I was keen to see something of rural Serbia, where the pace of life drops to a dawdle and the modern world seems to be only slowly making its presence felt. In retrospect, I might have chosen a more stimulating region to explore, because the journey to the small town of Bač and the Monastery of Bodani was through a landscape of relentless, flat agricultural land stretching as far as the eye can see.
To make matters worse, the weather had decided to take a turn for the worse. Dark, threatening clouds turned to rain almost as soon as I set out on the road. The journey passed through small villages and towns on roads that were often arrow straight and empty of traffic. I saw very few people, and I was beginning to think these place were deserted. Then, as I drove through one of these small communities, lots of old ladies in traditional dress were coming out of church.
It was hardly a riot of activity, but it proved there was some life here after all. For the next few kilometres I passed numerous old ladies in traditional dress on bicycles. On a Sunday in rural Serbia, the government might want to consider putting up road signs near churches warning drivers of the hazards created by church-going old ladies. It’s not that they are dangerous, just that they cycle slowly and erratically on their way home while wearing their Sunday finery.
Eventually I arrived in Bač, one of the oldest settlements in this region that is today home to a few thousand people. It’s a sleepy place that hides a fascinating history. The main attraction of which is the semi-ruined Bač Fortress on the edge of town. Dating from the 9th century, what survives today was largely built between 1338 and 1686. The fortress has witnessed countless wars and occupations that have swept across this region over the last thousand years.
I was lucky enough to arrive at the fortress just as the rain stopped and the sun came out. Strangely, as I arrived, a large party of school children from Novi Sad was just leaving in a bus. I still have no idea what they were doing there on a Sunday afternoon and, after hardly seeing a living soul on my journey to Bač, it was a bit surreal. Once they’d departed, I had the entire site to myself. It was all very peaceful until a snake slithered across my path. Time to move on.
Bač is home to a Franciscan monastery which was originally founded in 1169 by the Knights Templar. Sadly it was closed for restoration works and, as I wondered what to do next, it started raining again. I jumped back in the car and headed towards the Orthodox Monastery of Bodani. It was only a short drive and my guidebook made it sound interesting. Outside the monastery was a car park with 30 parking spaces, all empty. It seemed that I’d also have this site to myself.
I did spot a monk walking into a building, but other than that I was all alone in the monastery and its grounds. There was no information, so I just wandered around, took a few photos and then returned to the car. The monastery dates from the 15th century, but wars and occupations saw it destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times. The current building is 18th century, as are the lovely frescoes inside. It was very peaceful, but I couldn’t help thinking my guidebook had overstated its interest.
Since I’d bothered to make the journey to a place that probably doesn’t see too many tourists, I looked in the guidebook to see if there was anything else in the area that I should visit. There wasn’t. On empty roads, I set off on my return journey through Serbia’s flatlands back to Novi Sad.