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  • Writer's pictureMatthias

Serbia's town of doves

Welcome in Golubac, where the evening sun might very well be the brightest of the whole Danube. That shiny quality stems from the small town's position right at the mighty river's widest point – which makes for water pretty much as smooth as a mirror and literally no shadows in sight! In fact at this point the distance between the Serbian and the Romanian shore adds up to a whopping 6 km – which is why nowhere in Serbia you will feel stronger open sea vibes than here. Probably just another reason why this is where one of the most magnificent fortresses in Europe was built and still watches over the Iron Gates gorge to this very day.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

No need to mention that the best end-of-the-day observation point obviously is the river promenade, which stretches over pretty much the entire length of the present day town. The overseeable population of about 2,000 now comes in pretty handy. After all even on a perfect late summer afternoon and with a relatively high number of sunset enthusiasts you pretty much have 20 meters of quay wall all to yourself. With a sight like this it's honestly no wonder that Golubac seems to fire up the creative mind. For a small town like it is, it seems to produce an unusually high number of artistic people – painters, photographers, musicians, graphic designers – who all keep coming back to their tiny and beloved home, as if it were giving them new strength and above all new inspiration for their return to the real world.

On a different note you can't get more old-town than in Golubac since that's the term the locals use to refer to their quite spectacular fortress. It's still not entirely clear when exactly it was built, but its first mentions come from Hungarian sources from 1337 which speak of a "stone guardian of the gorge". Historians attribute the construction to Bulgarians as well as Hungarians and Serbs, but in 2010 the reconstruction even unearthed remains of a possible Roman or Byzantine settlement that must have preceded the fortress.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

What we do know is that at the other end of the timeline we have the reconstruction and reopening in April 2019. With the help of over 8 mill. Euro from an EU trust to rebuild all fortresses along the Danube and in cooperation with a bunch of archaeologists this magical gem was completely renovated. After decades of neglection – when even the highway lead right through it – the old masonry shines in all new splendor while here and there even some new masonry was added, most prominently a modern structure with a chic glass facade facing the water as well as an extensive green area featuring the archaeological remains of a Turkish hammam and a Roman dwelling. And the main road finally leads past the fortress and through a newly dug tunnel.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

It's only common decency for a real fortress with a history in the dark, that it's surrounded by various legends. The best known – which also includes an explanation of the name Golubac, "town of doves" – tells of young Golubana, the most beautiful woman in the area, and a not so charming Ottoman commander who fell in love with her. When she refused him and refused to become part of his harem, he locked her up in the highest tower of the fortress so that hunger would eventually make her return his "love" (oh, the romance of past patriarchy...). However, that took its sweet time because Golubana was provided with food by the town's pigeons she always used to care for. When the pasha learned about this he instead chained the young woman to a rock in the water, where she ultimately starved to death. That rock still exists today and is called "Baba-kaj", a Turkish name that roughly translates to "do penance". It's actually not only the local elderlies that tell this story to their grandchildren – it's also spread by grandmothers in all of Serbia. And after all they always know best!

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