Friday, December 18, 2009

Windsor castle, part 3

George IV found his father’s quarters too dilapidated and inconvenient to suit his luxurious tastes and he persuaded Parliament to vote 150.000 pounds for renovations; as with most estimates the sum fell far short of requirements and in the end, after sixteen years of continuous work, over a million pounds was expended transforming the castle back into a romantic fortress with a gorgeous palace within. The work was carried out under the supervision of the well-known architect, Jeffry Wyatt, who, with the king’s leave, changed his name to Wyatville, probably to make it worthier of the knighthood subsequently bestowed upon him. His achievements at Windsor were extensive, but some have been a target for criticism. For instance, exception has been taken to the hollow stone crown, some thirty three feet in height, which Wyatville fitted to the top of the Round Tower. But had he not done this, the Round Tower would have appeared absurdly squat beside the buildings of the Quadrangle to which he added an extra storey. This imbalance had indeed been apparent long before and artists had sought to conceal it in their pictures of the castle by surmounting the Round Tower with an outsize Royal Standard. It is thanks to Wyatville that the distant view of the castle is so dramatically beautiful, for it was he who first conceived the possibilities of the castle as a composite building. Moreover, despite being constantly hampered by inadequate funds, he built so soundly that the castle has needed little restoration since his time.
Among the interior alterations he made, one of the most important is the Grand Corridor, 550 feet in length, which extends round two sides of the Quadrangle. It is not perhaps a handsome addition, but it was a very necessary one, for previously there was no communication from one side to the other except through a maze of private apartments or across the open courtyard. The Grand Corridor became notorious during Queen Victoria’s reign, for in this ill-heated tunnel ministers and other visitors had to wait for an audience with Her Majesty. It was there also that the queen would sit after dinner on less formal occasions and each of her guests would be summoned to talk to her in turn while the remainder of the company stood uncomfortably in the draughts or surreptitiously leant against the wall to ease their aching feet.
Another creation of Wyatville’s is the Waterloo Chamber, built over a small courtyard known as the Horn Court. It was designed to gratify a whim of George IV who saw himself among those responsible for freeing Europe from the tyranny of Napoleon. He had commissioned Sir Thomas Lawrence to paint portraits of all monarchs, statesmen and warriors who had contributed to the final victory, and the Waterloo Chamber was built to house this collection. It is a magnificent hall in which the problems of lighting have been skillfully solved by adding a clerestory and the huge room with its vast dining table, large enough to seat 150 persons and its immense seamless carpet (80 feet by 40 feet) lends grandeur to a series of portraits of great historical interest.
After Wyatville’s death in 1840 the few alterations to the castle were mostly those already envisaged in his original plan, but postponed for lack of money. New and commodious stables were built at a discreet distance from the castle with stalls for a hundred horses. Such vast stables are still in regular use since Windsor become an important centre for polo and other forms of equitation. The Lower Ward contains some red brick houses of pleasing appearance but the Gothic revivalists yearned for a uniform grey stone castle as being more romantic and several brick buildings were swept away, including the only one in the castle designed by Wren.
Later in the nineteenth century a gentler policy was adopted and many of the old and quaint houses belonging to the College of St George have been carefully and sympathetically restored. The chapel itself underwent a complete overhaul in the 1920s during which the whole vaulted roof was magically renovated and the pinnacles outside received a fresh collection of King’s Beasts to replace those removed as being unsafe on the recommendation of Christopher Wren in 1681.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Windsor castle, part 2

Edward III undertook extensive building operations in the castle. He provided many new lodgings for the clergy of his college, and the Canons’ Cloister with its massive beams still exists in largely its original form. Most of the rest of Edward III’s buildings have been masked by later additions or alterations, but to him is due the Norman Gateway guarding the approach to the Quadrangle and Round Tower, the key positions in the fortress. He had also enlarged the chapel to accommodate the Knights of the Garter and the College of St George, but either lack of funds or the dearth of skilled masons after the Black Death had deterred him from building a new church. By 1390 the chapel was found to be in a dangerous condition and Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet, as Clerk of the Works, was charged with its restoration. He seems to have held the post for only two years and the extent of his achievements as a builder is not known. It cannot have amounted to much, for mid-way through the following century the chapel was in such a ruinous state that rebuilding seemed the only solution. Accordingly in 1472 Edward IV, the first Yorkist king and addicted to “the advauncement of vaine pompe”, set about the task of building the present noble church that looks down from the hill to the similar, through plainer, chapel at Eton begun in 1441 by Henry VI, the Lancastrian victim of the Wars of the Roses.
Another range of buildings in Tudor style, this time in red brick, stands to the west of St George’s. This is the Horseshoe Cloister built; it is said, in the shape of a fetter lock, one of the badges of Edward IV. It was constructed to accommodate some of the clergy whose lodgings had been demolished to make room for the new and larger chapel; it now houses the singing men of the choir and the vergers and forms an attractive and picturesque corner of the castle, through the extensive restoration necessary in 1871 has left but little of the original materials.
Elizabeth I resided frequently at Windsor and it was she who built the North Terrace, now a favorite place with all who visit the castle, for despite the spread of urbanization the view over the Home Park and the Brocas Meadows, with Eton College serene beside the Thames and the Bucking-Hampshire foothills in the distance, remains entrancingly beautiful. Elizabeth must have loved this prospect, for she built herself a gallery overlooking the North Terrace intended as a place for wet weather exercise. This handsome building with its magnificent Tudor fireplace has largely escaped alteration and since William IV’s reign has housed the Royal Library.
During Charles I’s struggle with Parliament Windsor Castle became the headquarters of the Roundheads and suffered considerably at the hands of an underpaid garrison whose commanders were zealous in stripping it of ornaments of value. Charles was imprisoned for a few days in his own castle shortly before his execution and it was to Windsor, in February 1649, that a handful of faithful adherents brought his body for burial. Without ceremony of any kind they bore the royal coffin through a snowstorm from the Deanery to St George’s and buried the king in a vault beneath the choir where lay the remains of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. The spot is close beside the place where royal burials are made today, for the confirm is lowered to a vault which George III in 1810 caused to be dug beneath the Tomb House and the east end of St George’s.
Charles II on his return from exile was immediately attracted to Windsor, for he saw in it not only a pleasant place for the royal sport of stag hunting, but also a kingly residence that could be made to compare favorably with Louis XIV’s grand palace at Versailles, then just taking shape. With this object in view he created the Long Walk, three miles in length and 240 feet wide, stretching away to the south of the castle. He planted it with an avenue of elms which unfortunately had to be felled in 1945 because of disease and have been replaced with alternate chestnut and plane trees. At that time there was a conglomeration of houses to the south of the castle and Charles was not able to bring his avenue up to the walls, as he would have wished. This was achieved only in 1824 by George IV who swept away the houses, including one designed by his father, and then repaid the insult by erecting at the far end of the Long Walk a monster statue of George III in the guise of a Roman Emperor astride a vast copper horse.
The taste of Charles II’s time showed a sharp reaction to the Gothic style of architecture and it was therefore to be expected that the Royal Apartments should conform to the new influences which came from abroad. On the North Terrace a range of buildings, 170 feet long, was demolished and replaced with a plain stone edifice void of decoration expert for a huge Garter Star. The interior, however, compared strangely with the austere exterior, for inside were saloons with a wealth of decoration inspired no doubt by the magnificence of Versailles; the ceilings were painted by an Italian artist, Verrio, and there were wood carvings in great profusion by Grinling Gibbons. Through all but three of the twenty ceilings by Verrio have crumbled and have been removed, the present State Apartments give a fair idea of the richness of the Carolean interior and the effect is heightened by the superb pictures, some of which had been collected by Charles I.
After the considerable building achievements of Charles II, Windsor Castle fell into a period of dire neglect. Queen Anne indeed lived there, through mostly outside the precincts, and it was there that she received the news of the victory of Blenheim. At Windsor every year the Duke of Marlborough renders a silk flag with “fleur de luces” as a token rent for Blenheim Palace and the manor of Woodstock. The first two Hanoverian kings disliked Windsor, and the castle, besides decaying sadly, was invaded by a host of virtual squatters, occupying grace and favor residences which they were wont to alter in any way they pleased. George III, however, was attracted by the castle and its neighborhood, but for many years he occupied a lodge beside the southern wall since the Royal Apartments needed extensive reconstruction before they could accommodate his family of thirteen children. Eventually, in the year 1804 he moved his family into the castle. The king also made some modest alterations to restore its Gothic appearance; these are to be seen in the Portland stone windows in the Quadrangle and the North Terrace and they bear an air of quiet dignity. All building operations came to a sudden end when in 1811 the king permanently lost his reason and until his death nine years later he almost never left his cheerless apartments.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Windsor Castle - part 1

Windsor Castle stands on a chalk outcrop overlooking the Thames and from whatever direction it is approached, it raises magical in outline above the surrounding countryside. Seen from a distance it is beautiful beyond imagination, for it is all perfectly in proportion and the delicate flying buttresses of St George’s Chapel give a graceful relief from the rugged solidity of the Round Tower and the Royal Apartments. Viewed from close by, the effect is less satisfactory, because the extensive Gothic restoration and alterations carried out in the early nineteenth century by Sir Jeffry Wyatville still bear an air of newness that may well delude the visitor into believing that Windsor is but an imitation of an ancient fortress. How false this impression is can only be revealed by a study of the castle’s long and fascinating history.
The Saxons had a palace at Windsor, but it was two miles lower down the river. William the Conqueror took the palace for his own, appreciating to the full the pleasures of the chase in the nearby forest. But as an invader his primary concern was security and he selected the hill above the river near his palace as a site for a stronghold that would guard the approaches to London from the west. When its construction began is not known, but it is probable that the date coincides with the building of the Tower of London (1078), for Windsor Castle is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1084 as occupying half a hide of land in the parish of Clewer. Half a hide might mean anything between twenty and sixty acres; the castle at present covers some thirteen acres, but the additional land recorded in the Domesday Book was doubtless needed to clear the approaches.
The form of the original fortress is unknown, but it was probably similar to the present layout of the castle with an upper and a lower bailey and a central artificial chalk mound. This mound, on which the Round Tower now stands, is fifty feet high and measures almost a hundred yards in diameter at the base. Provided with a well, which is still to be seen beneath a bedroom floor in the Round Tower, is formed a secure keep to which a beleaguered garrison might retreat for a last stand. Such buildings as existed were undoubtedly made of timber from the forest, for not trace remains of any stone building of the Conqueror’s time. It was indeed a purely military establishment and did not became a royal abode until 1110 when Henry I moved there from Old Windsor as being a safer place for one whose claim to the throne was of doubtful validity.
Of the buildings he raised, no identifiable remains exist and the earliest architectural features of Windsor Castle date from the reign of Henry II, who replaced most of the wooden palisade with a stone wall, guarded at intervals with square turrets, still to be seen, through in an altered form, in the Royal Apartments next to the East Terrace. It was Henry II also who first constructed a stone keep on the mound, the odd shape of which caused the Round Tower to be anything but circular, through its irregularity is seldom noticed.
In 1189, shortly after Henry II’s death, the castle suffered its first siege when the English barons, commanded first by the Archbishop of Rouen and subsequently by the militant Bishop of Salisbury, attacked Prince John’s army of Welshmen who had taken refuge in the castle. The Welsh took fright and fled; they were pursued and “put to worthy execution”, but John himself escaped to France. Later, as King, he stayed at Windsor during the humiliating week, 15-23 June 1215, when he was forced to sign Magna Carta at Runnymede some two miles away. The following year the barons again besieged the castle, this time without success, through their siege engines did severe damage to the defenses, especially in the Lower Ward, where there was still a timber palisade. Henry III at once set about the task of repairing the damage and of strengthening the defenses by building the western curtain wall. After some old houses had been cleared away from in front of it in 1852, much of this old wall was restored, but many traces of Henry III’s work are still plainly visible in the rough-hewn heath stones close to the Curfew Tower which rises high above Thames Street.
The Curfew Tower was built in 1227 and contains some of the earliest untouched masonry in the castle. The exterior is severely uniform, having been refaced in 1863 by the French architect, Salvin, who added a sharply pointed roof in the style of his native castles to minimize damage from the rain. The Tower contains relics of an old gaol with a pair of stocks in excellent working order; the interior walls were built of chalk, the only material available locally, and one of the old dungeons contains the beginnings of a tunnel through which a prisoner hoped to escape only to be defeated by the thickness of the masonry. Under the tower there are also the remains of a Sally Port (one of three in the castle) intended to form a secret entrance and exit in time of siege. The upper part of the tower contains the castle bells, brought there in 1478 and erected on massive timbers still nobly doing their work. A flight of steep, uneven stairs leads up to where stands the fascinating movement of the clock made in 1689 by John Davis, a native of Windsor. The clock, restored but substantially original, is of great ingenuity and solid workmanship; apart from moving the hands with admirable precision and striking the hours like any normal clock, it plays a psalm tune, St David’s, every three hours, rings some merry peals and then goes through it all twice again for good measure.
The next royal builder of note was Edward III and it was an auspicious day for Windsor when he was born in castle on 28th November 1312, for it was he who founded the Order of the Garter with Windsor as its temporal and spiritual home. The origin of the Order is obscure, but it must have been created in either 1347 or 1348 after the king’s triumphant return from France. The popular account is supported by a written source as early as the reign of Henry VII when the chronicler states that King Edward picked up from the ground a garter which had come adrift from the queen “or some paramowre”; amid the ribald comments of the noblemen the king said quietly: “Sirs the time shall shortly come when we shall attribute much honor unto such a garter”. The churlish nobles rebuked, Edward instituted the Order of the Garter with its apt and reproachful motto: Honi soit qui mal y pense.
It seems that at first the Order was only intended to form two teams for jousting, with the Sovereign leading one and the Prince of Wales the other. But Edward’s intentions quickly became more serious, for on 6th August 1348, he founded the priestly College of St George with a Custos and twenty-five Canons. In addition there were to be twenty-six Poor Knights who were to attend mass daily as a substitute for the Companions of the Order. This institution survives today, through on a more modest scale; there is a Dean and three Canons and three Minor Canons and the Poor Knights, now thirteen in number and less bluntly styled Military Knights, are retired officers of distinction.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ulan Bator, Mongolia

The capital of Mongolia is Ulan Bator, which reminds one of the large European cities that used to be under the Warsaw Pact. The great influence of the USSR is visible on every corner. Its spacious squares, public institution buildings, the communist-style residential blocks of flats, with Lada and Moskvich cars and other remnants of the Soviet car industry cruising down its streets, testify to the difficult road to recovery of a poor country from the burden of the past. Ulan Bator can be reached by train from Moscow or Beijing. The railway lines going through Mongolia are a spur of the Trans-Siberian Railway. There is, of course, a much shorter and easier way, which is also considerably more expensive – by airplane, which will not give you the opportunity to admire the astonishing landscapes of Mongolia. Any decent accommodation in the city costs a minimum of EUR 50 a day, but it should be noted that the Mongolians prefer the US dollar. It is, therefore, preferable to provide yourself with enough American currency before your trip there, because there are not many places in the city where you can use credit cards or exchange money. You will need some commercial talent when shopping, but still do not expect any large discounts. As regards food, because of the nomadic lifestyle, the traditional nomadic cuisine is based on meat and rice, although fish is not an exception. The Russian influence in Mongolia resulted in vodka being the favorite beverage, although the Mongolians have their own national drink based on alcohol – fermented mare milk than can include up to over 10 percent of alcohol, depending on the producer.
Apart from such gastronomically based pleasures, Ulan Bator also offers cultural and historical attractions. The Gandan Monastery is comprised of a group of temples and other Buddhist buildings. Its full name Gan Dan Teg Leng has recently become popular (the name is pronounced as one world, but is given here separately for easier pronunciation). In loose translation, the name means the Great Place of Complete Joy. This is a Tibetan-style monastery harmonized with the prevailing Buddhist trends in Mongolia. The Monastery was established in 1835 and it soon became the main Buddhist refuge in Mongolia. In the 1930’s, the Mongolian communist government started, under great pressure from Stalin, a campaign of annihilation of Buddhist monasteries. Ganden was virtually the only monastery, but only with a limited number of residents, as well with other restrictions. There is a Zanabazar university within the monastery, teaching astrology, traditional medicine and Buddhism. In 2006, the first generation of female students enrolled at the university. The Winter Palace of the Living Buddha, the last Emperor of Mongolia, should absolutely be visited. There are six temples around the palace, treasuring the gifts presented to the emperor. The Natural History Museum is also an excellent site for tourists. Among other attractions, it boasts two dinosaur skeletons discovered in the Gobi desert.
The same as most cities, Ulan Bator also has its dark side. Be prepared to confront the ugly images of the Mongolian capital, and some even less pleasant feelings, when you see the large number of homeless children, whose only home are the streets and deserted sewers. If you try to find out more about them from the citizens, you will get no explanation and it will be unmistakably that this very unwillingly.
However, what they will gladly talk about is the Gobi desert. You will easily find a guide with a jeep in the capital of Mongolia, ready to take you to the desert. What is more difficult to find, however, is a guide who can talk to you in English. However, you will soon realize that what connects people in the desert is not language. The vast areas of steppe in combination with the incredible blue color of the sky will make you become silent for a long time, with your eyes wide open. When you recover your desire to speak, your vocabulary will be richer in words you will use trying to describe the impressions made by such beautiful landscapes where the freedom of the nomad is a synonym for a way of life.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Because of its extremely harsh climate, Mongolia has been inhabited almost exclusively by nomadic tribes of cattle farmers since ancient times. This large country had only sporadic small villages of Samoyeds and Uyghur’s, as well as some others who lived under Chinese influence. Back at that time, there were occasional attacks by them on individual tribes in China, on the Silk Road than went through Western and Central Asia. In the medieval period, the legendary Genghis Khan managed to unite the Mongolian tribes and establish a state that ruled a world empire, which spread all the way to Central Europe. His grandson Kublai Khan was the founder of the Yuan Dynasty in China, and empowered Buddhist monk rule in Tibet. After several periods of frailty, a great empire was created under the rule of Timur Lang, which was later inherited by the Chinese Qing dynasty. After its downfall in 1911, Mongolia proclaimed independence, but it took until 1921 (despite Russia’s assistance) to finally force out the Chinese forces. June 11 is celebrated as a national holiday, called Naadam. The price of the expulsion of the Chinese occupation army was paid, however, by the great dependency on the then USSR. In 1924, the Mongolian People’s Republic was declared, which became a USSR satellite nation. A national holiday is celebrated on 26 November in honor of the establishment of the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924. As a result of the ambitions of the Soviet leaders to develop Mongolia into a modern communist country, the traditional nomadic cattle breeding culture was almost completely obliterated, which caused great economic problems. The Soviets even influenced a change in the alphabet. Namely, Mongolians used their traditional Mongolian alphabet until 1921, and they switched to the Cyrillic alphabet after the revolution. Nowadays, all Mongolians use the Cyrillic alphabet, and only a smaller portion of the population is familiar with the traditional alphabet, which is also in official use. During the Stalinist purges, many Buddhist monks were killed. Almost all Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia were destroyed forever, including all their cultural treasures and libraries.
The winds of change in Eastern Europe in 1990 brought about a democratic movement to Mongolia as well, and the first free elections were organized in 1992. Today, the democracy in Mongolia is more stable than in any other country of Central Asia.
A half of the Mongolian population still pursues the nomadic lifestyle, whole families move in search of work, food and pastures, erecting their unique tents, the so-called gers or yurts (round tents with six beds arranged in a circle and a cattle dung stove), along the roads. Mongolians are primarily involved in the agricultural production of meat, milk and wool. In addition, they grow some crops, potatoes and vegetables. The share of agriculture in the total gross domestic products is – the same as industry – below 30 percent. After 1990 and the breakdown of communism, the people have tried to return to their roots and nomadic life. However, after a long period of stagnation the economy has started to strengthen recently. This growth relies mainly on services. However, the result of this growth has not affected the poor population very much. More than one-third of the citizens still live below the poverty threshold. The difficult years of reforms have however increased the share of private entrepreneurship to around 80 percent, but at the same time this has increased social division and the differences between the urban and rural areas.
Vast area of steppes, mountains and deserts are characterized by a very low density of population. Even through their numbers have doubled over the last three decades, there are still less than 3 million citizens living in Mongolia. It is easy to find the reason for this low density of population. Out of the 1.5 million square kilometers that Mongolia covers, only 10 percent is covered in forests (mainly in the northern and western mountains), and less than 1 percent is arable. Climate conditions make this area extremely harsh and cruel. Its position on the Central Asia plateau gives Mongolia one of the most extreme continental climates. The difference in average temperatures between day and night are unusually great, while the one between winter and summer temperatures reaches up to 100 C. That is why Mongolia boasts the southernmost areas of permafrost which, apart from the top few centimeters, never melt, as well as the northernmost deserts on the planet Earth.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rijeka Crnojevica

After nearly a century of decay, Montenegrins started timidly turning back to Rijeka Crnojevica at the beginning of the new millennium. Dressed stone embankments were erected on the Rijeka waterfront, this was then paved, Danilo’s Bridge reconstructed… and there is hope that the small town will manage to recover at least a small part of its former splendor.
When you leave Podgorica, on your way to Rijeka, your first stop will be at Pavlova strana, overlooking the River Crnojevica that springs from the Obodska cave and runs down the valley, meandering among the nearby hills and flowing into Skadar Lake. After the surreal image of natural harmony from Pavlova strana, the road goes on to another view. A view to the past and… oblivion…
Nestled into the silence of Skadar Lake, away from modern roads, new buildings, industry… almost deserted by both its citizens and visitors… this small town has been lost in time. The beauty of its nature has remained untouched because of human neglect, glorious past of this place.
A law prohibiting the sale of fish also contributed to the slow death of this town, as well as the construction of the Podgorica Cetinje road, which did not go through Rijeka. A whole town with around 500 citizens remained derelict and deserted. It was also considerably damaged in the devastating earthquake of 1979.
Montenegrins started timidly turning back to Rijeka Crnojevica at the beginning of the new millennium. Dressed stone embankments were erected on the Rijeka waterfront, this was then paved, Danilo’s Bridge reconstructed…
Tourists have again started coming from Russia, Italy, Great Britain… together with the hope that this small town will manage to recover at least a small part of its former splendor so that a beautiful heritage would not slip into oblivion and neglect, living on only in the canvasses of painters and in the eye of a cameraman.
The history of oblivion
The beginning of the story of Rijeka is related to a former ruler of Zeta, Ivan Crnojevic, who, while running away from the Ottoman army in 1475, erected a fortification and a monastery on Obod hill, with a church dedicated to St Nicholas. He moved his capital there from the Zabljak fortification, while the monastery became the seat of the Metropolitanate of Zeta.
The Town of Obod is better known for the first Montenegrin printing house, than as the seat of the Crnojevic Dynasty. Ivan’s son, Djuradj Crnojevic, bought a printing press from Venice (only 38 years after Guttenberg), which was used to print Oktoih, the first printed book among the South Slavs, in 1494. The printers were hieromonks, out of whom Makarije was the most skilled. The printing house was active until the Montenegrins were forced to melt down its lead letters into rifle ammunition in order to defend their freedom. A modest plaque, exhibited on the walls of the remains of the Obod fortress, which informs visitors that the Obod printing house used to work there.
The dynasty that ruled Montenegro after the Crnojevic was also not indifferent to the beauties of this palace. The Metropolitan and ruler of Montenegro, Petar I Petrovic Njegos, build a house here in the early 19th century, and it later became known as the Bishop’s House. A famous landmark of Rijeka Crnijevica, its stone bridge, was erected in 1853 by Prince Danilo. Apart from the bridge, Danilo built a house on the left riverbank, and the two compose a harmonious whole and blend perfectly with the surroundings. King Nikola built his winter palace, Ljeskovac, in this town, as well as a large bridge on the road connecting Rijeka and Virpazar.
During the 19th and the early 20th centuries, Rijeka Crnojevica was Montenegro’s largest port and leading trade centre. Many people of different religions and nations came to its market, which offered goods from all parts of Montenegro. A local product that was especially appreciated was dried bleak, which was a highly valued dish in Italy. The then great wealth in this area was based on community land, located in the lakes inlets, the so called oke, which are numerous in this area and very rich in fish. At that time, the town used to have its town government, district court, customs house, a salt and oil monopoly, and it was the main industrial centre of Montenegro. Before the Balkan Wars, Rijeka was full of manufacturers. The first pharmacy in Montenegro was opened here, as well as the first gunsmith shop. The Marica factory produced fine mother-of-pearl, that is, pearls made out of fish scales. At that time, there were seventy-five different trade and service companies, as well as nearly seventy taverns in the town, all of which operated successfully. Nowadays, there are three taverns in Rijeka, one of which (next to Danilo’s Bridge) bears the symbolic name “The First Port”.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Banja Luka

Banja Luka, with 250.000 inhabitants, is the largest city in the Republic of Srpska and the second largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It represents political, financial, university and cultural center of the Republic of Srpska. It is situated in the valley at the altitude of 164 m, in the transition between Dinaric Mountains in the south and Panonic basin in the north. Banja Luka has moderately continental climate with prevailing influences of Panonic area. Average annual temperature is 10.7 C, average January temperature is 0.8 C, while average July temperature is 21.3 C. Due to large number of green areas (parks and avenues), Banja Luka has the epithet of the town of greenery. Banja Luka is also called the town of the young, sports and pretty girls.
In the territory of the today’s Banja Luka, since the ancient times, there were always human communities that left traces of time in which they lived. In Banja Luka you can experience a spirit of different cultures that were interwoven in this territory and visit a large number of cultural and historic monuments being the witnesses of different epochs and human creativity. Cultural and historical monuments: Gospodska Street, Petar Kocic monument, fortress Kastel, Banski dvor, monument of Banj brdo, Hipotekarna banka, Sokolska kuca, hotel Palace, old Serbian Primary School, environmental entity Carski drum, Trappist Monastery, the Building of old railway station, Safikava’s grave, Monastery Gomionica, medieval town of Zvecaj, Archive of the Republic of Srpska, church of Christ the Savior. Also, Banja Luka as a cultural center of the Republic of Srpska offers you the possibility to visit the cultural institutions such as the Museum of the Contemporary Art of the Republic of Srpska, Museum of the Republic of Srpska, Cultural Centre Banski dvor, National Theatre of the Republic of Srpska, Galleries etc.
At the territory of today’s Banja Luka, the continuous development of human communities from prehistory until today can be followed. This territory has been favorable for settling and living since the ancient times, first of all due to natural resources, and later also due to geographical, traffic, and strategic position. Banja Luka was mentioned for the first time in the year of 1494 in the charter of Hungarian king Vladislav II Jagelovic, issued in Budim in Latin language, although the town had existed even earlier. Prehistorically archeological localities as well as the items found on them give evidence on existence of human communities at these areas since the epoch of musterien from 5000 – 3500 BC. In preantic period, wider area of Banja Luka and western Bosnia was inhabited by Illyria tribes called Mezeji and Oserijati which left behind many ancient town settlements. Having defeated the Illyric tribes in Baton war (6 -9 AD), the Romans started to come to this territory and assigned it into their province Illyrik. A part of the structure of military and administrative power of the Roman Empire was construction of roads near which stationary military camps (Castra) and civil settlements (municipium) were formed. After the fall of the Roman Empire, this area was inhabited by Slavs which left behind early-Slavonic ancient town settlements. Medieval life in Banja Luka and its surrounding grew, which can be confirmed by many written documents as well as a large number of fortified towns from the period from XII to XV century. By the fall of the Bosnian state and by coming of Turks to these areas in the year of 1528, Banja Luka got the significance as the strategic bastion of Hungarian and Turkish domination. Banja Luka got a special significance during the rule of Ferhad-Pasha Sokolovic (1574 - 1588) when it became the center of the Turkish administrative unit – Bosnian pashaluk (jurisdiction of a Pasha). The thing that followed after 350 years of the Turkish administration was the Austro-Hungarian occupation (1878) that lasted for 40 years. After the World War I, this area became a part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, and from 1929 a center of Vrbaska banovina (region ruled by a ban – civil governor) of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia when it experienced its largest rise. The first civil governor (Ban) of the Vrbaska banovina Svetislav Tisa Milosavljevic (1929 – 1934) during his mandate built many structures among which the following buildings should be emphasized: Ban’s administration (Banska uprava) and Ban’s residency (Banski dvor), National Theatre, Hotel Palace, Sokolski dom, City Park (Gradski park), Ethnographic Museum, schools, hospitals etc. Also, the Ban Milosavljevic christened the church of Christ the Savior on the occasion of its dedication in 1929, and the church was bombed later, and then destroyed in 1941. The church was renovated in 2004 and today presents one of the most beautiful orthodox churches in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the World War II, Banja Luka experienced its peak again which was stopped during the time of a large earthquake in 1969 and the war 1992-1995 after which it started to develop again as a center of the Republic of Srpska.
Banja Luka has always been very important intersection of roads, in the period of Romans when a road that connected Roman Provinces Dalmatia and Pannonia passed through the town, and the railway Banja Luka – Dobrljin that was released in 1873 as the first railway of this type in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And today as well, Banja Luka presents the junction of roads of the direction north – east Europe towards the Adriatic and east – west. A railway communication that connects the City with the western and Eastern Europe and other parts of the Republic of Srpska and Bosnia and Herzegovina passes through Banja Luka as well. There is an international airport Banja Luka situated 25 kilometers north of the center of the City.
Vrbas is the main watercourse of Banja Luka that divides the town into two parts and is something more than just a river for the inhabitants of Banja Luka. Therefore, still in some settlements we have the rule of “view to the river” that is applied in civil engineering at the banks the Vrbas. In town, the following tributaries flow into the Vrbas: Vrbanja, Suturlija, Crkvena, Rijeka, Svrakava, Rekavica and others. Flowing from the south towards the north, Vrbas gets out of the canyon, mountain flow and transfers into plain flow. The area of the Vrbas canyon that is situated only 12 km from the centre of the town is distinguished by the clear water of the II category, rich and various flora and fauna, cultural and historical monuments, and natural rarities on the basis of which it was protected according to the Decision of the Institute for Monuments and Culture Protection of SR BiH dated 1955. Vrbas has a specific boat known as dajak which got the name after the stick used for moving the boat.
The location of Banja Luka as a transit town caused the appearance of stationary resorts as early as in the Roman period. One of the first hotels that were built in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the hotel Bosnia from the year of 1885 and according to some sources it was built even earlier. Today Banja Luka has a large number of lodging capacities of different categories and purposes.
In Banja Luka there are many restaurants that can satisfy the needs even of the most demanding gourmands, from the national ones that offer traditional cuisine till modern with European and world specialties. Specific specialty of the town of Banja Luka is Banjalucki kebab (Banjalucki cevap) consisted of tablets of grilled minced meat and specific round flat bread – lepinja.
During the year, in Banja Luka and its surroundings there are a range of traditional events of different characters such as Ljeto na Vrbasu (Summer on the Vrbas), Povratak selu (Return to village life), Kocicev zbor (Kocic’s gathering), Banjalucke ljetne igre (Summer Games of Banja Luka) and many others.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Struga, Macedonia

The beauty and the blue colors of the Lake and the River Black Drim are surrounded by high mountains, a lot of cool springs, mountain lakes and small rivers, endemic flora and fauna, picturesque villages and a considerable number of cultural and historic monuments of the rich past.
Struga is situated in the southwestern part of the Republic of Macedonia, on the shoreline of Lake Ohrid and alongside the banks of the River Black Drim that divides the city into two.
Lake Ohrid lies at an altitude of 695 meters above sea level and occupies an area of 348, 2 square km. The coast line of the lake is 87, 5 km long. The maximum depth of the lake is 289 meters, with a high transparency that reaches up to 24 meters.
The climate in the Struga region, geographically speaking, is continental, but through out the year one can fell warm air streaming because of the Adriatic Sea. Maximum average temperatures reach 27 degrees centigrade in July and August. The average temperature of the water of the Lake Ohrid is summer is 26 degrees centigrade, while the temperature throughout the year reaches up to around 12 degrees centigrade.
The Black Drim River is the only exit of the Lake Ohrid’s water. The river’s flow to Adriatic Sea forms the artificial lakes of Globochitza and Shpile.
On the shores of Lake Ohrid, since the Neolithic era, there were numerous ancient settlements. Struga and its surroundings have been continuously populated and featured as a cradle of ancient civilization.
During the findings at the mouth of the river Black Drim there was discovered archaeological evidence of an ancient palophyte settlement. The archaeological diggings discovered a fortune of ancient working tools made of stones and bones, as well as ceramics. Archaeological findings bear witness that near the mouth of the river Black Drim (ancient Drilon) was established the ancient city of Enchalon, by the Illyrian tribe of Encheleians. The “Via Egnatia” penetrated in the region of Struga, more precisely, passed through the village of Radozda, Struga. Inside the church of St George in Struga was found a millennium stone “Egnatia” on which is written the name of the Roman emperor Karakalius and the distance of 12 km dividing Struga from Ohrid.
The construction of Christian temples in the region of Struga started alongside with official acceptance of the Christian religion. The most indisputable facts are:
The Basilica of Ladorishta from the 4th century AD
The Basilica of Oktisi, known as the basilica of St Nicola of the village of Oktisi, from the 5th century AD

The church of St George is the most renowned one in the city of Struga, where one can find the icon of St George, which dates from 1267 and shows the patron painted frontally.
The church complex near the village of Kalishta, only 3 km away from Struga, is a monastery church dedicated to St Mary. It is accompanied by other sacral buildings and small cave churches inside the mountain in the western part of the coast of Lake Ohrid, which date from the 15th century and are decorated with a rich assembly of medieval frescoes and icons.
The church of St Spas is situated inside a cave in the village of Visni just bellow the village of Upper Belitza, dating from the 15th century. High above the mountains near the village of Radozda, inside a cave one can find a small church dedicated to St Archangel Michael, one of the oldest cave churches on the shores of Lake Ohrid with paintings dating from the 11th century.
The Mosque of Suleiman Arapi in Struga was built by the pasha of the sultan of the time in 1583, and is located on the right bank of the river Black Drim.
The Natural Scientific Museum of “Dr Nikola Nezlobinski” in Struga is one of the oldest institutions in Macedonia. The Museum began to work in the year 1928. There is an exhibition in the museum.
The citizens of Struga can be very proud of the many old crafts. Accordingly, they can point out the manufacturers of silver jewelry, hand made filigree, old style loom weaving, decorative wood carving, pottery and many other handicraft shops that are located mainly in the old city bazaar.
The traditional cuisine cherished for centuries in Struga and its surroundings invites you to taste the delicious meals.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Island of Brac

Bathed in the Mediterranean sunlight, enveloped by the scent of pines, sage and rosemary, and calmed by the sound of the crickets, Brac rises above the clear blue water of the Adriatic proudly facing Dalmatia’s largest city, Split. As the largest Dalmatian island, Brac is a true oasis of unspool nature, authentic Dalmatian architecture and a sense of serenity more associated with bygone days. In addition, it is within easy access of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (the town of Trogir and the Diocletian’s Palace in Split), is well connected to the mainland by ferries and to the rest of the world by its own international airport.
You can leave stress and city life behind. Time is marked by passing shadows and stars, whilst the ancient bell towers ring out the rhythm of nature. Brac has always been a refuge for those in search of peace and tranquility, from the inhabitants of ancient Salona and the nobility of Split, through to modern travelers in search of true values. This is the place to allow you to relax and unwind.
Widely renowned and highly regarded around the world, the stone from Brac has been used in the construction of some of the most famous buildings in the world, from Diocletian’s Palace in Split to the White House in Washington, as well as the houses of fisherman and laborers of Brac. Enchanting villages dotted around the island display excellent examples of traditional architecture: stone houses, fireplaces, wells, balconies, entwined in bougainvillea, churches, bell towers, and streets paved in white stone slabs or pebbles, and courtyard adorned with vines, tangerine, lemon, and fig and pomegranate trees. The unpretentious simplicity of these houses built to resist the sun, wind and time, karts’ fields and olive groves, cairns, stone shelters and drywalls are a testimony of the wisdom and diligence of the island’s inhabitants, to the generations that drawn their energy from the sun, the stone and the sea.


Situated on a horse-shoe shaped cove, Supetar is a charming and picturesque harbor village. Everything here is close at hand and conveniently located: restaurants, shops, banks, post offices, market, cinema, library, health care services and various sports facilities. Your stay here will also be enhanced by the free concerts, theatrical shows, folklore festivals and numerous other events which are organized as part of the Supetar Summer of Culture.
With its excellent connections to Split via a direct car-ferry service (more than 14 departures per day during summer), Supetar is an ideal destination for those looking to benefit from the rich monumental heritage and natural beauties of the Central Dalmatian mainland (Diocletian’s Palace, Trogir, Salona, Klis, Vranjaca Cave, Cetina Canyon, Krka Falls, Sibenik Cathedral…), whilst still enjoying the charm of a small island town. Let’s not forget to mention the numerous opportunities for walks and excursions on the island: Blaca desert, Vidova Gora, Zlatni Rat, Museum of Brac, stone cutting school… every place on the island of Brac has its own beauty and appeal. In addition to the high-quality hotels in Supetar, many of the local households offer private accommodation facilities in the form of apartment rentals.


Located in a deep and relatively steep cove, Splitska is reminiscent of a swan gazing at its own reflection in the water. This place of exceptional beauty exudes an almost aristocratic serenity, particularly with the Cerinic family mansion built in the 16th century. Splitska is the ideal destination for those fond of walks in the countryside: a 45 minute walk to Skrip, 30 minute walk to Postira, and 30 minutes more to Dol. The town features three restaurants, a café and a store, as well as a Tourist Office open during the season.


As the oldest settlement on the island, Skrip is one of the must-see destinations for every visitor to Brac. The Museum of Brac is located in the old Radojkovic house; the nearby church of the Holly Spirit, the Cerinic family mansion and the parochial church of St Helen all stand witness to the time when life, endangered by pirates, carried on deep in the island and away from the coast, when Skrip was one of the most important places on the island. The few residents mainly depend on agriculture although Skrip’s historical importance has recently brought tourism to the village.


This is a quiet, tranquil little place located about 3 km from Supetar towards Sutivan. The old town centre exudes the atmosphere of a forgotten island village where time had stopped, as life has descended to the shoreline where new houses have been built amongst the pine trees and gardens, as close to the sea as possible. The Gumonca Cove with its beach and small port for fishing boats has thus become the Mirca’s new heart.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lakes in Macedonia, Greece

This is the wonderful landscape of Macedonia, which is worth visiting.

Lake Kastoria

The landscape surrounding the Lake of Kastoria is amazing. The partially forested hills, wet meadows, reed-beds and marshes, the woods right by the edge of the lake, all make up this amazing view. There is also a canoeing centre.

Lake Kerkini

The wetlands – of the most important in Greece – provide nesting ground for aquatic birds. The lake is a reservoir for water, which can be used for irrigation. It is also used as a dam to control floods. This was done by the use of the water from the river Strimonas.

Prespes Lakes

Big Prespa and Small Prespa are 47 km away from Florina and 50 km away from Kastoria. The area has interesting sights: Byzantine churches (one of which dates back to the 10th century), lake-side caves, where Byzantine monks lived as hermits and icon-painted rocks of the 14th and 15th centuries. You can find accommodation at the farm shelters of Psarades and Agios Germanos and enjoy the local home made delicacies such as pies, jam, pasta and other. Also you can swim, go on boat rides, walk or go for an outing to the mountain of Vitsi where you can ski if you wish.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Thessaloniki is a modern city with the population of 1.000.000 inhabitants. It is the second largest city in Greece with a history dated back to 2.300 years. Thos cosmopolitan city offers a varied mix of trendy shops and waterfront cafes, a real delight for shoppers. Tsimiski Street is the main shopping area consisting of many well known named shops and large shopping malls.
At the main square of the city, Aristotelis Square you will come across many artists and side stalls where you can purchase a variety of handicrafts.
And for those wanting more than shopping there is the opportunity to take in the historical sights of the city. There is the chance to see White Tower (the symbol of the city), the Galerius Arch, the Rotonda Monument, the Citadel and ancient city walls from where you are presented with a panoramic view of the city spread out before you. There is placed Byzantine Church of Saint Dimitrios the patron saint of Thessaloniki.

Monday, June 22, 2009

White Tower Thessaloniki

The White Tower, which came to be the symbol of Thessaloniki by coincidence, was built in the late 15th century on the site of an older Byzantine tower, where the eastern wall and the sea wall met.

The White Tower is 33.9 m high and comprises a ground floor and six storeys with a turret at the top. Up until the early 20th century, the Tower was surrounded by a low octagonal wall, which was probably built in 1535/36; three of the corners were reinforced with smaller towers.

The Tower has had many names:
Lion’s Tower, in the 16th century
The Fortress of Kalamaria, in the 18th century
The Janissary Tower in the 19th century
The Blood Tower in 19th century, since it served as a prison and a place of execution for long terms convicts.

Its current name comes to be in 1890, when the Tower was whitewashed by a convict in exchange for his freedom.

After the liberation of Thessaloniki in 1912 and its unification with the Greek state, the White Tower has hosted the city’s air defense, the meteorological laboratory of Aristotle University and various Sea Scout groups.
In 1983, the Tower was ceded to the Ministry of Culture and its restoration began; this project was awarded the Europa Nostra prize in 1988. From 1985 onwards, it has operated as an exhibition venue.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nessebar, Bulgaria

32 kilometers northeast from Bourgas, a naturally sculptured rocky peninsula in the Black Sea attracted the ancient Thracians at the end of the 2nd millennium BC. Around the year 510 BC by way of the sea came the Dorians and established the Greek colony of Mesembria. Even nowadays archaeological research supplies plentiful material about the long history of modern Nessebar. Greeks used to cut coins out of silver, bronze and even gold. Later, the Romans left traces of their own garrison. From the 7th century Mesembria turned into a bishop centre and an important Byzantine seaside town with its own rule, and in the beginning of the 9th century it was taken by the Bulgarian Khan Krum. Its cross-road location turned it during the following centuries into a military conquest in the case of each Bulgarian-Byzantine conflict.
Today, a narrow isthmus of about 300 meters separates the new town of Nessebar from the unique atmosphere of the town-museum. There, side by side live the ruins of the fortress wall and the gate of the Old Town dating from the 3rd – 4th century. Many of the churches are preserved there – all in all 23, each with a different system of chronology. The Old Metropolis and Saint Virgin Mary Eleusa are basilicas from the 6th century, and Saint Joan the Baptist, Saint Stephen, Saint Ivan Neosveteni, Pantocrator, Saint Archangels Michael and Gavril, Saint Paraskeva, Saint Todor were built in the period of the 11th – 14th century. They are unique examples of Medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian architecture, fresco and plastic. Features of these chapels are the exquisite ceramic elements inbuilt for the sake of decorating their facades.
Originally the town was populated only along the peninsula, but nowadays Nessebar is growing to the North and to the South along the coast. The fine sand, the small bays, the unique sand dunes increased beyond recognition the hotel construction in the region. It is already hard to the recognize the line between the hotels of Nessebar and the ones of the famous resort Sunny Beach on the north. A pedestrian walkway alongside the old streets of the peninsula with the typical houses of Nessebar, dinner in a catering site on the rocky beach of the Black Sea or other Bulgarian specialties, concert under the dome of the old church are things that can be seen and felt only here. There is no doubt that since 1979 Nessebar has turned into one of the top ten Bulgarian monuments on the UNESCO list.
The typical house in Nessebar has established itself a special place within the history of Bulgarian architecture. It is usually two-floored, with the first floor built of stone – and the upper floor – constructed with wooden boards impregnated with the salty taste of the sea, with bow-windows overhanging the cobblestone streets. Even today one can see stretched fishermen nets and fish delicacies drying according to ancient methods. Many of these houses are restored; they are preserved as monuments of culture and are accessible to tourist to view. One of them is the Bogotova house dating back to the 60’s of the 19th century and is situated in the centre of the Old town.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Holy Mount of Sofia

During the 13th – 14th centuries Sofia (then known as Sredets) were gilded with a “necklace” of monasteries, referred to as the “minor Holy Mount” of Sofia, with deference to Holy Mount Athos. Today it is assumed that it originally consisted of fourteen hierarchically administered monasteries, among which the major one was that of St George in the village Bistritsa, while the others were subordinated to it. Today nothing remains of the original mediaeval Bistritsa monastery, except the name of the locality – “Obrochishte”, meaning “consecrated ground”. The parish church of the village of Bistritsa now stands there, having been built much later, at the end of the 19th century.
The others are thought to be: Dragalevtsi Monastery of the Holy Virgin of Vitosha Mountain; German Monastery of St John of Rila, founded in 10th century and to which a privilege was granted by the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus; Osenovlag Monastery of the Seven Altars; Lozen Monastery of The Lord Our Savior; Kokalyane Monastery of St Archangel Michael, which was closely connected to the mediaeval Bulgarian fortress town of Urvich; Kremikovtsi Monastery of St George; Seslavtsi Monastery of St Nicholas of Myra; Kourilo Monastery of St John the Precursor; Eleshnitsa Monastery of the Assumption of the Most Holy Virgin; Alino Monastery of the Lord Our Savior; Ilientsi Monastery of St Prophet Elijah; Bilintsi Monastery of St John of Rila in the town of Sredets, which was mentioned in 1108 by Theophilactus, Archbishop of Ohrid. According to some researchers the eminent Boyana Church is the only surviving part of a mediaeval monastery that once belonged to the congregation of the Holy Mount of Sofia. All of these monasteries maintained active relationships with Holy Mount Athos, and German Monastery was already a convent of the Zograph Monastery there in the early middle ages.
The heyday of the Minor Holy Mount came at the end of 16th and the early 17th century thanks to the dedication of Pimen of Zograf, a highly educated and devoted monk and painter who came from Mount Athos. Following tradition, he built and decorated with sacred murals nearly forty cloisters in the region, and trained a group of local people to form the so called “Sofia literally and artistic school”, consisting of his adherents and assistants. Pimen of Zograf, who was later canonized by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, was among the most distinguished religious on the Balkans in the early 17th century, and throughout the history of Orthodox art. The jewel of his heritage is the Church of St Nicholas of Myra of the Seslavtsi Monastery.
The number of cloisters and hermitages that originated in the vicinity of Sofia during the 10th – 13th centuries grew to nearly 140 by the middle of the 19th century. Many of them are no longer in existence, and the only clue that anything holy ever existed in a particular locality is its name, such as “Manastirishte” (meaning monastic ground) and “Tsarkvishte” (church ground), or the scant remains of a building. But several surviving monasteries still safeguard the spiritual glory of the Holy Mount Sofia.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Smederevo is located on the south coast of the Panonian see and on the north-east slopes of Sumadija hills. It is surrounded by the Danube in the north and by the Velika Morava in the east. This area is under the influence of mild continental climate, the average annual temperature is 11-12 C. Dominant wind is Kosava. The town consists of 27 rural and 11 urban communities. The total area is 480 km2 and it has 110.000 inhabitants of which about 65.000 live in the central town area.
Diversified town traffic net enables good connectivity of Smederevo with its road, railway and water lines. Smederevo is 45 km away from Belgrade. The town is connected to Belgrade and to the north of the country by its railway, and to the south parts of the country through Mala Krsna. There is a highway that runs through Smederevo, it is 30 km long.
Smederevo is one of the oldest settlements in the Serbian District Podunavlje. The settlement which was located on the current position of Smederevo was mentioned for the first time in 1019 in the charter of Byzantine Emperor, Vasilije II, and the present name of Smederevo is mentioned in 1381 in the charter of Monastery Ravanica. In the 15th century Despot Djuradj Brankovic chose this very place on the Danube to be capital of the Serbian state. In the period between 1428 and 1430 “mali grad” was built as a ruler’s castle at the lower end of the river Jezava into the Danube, and then looking up to the Fortress of Carigrad the construction of “Veliki grad” on an area of 10,5 ha was continued in the period between 1430 and 1439. During the time of Despot’s reign Smederevo was the centre of political, economical and cultural life of Medieval Serbia. In the beginning of the 20th Smederevo’s opulent agricultural area with significant production of fruits and wines with the famous “Smederevo’s vineyard”, its excellent geographic position on the Danube and growing trade made the basis of its further development.
Many events take place in Smederevo during the whole year and certainly the most important of them is “Smederevo’s autumn”. This touristic and business manifestation take place every year at the end of September, it is devoted to fruits of autumn (fruits, grapes and vine) with carnival of medieval knights and a rich cultural and artistic program. One cannot talk about Smederevo without mentioning “Smederevka”, one of leading autochthonous types of grapes from Smederevo’s vineyard. Presence of vines on Smederevo’s area date from ancient history. Illyrian, Thracians and Celtic tribes were raising grapes in these areas before the arrival of Roman conquerors who forbid raising grapes in provinces on Balkan during the emperor Domitian. Marcus Aurelius Probe abolished this prohibition and started, with soldiers from his legions to plant vines again on these areas. After the prohibition, numerous conquers and wars, viticulture and growing of Smederevka still keep the Smederevo’s tradition. Many people wrote about their grapes and wines but the name Smederevka as the name of the brand can be found in written sources from the 19th century. From 1879 merchants from European countries are buying wine from Smederevo and selling it in Switzerland, France and other countries. In 1882 on World Fair in Bordeaux, wines from Smederevo received significant recognition. Winegrowers from Smederevo still keep the tradition of growing Smederevka and still produce quality wines that can be tasted in their cellars.
If you are visiting Smederevo, don’t miss the following tourist’s destinations and historical and cultural monuments:
Smederevo’s Fortress (Serbian capital from 15th century, the biggest plain fortress in Europe)
Museum in Smederevo (learn about Smederevo’s history from ancient times until today)
The main city square (in this area are many cultural and historical monuments)
Orthodox temple of St George (the third biggest temple in Serbia, built as a Monastery Manasija)
Community Court building
Former Community House building
Assumption of Holy Mother of God Church (built in 15th century, is on Smederevo’s old cemetery, and it is believed that it was the family tomb and the church of Despot Djuradj Brankovic.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Paxi Island – Greece

The Island of Paxi, having a big mythology, is bathing, like another Venus, just very close to Corfu, in the Ionian Sea.
Paxi is an island full of natural beauties, capturing any visitor. Saint Nikolas castle, Madonna’s cloister on the homonym island, Erimitis, Karama, Ypapanti, Ellinospita, Ortholithos, Graves, Ahai, the Museum, the Gallery, the Mills, the Basins, the Lighthouses, Vatoumi, Vrika are some of the sightseeing the visitor may enjoy.
Paxi is an island full of olive trees, its population survived for centuries on this blessed tree, which used to be not only a source of living but also a mean for development and evolution. Today, tourism is the major source of income at Paxi local economy.
Now on, transport from and to Corfu and Igoumenitsa is daily. Among the island’s customs which survive until today are: the stock on 15th of August, which is distributed for free on the small island of Madonna Koulouma at Lakka with pagan dances and songs, the First Resurrection at Saint Giakoumo of Fountana, where they hit regularly the pews, the Processions after Easter, Labates of Sent John etc.
Certainly the island offers many enjoyable choices and the visitor shall be fully satisfied.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Roman “Villa Urbana”

Whole territory of today’s town Risan, from the spring Sopot till the monastery Banja, represents very rich and important archaeological site where are created the pages of the earliest history of Montenegrin Littoral. The Bay of Boka Kotorska was for the first time mentioned under the name of “Rison River” in the middle of 4th century BC. In the year 230 BC Illyrian fortress Rison on the hill Gradina over Risan become the war capital of Illyrian state of the tribe Ardiei under the king Agron and his heiress, very known queen Teuta, who began the first in the series of wars with the powerful state of Rome, which termined with the final decline of the Illyricum under the king Genthius, in the year 167 BC.
Immediately after the submission began the hurried Romanization of Risinium, which become a typical Roman town enclosed by “cyclopean” city walls and urban center or Forum on the field Carine at the right side of small creek Spila. Out of ramparts were the cemeteries or necropolis, and on the southern side the residential part of the town with the villas of rich merchants and landowners of Risan.
The mosaics cover the floors in 4 of 5 rooms in the east part and in 2 rooms in the west tract of villa, while in other rooms were discovered only the traces of mosaic floors. In the west part of villa, toward the sea, the mosaics were made in the technical of large cubes of local grey and black stone, with the motif of “labrys”, the double battle ash from Crete. Between the mosaics in the east part of villa the best is the mosaic floor in the north corner room, made by the stone cubes of different sizes and colors (red, yellow, green, blue, black, white), with stylized floral motifs wreathed in a certain geometric rhythm, but in the middle is the round medallion bordered with meander and on them, by very miniature cubes and skilful blended shades, presented the Greek god of dreams Hypnos in the shape of young winged boy, leaned on the pillow. By this figure and the fact of the absence of ornaments on one part of the floor in the size of a bed, it is concluded that it is the sleeping room (dormitories) of the owner. In the next room toward south the mosaic floor is made in the form of chess board by black and white stone cubes, while the subsequent one had the mosaic floor made in ceramics, destroyed in earlier excavations. The following two rooms have the mosaic floors, in the first one decorated by geometric ornaments and stylized examples of sea fauna, while in the last on the south the floor is divided in 8 rectangles, also with geometric motifs and stylization of sea fauna, but as here one part of the corner is without ornamentation, it is presumed that was the dining room of the villa, with typical Roman couches, for diner.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dvorovi Spa

Settled in Northeastern part of Republic of Srpska – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dvorovi Spa is situated between rivers of Sava and Drina, on 93 m height above sea level, and roads running across Raca and Pavlovic Bridge from Serbia to Bijeljina and farther to Banja Luka and other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
By its Semberia meekness, grand parks, swimming pools, good hotel accommodation in St Stephan Hotel, and above all by good host hospitability, Dvorovi Spa is right place for vacation, prevention and curing for different diseases.

First perception about medical thermal water in Dvorovi Spa comes from 1956th, a time oil-field workers, looking for an oil southern from Sava River, made a well in Dvorovi village, near to Bijeljina. From the same gushed forth starting to stream out with no control. Careful and inventive native citizens of Dvorovi village gave warm water for an analyzes – results showed mineral water with important characteristics crucial for rheumatics patients therapy, with clearly expressed mineral ingredients in its resource.
After warm mineral water is discovered and its quality analyses is made, construction works on bath and spa building with a reservoir for warm water, that needed firstly to be cooled due to its too high temperature for direct usage, was started. By spa building, in 1968th an Olympic swimming pool with warm water was made, what was very rare and unique case in Bosnia and Herzegovina in that time, a place for sincere enjoyment of swimmers in a pool and relaxing. Later on a restaurant of Stara banja namely Izvor nowadays, was made just next to thermo mineral water origin. In 1981st a small children swimming pool was built as well. Planed spa development and infrastructure construction, and organized activities on tourist-catering offer development has started in 1986th by new company Spa-recreation centre Dvorovi establishment, when spa managing was transferred from local community of Dvorovi to newly established company. In last ten years, thanks to clear business plan and management, infrastructure construction and creation of good ambient made this spa recognized today. Two more swimming pools, fields for small sports are already made; new hotel is in construction, one well more is found with water temperature of 80 C, unfortunately not exploited yet.

Healing power of mineral water
The water is sodium-calcium-hydro carbonate- chloride one. Its analyzes proved that water usage gives very good results in curing chronic rheumatic diseases, lighter forms of diabetes, chronic gastritis, posttraumatic injuries of extremities and some forms of eczemas, chronic gynaecological diseases, lumbago, spondilosis, spondilitis and lumboistialgia.
It is recommended to the guests to use thermo mineral healing water in a form of baths, efficiently curing following diseases:
Inflammation of rheumatic diseases in resigned clinical and lab phase
Degenerative rheumatic diseases
After the injuries states
After direct surgery on locomotors systems
Scoliosis and kifoscoliosis
Peripheral arterial blood vessels diseases
Paresis and paralysis of peripheral nerves
Light skin diseases
Caries prevention by water drinking
Stomach, bile and bile ducts diseases – by water drinking
In Dvorovi Spa, full medical team consisted of doctors, specialist, physiotherapists, masseurs, medicine personnel, takes care about guests’ health.
The Spa gives medical services whole around the year, whereas tourist-catering services are mostly given over the summer time. Swimming pools usage is seasonal.
In summer time, a season of vacations, school holidays, excursions, organized sports events, 120.000 guests visit spa complex coming from Bijeljina, region and other parts of Republic of Srpska, Croatia, Serbia.

Congress tourism
In Dvorovi Spa, there are halls suitable for holding different seminars, symposiums, presentation etc.
Its favorable geographical position, its nearness to Belgrade, Novi Sad, Zagreb and Banja Luka make it suitable for congress tourism development.

St Stephan Hotel is categorized as high B category, with 42 two-bed rooms and 2 apartments. The rooms are with bathrooms, phone line and TV; over the winter, heating is made by thermo mineral water.
Within the hotel, there is a restaurant with 400 sits. Proleter Restaurant is with 300 sits, and Izvor Restaurant is with 120 sits and 200 sits outside on the terrace, a place the guests can enjoy in pleasant atmosphere and domestic cuisine prepared by culinary masters.
In St Stephan Hotel, there is a medical block with medical rehabilitation services. There is a lift in a hotel, too.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


Ancient history
Plovdiv is one of the most ancient towns not only in Bulgaria, but also in Europe. It was a contemporary of Troy and far exceeded the system of chronology in Rome, Athens and Constantinople. Its system of chronology started as far back as 6000 BC with the formation of some Neolithic settlements that existed until the Bronze era. From the year 2000 BC on, the settlement of Nebet hillock was surrounded by a stone wall and some 1000 years later was established the most ancient town in region – Evmolpiya. It stretched over 82 acres and encompassed the present Three-Hillock and the archaeological traits of the town was connected with the Roman Emperor Phillip II – 341 BC and the Thracian king Sevt III. From the 1st century BC the town was included in the Roman province of Thracia. It then became known as Pulpudeva, Philipolis, and Trimontzium. More than a century later, it turned into a metropolis with the right to cut coins. The preserved ruins of the Stadium for 30000 people, theatre, Forum, temples, stronghold wall, and two aqueducts of 23 kilometers in length are all symbols of its flourishing history.

Middle Ages
After the subsequent destructions by Huns and Goths, from the north towards Thracia came the Slavs and the Bulgarian armies of Khan Krum reached in the year 812. Plovdiv was under Bulgarian rule at the time of prince Malamir. In the year of 970 Prince Vladimir of Kiev destroyed the town and killed 20000 of its citizens. In the XI-XII centuries Plovdiv was under Byzantine rule. In the year of 1189, the armies of the Third Crusade headed by Fridrich I Barbosa remained for six months. The Fourth Crusade settled the so-called “Plovdiv Dukedom” in the year of 1204. Only a year after the victory of the Bulgarian king Kaloyan the town fell prey to the Byzantines and then to the Latin’s. This struggle continued from 1206 until 1344. A few decades later the armies of the Ottoman sultan entered.

The 18th and 19th centuries turned Plovdiv into a centre of the Bulgarian National Revival. Until this day, when one starts climbing the Three-Hillock area on the side of the Djumaya mosque one needs to make only a few steps on the cobbled streets, before he/she gets into the Bulgarian National Revival atmosphere of ancient Plovdiv. Up to the famous Hissar Gate, one can see many houses and churches, all unique in their architecture and picturesque look. Most houses in Plovdiv have their own names – the house of Hindliyan, Balabanov, Kuyumdjiev, and in the latter is located the Ethnographic museum and in its yard is held the International Festival of Chamber Music. One can also be captured by the enormous beauty of the ancient church “St Constantine and Elena” and the Cathedral temple “St Mother of God”. It is now clear to see why Ancient Plovdiv was honored with the UNESCO gold medal for contributions in the cultural monuments preservation.

Ancient Theatre
It was found by chance, a few decades ago, while executing strengthening work upon the southern stronghold wall. The Antique Theatre unfolded for the audience an impressive construction of the Roman times. The amphitheatre consists of two or three rings of 14 rows, each with the capacity to host close to 7000 spectators. A curious fact is that the names of the town headquarters have been carved onto the benches of each sector. The stage is on two levels with rich architecture and decoration. After all the exhausting restoration work and conservation it has been turned today into the Antique Theatre of Plovdiv, a cultural focus for a great number of Bulgarian and foreign festivals, concerts and spectacles. Its most common everyday function is as a place for relaxation for tired tourists who can sit on the benches and enjoy the magnificent panoramic view.

Under the Hillocks
From the Three-Hillock area one has the opportunity to see that Plovdiv has three other big hills around it – Bunardjik, Sahat Hill and Djendem Hill. In the past there was also a smaller hill, called Markovo Hill. Beside the hills is the large river “Maritza”. A walk alongside its bridges will bring you into the newest part of the city, or in front of the gates of the Plovdiv Fair.
Plovdiv can show you many more sites of interest – the Archaeological museum with invaluable antique collections of the Museum of the Unification, dated back to 1885 when the Kingdom of Bulgaria joined Eastern Roumelia, the rich Arts gallery, the exposition of “Zlatyo Boyadjiev”, the church “St Marina”, the Catholic church “St Ludwig” from 1863. passing through the tranquility of the Town Garden formed by Swiss gardeners in the beginning of the last century you will find yourselves in the bustling and most favorite place for the citizens of Plovdiv – the pedestrian Main street.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Visiting the Centre of Florence

At one end of this part of Florence is the main railway station-a rare example of modern architecture in the city centre. At the other end, a magnet for visitors and Florentines alike, is the Ponte Vecchio, the city's oldest bridge. It is lined with jewellery's shop, here since 1593, and presents a scene little changed since. Between these two focal points there is something to interest most people, from the frescoes of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Trinità to the awesome Palazzo Strozzi. Nearby is Piazza della Repubblica, originally laid out as part of the grandiose plans to remodel Florence when it was briefly the nation's capital. Most locals may consider it an eyesore, but the cafès here have always been very popular. This is also the part of Florence in which to shop, from the leather goods, silks and woolens of the Mercato Nuovo to elegant showrooms of the top couturiers in Via della Vigna Nuova and Via de' Tornabuoni. In the smaller streets off these, local artisans still continue Florence's proud tradition of craftsmanship, from stone cutting to restoration work.
Around Piazza della Repubblica.
Underlying the street plan of modern Florence is the far older pattern of the ancient Roman city founded on the banks of the Arno. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rectilinear grid of narrow streets lead north from the river Arno to the Piazza della Repubblica, once the site of the forum, the main square of the ancient Roman city. It later became the city authorities decided to tidy it up in the 1860s, building the triumphal arch that now stands in today's cafè- filled square. The most elegant Florence apartments are located here.
Ponte Vecchio.
The Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge-indeed, the oldest bridge in Florence was built in 1345. it was the only bridge in the city to escape being blown up during World War II. There have always been workshop on the bridge, but the butchers, tanners and blacksmiths who were here originally (and who used the river as a convenient rubbish tip) were evicted by Duke Ferdinando I in 1593 because of the noise and stench they created. The workshop were rebuilt and let to the more decorous goldsmiths, and the shops lining and over hanging the bridge continue to specialize in new and antique jewellery to this day.
Santa Maria Novella
The Gothic church of Santa Maria Novella contains some of the most important works of art in Florence. The church was built by the Dominicans from 1279 to 1357. Beside the church is a cemetery walled in with avelli (grave niches), which continue along the facade and the wall beyond. The cloisters form a museum. Here , the frescoes in the Spanish Chapel show the Dominicans as whippets – dominicanes or hounds of God-rounding up the “stray sheep”. The most important Florence hotels are located here.