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  • Writer's pictureMatthias

Petrified wedding party

Legend has it that a long time ago the area roughly 90 km away from Serbia's third biggest city Niš was inhabited by humble and very godly people. This bothered the devil so much that he put a curse on the local water and upon consuming it the family members completely forgot their blood ties – and soon after brother and sister were supposed to get married. The forest fairy (who protects this place until this day) asked God to prevent the incest whereupon She sent such a violent storm that heaven and earth became one and the freezing wind turned the entire wedding party on their way to church to stone.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

That is just one of the several legends that surround Đavolja varoš (pronounced djavolya varosh) – the Devil’s town. And it doesn't take much more than just a few steps into the forest, that you realize why this is such a mythical place. There is indeed something otherworldly about this corner of Serbia and the Earth. Since it was declared a natural reserve in 1959 and a natural phenomenon in 1995 the entire 67 ha terrain has been consistently expanded and outfitted, mainly with picnic facilities and numerous wooden sculptures. The craziest thing about the latter is, that despite all their artistry they still seem to not even come close to the more than often wildly fascinating natural growth forms of the trees.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

Also part of the Devil’s town are two quite extraordinary natural springs: The legendary "Devil’s water" (Djavolja voda) is freezingly cold, extremely acidic (pH 1.5) and at 15 g/l 10-1,000 times richer in minerals than drinking water. Among others it contains iron, potassium, copper and nickel. The "Red Spring" however (what a wasted opportunity for the name Blood Spring – just saying) is considerably less acidic and mineral, but the creepy red that has taken over the soil around it pretty much compensates for that. The cause for that might lie in the high amounts of minerals all over the area. Actually, in the 13th century the early Saxons were digging for iron ore here and besides that have also found copper, zinc and even small amounts of silver and gold. So far only one of the three mines along the path that still remain today has been explored. Just in case you don’t have any plans for the rest of your time in Serbia...

According to another legend the odd shapes of Đavolja varoš represent several devils themselves that people in agony have carried around on their backs for a long time. By spending one night in front of the Church of St. Petka (Crkva Sv. Petke) they rid themselves of these demons who from this point on have been standing here as stone figures. Until today people with certain problems or illnesses are recommended to tie a handkerchief to the respective part of their body and make a wish in this church. Then the kerchief should be tied to one of the church's column so that the problem remains there while the person is free of it.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

Over various wooden walkways, paths and stairs you finally reach the top viewing platform on which you feel like you can almost pinch the stone figures' cold cheeks. More than 200 of them rise 2-15 m high above their surroundings. As up and close as you are now use that moment to think about legend #3 which tells of a witch who granted people's every wish as long as they did what she asked. But if someone tried to trick her she petrified them, resulting in the not surprisingly quite high number of former cheaters you can now admire.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

But despite all the folk tale fantasy science obviously has a very different and completely rational explanation in petto, only one word to end all legend: erosion. And still, it cannot take away any part of this place's fascinating atmosphere and eerie sights. Not to mention the more than beautiful view from up here! It's understandable that Đavolja varoš was Serbia's nomination for the New7Wonders initiative of the early 2000s, a global voting campaign that sought the modern wonders of nature. Unfortunately Devil's town didn't even make it to the final round. Maybe just do as the witch says next time?

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