Skip to main content

Adventurous Travels for 6th Graders

Geographically lying in the heart of Balkan peninsula, a small town of Svrljig is acting as a capital of a relatively small Serbian land surrounded by exactly 38 villages that are, demographically speaking, living their lives on the edge of extinction. In just half a century human population of the area is more than halved with more and more 'haunted-like' villages containing more empty houses than those with smoked winter chimneys in which more people die than are born. The past of the area went through numerous changes over time and was pretty colorful to say the least. Like everywhere else, ever since the written literacy spread its wings only millennium ago, history of Svrljig is pretty well documented ever since the grate Schism of 11th century and we pretty much know what was like living here down to that time.

But history goes even further in the past - to those times we know little about and all we have is a ruin here and there we can try to understand and build a time frame and story behind it. If you want to explore such sites and build a speculation or two standing in the middle of a stone pile that once were a dignified wall of ancient villa, military tower of thermae, Svrljig is a perfect place to start with. Moreover, if you want to experience a nature at it's greatest and to stumble to sites of pure beauty just next to the modern ruins of almost empty villages and barely standing houses in contrast, you are just where you want to be. If you are a 6th grader with your own Indiana Jones hat and modern GoPro camera, even better.

Historically and in every way considered, the grand jewel title of all the Svrljig adventurous travels goes to gorgeous Niševac gorge. This was the prime location of the ancient life, lying just next to the Roman main road connecting Adriatic sea and Danube river wide enough to carry a luxury chariot without heavy disturbance from the built stones and strong enough to support the passage of the heaviest army of the time (there's the evidence of First Cohort of Cretans stationed around here). The gorge was an ancient spa once with strong mineral springs with healing properties perfect for a settlement once existed and named Timaco Maiori (Timacum Maius). The road and the town was recorded by Tabula Peutingeriana - ancient Roman road map within it's seventh section along the way of ancient cities of Lissus, Naissus and Rataria. The mineral springs and wellheads no longer exists today due to violent geological events in previous millennium or they are just depleted by now but the beauty of the ancient site is still alive and it is not hard to imagine how it once looked like.

The ruins goes even further in time in this area with archaeological evidence of Paleo-Balkan tribes. Before Romans, this area was once home of Triballi, a Thracian tribe that lived in the same times as Celts, Scythians and Illyrians in the prehistory of Southeastern Europe. Along with all the other extinct Indo-European people and their languages of the Balkans, Triballi fully dispersed during the Hellenization, Romanization and Slavicization of the region over the eons. It's maybe harsh to say but most likely Triballi, just like other people who lived here and build their settlements ever since the Neolithic, are now only part of our genes and heritage we have no substantial knowledge of.

But to get back to the travel itself, we had luck this summer, since the railway was closed and traffic free due to maintenance and rails replacement and while hiking Niševac gorge, 1.5 km long canyon carved in calcium carbonate rocks from Mesozoic period, we took the chance and stood on the Milutin Milanković bridge, 15 or so meters above ancient river, designed in the dawn of the first world war by one of the most famous Serbian scientists.

The river name originated back to the Triballi people who was first to name it Timahos, which is just one of the words from extinct Indo-European language which more or less means 'black water'. This particular stream is just one of five rivers that bind together into one of the biggest tributary of mighty Danube. The Romans used to call it Timacus or Timaco and the name stayed until today with Serbian version of Timok. Our next stop of this summer travels was exactly 25 kilometers upstream, not far from the spot where the river springs into life. The place is called Pandiralo and it is literally one of the kind natural phenomenon where Timok sinks into cave and appears again about 750 meters later with around 30 meters of difference in altitude. The legend says the cave goes even further under the mountain and connects other streams as well but this is still unknown to this date. It was also one of the kind opportunity to create three messages in the bottle which Viktor thrown into pit and hopefully, when water rises they will sink with the river and maybe somebody will find them in the future. Who knows, maybe they will appear somewhere unexpected.

Finally and unrelated to the river we also had a short trip to Samar cave entrance (Milutin’s Cave in the village of Kopajkošara on the slopes of the Kalafat mountain, some 15 kilometers west of Svrljig) and natural Popšica pool close by. The cave earned its nickname after Milutin Veljković, a well known Serbian speleologist in his time, who starting in the year of 1969, spent 464 days in the cave breaking the world record in bivouacing in an underground space. While we didn't enter the cave as it requires special equipment and guided help, still we had unique experience of the site for which we are hoping to visit again for more thorough investigation including passing through entire cave from end to end but I am afraid this is little bit above the pay grade of 6th grader and will have to wait for a year or two.. Or three.. Or even more.

Svrljig neighborhood and the town itself is one of those inspirational destination with power to hook you for years of returning trips and the beauty lies in wilderness of the whole experience. There is no fences or limited areas here and the only guide is yourself and your wanderlust gene. The food in restaurants is divine and the mountain air comes with healing abilities if you stay long enough. Svrljig area extends to the east to the famous Balkan mountains, the backbone of the largest peninsula of the southern Europe with more sites that come naturally enriched with variety of elements including uranium ore.

I am definitely affected by the Svrljig geography and history as well to the level that one of my science fiction stories included this particular area as the main plot for Arty's adventure. If you are eager to explore the story, it is based on "Serbian Kryptonite", the Jadarite mineral with chemical formula similar to the formula invented for the fictional substance kryptonite in the 2006 film 'Superman Returns'. The story is the final chapter of the FAR-T1 novel you can find on the blog.

Location and Character of Timacum Maius

Traces of the Roman Naissus–Ratiaria Road

Milutin Milanković

Tabula Peutingeria

Tabula Peutingeriane VII (nowadays Serbia)

The First Cohort of Cretans, a Roman Military Unit at Timacum Maius

Samar Cave Adventure

Samar Cave, a forgotten jewel worthy of Guinness record

© 2023 Milan's Public Journal