A Rock Lovers’ Dream
It all began in the first half of the XIX century, thanks to the friendship between a witty duke and a noble mining engineer. The valuable collection brought then grew into a great scientific and cultural heritage, with the efforts of many great people and generations, as well as gifts from almost all continents. The collection today contains around 10.000 valuable specimens of minerals and rocks. Visiting the Collection resembles an interesting and inspiring journey, which shouldn’t be missed

Text: Alena Zdravković, Kristina Šarić
Photo: Josip Šarić

How many of us, while visiting galleries and museums, have ever asked ourselves how the collections we are looking at were formed? How did the exhibits arrive to the collection, why are they worthy of exhibiting? Have we ever thought about how many people invested their efforts, knowledge, passion for collection, a vision that they are doing something for common good, in order to tell a story about a painter, an era, a certain type of object and alike? This is a story about a collection of minerals and rocks, formed in a small European principality, thanks to the friendship between a duke and a mining engineer, about a collection that grew into a great scientific treasure and cultural heritage.
The collection-museum of minerals and rocks at the Belgrade University Faculty of Mining and Geology belongs to the Department of Mineralogy, Crystallography, Petrology and Geochemistry. Besides its main educational and scientific significance, this Collection also has a historical importance, because its collections and accompanying archive material represents a certain material proof about the development of geology as a science in Serbia, as well as an important testimony about the beginning of establishing the collection in our lands.
There is a story related to the beginning of the Collection of minerals and rocks as we know it today, about several interesting gifts leading us to the time of the first reign of Prince Miloš Obrenović. Following the prince’s thoroughly thought plan to accelerate the economic development of the country by renewing mining, Sigmund August Wolfgang Baron von Herder, supreme Saxon mining expert and prince’s great friend, arrived to Belgrade in August 1835. Two chests with an original, carefully wrapped gift for the Serbian duke arrived with him. This personal, very valuable gift, consisted of, as written in the Prince’s Office 1815–1839, ”500 pieces of minerals collected from all parts of the world”. As each piece had its number and accompanying label with an inscription ”State Minerals Warehouse Freiberg, Saxony”, the collection represented a unique example of a systematized natural history collection in then Serbia. This semi-private collection, enriched with specimens of ores and rocks that Baron von Herder collected during his exploratory travels through our Principality, was placed in a special room of the ”Kragujevac Quarters” within the Museum of Kragujevac. Not long after, the entire collection became possession of the Ministry of Finance, and finally, in 1844, for practical reasons, handed over to the Lyceum or the Great School (present Belgrade University), documented with a letter about granting the collection to the Lyceum Rectory. The letter of the Ministry of Finance to the County Administration in Kragujevac, including clear instructions regarding the safe transport of the collection to Belgrade in 1842, shows the importance of preserving the collection’s authenticity: ”… Paying attention to labels on the rocks, each piece must be individually wrapped in paper and then placed in straw in one or more chests, and sent here safely, sealed and with an accompanying letter.”


Baron Herder’s collection, considered the forerunner in creating the University’s heritage in Serbia, consists of 254 specimens from different sites throughout the world: from Australia, Sri Lanka, Ural, Tibet, Finland, Switzerland, France, Italy, South Africa to North America, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Chile. Together with collecting specimens, during his ten week-long investigating journey through the Principality of Serbia, Baron Herder personally wrote the first specialized texts about geology and mineral treasure of our country, which invoked additional interest in collecting geological specimens in Serbia.
A new stage in the development of the Collection began in 1853, when the Royal Serbian Lyceum opened its doors to geological sciences. Josif Pančić (1814–1888), our famous natural scientist, taught students the basis of natural sciences, including Mineralogy with Geognosy. Field work or ”excursions”, as Pančić called it, was an inevitable part of education at the Lyceum. The inventory of the Natural Sciences cabinet was gradually becoming richer in specimens of rocks, minerals and ores, as well as fossils and meteorites. Pančić had a great contribution in the initial collecting and studying of ”meteoric rocks”.
Jovan Žujović (1856–1936) was one of the first educated Serbian geologists, who gained his knowledge with Pančić. By taking over the cathedra from his professor and bringing the first polarization microscope from France, he made important steps in the development of petrographic mineralogy and geology in general, which led to the heterogeneity of the Collection and variety of the exhibits. Thus the Department of Mineralogy and Geology, managed by Žujević in that period, had 1.500 specimens of minerals and 480 specimens of rocks from foreign lands, as well as 180 minerals and 514 rocks from Serbia, as well as 370 microscopic preparations, and a certain number of local and foreign meteorites. Žujević himself also brought specimens from abroad. During mapping the terrain for the purpose of creating the first Geological Map of Serbia, he created an important collection of eruptive rocks, ores and minerals from our lands. Furthermore, he made an inventory of all specimens of minerals collected from 17 counties in Serbia, and formed the so-called Serbian Collection, which is continuously increasing. This collection is significant because it contains minerals from locations which haven’t been accessible for explorers for decades, mostly due to human activity. For example, cinnabar (mercury ore) from the Šuplja Stena mine in Avala, or malachite or azurite from the surface zone of the copper mine near Majdanpek, which no longer exists.


In the late XIX century, at the Serbian Geological Association meeting, professor Sava Urošević (1863–1930), Žujović’s follower, proudly presented two exquisite gifts for the Great School’s Mineralogy Cabinet, received with the efforts of Colonel Ljubomir Hristić, then military attaché in St. Petersburg.
The first gift, very valuable, was the collection of minerals and meteorites gifted by Marquis de Mauroy (Adrien Charles de Mauroy, 1848–1927), famous collector. As an ardent supporter of education and development of scientific institutions, he donated his mineralogical collections to museums, universities and schools throughout the world. The Collection of Minerals and Rocks today includes about 300 Marquis’ specimens of minerals, mainly from France, as well as from England, Scotland, Canada. Based on some old numbers written on original labels, it is assumed that there were twice as more. Especially significant is the collection of Marquis Mauroy’s 30 specimens of meteorites with original, handwritten labels in French, including data about the type, year of fall or discovery, weight and place the meteorite was discovered. The collection contains smaller fragments of meteorites from Russia, Chile, Africa, America, Australia and Japan, with the heaviest one weighing 139 grams (Tabory Ochansk from the Perm District in Russia).
The second gift, a collection of 1.521 pieces of minerals, was granted by the Mining Institute ”Empress Katarina II” from St. Petersburg, predecessor of the Mining Faculty in the then Russian capital city. The collection is still considered extraordinary, both for the number of specimens, variety of minerals and ores, and for the beauty of the polished minerals (malachite, agate, nephrite, jasper) and rocks (marble, pegmatite and others). Specimens with big, nicely developed crystals have thereby become part of our Collection. This is what Sava Urošević said about the gifted minerals, today called precious stones:
”Especially attractive are examples of specimens of gold, silver, topaz, emerald, beryl, zircon, tourmaline, perovskite, vesuvianite, epidote, vernelite, spinel, sphene and others, as well as specimens of rare minerals, originating from Ural and Siberia.”
The collection was listed in a catalogue by the Institute manager, famous mineralogist Melnikoff, who was also conservator of the Institute’s Museum, after whom a mineral was named melnikovite. This original handwritten catalogue and the entire collection are still used for teaching purposes.
The entire unique geological collection created until the end of the XIX century was then divided. One part of it belonged to the Natural Sciences Museum of Serbia, and the second part was left to the University in Belgrade. The University Collection, our Collection, was severely damaged during the world wars. However, it was continuously renewed in different ways, with gifts of professors and associates or private collectors, gifts of various museums and institutes, as well as samples brought from field trip studies.


The Collection of Minerals and Rocks today includes about 10.000 specimens. Thanks to the good cooperation of our professors and explorers with their colleagues abroad, collections kept arriving from museums and geological institutes from all around the world: America (American Museum of Natural History, U. S. National Museum – Division of Mineralogy, New Mexico Bureau of Mines and others), Columbia (Universidad de Antioquia – Museo universitario, Medelin, Colombia), Canada (Collection of the Royal Museum from Ontario contains very rare minerals given as a gift in 1985), Slovakia (Mineralogicko-petrograficky ustav – Slov. Vys. školy tehnickej v Bratislave). Our reputable professors, such as academician Stevan Karamata, academician Stojan Pavlović and professor Dragoslav Nikolić, also donated their private collections, so thanks to them the Collection was enriched with over 150 specimens of minerals and rocks from all around the world.
Most of the exhibits are accompanied with an interesting story about their path from the mother rock to the museum shelf. Many of them were in the hands of pioneers of geological sciences. One of the collections of processed noble minerals kept in our Collection (smoky quartz, amethyst, jasper, landscape agate, onyx and others) draw special attention of all minerals’ lovers. The specimens of this collection are gift of Mr. Đorđe Manojlović, owner of a workshop for processing precious stones in Washington.
A presently unique mineral jadarite (lithium-sodium boron silicate hydroxide) has a special place in the Collection, discovered in 2006 in the vicinity of Loznica by geologists from the multinational company ”Rio Tinto”, which donated the samples. Its only known deposit is the one in Western Serbia, which is why this rare mineral is equally interesting both for investigators and collectors. Trepča, the internationally famous site in southern Serbia, is rich in different mineral species, and our Collection includes more than 100 exhibits from this lead-zinc deposits. The beauty of crystal forms and druse, the size and brilliance of crystals, are only some of the qualities of these specimens that gained them a place in many world museums. Regarding rocks, the specimen of gneiss from Greenland is inevitable, one of the oldest rocks in the Earth’s crust (about 3,8 billion years old), brought by academician Zoran Maksimović.
It is difficult to list all the exhibits of the Collection significant from the most different aspects: for their specific form or color, size, rarity, scientific importance, the way they arrived to the Collection. Visiting the Collection is certainly an interesting and inspiring journey through time, events, indirect socializing with famous geology scientists and passionate lovers of rocks.

(The authors are from the Mining and Geology Faculty in Belgrade, Department of Mineralogy, Crystallography, Petrology and Geochemistry)


Collection of Meteorites
At the Serbian Educated Society session, observing the fall of the Sokobanja meteorite in 1877, Josif Pančić presented details of the voluminous study about the entire event and enclosed a list of meteorite samples already included in the collection of the Natural Sciences cabinet, including ”meteoric rocks” from 35 locations and ”meteoric iron” from 24 sites. After exchanging meteorites with other European cabinets, an extraordinary collection was formed (95 world meteorites), most part of it unfortunately lost during World War I.


Beryl from Cer
The Collection also includes a beryl crystal, which professor Sava Urošević discovered in the pegmatites in Cer. This sample is considered a very valuable museum exhibit, because it is the biggest crystal of this mineral in Middle and South-Eastern Europe. Although beryl appears in many of our pegmatites (Bukulja, Pasjača, Vidovača, Kukavica), this one from Cer partially corresponds to a variety of aquamarine.


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