The Tree of Life is known throughout Indo-European cultures, with ancient roots. Slavic cultures are no exception; the Tree of Life had robust meaning in both Pagan and Christian culture. Alongside its ritual and religious use, this symbol entered every aspect of Slavic and Serbian decorative art, from stone and wood carving to weaving and embroidery.
The term Vlah is from Old Slavonic, believed to share a common root with volkh, volkhov (magician, magus) and the pagan deity Volos, Veles (ancient slavic deity, protector of Livestock). The volkhov connection may seem strange, but it is proposed that the word was also used to designate the unknown, or strangers. This could arise from the distinctly different Vlach language which would have been unintelligible to the Slavs, or from the mystical ritual folk life of Vlasi (pl). The Vlachs were overwhelmingly pastoralists, and their lifestyle so closely tied to their flocks and herds that the etymology from Volos or Veles may have some basis there. With the adoption of Christianity, St. Blaise (Sv. Vlasije, Sv. Vlaho) took on the role of Veles, and is considered patron of domestic animals.
What can I say that has not been said about Kosovo? The cradle of Serbian statehood, faith and identity since the arrival of the Slavs, who encountered Romanized populations, remnants of the tribes and colonies of the Roman Empire. Kosovo, which emerged as part of Raška, alongside Zahumlje and Travunija (Hercegovina), Duklja and Zeta (Montenegro) as one of the earliest Serbian principalities, and which became part of the first Serbian Kingdom of Stefan Nemanjić “Prvovenčani” (The First Crowned). Kosovo became the jewel of the Serbian state, with fortresses and monasteries constructed under the order of kings, emperors and patriarchs: Bogorodica Ljeviška, Gračanica, Banjska, Dečani, so many more… prime among them, the Peć Patriarchate, nucleus of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Kosovo was the turning point for Serbian history, too, as Serbian and Ottoman armies met once again, this time on the Field of Blackbirds (kos, Kosovo Polje) and set in motion the events of future centuries, peonies sprouting from the blood of the fallen.
Poljanica is the area centred around the upper course of the Veternica river, a tributary of the Southern Morava river. As it flows towards the city of Leskovac, it passes through a gorge (klisura), and the villages there constitute a smaller microregion called Klisura, or Veternička Klisura. Mountains separate it from the rest of the Vranje district, the historic region called Inogošt or Vinogoš. Towards the west, mount Golak separates Poljanica from Kosovo.
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.
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.
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