Serbian Cultural Heritage

Cultural landscape of Bač and its surroundings

Cultural landscape of Bač and its surroundings belongs to Danube regions in Serbia (the Vojvodina Province) and it is situated on the borders of the Pannonia plain. Cultural landscape of Bač and its surroundings is containing numerous cultural and natural sites and monuments, which witnesses at least 8 millennium long cohabitation of man and nature. This territory is characterized by water flows (the Danube river and its left tributary, the Mostonga river, but also other, smaller water flows), wetlands and loess plains which could be drained and therefore have been suitable for life and agriculture ever since prehistory to modern days. The floodplain includes alluvial forests, marshes, reed beds, freshwater habitats, alluvial wetlands, as well as flood-protected forests. Thus, this area has seen and preserved traces of all changes and reforms in the history agriculture. Natural heritage is verified as Bačko Podunavlje Biosphere Reserve, which is inscribed in UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 2017. It could be described as one of organically evolved landscapes – since it is continuously developed cultural landscape which, even in contemporary society, has maintained its role narrowly tied to traditional way of living that is transforming. At the same time, it has preserved significant material evidences of its development trough time. There are also archaeological sites, confirming the presence of man and the use of the marshy lands throughout the millennia. The preserved architectural heritage, built in the vast period from the 12th to the 19th century, under the influence of Western Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Barokue style, as well as Byzantine and Islamic art represents a definite testimony to the cultural diversity, interlacing and linking the cultures of the Balkans with the West and East. The combination of historical, cultural, artistic, and natural values gives this cultural landscape its significance.

Cultural landscape of Bač and its surroundings includes territorial parts of three municipalities – Bač, Bačka Palanka and Odžaci, covering the entire territory of 9 whole cadastral neighboring municipalities with 10 settlements with a population of around 25.000 inhabitants. Landscape character assessment (identification and valorization) is becoming the activity of a public interest that brings a value to the territory which can significantly contribute in defining the sustainable development. The geomorphological processes in the Pannonian Plain and the fluvial system of Danube River, and their influence on the cultivation processes of the territory and adaptability of the human settlements, the history of agricultural rationality and continuity of settling in the area are essentially the main subject of the “cultural landscape” interpretation.

Among the rich and diverse built heritage that remains, three cultural properties have been and still are a key to understanding history and spirit of this cultural landscape: the Bač Fortress with surroundings, the Bodjani Orthodox Monastery and the Franciscan Monastery of Bač. They are cultural properties of outstanding value for the Republic of Serbia, also they represent a symbol of the local identity – integrated in the Bač Municipality Logo.
The Bač Fortress is an authentic “water town/burg”, designed as a defence system adapted to marshy land, quite unique among the fortifications on the left side of the Danube River. It is to west from the Bač settlement, erected on an elevation surrounded by a deep Mostonga River meander. The complex – the spatial cultural and historical unit consists of a fortified castle with a barbican and an area where the mediaeval suburb used to be, now only a mediaeval Gate Tower remains. The fortified castle was built in the 14th-16th centuries period. It is in a shape of an irregular pentagon with bastions at angles or corner towers connected with 2.5m thick brick ramparts. The towers vary in their shapes and dimensions. Three corner towers are circular and open towards the interior area, while the north-western one and the Gate Tower are of a rectangular shape. The east section was defended separately. There used to a free-standing donjon tower and a residential and a knights’ palace, a well and a cistern, today preserved only as architectural and archaeological remains. Inside the walls and adjacent to them, there were structures of various purposes: military crew and servants’ accommodations and ancillary structures for animals, storage space, food preparations, etc. The defence system consisted of fortification obstacles built like those in pre-Renaissance Italy and central Europe, where artillery had already been introduced in the fiery system of town communities (barbican with a gate tower, palisades, bastions, etc.) However, apart from the Italian renaissance influence, some shapes and key architectural elements have been preserved, carrying characteristics of late Gothic period and the spirit of mediaeval building. In the mid-18th century, the area of the erstwhile suburb was partitioned into 36 parcels, where houses and ancillary structures were built, with gardens at their backs. Most of the buildings today still preserve their original ground plan, but numerous interventions have diminished the traditional architectural values. However, the ambiance value of the whole, with its rows of houses along the Bač Fortress street that radiate the atmosphere of olden times, along with a view from the Donjon Tower top to the roofs as a fifth façade, create a unique impression of how the traditional and mediaeval architectures is interlaced.

The Bač Fortress, a symbol of the local identity, today is recognized as a carrier of multiple values. It has been protected and turned into visitor attraction and exhibition space which is the nucleus of the interpretation and valorization of wider cultural landscape of Bač Municipality. In situ archaeological exhibition within the Donjon Tower, among other exhibits, displays elements of exquisite craftsmanship, one of extremely rare evidences of pre-Ottoman renaissance in south Pannonia. Together with the Educational center that was built in the suburb, it has also become a center where professional knowledge about heritage conservation and management is gained, enhanced and shared, a place of culture and creativity, where local communities and visitors can interact.

Bodjani Orthodox Monastery is 15 km to the south of Bač, towards the Danube. The complex covers a church, from three sides surrounded by the residential quarters and the farming ancillary buildings to the north side. It is of a cruciform ground plan, with dome, 5.5 m in diameter, rising above the main nave and the transept cross. It belongs to the Rascia building style, linking it to the architecture of the Fruška Gora monasteries of Vrdnik, Kuveždin and Jazak. The original monastery was founded in 1478 and was linked to how Bogdan, a merchant from Dalmatia was healed, who then vowed to the Virgin to build a church as a token of his gratitude. The present church is dedicated to the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was built in 1722 as the fourth one on the same place by Mihailo Temisvarlija from Szeged. The present quarters date from the 18th century. At first they were just a ground floor structure, surroundings the church from four sides, as shown on a Zachary Orpheline’s etching dating from 1758. The present quarters were built after a fire, between 1786 and 1810. The sections at the north and south ends have a storey, while the one at the west end is a ground floor structure and to the north from the entrance to the quarters there is a winter chapel.
The entire church interior is covered with fresco paintings (about 600 m2) painted by Hristofor Žefarović, a painter from Dojran (today’s Republic of Northern Macedonia). As a unique artistic opus of that time, the paintings combine the strict canons of the Late Byzantine art with
Baroque, as a modern European style of that time – thus being a crucial point in the Serbian art and one of the most valuable complexes of fresco paintings in south-east Europe in the first half of the 18th century. The iconostasis screen is also an outstanding object of art, created in phases – in the 18th and the early 19th centuries – the work of Kyiv painters, Jov Vasiliyevič and Vasily Romanovič, as well as the Serbian masters, Vasilije Ostojić and monk Simeon Baltić. The Bodjani iconostasis is one of the first examples of the baroque painting influence in the region that by the late 17th century belonged to the Ottoman Empire. In this case, the baroque influences came indirectly, brought by the Ukrainian artists who had adopted the West European style, adapting it to the Orthodox painting heritage.
In the north section of the nave, there is also a Blessed Virgin’s Throne with a miracle-working icon of the Virgin of Bodjani from 1684. The icon was considered a Protector of the monastery and the Bač diocese. The monastery library and the archives are highly significant as they hold some unique material with records dating from different time periods.

Franciscan Monastery of Bač is The monastery in the centre of Bač, integrated with its townscape and the mediaeval urban layout, with high walls and a massive bell tower, rising from the plain. The complex consists of a church and to the south three adjacent ground floor monastery wings that shape an cloister with a well in its centre. The church is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, it is of an elongated ground plan of east – west direction, with a five-sided apse on the east side and a short side nave on the north side. On its south side, a corridor connects it with the residential quarters, creating a unified structure under one roof. The main church entrance is on the west side, but there are two more in the southern wall, as well, one more towards the main entrance and the other near the access to the altar.
The present look of the complex has been forming for seven centuries. As far as we know, it started to be built in the late 12th century, when the members of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem built a small one-nave Romanesque church, today preserved in its entirety. The church had massive walls with buttresses, tall gables and a much lower apse. In the second half of the 14th century, the Franciscans restored it in Gothic style, building the monastery and a bell tower along the altar, and in the 15th century the church was extended towards west. When Bač fell under the Turkish rule in 1526, the church was turned into a mosque – there is a mihrab niche in the southern wall, formed in the place of the original west entrance – until the year of the liberation in 1686. In 1688, according to the monastery chronicle, the Franciscans from the Bosnian provinces took over the monastery. Baroque renewal included the church and the monastery, when the characteristic square inner court was created between 1724 and 1770. In the south wing there is a spacious refectory, indicating that the brotherhood was once quite numerous. Thus, a complex architectural composition of the Bač Franciscan Monastery is weaved from Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Islamic, Baroque and Classicistic elements. The cultural stratigraphy expanded when in 2011 the remains of a fresco of the Crucifixion of Christ were discovered. The finding, along with the remains of the frescoes on the church southern wall and in the arch, enhanced the value of the cultural property as a work of art. Among the numerous paintings, there is an Italo-Cretan icon of the Virgin Eleousa, from 1684, work of master Dima and the Last Supper painting from 1737. Evidence of active life of this special place also lies in extensive treasures, a library with old and rare books liturgical vestments, handicrafts and object that used to be in everyday use (dishes for cooking and serving food, objects for cloth making, smithy tools, etc.)
Besides the already listed structures, Bač and its surroundings holds other historic buildings and cultural properties of great value.