Our Lady’s Mountain
Legend has it that she is the protector of the Sokobanja valley. It has its own mysterious buildings, fire-birds, mythical heroes, medicinal waters and herbs, colonies of peonies. It has canyons, caves, developed hiking trails. It touches Ozren in height, on the Vlasina pass. It does not long for tourists, it is more comfortable in the shade and solitude, but there is every chance that they will soon long for it. We passed its paths and villages, its little-known corners. You will see what we have brought

Text and Photo: Dragan Bosnić

Devica is a mountain in Eastern Serbia, near Sokobanja. Legend has it that this mountain of Our Lady is the patron mountain of the Sokobanja valley. At the foot of Devica, near the spring of the Moravica, is the Marko’s Cave. Legend has it that Prince Marko’s horse left a hoof print at the entrance. On the north side of Devica are Sokobanja and the Moravica river, on the east Galibabinac, on the south Labukovo, and on the west the road that connects Sokobanja and Labukovo. The Moravica canyon is deep, the fortified Sokograd rises above it. The mountain is relatively flat at an altitude of about 1,100 meters and interspersed with many caves and other karst forms. Except for parts near Sokobanja, this mountain has no major tourist facilities and is relatively unknown to the general public. But it is frequently visited by mountaineers and collectors of medicinal herbs. Thanks to Our Lady’s Mountain and nearby Rtanj, Sokobanja is a center for the distribution of medicinal herbs in Serbia.
Devica borders the Sokobanja valley on its eastern side. The mountain Ozren is in the immediate vicinity, and the two mountains meet at the Vlasina pass, at about 900 meters above sea level, between the village of Jezero and Sokobanja itself. The highest peak of Devica is Čapljinac (1,186 meters), in the central part of the mountain. In its higher parts, mostly bare, Devica also has karst surfaces. Čapljinac, or Manjin kamen, is located in the middle of a dense forest, and almost nothing can be seen from it. That is why Oštra čuka, a hundred meters lower, is a more frequent destination for hikers. Oštra čuka resembles Rtanj in shape and can be seen from a great distance, even from Suva planina. The mountains of southern Serbia, Pomoravlje, Šumadija, Jastrebac, Kopaonik, Rtanj and Stara planina can be seen from Oštra čuka. Equally attractive is the peak Aleksin kamen, southeast of Oštra čuka, on the highest ridge of Devica, which gradually leads all the way to Čapljinac. From Sokobanja to the village of Radenkovac, over the peaks of Oštra čuka, Aleksin kamen and Čapljinac, there is a well-maintained20 kilometers long hiking trail Mountaineers and guests of Sokobanja enjoy the hidden beauties Devica, on one of the longer or shorter trails. Devica can be reached from the direction of Niš, from Sokobanja, or from the Vlasina pass.


On Devica, mostly along the perimeter, there are a couple of villages. The most protruding is Skrobnica, on the steep banks above the Tisovik creek. It is obvious that the villagers guarded every inch of the flat soil for cultivation. About thirty years ago, two hundred souls lived in a spacious village. Today, there are only half of them, and they are probably twice as old. However, they are hardworking, lively and, above all, curious people. In the wilderness of Devica, they discovered the habitat of a very rare steppe peony, which was thought to grow only in the sands of Deliblat. At the beginning of June, the Kosovo peony blossomed at the Bogovo gumno site, at 950 meters above sea level. The other one, narrow-leaved, which was found by the pickers of medicinal herbs, bloomed, they say, about ten days earlier. During the harvest of medicinal herbs, the steppe peony was accidentally found by Mira Milutinović, who took the botanists of the Institute for Nature Protection to the mountain. Since only five species of wild, strictly protected peony grow in our country, the habitat on Devica was a big surprise for experts. It is interesting that peonies grow in places where cattle used to graze. As the mountain herds grew smaller, so the peony spread across the sunny slopes, in the partial shade of the low trees.
According to the locals, in the vicinity of this village there are unusual stone figures made of even more unusual material. They say that they have been seeing them for half a century, and they cannot find out who made them, or how they made them, or what he made them from. The figures are not bothered by rain, snow or winds, which can be unpleasantly strong here. The figures, they say, change shape during the night, so most locals avoid those occupied locations. As a comparison, not so long ago, the inhabitants of Radan Mountain widely bypassed the Đavolja varoš (Devil’s Town). And then that group of sand pillars became a place they are proud of and to which in a way they owe their sustenance. Let’s hope that the villages of Skrobnica will also attract tourists with their red peonies, mystical figures, an abundance of medicinal herbs and a picturesque village. And the mountain that is perfect for long walks.


We are still in the area of ​​Skrobnica, municipality of Knjaževac. At the site of Bogovo gumno, where peonies grow on the slopes of Devica Mountain, on the flattened top of the hill, at an altitude of about 950 meters. The name of this site is certainly unusual. It is known that guvno is a place where grain is thrashed. But the two spacious circles here, bordered with stones, are large even for God’s harvest. Unusual stone circles have not been explained to date. It is believed that mysterious circles served our ancestors to observe the Sun and the Moon and make calendars. If you reach these circles and stand in the center of them, you will see nothing but the perimeter of the circle and the sky. Each circle was surrounded by a special stone wall, which is a demanding construction work. Both circles are perfectly placed in space. The diameter of the larger one is 120 meters, and the smaller one is 80. The smaller one is damaged, someone tried to plow it.
In the larger circle, slightly decentered, there is a votive cross dedicated to the Fiery Mary. It was raised by Rosa and her sons, back in 1938, for the health of people and cattle and for general wellbeing. The Fiery Mary is known from the folk religion of Serbs and Bulgarians as the ruler of fire and snakes. It is believed that she is the thunderer’s sister, who lights the fire with lightning. Her holiday is July 30 according to the Gregorian calendar.
Remains of similar buildings exist throughout Europe and Asia, especially in Britain. Traces of ancient calendar knowledge, obviously, remained with the people. This is evidenced by the fact that before the appearance of modern calendars, almost every illiterate Serbian peasant knew exactly how many days there are until the saint day or Christmas. The most famous circular buildings that have been proven to have served as ancient observatories include, among others, Arkaim in Russia, Goseck in East Germany, circles from Sarmizegetusa in Romania, as well as Slavic circles in present-day Germany.


If we go through the northeastern slope of Devica, it is worth visiting an unusual village at the entrance to an even more unusual gorge. Stogazovac is a village in the Zaječar district, ten kilometers away from Knjaževac. The Zubetinac river, which cut the Ždrelo gorge at the exit from the village, is called the Knjaževac Meteors by many. The gorge is about 300 meters long. In the gorge, right next to the river, limestone rocks rise to a height of 70-80 meters. The highest cliffs are Lisičji and Zdravački kamen, on the right side of the gorge. Lisičji kamen is also called Momin or Devojački kamen. According to the legend, during the Turkish occupation, a Serbian girl jumped into the abyss from there, to her death, in order to avoid being forcibly taken to the harem. Zdravački kamen is at the very entrance to the gorge. In its narrowest part, at the very bottom, the gorge is two to three meters wide. At the bottom of the gorge, in the riverbed, there is a spring of holy water, which the locals call Božja trpezica (God’s dining table). It is believed that the spring has never dried up and has a healing effect against eye diseases. A Roman sacrificial altar was found next to it. The bottom of the spring is characterized by a large number of collapsed rocks, over which the river flows in the form of cascades. These blocks contributed to the creation of large whirlpools, better known of which are Sinji, Telči and Petkovski vir, the most downstream. Upstream from Telči vir there is a hole in the rock filled with river water called a well and a depression in the form of a tub in the stone through which the river flows into the whirlpool.
... In the gorge there is a church dedicated to St. Vitus Day. According to legend, it was built by Prince Lazar, so the inhabitants of Stogazovac have been celebrating this great holiday for centuries. At 400 meters from the village, on the Kulinje hill, one can see the walls and foundations of the old town with the tower. It is assumed that it originated from the ancient-Byzantine era, from the time of Emperor Justinian, who built it for defensive purposes against the coming barbarians. This fortified city had two towers that served to observe the enemy who could only pass through a narrow gorge.


According to Serbian legends, the peony originated from the blood of fallen heroes in Kosovo. It is a perennial plant from the Paeoniaceae family. Its flower is large, red-pink. It blooms in spring, from March to May. It grows as wild or is grown as a favorite folk flower. According to Greek legends, the peony (poeonia) was named after the Greek god Peon, who cured the epileptic Pluto with this plant. In Serbian folk medicine, peony flowers, tubers and seeds were used to treat epilepsy, whooping cough, hemorrhoids and other diseases. Experts today warn that the peony has not been sufficiently tested, that there are cases of poisoning and that it should not be used for treatment without expert advice. There are five species of protected wild peony in Serbia: common (flowering on Tara, Golina near Zaječar and in Kosovo), Banat (Deliblatska peščara), steppe, narrow-leaved and male peony.


Caves in Stogazovac
In the canyon, on the limestone terrain, there are numerous caves and drips. Vulina is on the left side of the gorge, a few meters above the road. Markova is on the right side of the gorge. According to tradition, this is the cave of Prince Marko, in which he often stayed. There is a hollow in the ceiling of the cave that Marko made with his head, jumping out of his sleep. Mark’s footprints are visible on the bottom, and in the inner wall there is a horseshoe-shaped depression made by Marko’s horse Šarac.

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