Vrnjacka Banja, an oasis of archeology, nature and tradition

Vrnjacka Banja is the most popular health resort in Serbia, situated 200km south of Belgrade. The history of this spa town begins in the period between 2nd and 4th century when the Romans built Aquae Orcinae, a health resort in the province of Moesia Superior intended for their soldiers to rest. It was believed that the water that rose from the depths of the earth was a gift from Orco, the God of the Underworld. The presence of the Romans was also evidenced by the discovery of Fons Romanus or the Roman source of warm mineral water. During the excavations, archeologists found a lot of coins with the images of Roman emperors, as well as a pool dating back to that time.

According to the historian Milan Sotirovic, the town’s name comes from a medieval craft known as vrncanje, or, in Latin, aptacio logogit superiorum crepidae, meaning making leather straps for the top part of the traditional Serbian shoe – opanak. The Serbs inherited this craft from the Greek farmers. Today, in Vrnjacka Banja, you can see the world’s biggest opanak which stands at 3.2 metres long. A legend says that, in order to avoid serving their Turkish conquerors, local Serbs closed all the water sources. After the liberation from the Ottoman Empire, Baron Sigmund Herder discovered new mineral water wells in 1835 following the orders from Prince Milos Obrenovic. He analyzed the water and confirmed its high quality.

The modern history of this spa town begins in 1868 when other mineral water springs were discovered. There are seven in total, with four used for spa treatments. Topla Voda (Warm Water) is the oldest and most famous spring, used by the ancient Romans in the period between 1st and 4th century with a temperature of 36.5°C which is the equivalent of the human body temperature. It is classified as acidulous carbonic thermal water. The Sneznik spring was discovered in the late 19th century and the water in this spring has a temperature of 17°C. After the First World War, the water here was used in spa treatments together with the water from the Slatina spring which temperature is 24°C, and the Jezero spring (27°C). All of these waters are classified as ground alkaline.

Fons Romanus was discovered in 1924. The water sprang from a neatly carved rock, at the depth of 2.4 metres. Two hundred Roman coins were found near the Srimski-Izvorno hot spring dating back to the time of Augustus to Valentinian. The same year, remains of a pool were discovered also at the Fonus Romanus. The pool was filled with warm mineral water from an independent source which was carved into the rock in the shape of a small well. Inside the pool, there were 60 Roman coins, a ring and a key. This spring was in use from the late 1st to the second half of the 4th century. Thanks to the architect Mihajlo Mitrović, a glass pyramid was built above it in 1989 to protect this archeological find.

The Bridge of Love

According to the legend that tells the tale of one of the most romantic places in Serbia, this is the bridge were a man and woman – Nada, the teacher, and Relja, the soldier – met and fell in love. Then the war came and Relja was deployed to Greece where he fell in love with a Greek woman. Nada was immensely brokenhearted and eventually fell ill and died. Today, girls, touched by the ruthless destiny of Nada and wishing to preserve their love, write their names and the names of their boyfriends on a lock which they then place on the railing of the bridge, the favourite meeting place of Nada and Relja. After the lock is secured tightly to the railing, the girls then throw the key into the river.

Next to The Bridge of Love, there is a horse carriage waiting patiently for the tourists to take them sightseeing through the beautiful Vrnjačka Banja and its central park. The carriage takes tourists through the park so that they can get acquainted with the rich flora there. The park also has the Japanese Garden, made in 2011, which spans 3,000 square metres and is the epitome of the Japanese culture and horticulture. In the heart of this garden there is a little lake and an island with a tea house. This is the second Japanese garden in Serbia. The first one was opened in Belgrade.

After riding in a carriage, you can pop over to the Carnival stage which is in the close proximity to the Bridge of Love. Since 1868, when the modern history of Vrnjačka Banja began, this is the place where the Kerme Ottoman took place – the precursor of the Vrnjački Carnival. Back in the day, merchants used to sell their products at the Kerme to help those less fortunate. The Kerme was also the meeting place of artists, intellectuals, soldiers, actors, theatre troops and locals. The first carnival under masks took place in the 1960s, while in 2005, the Tourist Board of Vrnjačka Banja organized the first ever international carnival. The town has been a member of the Federation of European Carnival Cities since 2006. The carnival takes place every July and lasts for 7 days.

Many contemporary hotels and villas were built in the early 20th century, including the Belimarkovic Villa, also called the Castle of Culture. This is one of the oldest buildings in the town, located on a hill above a water spring. The Castle was built in the late 19th century, in the period between 1888 and 1894, in the Northern Italian style by the General Jovan Belimarković, the close collaborator of the then Serbian King Aleksandar Obrenović. The general’s heirs had lived in the castle until the 1970s when the Castle was bought by a state to be declared a national heritage locality. Today, this is the place where numerous cultural events are held – concerts, presentations and cultural initiatives in general. Inside the castle, there is a museum with a permanent exhibition of Serbia’s historical and traditional items. Other popular cultural events in Vrnjačka Banja include the international classical music festival, a literary competition, the Days of Serbian Theatre, the Festival of Artistic Creativity and the Motion Picture Screenplay Festival.

The Mountain Goč lies nearby, at an altitude of between 220 and 330m. Its slopes are covered with dense forests of beech and conifer, plum and raspberry orchards and numerous vineyards. This is an ideal place to enjoy unspoiled nature and ample mountain springs. One of the best experiences here is skiing down a 520-metre-long track. The Zapadna Morava River is some 10km from Vrnjačka Banja and this is the place where various sporting events are organized. You can also enjoy a spot of fishing here.

One of the delicacies of Vrnjačka Banja are definitely its cheeses and grilled trout. Also, there are traditional dishes like the Serbian gibanica (pastry filled with fresh cottage cheese), quiche with spinach and ćevapčići, the Serbian style kebab. People who like brandies can enjoy the delicious plum and grape brandies. As for the wine, 43km from Vrnjačka Banja, there is a small town of Aleksandrovačka Župa famos for its viticulture and oenology. This is the place where wine making has been going on for centuries and where it remains unchanged to this day. During the First World War, the local wine makers were trained in France and they have been passing on their knowledge and family traditions for over a century now. The Vino Župa wine cellar was opened in 1956 and it tells a story of courage, wealth and power with Celtic warriors, Roman legionnaires, and Turkish soldiers battling Serbian armies. This is also where you can taste many beautiful wines.

This post is also available in: Italiano

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