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
Bosanska Krajina is a term referring to the northern portion of Bosnia, bounded by the rivers Vrbas and Sava, and the Dinaric alps in the west. It was a region that for centuries represented the frontier of the Ottoman Empire, abutting directly against the Austro-Hungarian Military Frontier (Vojna Krajina). The word kraj means the end of something, or a region, and “Krajina” is used to designate a number of districts and micro-regions historically inhabited by Serbs (Timočka Krajina, Bela Krajina, Kninska Krajina etc). It is found in other Slavic languages as well; for example, Ukraine is a toponym derived from the Russian v’krajina, “in the outskirts”. Krajina, when applied to any area, has that connotation of being the outskirts, an outlying or remote area. The mountainous terrain of Bosanska Krajina certainly made it difficult to traverse and settle, and in that sense remained remote for a very long time. Continue reading
The Požarevac Morava district (Požarevačka Morava, Požarevačko Pomoravlje) gets its name from the city of Požarevac, found at the lower end of the Morava river valley, near the Danube. The city arose on the ruins of the Roman city of Margus, best known as the site of a treaty between the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius and the Huns, led by the brotherly duo of Attila and Bleda. It was part of the medieval Serbian kingdom of King Dragutin Nemanjić, until its Ottoman conquest in 1459. Apparently destined to be a place of peacemaking, it was also the site of the signing of the Treaty of Passarowitz (because, Austrians mangle every single Serbian town name they attempt to pronounce) which led to a short-lived peace between the Ottomans and their two western adversaries, the Austrian Empire and Venetian republic. Continue reading
Leskovac and its surroundings have been part of the Serbian state since its emergence in the early middle ages. From the rule of an unnamed Serbian Prince, whom Constantine Porphyrogenitos describes as being a vassal of “Emperor Heraclitus, when Bulgaria was under the Romaion” (i.e. before the establishment of a Bulgarian state). The Leskovac district, then known as Dubočica, was under the rule of the Vlastimirović princes through the 8th to 10h centuries, and under Stefan Nemanja, it became part of the state of Raška in the 12th century.
My mother, who was born and raised in Knin, but went to university in Split, sang the melodic songs of the Adriatic to me. A favourite that she sang with great sentiment began with:
Daleko mi je biser Jadrana, Daleko mi je moj rodni kraj…
Far from me is the pearl of the Adriatic, Far from me is the land of my birth… Continue reading