Vršac: A town on the grape vine

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The Germans from the region around Moselle River colonized the town, bringing with them new techniques for wine growing that soon made Vršac one of the main wine producing areas of Hungary and Austria.

After fast economic growth in the 18th century, Vršac managed to obtain the status of Free Royal City in 1817. The town suffered in the 1848 revolution when it was an arena for violent conflicts between Serbs and Hungarians. The rest of the 19th century passed quietly and the town regained its trading and wine producing status.

Vršac, Foto: welcometoserbia.travel

The settlement evolved under the castle standing on top (vrh in Serbian) of the hill, which was built at the beginning of the 15th century by Hungarian king Sigmund to protect his southern border from persistent Turkish assails. The fort was given to Serbian despots the Djuradjs, whose main strongholds were on the other side of the Danube. In 1425, Serbian refugees from the south came here and founded the settlement called Podvršac (Under Vršac). Vršac was famous in those days for its wine production and the local wines were amongst the most expensive at the Hungarian royal court. After a long period of pillaging, the Turks took the town in 1552 but it remained settled mostly by Serbs. Provoked by the Austro-Turkish war and hopeful that they could overthrow Ottoman opressive rule, the Serbs of Banat rose to arms in the spring of 1594. The rebellion was at first successful and Vršac, among other towns, fell in their hands, but at the end of the summer the Turks regained control and started to retaliate. Most of the Serbs fled to Transylvania and the town gained a full oriental appearance. The Turks left Vršac in 1716 opening a new chapter in the town’s history.

The Germans from the region around Moselle River colonized the town, bringing with them new techniques for wine growing that soon made Vršac one of the main wine producing areas of Hungary and Austria. After fast economic growth in the 18th century, Vršac managed to obtain the status of Free Royal City in 1817. The town suffered in the 1848 revolution when it was an arena for violent conflicts between Serbs and Hungarians. The rest of the 19th century passed quietly and the town regained its trading and wine producing status. The results of a catastrophic phyloxera epidemic that ruined the vineyards and plantations were reversed by planting fresh American sorts of grape vine. The end of World War II saw another major disturbance in the ethnic make-up of the town: the Germans had to flee in front of the advancing Red Army and their absence was soon felt in the fields of culture and economics. In recent years, the main drive of the city became a medical and pharmaceutical conglomerate called Hemofarm, the biggest in this industrial branch in Serbia.

Sava Kovačević Square

Once the focal point of the town’s merchants, today the square is a pleasant pedestrian zone with several interesting buildings. At No. 15 stands the house called “Two pistols”. Built at the end of the 18th century as a guesthouse, it received its most important guest in 1813 when Karadjordje, the leader of the failed Serbian insurrection, spent some time here before leaving for Russia. To cover his expenses he gave the owner two of his finest guns that became the distinctive sign of this inn. The inner courtyard has a nice vaulted porch. In this same square there is a house that dates back to 1868 built by Djordje, brother of famous Serb dramatist Jovan Sterija Popović, on the foundations of an older house where they both of them were born. Sterija (1806-1856) was a lawyer, poet, founder of the National Museum and the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, but is best known for his comedies that whip the hypocrisy and snobbish life of Vojvodina’s middle class. His brother’s dying wish was finally accommodated in 1974, when the house was given to the poets. Today it houses the Literary Community of Vršac (Književna Opština Vršac), the main local publisher, which holds often organises and stages literary presentations and various exhibitions.

Old Pharmacy

At the corner of Kumanovska and Stevana Nemanje Streets stands the building of the Old Pharmacy also known as the Pharmacy on the Steps. It was built in the mid-18th century and in 1784 it launched as under the name At the Savior and it was the first one in town. The pharmacy operated until 1965, when the building was handed over to the local museum. The original façade was changed to a classicist style in the 19th century, but the building retained its unusual entrance, a high roof with two levels (used to dry the medical herbs) and a large cellar to house the medical stocks. Today it houses two exhibition spaces: the Medical Museum of Vršac and another dedicated to the memory of renowned Serbian painter Paja Jovanović, whose brother worked as a pharmacists here. At the next corner there is a small but picturesque Romanian church of St. Salvation built in 1913 with a mixture of styles, dominated by Byzantine elements.

Metropolitain’s Court (Vladičanski dvor)

In Dvorska (Court) Street stands the Metropolitain’s Court surrounded by a charming French park and enclosed with a richly ornamented fence in Baroque style. The court was constructed between 1750 and 1757 by the Metropolitain Jovan Georgijević and served as a residence for the Orthodox bishops of Banat, a purpose it has retained to this day. The final touch to the old baroque façade was given in 1904, when it got richer Renaissance and Neo-baroque elements. The chapel dedicated to Sts. Gabriel and Michael dates is also 18th century and has a nice Baroque iconostasis with icons by Nikola Nečković. Moreover, the court holds an impressive collection of portraits of church dignitaries, icons and other religious paintings, old books and vessels.

Orthodox Cathedral

Facing the court stands the Orthodox cathedral of St Nicolas with its unusual tower comprising a narrow terrace. It was constructed in 1785 in place of an older temple. Inside, one can find works of various prominent Serb artists such as Pavel Djurković (icons in the iconostasis), Nikola Nešković (free standing icons) and Paja Jovanović (two paintings). At the end of Dvorska Street stands a smaller Church of the Dormition (Uspenska crkva) built in 1766. This Serb Orthodox church has an impressive 1809 iconostasis with icons painted by Arsa Todorović. Not too far off is the railway station. Built in 1900, it is one of the most impressive station edifices in Serbia. The exterior is covered with clinker bricks and inside the main hall the old wooden decoration is still intact.

Town Magistrate

The central Victory Square (Trg pobede) is dominated by hotel “Srbija”. The most important edifice here is the Town Magistrate. Facing the square stands the new section, the so-called Gothic edifice, built in 1860 by the German masters. The main face is stressed by the balcony with a municipal coat of arms in a medallion and a Gothic gable. The interior is embellished with wall paintings from the end of the 19th century. To the left in the side street is the smaller and older section, built at the very beginning of 19th century and immediately purchased by the Magistrate offices. The ornament is late baroque and the most striking feature is the corner erquer.

Catholic Cathedral

The tallest and most impressive edifice in the town is the Catholic Cathedral, easily located by its twin towers. The beautiful Neo-gothic structure dedicated to St Gerhard was constructed in 1860-63 on the plans of the local architect Franc Brandajs (Franz Brandeis). Rich sculptural decoration is located mainly in the upper parts of the towers, around windows and portals. The three naves end with three altars, the main one being painted by Karl Geiger, professor of the Viennese Academy, in 1863.

Concordia

Architect Brandajs was the master architect of the Concordia building standing just a hundred meters to the north at 20 Žarka Zrenjanina Street. The building was finished in 1847 and opened as the Concordia Hotel, but was later transformed into a junior high school and today houses a museum. The building was errcted in a Classicist style with a monumental central tract and four Corinth pilasters.

City Park and Vršac Tower

Vršac, Foto: welcometoserbia.travel

The City Park brings a breath of nature to the south-eastern corner of the town center. It sparwls over the 18th century estate of the prominent Šeribl (Scheribl) family. The estate was bought by the town magistrate in 1797 and since the 1840s it was used to house shooting grounds, an ice ring and tennis courts.

Meticulously maintained by the citizens, the large park was one of the most beautiful in the region. Today it has lost a lot of its beauty, but one can still admire a fountain with representations of the four seasons.
Climbing on top of the hill above the town, you will pass by the Calvary Church from 1728, and reach the Vršac Tower, or just the Kula, that crowns the top. Dating from the 15th century, the tower is the only standing part of the fortress, the rest of which is visible in contours. The structure is made of stone and bricks in the style of Byzantine and Serb fortifications from that period and was, therefore, probably reconstructed by the Serbian Djuradj despotes. The outer steps lead to the second of three floors that rise 20 meters in height. In the 18th century the fort lost its strategic importance and a large part of it was demolished. If you should travel on east, several magnificent panoramic views of the entire city will open up to round up a pleasant afternoon stroll. The road leads to the mountain hut at Široko bilo.

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