More Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Serbia

Prepare to be amazed again. 

Serbia, the land of everything and nothing all at once is located smack in the middle of the Balkans. And whatever is found on the Balkan is sure to blow you away. Our rich history and centuries-old culture are jewels of our nation, but who even cares about that when we have stunning landscapes, peculiar phenomena, and honorary titles of “largest” and “oldest” in Europe. 

In case you missed our previous fun facts about Serbia, you can find the article here.

The largest producer and exporter of raspberries

Raspberries are a national symbol of Serbia. Only second to rakija, raspberry is the most famous Serbian brand in the world. Why? Because this small country is one of the leading exporters of raspberries across the globe. 

Some clever agriculturalists started growing raspberries, the “red gold” of fruit, in the 19th century. In 1880, it was originally grown as an ornamental garden plant, and people probably had no idea how important that garden ornament was going to be for the Serbian economy. It quickly gained cult status among Serbian agricultural products and farmers.

To cultivate raspberries, you need delicate, near-perfect soil and weather conditions. Apparently, western parts of Serbia check all the boxes. Fertile soil, favorable weather, and a successful cultivation process made Serbia one of the largest producers of “red gold” in Europe. On average, this land exports 100,000 tons of fruit per year. That’s like… a lot of raspberries. 

The oldest city in Europe

Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia, is located on the confluence of the Sava and the Danube rivers at the crossroads of the Pannonian Plain and the Balkan Peninsula. Its name literally means “the white city.” I’m not saying Tolkien found inspiration for the greatest city in Middle Earth, Minas Tirith, also known as the White City of Gondor, right here in Belgrade, but it’s entirely possible. 

Bet you didn’t know that Belgrade is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in Europe and the world. 

Vinča culture is one of the most important prehistoric cultures in Europe and it evolved right around Belgrade in the 6th century BC. Since then, the city of Belgrade has been inhabitable by and belonged to a long list of empires and peoples—Traco-Dacians, Celts, Romans, Hungarian, the Byzantine Empire, the Frankish Empire, the Bulgarian Empire—before it finally became ours, in 1284. It was the 3rd century BC Celts who settled there and named it Singidun. After it was conquered by the Romans, it was given the name Singidunum. 

Paleolithic and Mesolithic stone artifacts found in Zemun, a city glued to Belgrade, indicate that nomadic foragers inhabited these lands for at least 8,000 years BC. Other tools from different time periods with ridiculously long names have been unearthed, meaning that the region was probably settled and fully inhabitable between 50,000 and 20,000 years ago. However, the first farming people who inhabited the area around Belgrade are associated with the Neolithic Starčevo culture, which flourished in these parts between 6200 and 5200 BC. That would make the White City of Serbia more than 7,000 years old. 

So, you get it. A lot of BC action went on here. 

Magic alien balls

The Povlen globes, located at the Povlen Mountain in western Serbia, are known for their unusual appearance, mysterious origin, and supernatural powers. Although they might not be supernatural at all, but their origin still remains a mystery. 

Remember the bizarrely shaped Rtanj mountain that resembles a pyramid? Many people believe it actually is a huge—if not the hugest in the world—pyramid is hidden under trees and dirt. If you’re thinking what most people here are thinking, you’re on to something: aliens. 

These perfectly round, gigantic balls are scattered all over the mountain. Some say they have healing powers. Others say that they were brought to Earth by aliens. A juicy theory suggests that these balls represent the entire planetary system and that aliens strategically placed them around Povlen, the mountain chosen as a post between their intergalactic travels. But what does science say?

Scientists never dig conspiracy theories about aliens and always give more reasonable, less supernatural explanations. About 150 million of years ago, the area of Povlen was covered by the sea. These globes were made by underwater tectonic disturbances (water volcanoes) that occur even today in Japan. But who are these so-called experts to claim that these balls are just a byproduct of nature and not something entirely alien-made? 

Blooming of the Tisa

Just before summer, in the last days of May and the beginning of June, something magical (and more rooted in science and biology) happens on the Tisa River in northern Serbia. A unique dance of life and death takes place above the still waters of the river, a dance that reminds us all of how short our lives truly are. 

The endemic insect called the long-tailed mayfly emerges out of the water to perform mating rituals. It conducts its tragic dances of love and shows the imperative of reproduction in the most beautiful yet bizarre way. Palingenia longicauda (which totally sounds like a Harry Potter spell, doesn’t it?), also known as the Tisa flower, swarms the surface of the water to breed, after which they fall exhausted to the water and perish. Their mate-and-die dance transforms the river into a pink, black, and cream-colored wing festival, making it look like blooming flowers. When the insects touch the water while performing their bridal dances, they trigger millions of miniature waves, like tiny raindrops. 

The mayfly spends most of its life (three years) in the larval phase, in the mud at the bottom of the river. When it reaches maturity, it flies out, reproduces, lays eggs, and dies. They don’t even have time to feed themselves once they’re adults. The moment they fly out of the water, their sole purpose is to breed and continue the species, so that in three-years time, their offspring will do the same: breed, die, repeat. 

The thing about these insects is that they leave the door to self-reflection open: what is the purpose of our short-lived lives? If they don’t make you question your existence, the Tisa flowers will convince you of the purity of these waters, since this particular species of mayfly does not touch polluted rivers. 

Swiss clockmakers who? 

Here’s a shocker: Serbia has been making clocks for at least 200 years before the Swiss. (Go ahead, google it.)

Lazar the Serb (or Lazar the Hilandarian) was a Serbian Orthodox monk and horologist (it’s not what you think, it’s just a fancy word for a watchmaker) who lived in the early 15th century. Lazar the monk is also the person who built the first known mechanical public clock in Russia, while the first Swiss clock-making guild wasn’t formed until 1601.

Lazar’s clock was one of the first 10 mechanical clocks of its kind in Europe. It was the first ever spring-driven clock (striking clock) that was made in Russia. It was ordered by the Russian Grand Prince, Vasily I. Clocks back then didn’t normally measure hours, but Lazar’s clock not only measured hours but could also show minutes. 

The clock was believed to have decorated the Spasskaya Tower (formerly known as the Frolovskaya), and it told precise time without failure for 217 years. It was then replaced by another clock, but that one burned in a fire. There are illustrations of a 16th-century miniature depicting the monk Lazar and the Grand Prince Vasily that kind of prove the whole thing. A similar mechanism exists today in Hilandar, the sacred monastery of Mount Athos, presumably built at the same time as Lazar’s clock, and it is still operational today. 

In 2004, on the 600th anniversary of Lazar’s invention, the Serbian Orthodox Church placed a memorial sundial on the Academy of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade. 

Swiss clockmakers, who?

Truly yours,