Wednesday, July 17, 2013

SERBIA: Vojvodina Monasteries

Like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia still has some issues with what part of the country belongs to whom.  Montenegro, seen in the map below in the southwest part of Serbia, declared independence in 2006, and Serbia did not seem to object to much, even though it left them land-locked. It is interesting to me that in 1992, Kosovo had done the same thing, but with disastrous results: the Kosovo War, which led to NATO bombing the Serbian armies in Kosovo.
Kosovo and Montenegro shown on this map as part of Serbia

Vojvodina is a region of Serbia in the north that is similar to what Kosovo used to be (an autonomous province of Serbia). Unlike Kosovo, where the population was and is mainly Muslim Albanians and Orthodox Serbs, Vojvodina is both multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. And unlike Kosovo and Montenegro, it seems to be content (for now) to be a province of Serbia.
Vojvodina is the northern end of Serbia, shown here in pink.

As we left Belgrade and drove north, we traded mountains for rich, flat farmland edged with a polka dot border of red poppies:

Most of the farmland is worked in small units. As in the rest of the Balkans, we saw no evidence of the corporate farming that has taken over the United States. Individual farmers had vegetable and fruit stands set up along the road, and many of them sold flavored vinegars, honey, and wine along with their fruits and veggies. I would have loved to buy some of the vinegar to bring home in my carry-on luggage. Darn TSA! We did buy some fresh cherries and apricots.  The cherries were good, but the apricots were a little early.

The Vojvodina province is especially famous for its many Serbian Orthodox monasteries, the reason we had scheduled part of our Serbian Tour there.

Our first stop was the Novo Hopovo Monastery. One of the oldest of the region's monasteries, it dates back to the 16th century. Most of the monasteries we saw had a construction similar to this one--a U-shaped outer building protecting a church in the center courtyard. The yellow building below is the offices, library, and monks' quarters of the monastery:
The church within:

The church was badly damaged during World War II by Croatian Ustase forces (one more piece in the complex relationships between Balkan countries), and restoration of the intricate frescoes is ongoing:

The Baroque iconostasis was carved and painted in the 18th century and has also undergone renovation. 

The Baroque central chandelier is decorated with dozens of miniatures of Orthodox saints encased in elaborate gold frames:

We have seen many versions of this icon painting of Mary and Jesus in Orthodox churches. It is common to expose only the faces and hands, and to cover the rest of the painting with silver to protect it from the many touches and kisses it receives from worshipers. 

The inner courtyard surrounding the church was especially well-groomed and beautiful, and we enjoyed seeing the bearded and skirted Orthodox priest chatting on his cell phone:

Our second stop was the Old Hopovo Monastery, a charming little church not that much older than its sister the Novo (New) Hopovo Monastery.  Unfortunately, we could not take pictures inside as there was a christening of an adult woman going on.  Our guide told us that those who were not christened as infants can be christened before marriage so that they can be married "forever" in the Orthodox church.  No christening, no church marriage.

 This little monastery was protected by a forest rather than by monks' quarters.

Our third monastery was the Krusedol Monastery, built in the early 16th century.  It is considered by many to be the most important of the Vojvodina monasteries.  I loved this castle-like entry:

The Krusedol Monastery has the typical layout of the monks' quarters surrounding a courtyard and a church.
We learned that there is a five-year preparation period to become a monk or a nun in the Orthodox church. As in the Catholic church, monks and nuns are celibate. Priests, however, attend a religious seminary from age 14 to 18, then must get married before they are ordained. If they want to postpone marriage, they can attend university for a few years. Priests generally make a pretty good living and therefore make desirable husbands.
Unfortunately, although the church was open for visitors when we were there, we were not allowed to take pictures inside.

I did find a few pictures on the Internet. This stunning interior appears to have avoided major damage during Serbia's various wars:

The grounds of the Krusedol Monastery were some of the most beautiful of all the monasteries we saw:

As in so many other places in the Balkans, there was a small booth inside the monastery walls selling home-grown and preserved food items.  We bought a bottle of fruit preserved in honey, something we hadn't seen before:

Our guide took us to a country inn-style restaurant for a late lunch, where I had this moist and very tasty duck roll with homemade flat noodles:

Next: A stroll around Sremski Karlovi and Petrovaradin Fortress.


  1. I loved the monasteries of Vojvodina, partly because of the beautiful churches, but also the beautiful, peaceful, countryside.

  2. The difference is that Montenegro didn't attack and kill its Serbian population (about 33%) while in Kosovo the KLA started kidnappings, killing and terrorist attacks on the Serbian population and the Serbian police.
    There was also a long history of violence by Albanians towards Serbs and they was always a strong non-loyal element there. The New York Times even ran pieces in the early 1980's of Albanians attacking Serbian religious there and gradually chasing off the Serbian population.

    Vojvodina is majority ethnic Serbian - around 70% and doesn't have the long, long history of internal ethnic violence as does Kosmet. Only during outside invasions such as the World War invasions by the Nazis and their puppets (Croats, Hungarians) was there violence.

  3. I love that the painting was covered in silver to allow it to be touched. There are a few things I need to coat in silver to protect from grandkids :).

    What a beautiful country.

  4. First off those poppies and that glorious sky are gorgeous (at the top of the post), and I enjoyed reading about your travels through the monestary. Last Road to California, someone had made a "silver Madonna" much like the one you showed (but she made it out of fabric). I never knew why they coated their paintings in silver--now I do.

    I'm loving your travels. . . on to the next one.