A Century and a Half of Guarding
Already in 1856, the famous botanist Josif Pančić, first president of the Serbian Royal Academy, sent a letter to the government warning it that Avala, the valuable oasis of flora and fauna, is dramatically endangered. After returning to the throne, prince Miloš ordered putting a fence around Avala in 1859 to save it from devastation… We owe everything we have here to this and the later generations that continued these fine examples

Text: Zoran Plavšić and NR Press

It is six meters higher than a hill, thus it became a mountain. The most northern mountain in Šumadija. In its name it preserves the mysterious memory of the mythical Celtic land of Avalon, the island beyond pain and death. It has the shape of a cone, rich flora and fauna and has been one of the most favorite resorts of the Belgrade citizens ever since two centuries ago. Relaxing in such a beauty, in its old forests, by the Ladne Vode and Sakinci springs, has attracted numerous Belgradians and their noble guests. Both in the past and the present.
Naturally it is so: 597 floral species grow in Avala, some of them protected as natural rarity and internationally significant. There are also rare birds (21 protected species) and 16 kinds of mammals, among which six are protected as natural rarity. More than 370 hectares is under forests.
The Public Enterprise ”Srbijašume”, Forest Holding ”Beograd”, financed for several decades by the City Administration through the Department for Community and Housing Affairs, guards this treasure. Upon the suggestion of the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia and Belgrade Department of Environmental Protection, this whole complex with extraordinary features has been proclaimed a significant natural area and is under the protection of the Belgrade City Assembly.
– Our main functions in this estate of ours are environmental and protective, recreational, educational and generally cultural. We do our best to develop agriculture and improve the life of the local population, as well as to develop tourism, mainly recreational – says Saša Rajković, managing director of the Forest Holding ”Beograd” for National Review. – We are currently realizing the five-year plan of protection and development (2008-2012), and have ready plans until 2017. In cooperation with the Faculties of Forestry and Biology, during the following two years we will make an insectarium, a herbarium, as well as a geological collection (one should not forget that one of the minerals discovered here carries the name of avalit). Besides arranging the jogging and tracking paths, we will also make bicycle tracks together with the bicycle association. For even better protection, we will establish a pay toll system motor vehicles entering this protected area. There is also a plan to construct a take off paragliding runway… All this will contribute to Avala remaining an important point in the vicinity of Belgrade and to fortifying its position in the life of Belgrade.


Avala surely would not be what it is today if Josif Pančić, respectable Serbian doctor, botanist and first president of the Serbian Royal Academy, had not written to the Ministry of Education in 1856: ”Avala (is) endangered… The flora and fauna (in it) will disappear if something is not done…” Based on this letter, Prince Miloš (after returning to the throne in 1858 following the St. Andrew Parliament decision) ordered in 1859 putting a fence around Avala to save it from devastation.
Five years later, in 1864, after the villagers from surrounding villages had broken through the fence and cut down young trees for farm rods, the Belgrade County Office employed a ranger.
The writings of Felix Kanitz from 1868, famous travel writer, archeologist and ethnologist, one of the people who knew a lot about South-Eastern Europe, awarded with the Serbian ”Takovo Medal” and Medal of St. Sava, were preserved to the present time: ”In the foot of the mountain, on the northwestern side of Avala, stands a ranger’s house with a big garden and a seed plot. This is where plants are prepared for the park surrounding the old Turkish fortress. A hotel with a restaurant and a tram line will soon make Avala for Belgrade what Kahlenberg is for Vienna.”
One of the rangers at the time was Sima Rajković. From that Sima to the present Rajković named Saša, managing director of the Forest Holding ”Beograd”, who takes care of Avala, with whom the reporter of National Review spoke, many things happened in this mountain. At the celebration of the 150th anniversary of establishing the protection of Avala, Prince Miloš appeared among the Serbs for the third time played by the famous Serbian actor Miša Janketić, who depicted how people guarded forests in those days.
One of the important features of this mountain, the famous TV tower from which the whole Belgrade and half of Šumadija can be clearly seen, was recently erected for the second time. This masterpiece, an important part of world architecture, was designed in 1959 and 1960 by architects Uglješa Bogunović and Slobodan Janjić, and academician Milan Krstić was the static constructor. It was built from 1961 to 1964 and began working in 1965. It was 202,87 meters tall and was not dug into the ground but founded on three legs. It had a restaurant with a belvedere on top, and the emission TV, postal etc. equipment was in the rooms under the top. When the košava wind blew, the tower oscillated around its axis up to 1,5 meters. And then, on the 37th day of NATO aggression, on April 29, 1999 at 22:40 hours, this symbol of Belgrade was destroyed by a devastating projectile. Exactly ten years later, we can see it again, in the same place, two meters and 30 centimeters taller.
Naturally, this is much more than a simple restoration of an important edifice.


The second symbol of Avala, better to say the first, was erected in 1938: Monument to the Unknown Hero. It is on the highest point of the mountain, in the place of the medieval city of Žrnovo, and was created by our sculptor Ivan Meštrović. There, near the old fortification, on October 17, 1914, an unknown Serbian soldier died. He fought so bravely until the very last sparkle of life, that even his enemies were astonished. The German soldiers buried him with honors in the place he died and put an inscription: ”Unknown Serbian soldier”. After the war, the locals built a small monument created by architect Milan Minić. King Alexander I Karadjordjević ordered the removal of the old Turkish city ruins, but did not live to see the ceremonial opening of the colossal Monument to the Unknown Hero on St. Vid’s day in 1938. (The old monument is now in the Beli Potok churchyard.) The Forest Holding Belgrade takes care of this memorial complex too. As Andjelka Jevtović, landscape architect, told us, it has the largest flower pot in the Balkans, about 1.300 meters long and about a meter wide, full of flowers.
One of the significant monuments in Avala is certainly also the one erected to the hero of the First Serbian Uprising Vasa Čarapić, lord from Beli Potok. During the liberation of Belgrade in 1806, he was the leader of the attack on Stambol Gate, between the present National Museum and National Theater. The line of his penetration into the fortification is today a street named after him. His monument in Avala was erected on its northeastern slopes.
While coming to the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade, in which they and their Red Army had a great role, on October 19, 1964, Marshal Sergei Biriuzov (1904-1964), General Vladimir Ivanovich Zdanov (1902-1964), members of the official delegation (7) and all crew members (16) died in a plane crash. A year later, the Monument to Soviet Veterans created by Jovan Kratovilov was erected in Avala, in the place where they died near the mountain top.


We have already mentioned that Avala has been the favorite resort of Belgrade people ever since two centuries ago. Already then, in the XIX century, Belgrade aristocrats went hunting in Avala. Later, in 1924, the first mountaineering home in Serbia was built in Avala and named Mitrovićev Dom (soon afterwards, the mountaineering home Čarapićev Brest was also built). In the late 1930s, a luxurious hotel was built according to the project of the Russian architect Viktor Lukomski, a good merge of modern and medieval Serbian architecture. The sphinxes made of artificial stone besides which one climbs up to the hotel were designed by sculptor Vladimir Zagorudnjuk (1928).
Mountaineers, the Dorćol people say they were the first, while other Belgradians frown at these words, used to go to Avala on foot. They would come to Trošarina, the then suburb of Belgrade, by tram, and then walk up to the top. About fifteen kilometers.
After World War II, professors of the Belgrade University, especially those from the Faculty of Philosophy, used to go to one-day excursions with their students after the forests turn green. They would meet in Slavija in the morning and from there take a bus to Avala. The professors came with rucksacks on their backs. Among them were Miloš Djurić, PhD, popular Uncle Miša, Hellenist, translator, professor of ethics; Milan Budimir, PhD, the forefather of Serbian classical philology with his wife Cvijeta, also PhD, biologist, Branko Gavela, PhD, archeologist... They carried sandwiches in their rucksacks, packed in metal aluminum dishes with small holes, a bottle of water and a few more things, for the road. They used go to the foot of Avala by bus, and then take the marked tracking paths to Mitrovićev Dom, to eat roasted lamb or grilled meat. They would sit there until dark, talking, laughing, drinking. The diary of these „lectures in nature”, sometimes more important than those in strict academic forms, is a charming and important chronicle of the time.


Rush to Avala
In order to make Avala more popular and to protect this unique locality, the education of locals began last year. Rangers visited the villages beneath Avala – Beli Potok, Pinosava, Ripanj and Zuce, and told the girls and boys about the richness and importance of their mountain, about everything the forest hides, and taught them how to preserve it.
– We held classes in school this summer and made a classroom in the forest, under the sky. Combined with field work, it is the basis of further education of young people. We organized sports competitions of students in different disciplines within the Šumarijada and Cross Country – Navala na Avalu (Rush to Avala) events. We made a basketball court, placed wooden equipment for children to play – tells us Milorad Borković, author of this educational program.


Avala is cut by numerous brooks such as Konopljište, Vranovac, Duboki Potok, Gladjevac, Karagač, Dragušnica...


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