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[teacherartexchange] Day trip to Mt. Avala, St. Sava Cathedral


From: Melissa Enderle (melissa_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun Sep 03 2006 - 04:23:48 PDT

Dear all,

Well, we finished our first week of school with students. This is my
third year at the International School of Belgrade in Serbia. Many
new faces were mixed amongst the returning staff and students,
causing an excitement in the air. Although not all the students have
showed up yet (unfortunately many in international schools like to
extend their vacations), the classrooms definitely were more crowded
than in previous years. Teachers showed their flexibility by starting
the school without the new shipment of books and supplies (first
shipment due to arrive hopefully in a couple of weeks) and all had to
put up with the unusually long streak of rainy weather. Students and
teachers alike were glad to see the first week finished, signaling
the true beginning of another school year.

Mt. Avala

After an entire week of rain, Saturday finally brought good weather.
Olja (a Serbian teacher at school) and I decided to go to Mt. Avala,
located about 18 km south of Belgrade. Our meeting point was the Mc
Donald’s in Slavija Circle. The juxtaposition of the Austro-
Hungarian-style building with the ubiquitous chain restaurant logo
always amuses me. Olja explained that we would have to take the local
buses, as the special service bus to Avala only runs during the
summer – which ended the day before. As the destination was outside
the main Belgrade bus zone, we had to pay slightly more for the
ticket – 61 cents. Once outside of the Belgrade city, high-rise
apartment buildings were replaced with extended family homes, many of
which were in various stages of completion. A few tractors hauling
small wagonloads of grasses and weeds slowed the pace a bit.

Just a short distance away from Belgrade, it was easy to see why Mt.
Avala (only 6 meters above the minimum requirements for a mountain)
was a popular summer day trip for citizens of the capital city. Our
bus stop was at the base of the mountain. Although a paved road for
vehicles existed, everyone was hiking up the paved walk, shaded by
the forest trees. Benches were regularly situated along the zigzag
path, enabling people to relax and enjoy the deciduous and coniferous
forest landscape.

At the top of the mountain was the Unknown Soldier Monument, sculpted
of black marble by Ivan Mestrovic from 1934-38. Stairs, also of black
marble, led majestically up to the enclosed monument. Inside on the
floor were the dates relating to the First World War. From here, we
had a great panoramic view of the lush agricultural region of
Sumadija. At one time, Olja explained, the entire region was heavily
forested. Guarding both entrances to the monument were eight massive
caryatides (female-shaped supporting pillars like those found in
classical Greek temples). Each represented a region of then-
Yugoslavia, including Kosovo and Vojvodina.

Pesky wasps forced us to eat our picnic lunch rather quickly, at
which time we began the easier descent. Partly because of our too-
short stay at the summit, we stopped for a drink in the large outdoor
café at the 1938 Avala hotel. I found the sphinxes lining the parking
lot entrance rather amusing, contrasting with the other architectural
styles of the building. On our way down, we took a slight detour to
see where the state-owned RTS television station tower and once was,
turned into rubble in the 1999 NATO air campaign. Just inside the
forest was an old lady selling small bundles of thyme and other
herbs. Feeling a bit sorry for the lady, Olja bought a bundle for 10
cents. Perfect timing, the bus arrived just as we got there.

Slightly in from the road, Olja pointed out a Memorial Garden that
paid tribute to the 80,000 Yugoslavs executed by the Nazis during
World War II. Romas and people supporting the Partizans were
frequently targeted by the Germans and sent to concentration camps.

St. Sava Cathedral (Belgrade)

Back in Belgrade, I decided to visit St. Sava Cathedral and check its
progress. Although the outside of the massive structure was completed
several years ago, the inside decoration was in its beginning stages
the last time I had visited. (The structure was begun in 1926, but
interrupted many times, particularly during Nazi bombing in 1941,
post WWII, and during the breakup of Yugoslavia). I took the entrance
on the Vracar Plateau side, walking through the path lined with
fountains. Here the Turkish burning of St. Sava’s relics in 1594 (as
a way to break the spirit and punish the Serbs) is commemorated.
Inside were the sounds of construction. The large cupola domes were
still unornamented, as was most of interior. Parts of walls were
covered with large sheets of colored marble, cut in geometric
designs. The Serbian Coat of Arms, with its double-headed eagle, was
carved in white marble, contrasting with the colored background
marble. Through the scaffolding I saw a large mosaic mural in
progress. Sections of white carved marble were piled on the floor,
with some already in place. Piles of marble slabs and other building
materials filled a large portion of the front entrance. On each side
were places where candles were lit, one for the dead and the other
for the living.

After walking past the smaller St. Sava Church (1935), I turned
around to take another picture of the magnificent larger structure,
brightly gleaming against the blue sky. The bells began to toll,
briefly but with strength. Already the pride of Serbia, St. Sava
Cathedral will be a thing of beauty once it is completed.

To get back to my neighborhood of Senjak, I took the bus instead of
my preferred tram route. I was glad to see that the rails of the tram
line finally were being redone, but lament their present
inoperability and accompanying inconvenience. In the early evening, I
heard traditional brass music coming from the direction of the
hippodrome, overlooked by my apartment. Comprised of subtle but
beautiful colors, the sunset provided a wonderful end to the gorgeous


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