It dawned a sunny morning and bathed the bedroom into the warm shades of autumn. Quickly, and a little groggily, I dressed into the first thing I grabbed and ran in front of the building. There I was awaited by my pretty companion. Within her, as well as within me, smoldered the wish for adventure. Years have passed since the last time we, back when we were middle schoolers, went to Oplenac, to visit the birth place of The Great Commander-in-chief Karadjordje, and the gorgeous church at the top of Oplenac.
The fully packed bus went on its way, to the birthplace of the most distinguished leader of the First Serbian uprising The Great Commander-in-chief Karadjordje
Topola is an urban settlement in the municpility of Topola, which counts just a little bit over 5400 residents. It is only 80 kilimeters away from Belgrade, so our journey on this merily utumn morning didn’t last long. One of the biggest Serbian treasures is, certainly, the estate of the royal family Karadjordjević on the hill of Oplenac, next to Topola. The estate itself is their endowment which holds the magnificent church of St. George which is a part of historically-memorial complex, which also contains the house of King Peter I, the kings villa, the museum (“Winegrowers home”) and the kings vineyards.
Topola is first mentioned as a settlement during the Austrian occupation of Northern Serbia (1717-1739). In the list counties bordering Serbia after The Treaty of Pozarevac (1717) it was located in the District of Kragujevac under the name Dopala. Topola was originaly named – the village of Kamenica – because of the stream with the same name. It got its modern, current name, Topola because on the very road to Belgrade, next to a place called Krečane, there was a singular poplar tree, where lumberjacks stopped to rest, and arrange meetings at the poplar(poplar is topola in Serbian). And so the old name of the village was replaced with the new one.
On this area, directlz next to Topola in a village called Markovac(near Mladenovac) hamlet Crkvine died the first serbian princ Stefan Lazarevic (1427). Proof of this exists on a large stone memorial in a churchyard in Crkvinama. The memorial is made out Marble of Vencac and the writing from 1427 is still readable.
A mere hour of walking to the west, on the mountainside of Mt. Vencac, where his palace was, in 1510 seigneur Pavle Bakic seceded in the company of his horsemen, soon becoming the last Serbian despot in Hungary (1525-1537).
Bronzed Karadjordje was raised next to the road, an art piece made by an academic sculptor Stanimir Pavlovic. Karadjordje lifted his right hand upwards, towards the hill Gradiste where he was born in a cabin on the 16th of November 1752. Gripping the rifle barrel tightly with his left. Determined, strong, a firelock at his belt. It would seem he was like that on the year of 1804, when he lead the uprising and laid the foundation for the modern Serbian country.
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON
The father of the modern Serbian country, Djordje Petrovic, better known under the name Karadjordje a.k.a. Crni(black) Djordje – because he gave the Turks one mean headache – was born in the village of Visevac, near Oplenac, and met his sad end in the Radovanjski thicket, near the Velika Plana, on the 25th of July, 1817.
To this day there is a memorial complex in Visevac that was built on the eve of the celebration of 200th anniversary of the First Serbian Uprising, in 2004. Karadjordje, the leader of the First Serbian Uprising and one of the greatest heroes on Serbian history, besides being a brave, relentless, hero and ruler, as well as a fearless general, had his dark side which is a taboo among people. Besides his many great virtues, he was plagued by many flaws, some of which cost the country as well as the people close to him a great deal. Serbia paid with lost battles and fallen heroes, the people paid with their heads. Still it is a taboo topic…
The love and sympathy that Djordje had towards the young and beautiful, but already married, Jelena, was widely known. She was from a wealthy and affluent merchant family, while he was merely a poor man. So when Jelena once arrived to the water with the kettles, Karadjordje kidnapped her and took her to his home, and her husband – Jagnjil – left heartbroken.
However, the first real victim of Karadjordje’s bad nature and severe character was his father Peter. He was murdered by the vožd in Srem, where the family lived at the time having fled the Turks. According to the legend his father wanted to come back from exile, and Djordje having known that in doing so he would bring slavery or death for their entire family, shot his father in the back…
Upon returning to Serbia in 1796, the vožd confessed his sins and begged for forgivness, which the church granted. Soon after, his ill temper resurfaced – when he in a fit of rage in 1806 killed his own brother Marinko, because there were rumors circlining arround Topola that he was molesting women.
Besides being a great ruler, the leader of the uprising had an instiable hunger for women and drinking. He kidnapped one of the milosnica(a woman who is an out of marriage sexual partner to a man who takes care of her, and thus she is left to his “mercy”) from a harem in Belgrade – a certain Marija – which soon infatuated him, and not only became his passionate lover, but also a friend and comrade in all his battles. Not only did he arm her to the teeth, dressed her in mens clothing, he also gave her a mans name. And so Marija became Marijan, so that his wife would not find out. However, his loyal wife, Jelena, who stayed at home worried the entire time, birthing and raising his many children, found out about Karadjordjes infidelity. Instead of making writing angry letters, she convinced one of his friends to kill his beloved. After Karadjordje found out that one of his frinds, Pavle Cukic, who was one of his more distinguished men, killed his lover, he wanted to give him the death penalty. Thanks to the pleading of his wife, Jelena, as well as his other comrades, Karadjordje backed off and took Pavlo back, forgiving him for the murder of Marija.
THE NIGHT WHEN THE GOFATHER COMES
Karadjordje, after the fall of the First Serbian Rebelion, fled into Russia. However his heart pulled him back to Serbia. In 1814 there was a Greek revolutionary-liberation organisation under the name „Heterija“. Their plan and goal was for the mutual rebellion of Greeks, Serbs, and Bulgarians, and the creation of a large Balkan state that would remind of the former Byzantine Empire. Since he joined this organisation, Karađorđe, being already experienced in battling against the Turks, was chosen for the leader of the rebellion. After that he crossed into Serbia in secret(accompanied by a Greek) on the 11th of July 1817. He goes to his godfather Vujica Vulicevic(who hides him in Radovanjski grove), and asks to meet with Milos so they can agree on a joint action.
Milos, instead of meeting with the leader of the First rebellion, orders for Karadjordjđe to be killed, excusing himself under “the reasons of the state” and the fact that the Turkish government wanted Karadjordjes head.
And so it was. Karadjordje was betrayed and murdered by his own godfather; his head was cut off and taken to Milos Obrenovic, who later handed it over to the Turks. The Turkish government ordered for his head to be skinned, and then to be filled with hay and kept as an ornament as well as a warning to all potential rebels and anyone else who ever dared to defy the great Ottoman Empire.
King Peter I Karadjordjevic (1844-1921), the grandson of Karadjordje, was famous among the people as King Peter the Liberator, Petar Mrkonjic or more affectionately Uncle Pera. This nickname King Peter got in 1915 when during the retreat of the Serbian army over the barren lands of Albania, in which he actively tried to ease the pain of the people among the trenches.
Queen Marija Karadjordjević, better known as Marija of Romania, was the daughter of the Romanian king Ferdinand I Hencholern. She was a highly educated person. Before she got married she carried the title of the Princes of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. She spent the First World War in a hospital tending to the wounded.
She was loved among the Serbian people and a role model for mothers and wives. She was very active in charities. After the murder of her husband in Marseille, she remains with her son, Peter II and prepares him for his role to be king once he reaches adulthood. Upon his coronation she becomes Queen-Mother. She dies in exile in London in 1961 where she is also buried.
BIG EVENT IN TOPOLA
There is an old saying that says: “Tell me what you play, so I know who you are”. The dance possesses characteristics for each ethnic community and, like rarely any element of a local culture, paints the spirit of the people. The folk dance contains parts of ancient rituals, which followed human development, so that within it can be noticed changes in the peoples cultural way of life. It gets passed down from generation to generation and each new generation shapes it in its own way, giving it their own feelings, enriching it with pictures of everyday life, with the shine of its own epoch. The performers would perform in traditional clothing, representing their songs and dances, playing on the traditional instruments. The special attraction for us was the parliament parade in the streets of Topola. Everything is packed and echoing with the sounds of cheerful people, pigs spinning on a spit, the smell of fresh lamb, and sauerkraut boiling, the sound of children playing, school trips, and kids with proud parents…
I am slowly coming to realize that this parliament is actually comprised of its participants, who give fruits to the visitors of Oplenačka harvest, and is being led by two horsemen carrying the flags of Sabor.
The special traits of this place are certainly its residents. Hard working and exceptionally kind hosts will always open up the doors of their homes. Hospitality, candor and honesty, the famous national kitchen, authenticity of customs and traditional clothing, extremely cheerful and dynamic games, especially rich and interesting history are the real recommendations for travelers and admirers to come and visit this place.
Its usefulness and beauty stay within the memories of all visitors. Who wishes to return to nature, feel the calm and beauty of simple landscapes, certainly should visit Topola and its surroundings. As Topola expands, so does its offer to tourists. The word of its hospitality, the culture of its people, the greatness of its kitchen, authentic souvenirs, the music that tells that Topola should, in fact, be seen, but moreover felt and experienced time and again, is spreading. The agency that organised our journey is called Serbian Adventures, and they put and effort into making the entire trip comfortable and educational. What we would like to especially commend how highly educated the tour guide, Luka, was. Who is by profession an archeologist, and who kept a watchful eye on the group the entire time, selflessly gave us all the information, even the ones you cant find in books. He established and maintained interaction with all members of the group.
Over four decades, Topola holds Oplenac Harvest to celebrate grapes, wine, vineyards and wine makers. During the three-day celebration, contest exibitions are held of cattle, agriculture, fruits, grapes and wine. Wealthy haritage of this area is shown through exibition of old crafts and handicrafts. Recently, a contest exibition of souvenirs has been added. Oplenac Harvest takes place in the center of Topola, along main streets, from Wine square, along Wine street to Karadjordje Town, to Oplenac. Entire Topola is crowded by ethno stands full of grapes, wine, fruits, souvenirs and old crafts products. We passed by colorful stands of – honey, wine, rakija, candies and lollipops, smoking grills, loud sellers shouting out their offer as to attract as many people…
Here you can shop literally anything – from homemade products – honey, wine, rakija, ham, sweets, to plactic cups from e-bay, chinese shirts, brushes, brooms, dusters and „magic mops“… When we came out of fair bustle, a path through a grove leading to a beautiful church, appeared in front of us.
The name of the hill where the church is – Oplenac, comes from „oplen“, wooden parts of an oxcart made of oak and turkey oak, the trees this hill is covered with.
Karadjordje dynasty mausoleum is placed in a crypt under the church which is fantastically decorated, and which was with respect painted by russian painters and icon painters. Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjević built his first vineyards here, and king Petar I Karadjordjevic started building the mausoleum church and the entire history-memorial complex which will later on become endowment of Karadjordjevic family in Oplenac.
However, just like any big manifestation, it is followed by various of imperfections, which we wish to share with our readers. One of them is to do with food and beverage, ratio of price and quality:
FOOD IN OPLENAC
First we were majorly dissapointed in the „Vozd“ restaurant. Attractive on the outside, this restaurant did attract us at first, because apart from its beautiful garden in which you can enjoy the October sun, with a wonderful view of Topola and Oplenac, it was quite full. We sat at one of the rare unoccupied tables, but instead of our nostrils beeing filled with smells of roast lamb under the ashes and homemade baked potatoes, there was absolutely no smell whatsoever, coming out of the kitchen. We waited (despite our failed attempts of waving at and shouting after) the waitress to notice us for good 47 minutes, and in the meantime I optimistically went to take the menu, as to find something warm and tasty for an empty stomach.
Eventhough our guide mentioned to us that the prices in Topola are significantly lower the in Belgrade, this time that was not the case! And, clearly, during harvest time, a totaly different price list applies! The prices are significantly higher than (almost anywhere) in the capital’s restaurants, so a portion of cevapi cost us 900 dinars, famous Karadjordje steak around 1200 dinars, and the planest skinny burger – around 800 dinars. The prices for drinks were also not low at all. Albeit the harvest times, wine tasting and worshiping everywhere around, 0.10L of wine cost around 280 dinars, and the minimal glass of rakija, barely enough for a tooth, around 230 dinars.
Dissapointed with the lousy service, slow and not interested waiters, and modest selection with sky high prices, we rushed out from this place and decided to try our luck under the tent. I was a little excited because this was my first ever meal „under the tent“, so we chose to go to the tent that smelled the best of meat which sizzled on grills. We literally had to fight for a spot. We were greated by good-hearted and merry guy, and offered us to sit at his table. He was not the happiest with the lamb he got – for 1200 dinars per portion, 300 g of lamb was more then 200 g of bones, tendons and fat. Here we are going to show you the pricelist we took a photo of on that occasion:
Greasy paper, unrealistic prices. Cevapi were solid, but the prices of salads, drinks and bread were yet again unrealistically high. The waiter was justifying it, as men would say, “it is not the boss’s fault, the municipality sat the rent far too high”. Although we paid our modest meal an arm and a leg, this place didn’t have – running water or any other extra toilet!
A bar we sat in later on, was by itself nice and pleasant, staff was kind, but toilet hygiene was not at a satisfactory level. Not even close, because it could not capacitate the number of people, tourists, those walking by…as many as there are during this manifestation!
We hope that these omissions will be corrected in the future because this manifestation, not only represents Serbia to the world, but with its festivity, diversity and warmth, it warms hearts of its visitors.
Well, let’s sum up this day too…
After our a couple of hours long walk, we met locals, merry, open, hospitable, from whom we heard all kinds of mysterious and secret stories about this area, which you will be able to read about in our next text, tired but filled with happines and new findings – we went towards our bus and back to Belgrade.
We will not forget you, Topola! See you next year!
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