Before we wave goodbye to the summer and ask it to return quickly, let us visit more natural jewels of our homeland. This time in the very heart of Šumadija. Where the girls are pretty as roses. The landscape the great poet Dobrica Erić described as “a piece of paradise, which God deliberately or intentionally dropped from heaven.” We are driving on the highway to Niš, via Kragujevac.
Why visit Gruža Lake
1. Because the Gruža Lake is the Šumadija Sea
It was created by damming one of the longest and water-richest rivers of Šumadija, the Gruža River, so it was named after it. It covers 900 hectares and is the fifth largest artificial lake in Serbia. The river bank, about 40 kilometres long, is quite rugged and usually accessible. It is rich in fish, especially carp, pike, catfish, golden carp, bream, perch, but may find some other specimens, too. There are fishermen all over the place. They take pleasure in casting fish hooks, chatting, and preparing food. Numerous birds keep them company. There are about 90 species of them, although the data is quite different. Even fans of rowing, kayaking as well as surfing enjoy it when the wind is favourable. As the average depth of the lake is about six meters, the water is pleasant for swimming. Along the river bank immersed in meadows and groves, several lanes and pathways are arranged for walking, cycling and jogging. Or you can just sit on a bench, enjoy the view, chat with your friends, or be alone and read.
As far as we can tell, there are no arranged public river beaches in the area. Some of the owners of the river bank houses have arranged an access to the river, but only from their houses. However, we have learned from the fishermen that from recently there is a place for splash in a river. La Terrasse, the original Šumadija name… but as the landlord lived in France, we accepted and forgave. Except for the name, he intertwined a bit of French charm into his piece of paradise just on the river bank towards the village of Žunje near Knić. A small restaurant, a cafe and a swimming pool with an amazing view on the lake. The way it was made gives the impression the pool water merges with that of the lake. Although the river beach under the terrace is arranged, swimming is prohibited. There are several pontoons all around. The first neighbour has had the gravel poured and a wide beach made, so you may jump into the river but at your own risk. This is where accommodation facilities are being built to a large extent. It seems that tourism is being rapidly developing in the Šumadija Sea. And it should, because the reasons are so many.
2. Because the church in Borač is a stone beauty
The official name is the Temple of St. Archangel Gabriel. The church property is very large and impeccably arranged. Flowers, trees, benches for rest and a drinking fountain for drop-by travellers to refresh themselves and fill their bottles for a walk through the forest. We climb up the small path to reach the small stone church. It has nestled at the bottom of Borač karst, sheltered by steep cliffs from three sides and by century-old linden trees from the fourth side. The churchyard has a number of stone slab graves. It was built in the Byzantine-Serbian style with only two small narrow windows. We enter through a beautiful wooden door. The interior hides a magnificent wooden iconostasis with a wooden cross above. Only remains of the frescoes to be poorly seen date back to the XVI century. The original church was built during the reign of the King Dragutin, by the end of the XIII century. It was restored by the Emperor Dušan, and later on by many other Serbian rulers. It has been ravaged by the Turks for the last time, and it was restored thanks to the efforts of the Knyaz Miloš in 1818. It has been under the protection of the state since 1971.
Between the church property and the country houses, an old cemetery in Borač is situated. There are several hundred tombstones in various shapes and sizes, mostly leaning on different sides, some of which are covered with moss. They are mostly narrow and elongated with a cap (“kapa”) on top, which is why they are called “kapačari”. Rich, diverse, vivid and rather strange patterns and prints. According to some data, the oldest date back to the XVI century, and according to other data, they were erected in the period from the First Serbian Uprising to the First World War. It must be that they have not been researched enough. The thing they have in common: they are made of stone from the Borač quarry and are the work of the local stonemasons.
The whole scene somewhat resembles the old Rajač cemetery near Negotin. As for the unusual ornamentation and shapes, as well as the overall impression – it is overgrown with grass and neglected. The Church of St. Archangel Gabriel and the cemetery are cultural assets of great importance.
3. Because Borač karst hides the remains of a medieval town
It is a rare terrain relief phenomenon. It is part of an extinct volcano that was formed about 20 million years ago, within the Rudnik’s massif. What sculptures nature has carved out of petrified lava! Today it keeps a watchful eye over the Gruža valley. The rocks are extremely solid and durable, of unusual colour and partly shiny, so the Borač stone is used as an ornament in building. It was declared a natural monument in 2019. The peaks can only be reached on foot, by a pathway through the forest. We walk slowly, breathe-in nature, and look for forest fruits. The highest peak is at 515 meters above sea level.
On a cliff just eight meters lower, there are the remains of the medieval town of Borač. The name is believed to have been derived from the verb “to fight” (“boriti se”), because it was often a target of long and dreadful battles. Although it was mentioned for the first time in 1389 in connection with the Hungarian incursion into Serbia, it is assumed that it existed much earlier, back in the reign of the Roman Empire that built the first fortress. It was then mentioned in the Despot Stefan’s Charter in 1405, and since then it has been recorded in documents as “the famous town of Borač”, so it is not surprising that the famous Venetian cartographer Fra Mauro put it on the world map. With the fall of the Serbian Despotate, it lost its strategic importance and then fell into disrepair.
The town was completely adapted to the configuration of the terrain. It had six towers and was divided into an upper and a lower town, and also served as a shelter for the population during enemy attacks. Today, only the remains of certain facilities may be seen, such as the tower of a circular base and a rectangular building that was a church. It was declared a cultural monument of great importance in 1983.
The visit give you the right feeling. Physical activity, lush nature and rich history in a single climb-up!