Yesterday, I toured parts of eastern Serbia along the Danube River. It was a long day, but as always, extremely educational. There were five in our group, including Aleksandar, our Serbian guide from Victor Tours – a couple from Kerala India living in Doha Qatar and a young IT specialist from Mumbai now living in Ukraine. All were well-traveled and great company. They shared info about other interesting places to explore in Eastern Europe.
The scenic route was two hours’ drive from Belgrade each way, and the weather was perfect, with mild temperatures in the 60s to 70s. The roads we traveled were once part of the Roman Empire. Rural Serbia is beautiful, especially in spring. Our points of focus were:
- Golubac Fortress – 14th century medieval defense complex
- Lepenski Vir – archaeological site with the oldest Mesolithic sculptures in Europe
Both the fortress and archeological site are located along the banks of the Danube River. In between sites, we stopped for lunch and enjoyed a traditional Serbian meal at a restaurant overlooking the river.
The Danube is the second-longest river in Europe, and its widest part occurs just before Golubac Fortress, with Serbia located on one side and Romania on the other. When the fortress was built, the Danube was the border between Hungary, Serbia, and the Ottoman Empire.
For centuries, the fortress was used to defend many kingdoms, especially the Ottoman Empire and Kingdom of Hungary. The fortress “changed hands repeatedly, passing between Turks, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Serbs, and Austrians”. In 1867, it was turned over to Serbian Prince Mihailo Obrenović III.
“Golubac Fortress has a distinction of successfully repelling over 120 conquering attacks during its history.”
Nine Inner and external towers were built to defend the fortress. Over the years, the fortress was modified to adapt to changing methods of warfare. The inner part of the fortification includes the highest “defender” tower. The towers vary between 66 to 82 feet high and include:
- Hat Defender Tower
- Tower Defended by Arrows
- Chapel Tower
- Palace Guardhouse
- Tower for Protection from Hillside Attacks
- Tower with Christian Inscriptions Etched in Stone
- Main Gate Tower
- Cannon Tower to Defend the Port and Walls
Golubac Fortress was reconstructed between 2014 and 2019. The rehabilitated fortress is an important Serbian cultural icon and tourist attraction.
Despot Stefan Lazarević – Knight and Diplomat
The original fortress was built during the reign of Stefan Lazarević, the son of Prince Laza. Lazarević was a Polish knight known as Zawisza the Black. He was revered and credited with “modernizing and expanding Serbia”. Lazarević founded the Knights of the Golubac Fortress and Order of the Dragon. Knights of the famous chivalry order were “composed of the most important rulers, noblemen, and warriors of the time”. Originally in charge of “protecting the royal family of Holy Roman Emperor King Sigismund.of Luxembourg, they “defended the cross from enemies, especially the Turks,” during the 1428 Siege of Golubac Fortress.
Lepenski Vir Archaeological Site
Our next stop, Lepenski Vir, is an amazing early-community archaeological site uncovered between 1965 and 1970. It “represents the remains of the oldest planned settlement in Europe”. During excavation, “seven phases of the settlement and 136 buildings were revealed”.
The works contain “sacred architecture and monumental sculptures from one of Europe’s oldest cultures”. They date back as far as 7,000 to 6,000 BC “in the period 6500 to 4500 p. n. e,” marking the beginning of civilization in Europe. Items uncovered include “utensils, tools made of bone, horn, and stone, jewelry, altars, ceramics, and sandstone sculptures illustrating the Mesolithic and Neolithic Periods”.
This prehistoric, nine-thousand-year-old settlement was founded in Serbia’s Djerdap Gorge near Djerdap National Park and the village of Donji Milanovac. It was discovered “during extensive excavations made during the construction of Djerdap I Hydroelectric Power Station”. After excavations were completed, “the archeological site was moved to its current location to protect it from flooding”.
A visitor center opened at Lepenski Vir to display the excavation remains. It’s about a half mile walk through a heavily vegetated area off the main highway. A friendly Labrador met us at the entrance, walked with us to the visitor center, and at the end of our tour, escorted us back to the parking area.
Iron Gate Gorge
Further down the river are the Iron Gates of the Danube. Originally, the “gates” consisted of “four narrow gorges and three wide basins spread over several miles of the river dividing Romania and Serbia”.
At one point in this area, the Danube runs into a gorge separating the Southern Carpathian Mountains from the northwestern foothills of the Balkan Mountains. Iron Gates Natural Park is on the Romanian side of the gorge, with Đerdap National Park on the Serbian side. Đerdap was declared the UNESCO global geopark in July 2020.
Mountains in nearby areas of eastern Serbia represent a natural phenomenon of karst relief. They “rise sharply from the plain and end with an almost completely regular limestone pyramid”. Rtanj is a popular Serbian hiking destination. The mountain attracts hikers all year long, both beginners and experienced hikers conditioning themselves for serious ascents.
Our guide told us about the indigenous Vlach population, and the region’s rich culture, reputation for mystery, magic, and elaborate rituals related to the dead. These inspire wild stories in Serbia and are feared and admired by the superstitious. Serbia has many extraordinary aspects! Although it’s a small country, there’s an exceptionally rich landscape, abundant history, and culture.