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The Beauty of the River Labyrinth

The twisting stream of this unusual river, after which it was named, is 119 kilometers long, although as the crow flies the distance from the spring to its confluence is three times shorter. There are as much as three lakes made on this unique river, which is only one of the numerous attractions of this mountain area
Text and photographs: Dragan Bosnić
The Uvac river springs on the grassy meadows of the mountain Ozren. Near the town of Sjenica it accepts the waters of the winding Vapa, and then enters the karst of the Old Vlah. Less than ten kilometers from Sjenica, by the Molitva (Prayer) height, the river had broken through the porous rocks and made an amazing labyrinth.
Sirijada (Cheese Festival)The people of Štitkovo, as well as all inhabitants of the Zlatar region, make extraordinary cheese. About fifteen years ago, the first Sirijada was organized in Štitkovo and the nearby village of Božetići. The competition of the cheese manufacturers took place on the Assumption of Mary (August 28), the village saint day. The gathering always starts at 8 a.m., first at the liturgy in the village church. An ox is turned on the skewer at lunchtime, and then the best cheese is chosen. Then follows a party which lasts until dawn. They say that the merriest was the fifth Sirijada, when as much as 5,000 people gathered in Štitkovo.
In some places, it almost creates a full circle around the rock, and then directs its flow to the opposite side. On one of those peninsulas stand the remains of a town from the Nemanjić era. The play of the river and stone from the top of Molitva offers an unforgettable sight.The river stream of the Uvac is 119 kilometers long, although the air distance from the spring to the confluence is three times shorter. On its way from the spring in Pešter (1,150 meters) to the confluence of the river Lim, the river has a significant fall, so that three dams have been built on it and three lakes have been created. The first is the Sjenica Lake, then the Zlatar Lake, and finally the Radoinje Lake. The Uvac is considered the only river whose water potential is fully exploited. Besides producing electricity, the new lakes are used for supplying water, while at the same time expanding the tourist potential of this beautiful area. Especially interesting is the Zlatar Lake because it is the largest and in the immediate proximity of the town of Nova Varoš and the highway connecting Belgrade with the Adriatic Sea.

Nova Varoš is famous for its delicious cheese and tourism, which is becoming a more and more significant source of income of this municipality. Both exist due to Zlatar, the mountain standing over the town and the lakes. There, on the spacious Zlatar meadows, numerous white flocks still graze. Experts have confirmed that the ethereal vapors of the thick evergreen forests are salutary for cardio-vascular patients. Although this may sound as a phrase from the spa tourist catalogues, the Zlatar heights and its specific cuisine truly have a salutary effect also on healthy people, they recuperate and revive, so the Zlatar hotels, before all „Panorama”, are the favorite destination of visitors. The Zlatar cheese is the compulsory appetizer of the Serbian gourmet cuisine.
The Bird King of KingsFrom the ancient times, the griffon vultures inhabit the cliffs of Uvac. During the last fifty years, because of human negligence, they were brought to the verge of extinction. The locals poisoned bloodthirsty wolves with venomous baits, which then ended in the stomachs of the griffon vultures. The consequences were disastrous for the bird community. Numerous flocks disappeared, the wild game in the forests became scarce, so there was no food left for these natural sanitarians.
During the last few years, people stopped poisoning animals, feeding places were made for the birds, and the Griffon Vulture Fund was founded in Nova Varoš. A constantly mobile team feeds the griffon vultures and cares about them in all kinds of ways, so at the present there are about three hundred of them.

East of the Zlatar Lake, on the slopes of Čemernica, stands a small village of Štitkovo. A few houses, a church and a school are protected with two steep slopes and a vertical rock from which water springs and flows into the Tisovica river. There is a cave in the rock where very old human remains were found. It is assumed that the dead end canyon of Štitkovo was inhabited in the earliest periods of human pre(history). In the thick shade of the old tree with an inscription in front of the church, there is a fountain around which locals gather on holidays and in quiet summer dusks. There is also a shop, a new school (partially damaged) and the old school which students currently use. Behind the church is a cemetery. From the shop and the old school, along the road leading to Trudovo, there is a row of houses. The road was recently asphalted, just like the one branching towards Božetići.
The third road, a macadam road, turns left, climbs up by Mučanj and further leads towards Kušići. A long time ago, that settlement was founded by the famous princes of the Rašković family. At the time, there was a workshop for manufacturing shields in the village. The name of the river Tisovica (Serbian „tisa” – larch tree) implies that larch tree was growing around the river, from which the highest quality bows were made, so it is possible that such weapons for Serbia in the Nemanjić era were also made here.
The village of Štitkovo is protected because of the beautiful old houses built in the late XIX century and because of its interesting location. The locals are engaged in agriculture, mainly cultivating potatoes and keeping cattle. Each house has a distinctive white horse, which the head of the family uses when going on a trip, and for pushing the cattle for grazing. Many also have oxen, which are still irreplaceable in this steep terrain. An owner of a pair of oxen tells us that the real beef ham can only be made from oxen which have pulled loads for at least five years.

The school in Štitkovo was built by voluntary work of all inhabitants of the village already in 1888. Most of the houses, still inhabited today, also originate from that period. The new school was built in 1927. Four decades ago, there were 600 students in it. Today it is partially damaged, whereas the four students remaining today attend classes in the old school. Money is lacking for repairing the new school, and the locals don’t seem to be in a hurry to restore the old building. The problem is in the fact that nobody is expecting a higher number of pupils.
„The girls have left and gone to the city. No girl wants to live in a house where the cow moos and the mother-in-law yells”, explains the one young man from Štitkovo.
Mile Tihovljević lives alone in a house which used to be full of children. A few years ago, he says, he threw away a wagon of potatoes because the cooperative stopped purchasing, and the private buyer who purchased potatoes offered a humiliatingly low price. It was better the following year, and from the sales of potatoes, he bought his grandson a computer.
Mile’s coeval from the bordering village managed to keep the house full of children and the sheepfold full of sheep. However, none of the children wanted to keep the sheep. Grandfather got tired of it, he gathered the flock, took it to the market and put the money in his pocket. When his family at home asked him where the sheep were, the grandfather pointed to his pocket and said with a smile: „Here!”
The village of Štitkovo is one of the few in Serbia preserved in its original state as a whole. It fulfils all conditions for ethno-tourism: healthy water and food, ideal altitude, preserved extraordinary surroundings. The mountains Mučanj, Golija and Zlatar with the Zlatar Lakes are in the immediate vicinity. Recently founded was the Foundation of Milivoje Mandić, attempting to save Štitkovo and other beauties of Old Ras from oblivion.

The most interesting settlement at the Uvac banks is Gujanička Mala. It is near the dam on Sjenica Lake. Immediately below the village, in the inaccessible rocks of the canyon, griffon vultures have made their nests. The griffon vulture is a close relative of the eagle, but when in the air, it looks even more magnificent than the king of birds does.
The lower stream of the river Uvac is also mysterious and interesting. The river used to be a border between Serbia and Turkey. Both banks were covered with thick forests. The Turks didn’t like the forest on the Serbian side, so they set fire to it. It is said that the fire was burning for a whole year. The river now flows through Serbia, but the former Turkish bank, the left one, is still covered with woods, unlike the right bank which is ghastly bare and covered with loose rocks.
The monastery of Uvac, or Vuvac as some call it, also made its nest in the narrow gorge. Not even the hardly passable gorge managed to save this church: it was also set on fire two and a half centuries ago. It is said that the remains of the destroyed church were discovered due to the vine planted eight centuries ago, when the monastery was built. In this deserted area, through the scarce plants, a noble vine suddenly sprouted, which drew attention to itself and the shrine.
The legend says that the monastery was built by the Nemanjić family for their mischievous sister Janja, who they made a nun there. The monastery church was restored in 1998, and dedicated to the Birth of the Holy Mother of God.
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