Oh, Karlovci, my dear place, as a child I came here.
The great Serbian romantic poet was lucky to grow up and to spend his youth in the embrace of the wooded slopes of Fruška gora and the waters of the mighty Danube. We are, probably, late for growing up here, but not for acquainting with this place. It’s always a good time to socialise. Even when winter from the outskirts allows the frosty winds to stir up the waters of the beautiful blue river along the banks of the town of Branko Radičević.
1. Because Karlovci is a city museum
Prague is often mentioned as a city bearing this title. With a deep bow to the Czech capital, the jewel of Srem still has something to be proud of – wine, centuries-old education and spirituality. And the Danube as well. It bristled up, frowned, scowled. As if it wants to be alone. Only swans and fearless boatmen dared to touch it. What torment made him defy the waves of the raging giant? The banks are deserted, despite the coastal restaurants and cafes. It is completely different in spring, summer. It is immediately clear that we will return as soon as possible.
The core of the city is tiny, but special. It exudes elegance, the spirit of the former, true lordship. Without the admixture of newly composed architectural expressions. Stopped in some past, cultural times. And resists them. To the joy of its locals, but also visitors.
Among the magnificent architecture, the attention is attracted by a timeless but well-maintained house, now a cafe. It stands out with its oldest wrought iron door from the second half of the 19th century. Branko’s square is bordered by magnificent buildings – the Theological Seminary, the Magistrate, the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity, the Theological Seminary, and Stefaneum. And on a nearby hill, a building was built, with yellow-red facades to keep an eye on the town’s events
2. Because Karlovci bred the first Serbian grammar school
A bust greets us in an impeccably arranged garden. Branko writes. Enough to say “Branko”. It is well known which Branko. There is only one in Karlovci. We enter the lobby and read the history of the first Serbian high school. It was founded by metropolitan Stefan Stratimirović in 1791, and a year later it officially started working. The old building was demolished in 1890 and a new one was erected in the Serbian-Byzantine style with a richly decorated main entrance. Since the beginning of the 20th century, classes have been available to girls as well.
We pass through stained glass doors from which long corridors extend. Tiled floors, painted vaults, antique lamps and chandeliers, stone staircase with balustrade. It looks more like a palace than an educational institution. And the classrooms are somehow special. Each one brought to its purpose, woven of attention and love. Where we went to school, we sadly remembered our high school days.
We open a massive wooden door to the realm of books. Aristocratic. It smells of knowledge, poetry, and antiquity. The library consists of more than 18,000 titles, gifts from former students, professors, and benefactors. On the shelves are also the first photo type edition of Miroslav’s Gospel, a gift from king Aleksandar Obrenović, the first editions of Dositej Obradović, Vuk Karadžić, Branko Radičević…
Another room of special beauty. Ceremonial hall. All painted, in moderate tones, donors laid in the walls, velvet chairs. For concerts, performances, celebrations.
It had educated many great Serbian names, but she is widely known for Branko. In its benches, he composed the first rhymes. Today, it is a philological high school where modern and classical languages are studied. It is an honor to learn and teach in it. Its significance was perhaps best described by one of the former students and professors:
The history of the Karlovci Grammar School is an important and frequent part of Serbian cultural history. It is one of the most successful mints of modern Serbian culture.
3. Because the Patriarchal palace was the home of the head of Serbian church
One of the most beautiful bishop’s palaces in Serbia. It was built at the end of the 19th century in the style of Italian palaces, on the site of the former Pasha’s residence, which was the first seat of the patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church after the transfer of the archbishopry from Peć, until 1920. Today it is the residence of the Bishop of Srem. The court chapel was personally painted by Uroš Predić.
The rich treasury inherits many valuables – icons, manuscripts, portraits of metropolitans and bishops, throne crosses, golden and silver bowls, goblets, and icons. The oldest book is “Cvetnik”, from the 15th century. Inside the court garden, there is a Patriarchal crypt and a wine cellar. Moreover, the priests make wine. And it is great. The courtyard is currently being renovated and is not shining in full splendor.
4. Because the temple of Saint Nicholas is the favorite church of the newlyweds
The legend says that whoever drinks water from the Fountain of four lions, on Branko Square, will return and get married in Karlovac. Many of them have. Right in the cathedral church of St. Nicholas.
It was built in the middle of the 18th century. At the end of the same century, it was destroyed in a fire, but it was quickly rebuilt at the beginning of the 19th century, when it received a Renaissance facade, which adorns it today. The magnificent iconostasis, the work of Teodor Kračun and Jakov Orfelin, stands out. He keeps two relics – parts of the relics of another Serbian archbishop, Saint Arsenij Sremec, and the miraculous icon of the most Holy mother of God of Bezdin, as well as paintings by Paja Jovanović.
5. Because the west and the east love in Karlovci
Dressed in a baroque cloak, the influences of Austria-Hungary and the Turks lash together, interwoven with threads of various artistic styles. United in a fairy-tale Karlovci story. Common and personal. The streets are narrow, bordered by residential houses, many dilapidated, and some decorated with lace curtains, craft shops, wineries and wine cellars. We imperceptibly reached an unusual attraction, the Match Museum, then the Museum of Beekeeping and the Peace Chapel, built on the site where the famous Peace of Karlovac was signed in 1699. Also nearby are Ilion Palace and Sremski Karlovci Inherent Collection. The city is trapped in its culture and history. With no intention of modernizing as it seems.
6. Because Karlovci are magical also from above
Before the hike to the Duško’s lookout, from where the the view embraces and hugs Karlovci, you should take a break and refresh yourself with a glass of Fruška gora wine. The lookout was built as a large open-air stage with two levels, on which there is a gilded cross and the sculpture of the poet Dusko Trifunovic, who rests in Karlovac. Relax on the steps next to the famous poet and enjoy the view.
7. Because Srem cuisine is a combination of Serbian and “Swabian”
Good food has always been eaten in Srem. Very often and too much. If you have not had your breakfast, do not worry, everything can be made up. On the menu, all kinds of delicacies – from homemade chicken soup, “rindfleisch” (beef), bacon, cracklings, to meat delicacies. We will not be hesitant. We start from appetizers, through beef stew to rolled chicken liver and seasonal salad. Do not leave the table without a glass of “bermet”, aromatic dessert wine, which goes well with Bundt cake, a German cake that has become domesticated and is prepared in several ways – with the addition of hazelnuts, almonds, raisins, walnuts…
8. Because the poet of Karlovci is resting on Stražilovo
Srem calories are hard to burn, but worth a try. A walk through the Palace Garden or towards the direction of the Fruška gora mount. The closest picnic area is Stražilovo. There is no lack of well-kept mountain trails through nature, for popular hiking. We breathe deeply and rush towards Branko’s height.
Goodbye, beautiful Strazilovo,
Many have praised you to the skies,
Many have said, "Oh heavenly picture!"
However, no one has loved you like myself.