Trinity that was built in 1768. The baroque doors are outstanding and it guards the oldest organ in Vojvodina.
However, the most exciting thing to see was the first-ever gymnasium (high school) in Serbia. The gymnasium was founded by metropolitan bishop Stephen Stratimirović in 1791 with the permission of Emperor Leopold the Second and with the help of wealthy citizens of Karlovci. Many famous Serbs have studied in this gymnasium and even today students can learn languages like Arabic, Old Church Slavic, and Modern Greek.
- A four-lions fountain stands in the city centre and legend has it that whoever drinks from the fountain surely returns to Karlovci to get married there! I was thinking I should have gotten my sons to drink the water!!
From the city centre of Sremski Karlovci, we made our way to the Zivanovic Winery. This winery most likely has the longest tradition of wine production in Sremski Karlovci.
The place is green, quiet, and beautiful and we settle down for some wine-tasting, cheese and some honey too. The guide at the winery then takes us to the bee-keeping museum and the wine cellar thereafter.
The first written documents about the winery mention the names of Teodor Živanović and his successor Josim Živanović, who were successful grape and wine producers and wine merchants during the 18th and 19th centuries and till today the family tradition continues. Following the recipes of their forefathers, the Zivanovic family make specialty wines such as Ausbruh and Bermet, which have won many awards. In addition, they produce Probus, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Neoplanta, and Petra on their seven hectares property.
Bermet is a unique kind of locally-produced aromatic dessert wine. Its delightful sweet taste is easy to underestimate, but it holds around 15-18% of alcohol! Mostly prepared as red wine, it was extremely popular within the royal European families in the 15h century, and it was exported to the United States in the late 19th century. Indeed, this wine made it to the Titanic ship too.
Lunch by the Danube: After a wonderful time at the Zivanovic winery, it was lunch time and Nikola took us to a wonderful restaurant by the Danube called Pasent Restoran. The ambience, and the food was excellent and the trip to Novi Sad ended on a high note.
Trivia: Novi Sad unsurprisingly, has found its place on the list of 20 European tourist destinations nominated for the title of “Best destination in 2016”. It finally got the 7th place in ‘European Destinations’ category. It has been declared 2019’s “European Youth Capital”, and in 2021, it was the first non-European Union (EU) city to spend a year with the prestigious title of “European Capital of Culture”.
June 19th 2022
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3 thoughts on “A Serbian Sojourn: Novisad & Sremski Karlovci – the Cultural Capital of Serbia ©Sangeeta Venkatesh”
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