The Serbian farmlands blur past, the earth flat and piled high with haystacks machine made. The drivers on this side of the border are a little more courteous and we relax into the road with the soothing sounds of Hauschka. Although now we must slow down and overtake tractors pulling long carts of hay instead of horses.
The next star on our map lead us down narrow roads to the small village of Ostra. Unfortunately with no exact location we drove around the area outside of the village scanning the fields for any sign of a giant monstrosity. Suddenly there were other cars on the road and as we drove slowly behind them as they came to their destination at a small cemetery by the side of the road. Our own destination revealed itself next to this gathering funeral as we spotted a metallic glimmer thrusting upwards behind the church.
Designed by the sculptor Miodrag Zivkovic and the architect Svetislav Licina in memory of a winning battle by the partisan army on this site. This spomenik was different to the last made entirely from steel.
Shards thrusting from the ground towards the sky with cracked faces staring at the sun, the Ostra spomenik was now being overshadowed by a large orthodox cathedral being built on the site. The spomenik gave a feeling of a rocket embedded in the earth, of the thrust of violence, the splintering of lives and the triumphant sacrifice by those fighting against a daunting force. It had a more painful feeling than the last, despite the apparent triumph of the battle, but maintained a similar air of defiance.
Our next Spomenik required very little hunting down as its location was in the city of Niš. In a corner of the city in a giant memorial park three giant fists punch upwards through the earth in stark angles and shadows.
Created by the Yugoslav sculptor Ivan Sabolić, this particular monument has no stories to tell of glorious battle. The Bubanj forest was an execution site for over 12,000 civilians by German soldiers during WWII. Serbs, Roma and Jews were bought in by trucks and then slaughtered before being buried in trenches. When the Nazis began losing the war and were retreating from Yugoslavia in 1944 they ordered captured Italians to dig up the trenches and burn the corpses to destroy the evidence of their atrocities.
The size of the fists range from large, medium and small to represent the men, women and children ‘disappeared’ by the war.
Nearby to the spomenik was another large public sculpture known as the ‘glass cathedral’ designed by Alexander Buđevac which was beautiful and perhaps slightly more critical than intended. A geometric metal structure with regular panes of glass created not only a feeling of reverence, but also a construct filled with holes and doubt.
After installing ourselves in a nice room in the city centre we walked a little around town and discovered a cosy string of restaurants. It was a fairly large Serbian town and we decided to discover more the next day, starting with Cela Kula. Cela Kula is known as the skull tower and is pretty much as described, albeit quite weathered and missing many of its skulls. What the skull tower lacks in skulls it makes up for in its devastating history.
In 1809 a Serbian commander and his 3,000 strong forces were attacked by the Ottoman army. The Ottomons lost several thousand men, but managed to overcome the Serbs with sheer numbers. The Ottomans removed and skinned the heads of the Sebian army and sent the grisly trophies back to the sultan. The heads were then returned with orders to construct a tower to instill fear in all enemies of the Ottoman empire. Given the bravery and sacrifice of the Serbian forces the tower had the opposite effect and now stands as a reminder of Serbian resistance and fearlessness.
There was also a concentration camp in Nis which contained a small memorial museum focused on the resistance of the captives in the camp. Serbs, Jews and Roma people were imprisoned in the camp and organised a resistance and an unsuccessful prison break. Despite the fact that retribution for the break was brutal and swift, word of the resistance managed to spread and bring hope to other camps.
A particularly harrowing find was the memorial to the resistance placed against a wall used for the execution of those involved.
Despite the trying schedule we decided to visit the historic fortress area of Nis. Dotahn was beginning to show signs of relic fatigue by this point, but we soldiered on.
We discovered ancient Roman ruins, a beautiful mosque and a large number of neglected relics.
For a last boost of inspiration we stopped by an exhibition of Serbian ceramic artists which had some great work. Interesting hanging scultpure and beautiful forms crafted using wood and raku.
So soon our Serbian times had come to an end. Making our way through the countryside once more, passing by more unusual bus stops and spooky abandoned houses we decided to take the short cut through Bulgaria on our way back to Romania
As the hours moved through the day we found ourselves back on the familiar Romanian roads. Avoiding crazy drivers and dodging horse and carts once more.
For our last night in Romania before flying out to Hungry we stayed with a gorgeous family in Slatina. Cooking us amazing meals and sharing their home made liquor and stories. Dorina and Ionel made us feel like we were staying with family.
Drum Bun Romania!