Liberated Biography of a Mountain
Besides other prohibitions in communism, there were also prohibited mountains, for example those sang about in chetnik songs. Jelica is one of the most remarkable ones among them. Beautiful, freedom-loving and rebellious, she didn’t seem to mind much. Dressed in its forests and legends, in its gifts and horizons, hospitable, she buckled around its sanctities: Stijenik, Ježevica, Trnava… She knew that everything comes to an end, and that such times will end as well. We set off to that mountain, never spoken about, yet glorious, and noted many details

Text and Photo: Dragan Bosnić

The road to Guča, from Čačak, leads over Jelica mountain. The road is pretty winding, so there is an impression that the road builders bypassed every tree, seldom houses and a few memorials next to the road. On the highest point of the road, on the ridge, there is a kafana with a wonderful view of the leafy and pleasant to the eye Dragačevo. A cool summer morning filled the basin with locks of fog, and I remembered a story I heard in the Dragačevo village of Goračići. According to that legend, the area of Dragačevo used to be on the bottom of a spacious lake. People who used to live on the banks of the lake tied their boats to stone pillars, which can today be seen on the peaks of Jelica. In time, the water found its way between Ovčar and Kablar and flowed into the Pannonian and later Black Sea. It thereby created one of the most beautiful gorges in Europe and the bottom of the lake became leafy and fertile Dragačevo.
Jelica mountain is located south of Čačak and separates Dragačevo from the Čačak basin. It spreads northwest-southeast, 30 kilometers long and turns into Ovčar mountain in the northwest. The highest peak is Crna Stena (Black Rock), 929 meters high, while other peaks are: Vetrinje, Gradina (with a famous archeological site), Rajački Vis, Stjenik, Belo Brdo and other numerous peaks more than 800 meters high. The mountain is very wooded, but people have deforested the sunny hillsides and made vineyards and orchards. There are hidden caves in shady sections, which have always attracted clergymen and monks.


During their several centuries-long reign in the Balkans, the Turks mostly stayed in fortified cities. They were not willing to enter wooded, mountain areas. When they occasionally did, they killed people, took children to slavery, and robbed and burned down villages. Once a shepherd watched the burning of a village from the mountain, thereby avoiding the ill fate of his cousins and neighbors. When he later entered the village, the scene of the massacred people and thick, bitter smoke made the shepherd cry, so he just said: ”How bitter you are, poor bitter people (Serbian ’goračići’)!” The Turks took the captured children over the mountain. When they passed by the ruins of Gradina, a girl named Jelica ran away from the procession, climbed up the highest wall of the destroyed city and jumped. Since that time, the name of the mountain is Jelica, and the village the Turks burned down Goračići.
People say that St. Sava visited the mountain on his horse, and that both he and the horse left their footprints in the solid rocks. The first traces are in Korenati, the second almost a kilometer further on Popovića Krš, and the third another kilometer down on Savina Voda (Sava’s Water). Water sprung from the latter, so the people also call it Svetinja (Sanctity). These and many other secrets remained hidden in the thick beech forests of Jelica, not interesting to people who have always been more attracted to the monasteries in the Ovčar-Kablar Gorge and the irresistible sound of trumpets from Dragačevo hills.
People of Jelica are very hard-working. They cultivate potato, raspberries, fruit and are engaged in animal husbandry. They work a lot, and the results are obvious. What especially features them is their friendliness and hospitality. This story was created after a common visit to the green market. When buying potato at the green market, buyers always asks where it is from. Usually, the seller says that the potato is from Golija, Rajac or the Zlatar area. Our seller particularly recommended the potato saying that it is from Jelica. The very mention of that mountain, which has been anathemized for a long time because of the song ”On the Jelica mountain all chetniks gathered…”, was sufficient to capture imagination and inspire a wish to discover an almost unknown mountain. The seller said that there was no accommodation in the mountain, but he offered a hunting lodge made by him and his brother. Already the following Friday, a four-member team visited the house of the Stanić family in Goračić, on the southern side of Jelica. The alpinists were greeted very cordially by the entire family. The father of our host could not understand what kind of people walk the entire mountain without being paid for it.
The Stanić family hunting lodge is located on the Strževica slope, at an altitude of about seven hundred meters. The brothers, besides being passionate hunters, raise pheasants and set them free. The host’s daughter Marijana told us all the legends about the mountain, the hostess packed freshly baked bread, cheese, kaymak, eggs, tomatoes and cakes, and twelve-year-old Marko took us over the mountain to the Stijenik monastery. Marko often accompanies his father and uncle in their expeditions in Jelica, so the mountain is no secret to him.


Stijenik Monastery is located under the magnificent rocks on the peak with the same name. According to the legend, it was built by the Mrnjavčević brothers and the army took communion in it before the Battle of Marica. It is described in a poem:

Three Mrnjavčević brothers are building a church
In Stijenik, in the great rocks,
In the cradle of white hawks,
Amidst Jelica, the high mountain…

There is an assumption that the Church, dedicated to the birth of St. John the Predecessor, was raised by St. John of Stijenik, who died here and whose relics are kept in this shrine. Another assumption is that the people of this area raised a church in the place where the Turks killed many people, and many children among them. Their relics were discovered during one of the renewals of the church. The monastery church, which is not painted, is currently under reconstruction. Especially interesting are the monastery quarters under the rocks of Stijenik. When you set off towards the rock up the stream, you reach the Svetinja (Sanctity) spring. In that place, in the deep and shady ravine, is the fountain of St. `Avakum and beautiful waterfalls. People come here to take water and wash their eyes, because it is believed that the water is salutary. A bit uphill, in the rocks of Stijenik, there are nine caves-hermitages, where monks dwelled, including St. John of Stijenik. Germans bombarded the Stijenik church during World War II, because of the chetnik headquarters located in it.
A marked path leads from the Stijenik monastery down the river. After a pleasant forty-minute walk along the small river, which makes numerous cascades, you reach the villages of Banja and Ježevica. People of Jelica like to say: ”If Čačak were Novi Sad, Ježevica would be Sremski Karlovci!” Ježevica also has a monastery with the same name. The church dedicated to St. Nicholas was raised at the time of Emperor Dušan. Ban Milutin, voivode of Emperor Dušan and his wife Ikonija are mentioned as its ktetors. It is described in the poem ”Ban Milutin and Duka of Herzegovina”:

Hear me, my wife Ikonija,
Dig me nine vineyards,
In Banjica and in Atenica,
In Loznica and in Pakovraće,
And keep for me nine mills,
Down Bjelica and down Moravica,
Watch our glorious endowment,
The Ježevica church under Banjica…

There are several memorial road signs in the monastery yard, dating from the late XIX and early XX century. A school built in 1812, one of the oldest ones in this area, was opened next to the monastery. During the celebration of six centuries since the construction of the monastery, in the year 1937, where Bishop Nikolaj also participated, the home of the Christian Community Brotherhood was consecrated. Ježevica was a parish church until 2005, when it was proclaimed a male monastery, and in 2016 it became a female monastery. Its abbess is Jovana, who came here from Gračanica. Ježevica Monastery was enlisted in 1982 as cultural monument of great importance.


Ježevica is a village of famous fruit growers. There used to be many mills in the village but only one is currently in operation.
The family of priest Vićentije Popović and his descendants were responsible for the development of fruit growing in Jelica during the XIX and first half of the XX century. Besides cultivating orchards and vineyards, they were working on the promotion of this beautiful area, at the same time educating the people of Jelica. They also had an important role in apiculture. Professor Sveta Stamenković from neighboring Banjica, who won Vuk’s Award in 2020 for his work has a similar mission today. It is difficult to list all the other recognitions he received. His descendants, like the Popović family, intend to continue his work.
Banjica, a village immediately above the monastery, was the place where, according to the legend, the Banjica Palace was located. The ban’s vineyards were above it, so this part of Ježevica is still called Banovina today. There is a spring called Banja in the village, so it is possible that the name of the settlement is derived from there. A legend goes that ban Milutin, after being appointed ban of Bosnia, was in a hurry (Serbian naježio) to complete his endowment to the people, thus the name of the village Ježevica.
In one of the heights of Jelica, in the Banjica village area, stand a few houses of the Prelić family. There is a bit desolate cemetery above the houses, slowly being taken over by lush vegetation. The branching oak tree and gigantic black pine are remarkable. the pine tree is protected, but it did not prevent locals from taking off parts of the trunk, so it is reduced to half of its previous size. It is uncertain how long the high pine will endure. A few steps from the pine are two tombstones dedicated to Nikola Prelić from Banjica, who died at old age in 1894. The tombstones were raised by grateful grandchildren, who could not agree on anything, including the length of Nikola’s life. Svetozar estimated that his grandfather was 120 years old and the other, unnamed on the raised tombstone, wrote that the old man lived only 119 years.


In the Grab village area, on Gradina peak, there is an archeological site from the time of Emperor Justinian I (VI century). Traces from old stone age were discovered, as well as remains of a Serbian city from the X century. Gradina is the dominant peak of Jelica, with a view spreading tens of kilometers around. The very name Gradina indicated the remains of a larger settlement. The first known interest in Gradina is from 1843. Toma Živanović, head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, received a copy of the inscription dedicated to goddess Diana, made by Sreten Protić, notary of the Dragačevo county. In his letter, Živanović states that the inscription is ”carved in stone in some ruins, in the Jelica mountain above Čačak”. Janko Šafarik, PhD, manager of the National Museum in Belgrade, visited Gradina in 1865. Šafarik left copies of two Roman inscriptions from Jupiter’s alter and inscriptions dedicated to goddess Diana, discovered in Gradina, Jelica. Gradina was later visited by ethnologist Sima Trojanović and Felix Kanitz, who, similar to their predecessors, believed that Gradina was a fortification from the Roman period. The interest in Gradina was noted in the 1930s, and after World War II the site was severely damaged during the construction of the Čačak-Goračići road. In 1984, excavations of walls began, organized by the Institute of Archeology in Belgrade, when the basilica was discovered. Three years later, in 1987, the Assembly of the Lučani Municipality proclaimed Gradina cultural monument.
In the village of Trnava, at the spring of the Trnava river, there is a church with the same name. The monastery is dedicated to the Annunciation. It is assumed that it was raised during the XIII century and that its ktetor was King Stefan Uroš I. A more recent restoration took place in 1837. Fragments of wall painting were discovered during conservation.
When the plague hit Čačak in 1814, muselim of Čačak Latif-Aga moved to Trnava Monastery. Prior Pajsije, Mihailo, brother of Hadzi Prodan Gligorijević and several other reputable Serbs were also there. They planned an uprising against Turkish oppression after the breakdown of the First Serbian Uprising. A conflict began between the Serbs and the Turks and turned into open rebellion. The uprising soon spread to the Požega, Kragujevac and Jagodina nahis. Hadzi Prodan was leader of the uprising and continued to spread it and organize squads. Except him, not a single voivode from the First Uprising took part, while some of them went over to the Turkish side. Prince Miloš, whom the Turks appointed head of the three nahis, refused to take leadership. He even offered Suleyman-Pasha his support in suppressing the uprising, provided that all the participants would be set free, except Hadzi Prodan and his brothers. With Miloš’s help, the Turks defeated the uprisers in Jelica. The defeated rebels went home and Hadzi Prodan ran away to Austria. The vizier’s promise to Miloš Obrenović was broken after the uprising calmed down. About 300 reputable people were taken from the rebellious nahis to Belgrade in chains, where they were assassinated or impaled. The forerunner of the uprising, prior Pajsije, was also impaled, as well as deacon Avakum. Priest Mateja Nenadović received a letter in Vienna saying: ”From Tašmajdan to Stambol Gate, on both sides of the road, there is a parade of impaled people.” There is a monument raised to those who died in Hadzi Prodan’s uprising.


Inscriptions on Leather
The Four Gospels of Ježevica, kept in the National Museum in Čačak, is handwritten on parchment. It apparently originates from the XIV century. One of its thirty-four leather pages presents proof about the time the monastery was raised.


The Gradina site encompasses 22 hectares. Up to now, besides parts of walls, towers and gates, about 20 buildings for civil purposes were discovered in it. Remains of five churches were found, including a Basilica marked with C, which had a baptizing area and was ornamented with stone plastic as well as painted wall decorations. All these edifices were made of stone, most of them had glass windows, some even had a sewage system. Gradina was most probably the administrative center of the region. It is not certain whether it was also a bishopric seat. In the late VI and early VII century, the city was destroyed in a large fire. A new settlement was raised during the early middle ages on the ruins of the fortified complex.


The Uprising of Goračići
Hadzi Prodan’s uprising was not the only one in Jelica suppressed by the Obrenovićs. Almost eight decades later, in liberated Serbia, unyielding Jelica rose again. After the locals voted for the opposing Radical Party at the elections, the authorities tried to take power in Goračići by force on February 20, 1893. The locals were standing in front of the municipality court and did not allow the army to enter. The soldiers opened fire and killed 18 and wounded 30 locals. The pro-government Liberal Party took power, but did not stay long. Ten years later, a monument was raised to the assassinated locals and the Museum of Goračići Uprising was opened in 1968.


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