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The MAGLIČ Fortress

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

 

Could you possibly imagine a crown of stone on top of a  mountain STOLOVI all covered in grass. Sounds superb, don’t you think? Well it doesn’t only sound jaw-dropping – it does look jaw-dropping! The Maglič Fortress, normally referred to as the Serbian Camelot, is cossetted away safely in the wilderness of central Serbia. However, the most intriguing aspect about Maglič isn’t its appearances or location but its mind-bogglingly intricate origin.  


maglič fortress
Maglic fortress, photo source Canva Pro


I hope you are still with us? You are? Voila’! Kudos to you! Once you approach the valley of the Ibar river, all the troubles and woes of an urban life seem to be left behind. Charming all shades of green landscapes literally unfold before your eyes.


The Ibar river is encircled by monumental mountains on both sides. On one side there is UNESCO’s Biosphere Reservation Golija with Kopaonik, a national park, a ski centre and “the rooftop of Serbia” on the other. The entrance to the valley is guarded by the most beautiful gem of the Ibar gorge –  the medieval fortress of Maglič. It might be worth mentioning that Maglič was included on the list of Cultural Monuments of Exceptional Importance in 1979.


Ibar river
Ibar river valley, photo source Canva Pro

Some people tend to call the basin of the Ibar river the Valley of Kings, though some others call it the Valley of Centuries, and the most romantic souls out there call it the Valley of Lilacs. The first two names were given to this valley because it represents the heartland of the medieval Serbian state. As if it stads there proudly guarding the monasteries Studenica, Žiča, Sopoćani and Đurđevi Stupovi, some of the most sacred national heritage of the Serbian people. Its third name was given thanks to a love story, which again brings us back to the mysterious Maglič.

You might find this piece of information intriguing as well. Stolovi is a mountain in central Serbia, in the southwest of the town of Kraljevo, edged by the Ibar River in the west, which separates it from Čemerna Mountain and Troglav. It is bordered  by the river Ribnica in the east, and on the south by the  Brezanska river, which flows into the Ibar River and it further separates Stolovi from the Studena mountain. The slopes of Stolovi stretch all the way to the Žiča monastery in the north.

 

Although it is surrounded by a number of rivers, the mountain is almost bare with some beech and oak woods. Apparently, the forests were cleared in the Middle Ages because the wider area of ​​Kopaonik mountain was an important mining center of  the then Serbia from the times of the Nemanjić Dynasty. 

 

The highest peak of Stolovi mountain is Usovica (1375 m). The second highest is the Čiker peak (1325 m). The ascent to the summit towards Usovica can be made from several directions: from Kamenica, Brezna, Žiča, Dobre strane and Maglič.


Stolovi mountain
Stolovi mountain, photo source Srbija za mlade

 

What makes this mountain particularly appealing are the herds of wild horses, which can almost always be seen on this mountain. They represent a natural phenomenon which makes this area particularly intriguing and increasingly frequented by the passionate lovers of nature and these admirable animals.


Stolovi mountain
Stolovi mountain, photo source Srbija za mlade

 

Maglič is a most stupendous 13th-century fortress about 20 km south of Kraljevo. It’s located on top of the hill around which the Ibar river turns into a winding curve, about a 100 m above the river. Way back, only one caravan road connected the Morava Valley and Kosovo Polje. And now, at night this castle is well-lit thus drawing the attention of all those inquisitive drivers and passers-by.


When seen from below, it looks almost inaccessible, like a giant stone shaped crown-like figure atop a gigantic rock. It is only one among 200 medieval Serbian cities but it has an indisputably unique atmosphere to it. This castle stands in silent testimony to the endless wars and uprisings, ‘courtesy of its’ inaccessibility. And surely the dense fog. Funnily enough, its name translates as if it was a surname for a person whose family name is related to the fog . Namely, magla translates as fog in Serbian and Maglič has the typical Serbian ending for surnames ić though with the similar Serbian diacritic sign  for /-tsch/. or possibly a mountain peak enveloped in fog and mist.


Maglic fortress
Maglič fortress, photo source Canva Pro


At the height of its might, Maglič used to bear the title of a proverbial  guardian. It used to be and still is the metaphorical guardian of the Raška, Žička and Pećka District and most importantly of the Žiča and Studenica monasteries.


As stated above, Maglič is truly breath-taking indeed not only for its counterpart’s i.e.  King Arthur’s Camelot-like appearances, its breath-taking surrounding landscapes and its prestigious title of the protector of the heart of medieval Serbia, but for the way it came to be. There are three “theories” on the origin of Maglič and its Valley of Lilacs.

Centuries - old legend of “Prokleta Jerina”



Since yesteryear, people have told stories about ‘the Damned Jerina’ known in Serbia as “Prokleta Jerina”, who was Despot Đurađ Branković’s wife. She was said to have founded the city of Maglič, but there was still a lot of odium and disapproval attached to her amongst the ordinary people, regrettably. The fortress is called by some the city of Jerina (“Jerenin grad”) up to this day. In effect, Irina Kantakuzin was the wife of Đurađ Branković, the last ruler of the Serbian medieval state. She happened to be Greek by descent from the Kantakuzin royal family, who, due to the highly laborious and rather costly construction of the new Serbian capital of Smedrevo, has remained in the memory of the people with a not endearing nickname, Jerina the Damned, inasmuch as this grim sounding attribute is redolent of all the forts and walls of all Serbian fortresses from the Middle Ages, regardless of the fact that some were built much earlier than the times she lived in.


A gift fit for a queen


Even today, this Fortress seems to have kept a plethora of secrets. Historians have encountered endless difficulties trying to uncover the truth about the white and blue lilacs which bloom every spring near the Maglič Fortress and along the valley of the Ibar river.

According to one theory, the lilac undergrowth was planted by the Serbian King Uroš I, so as to declare his love to Helen of Anjou, the Catholic queen consort to the Serbian Kingdom, as well as to get  the noble French lady to feel at home. In the first half of the 13th century, a vast medieval fortress of Maglič was built in the midst of the Valley of Lilacs.

 

Third time lucky!


Some say the lilacs were planted by the son of King Uroš and Jelena. King Milutin had married a couple of times before and for that reason he wanted to make sure his third wife feels blissfully happy. Simonida was the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus and because of her not being of age yet, Milutin wanted to make her happy even before they got married. So decided to dedicate this valley with ‘a plethora of lilacs as vast as the sea’.

Today, although a trip to Maglič and the centre of the land of the Nemanjić dynasty may well be depicted as a spiritual journey though Serbia for some, an adventurous spirit is more than welcome.


Lest we forget, these below are not to be missed:


The tourist organisation of Kraljevo hosts a traditional local festival called the Days of the Lilacs (“Dani Jorgovana”) on a regular yearly basis in the most enjoyable month of May during spring. Superb history re-enactement performances by the actors of the city/town of Kraljevo help us recreate and relive history in honour of Saint Helen of Anjou.


In winter you can visit the Goč Mountain which offers some terrific fun with nocturnal skiing and a very vibrant vacation for all the visitors.


All those ‘adventure seeking dare devils’ out there can participate in the ‘‘Veseli spust’’ (Serbian for ‘‘a joyful/merry ride’’), a popular ‘boat ride’ down the Ibar River to Kraljevo, which starts every year at the foothills of the Maglič. More than 3,000 vessels take part in this all- day event.

At the beginning of July you can thoroughly enjoy the carnival atmosphere of Carnival of Vrnjci in Vrnjačka Banja and in February on Valentine’s Day you can join in and compete in a round of kisses at the “Poljubi me” which translates as ‘Kiss me’ event. And after that much kissing and frolicking, make sure you go and grab some lavish meal at the local restaurant Jerinin Grad 

I hope this was enough if you feel like getting away from it all and if you are up for some tremendously fun time travel, make sure you visit the magnificent and mysterious Maglič any time soon.


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I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and if you feel like learning some Survival Serbian for Foreigners with Natasha crash course or individual classes or alternatively for longer in-depth courses at all ages and stages, feel free to get in touch via email

SERBIAN for FOREIGNERS with Natasha


 






N.B.  this article is a slightly linguistically tweaked translation of the article published on www.serbia.com with some adaptations and additions.


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