Vows of the Wise Old-Timer
People believe that it was planted by the emissaries of Slavic Emperor Samuil in 1026. Experts think that it is about 700 years old, but cannot say for certain, because its interior is hollow. It is certain though that it was on the edge of ancient forests that used to cover the mountain, now bare and dry, and that people celebrated their most important holidays here, its heavenly protectors and ancestors. Even today, this trunk with a circumference of seven meters can host a priest and a few faithful people for a liturgy

Text: Stanko Kostić and NR Press
Photo: Stanko Kostić

In the area of Serbia, our country of unusual beauty, there is a great number of endemic and relict floral species, from Mediterranean to Alpine. While searching for some of them, we have again, after only a few months, reached Suva Planina, in the vicinity of Bela Palanka. The small town stands on the confluence of the Koritnička River and the Nišava, in the foot of the central part of the mountain, on its eastern side. It is mentioned in the Byzantine Empire as Remesiana. In the IV century, the city was located on the main road to Constantinople, with the seat of the diocese in it, led by Nikita of Remesiana, later canonized as a great Christian saint.
The eastern side of Suva Planina is gentler and spreads along the Nišava river, from Niška Banja towards Pirot and Babušnica. In the central part of the mountain, the river cut an unusually beautiful Sićevačka Gorge, which separates the Suva Planina mountain massif from the neighboring Svrljiške mountains and succeeding Stara Planina mountain. The Gorge, well known to readers of National Review, connects the Niš and Bela Palanka basins.
Bela Palanka can be reached from Niš by the Niš-Pirot motorway, and since recently by the new highway connecting Niš and Sofia, and Serbia and Bulgaria. After exiting the Gorge and driving 18 kilometers further, you reach Bela Palanka. From there, an asphalt road along the Koritnica River leads by the lake and village of Mokra to Divljana. The Monastery of St. Demetrius is on a beautiful plateau. You will also pass the Niš educational complex for outdoor learning, which is now out of operation. Migrants are accommodated there. Half a kilometer from the monastery, going towards the village, we arrive to the spot which was our actually our destination.


Before us is the enormous sacred oak tree, which they say is the oldest living creature in the Balkans. It is perhaps a millennium old, under state protection (cynics would immediately say this is the main reason to be seriously worried).
It is believed that it was planted by emissaries of the Slavic Emperor Samuil in 1026. Experts think that it is about 700 years old, but cannot say for certain, because its central part is entirely hollow. About fifteen meters west from it is a younger oak tree, only about 350 years old and with a circumference of 1,2 meters.
Remains of an old cemetery can be noticed in the surrounding. Those searching for buried gold, wild diggers, are wandering around with pickaxes. They are following a story about Turks who, who knows when and who knows why, buried a treasure in this very place. Many people believe that there is salutary energy in the hollow of this giant, which heals everything and corrects our wrongful living. They come here to be healed.
We had a good rest in the shades under its branches. We listened to the silence, only occasionally interrupted by the murmuring of leaves on the autumn breeze. We had plenty of cold water. We breathed plenty of air. The story about the healing and recuperating properties gained a different sound, realistic. ”Doctor treats and nature heals”, says the old saying.
We were already meditating for an hour when Snežana Jocić, eighty-year-old villager, passed by us.
”The oak tree has not changed during the past 60 years, since I got married and came to the village”, she says. ”I remember that people gathered for Holy Trinity and that there was a procession. The village was full of young people and everything was much more beautiful. Now everyone ran away to the cities and the village is empty, without people. Only a few older people have remained, so the customs have died away as well.”
Happy for having spoken with someone, the old lady continued her way smiling and we continued ours. Following the course of the river, we went down to the village and then continued to the villages of Donja and Gornja Koritnica down the road by the spring.
After passing by the wonderful gorge and the village of Bežište, where famous travelogue writer Felix Kanitz stayed in the Pavlović family house, we came to a wide road connecting Babušnica and Pirot. We turned left towards Pirot, where we will spend the night and then set off to new adventures in the wilderness of Stara Planina. Architect Obradović, friend and travel companion, sharpened his pencils and prepared his sketching pad. He will note the unexplored architectural skills on the houses in almost desolate and forgotten villages of Stara Planina.


The road was unrolling before us, and he remained behind us, there in Divljana. The old oak tree, ancestor, protector. That old-timer, personal and wise, has been ”resisting transience and the hade” for centuries. Jaws of time, cruelties of nature, plundering hordes of senseless ones.
”Ice-cold winter and hot summer winds have been whipping it for centuries. He remembers the ascensions of St. Sava and creation of the Nemanjić Serbia. He survived uprisings, great rebellions and wars. He remembers hordes of Bulgarian, Turkish, Mongolian, German and who knows how many more executioners. The ”churchyard area”, covered with its shade, is a place where people gather on the day of Pentecost. It indicates the existence of a church dedicated to Holy Trinity. Although decaying, it is not loosing hope. It is alive, watching towards heavens, it murmurs, sings and lives with dignity”, we note.
Young sprouts are growing from its cross-like body.
With its existence, this giant-tree testifies about Dubrave (Forests), previously wooded areas of Suva Planina, which has been competing with neighboring Stara Planina and its ranges since the beginning of the world. In the shade of its aged branches, it can still offer shelter from the sun for seventy-odd visitors. A priest and a few faithful people can fit in its hollow body, with a radius of two meters and circumference of almost seven meters, and hold a divine service. Like in the ancient times when its branches were used for Christmas celebrations.


Remarkable and Dry
Suva Planina (Dry Mountain), in the southeastern part of Serbia, belongs to the Carpathian-Balkan mountain system. On its western side, it spreads from Niš to Gadžin Han. That part is difficult to access due to its slopes. The highest peaks are Trem (1.810 meters), Sokolov Kamen, Mosor. It is about 45 kilometers long and 15 wide. It covers the area of Niška Banja, Gadžin Han, Bela Palanka, Babušnica and Vlasotince municipalities.


Natural Reserve
In the year 2015, Suva Planina was proclaimed special natural reserve, managed by ”Srbijašume”. One third of the flora of Serbia, 1.261 of its floral species are under protection.


Two Wondrous Flowers
Readers of ”National Review” will surely remember that this is where Josif Pančić discovered the wondrous endemic plant Ramondia Serbica, and somewhat later Sava Petrović, court doctor of King Milan Obrenović, found its cousin and named it after the queen, Ramondia Natalia. In unfavorable circumstances, the plant dries up completely, as if it fell asleep. When in touch with water, even after several years and centuries, it comes to life again. Therefore, like the ”Serbian phoenix”, it was taken as a symbol of the resurrection of the Serbian army and state in the Great War.

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