The German geographer Johann Georg Kohl travelled through Dalmatia in the period between 1850 – 1852. Traversing the Dinaric alps, he stopped in Vrlika, which he described in his published notes as “a mouse hole”. Harsh, perhaps, from his well-travelled perspective, but it certainly is not a metropolis. Yet, talk to people who originate from Vrlika and you would think it could rival New York.
Wine is arguably the single-most important substance in the history of Europe. Evidence of early winemaking during the Neolithic exists abundantly, not only in Europe but throughout the Fertile Crescent and the Mediterranean world. It is mentioned in the Bible 233 times, and has permeated the literature of every Indo-European language. Serbian folk songs celebrate it, folk belief venerates it, and it follows a Serb through every moment of life.
If someone ever asks you to give them a lesson in the complexities of Balkan history, diversity of Balkan ethnography, and fluidity of Balkan linguistics, just point them to Vlasina and Krajište. It’s got it all.
Apologies for my absence. The demands of my job have kept me from posting new things on the blog, but I assure you that good things are coming. I’m actively researching, restoring and taking photos for upcoming posts that I hope you will find interesting.
Jewelry and adornment are as old as humanity, and our species has been very imaginative in creating unique, beautiful and sometimes bizarre ways to enhance our appearance. Often jewelry can be a cultural identifier, such as the neck rings of Padaung women, or the nose piercings of the Indian subcontinent. For the Balkan peninsula, one cultural identifier would have to be pafte, a piece of jewelry that is both beautiful and functional.
When the Slavs arrived in the Balkans in the seventh century, the many river valleys made for tempting migration routes. While tame and fertile, these canyons and flood plains were flanked by imposing but protective mountains. One group of them crossed the Danube and followed the Timok River in its winding course through the mountains that make up the modern-day Serbian and Bulgarian border lands. These tribes became known as the Timočani.
The area of the Skoplje upper Vardar valley (Skopska Kotlina) entails several microregions: the hilly Black Mountain (Karadagh, Skopska Crna Gora), Torbešija, Karšijak, Derven and Blatija. The last two are defined by the Vardar river valley and its tributaries, Treska and Markova Reka.
I often think of the town of Svrljig as Serbia’s middle child. Overshadowed by noble and ancient Niš, as well as by younger sibling Knjaževac, there’s Svrljig, just kind of looking for attention. And Svrljig, the middle child, is also kind of hard to pinpoint… and not just on a map, as it is a pretty small town. I mean in an ethnocultural sense. It is considered to be part of, or at least transitional to, the Šopluk, Serbia’s rugged eastern frontier which includes Timok region and the Stara Planina, but it’s also very close to Ponišavlje, the Nišava river valley. This is reflected in its costumes, where the men wear garments very much influenced by Timok region, and the women wear clothing that would look at home in the surroundings of Niš. Continue reading
I’m often asked why I do the things I do. Why I teach, why I collect, why I’m doing this blog. I can only think of my late kum Rastko Aleksandrov, who was an excellent cardiac surgeon but an even more passionate birdwatcher. He travelled the world photographing bird species, and published a book on the migratory birds of Serbia. Kum Rastko told me once that people devote a different kind of energy to their hobby than to their job, no matter how much they love what they do for a living. This has stuck with me, and it rang true when I began learning more about Nikola Arsenović, one of the most prolific ethnographers to document South Slavic costume, and one of the most obsessed people in his field during his time. Continue reading