Sokobanja ([sɔ̂kɔbaɲa]) is located in the south-east of Serbia and it is a small town with a lot of potential. It is positioned at 400 m above the sea level and surrounded with a massive chain of mountains with Ozren, Devica, Bukovik and Rtanj as the biggest one in the vicinity. Looked from above, Sokobanja is leaning over the slopes of mountain Ozren, while the terrain is made in a proximate circle of hills and mountains, similar to a crater. There are many roads that lead towards the Sokobanja, but most of them are settled in the gorges and around the steep hills that lead towards nearby towns of Aleksinac and Knjaževac. The only mean of transportation you can use to get to Sokobanja is by road.
Area of Sokobanja has many villages, rivers and springs with clear water and an artificial lake Bovan that is built to provide water for Aleksinac. The biggest river Sokobanja has its river Moravica and it is connected with the lake Bovan. The population uses this water bodies to swim in the summer or fish for catfishes, carp, perch, trouts and other river breeds, but fishing and hunting is highly regulated by the municipality of Sokobanja and you can’t do this without a permit. From the hunting game, I can name the wild boar season and wolf season as a regular.
The primary source of income, Sokobanja is relying on tourism and medical tourism I will take a longer talk in the following text. As a secondary way of funding, Sokobanja has a lot of minor business such is farming in the outskirts of the town, shops, banks, bakeries, schools, service shops (mechanics, cafes, restaurants, bars, car-wash), hotels, private accommodations, aqua park, sport halls, post office, museum, gallery and touristic agencies.
Sokobanja is noted as a ‘green heart’ of Serbia and it is one of the Eco-friendly municipalities, with one out of five Banjas that has a marble made walking street. Season can last up-to four months starting early in the beginning of May and it can last until October. Sokobanja is know to provide a lot of attractions like concerts during the hot summer nights, tours around the countryside, sightseeing and participation in various activities like sport, hikes, mountain biking, tournaments, music festivals, mountain car race, motocross, open theaters or relaxing in various places that provide massage, indoor pools, saunas and cultural shows such as singing and dancing.
Every year this little town is getting more and more visitors where the last year Sokobanja counted around 500 000 visitors during one season with weekend holiday and festivity guests accounted. It is found that lately many foreigners chose Sokobanja as their sidetrack resort to recharge their batteries and calm down from the road trip around Serbia.
Many chose to stay in the private accommodations where they can expect a full service with a clean room built in mixture of traditional and modern architecture. Most of the rooms have separate showers, WiFi, a balcony, two bedrooms and a diner hall provided for a price of 40 $ per night when it’s the season and 25 $ off season. It is possible to find a cheaper accommodation, or even for free if you are happening to visit a friend.
Among many attractions, people usually like taking long walks near the river bank, or enjoy the cool air of the forested parks where children like to play on the swings, slides or running down the concrete paths that intertwine around trees and fountains.
Is is fairly easy to find all of the sights, mostly because this small town is closely built and streets lead in a circle. This way, you can’t get lost. You will have a little trouble of getting from one side of the marble walking street to the other from all of the tourists and the outdoor cafes that can trip you with their tables. Uplifting music can change from a local to local as you pass near them and smell all of the sweet beverages they serve to customers.
Historical sight are many but most visited ones are old fortress of Sokolac or better known as Soko Grad (Falcon City), Turkish bath Hamam built over the Roman bath with natural hot spring giving bathing hot water, Ethnic Museum, camping sites Lepterija, mountain Ozren, peak Šiljak on Rtanj mountain and the ruins of chapel St. George the Dragonslayer, Aqua Park, ethno sites Banja Jošanica, Watermills of Vrmdža, lake Bovan and old fortress Bovan, old fortress of Vrmdža, Maiden’s rock, waterfall Ripaljka, Watermill Jošanica, Prince Miloš Obrenović dormitory, Prince Miloš’s drinking fountain, City Library with a meteorite fragment found in the Municipality of Sokobanja, caves of Lepterija and a restaurant inside the cave, a Marry the Mother of God formed in the rock and Sokobanja’s marble walking street.
It would take a day to visit all of these sights, yet it is better to plan out your days during your stay and reserve some sights for better experience. Recommended time for your stay would be a month or so, because there’s a lot to be seen and tried.
Nightlife is fairly diverse with a lot of places where you can go have drink, dance or enjoy a game of pool, table football, football in an illuminated court, a midnight bath in the indoor pool or join a concert when it’s time of festival. For those that are not fond of noises, you can enjoy a night walk in the nearby park where students gather and play guitars, drive the bump cars, stroll in the marble corridor, eat many delights like candied apples, popcorn, roasted corn, cotton candy or any pastry from the many bakeries that surround the strand.
For some, Sokobanja is a place of writers and poets because this place has been a host to various esteemed personas of culture. There is a yearly contest of competitive poetry, a Festival of Accordion, a St. John the Herb-picker that celebrates the herbs with power to heal and help medically, many sport events like basketball tournaments, mini football tournaments and rave parties in foam.
If we speak about concerts, you can expect live music in each bar changing from domestic band that play folk music where others may play dance music, pop music and heavy metal music. When it’s time of festivity, usually the Municipality of Sokobanja sets up a stage in the middle of the square where some of the popular folk singers perform for the crowd. This only enriches the cultural presentation of Sokobanja and offers a great fun for the guests.
Amam and inhalation center downtown Sokobanja and other places in this city are a must, if you came to Sokobanja for the medical treatment. Every Banja of Serbia is specialized for some form of diseases and that is one of the reasons why these towns have this title of Banja (Spa). Sokobanja got specialized in respiratory systems and healing through breathing. There are other resources Banja has to spare like thermal waters and air rich with Radon (Rn 86), a noble nuclear gas that vapors from the ground. It is considered as a primary asset for Sokobanja to have such rarity in bountiful amount that is naturally distributed in the valley and it is believed that Sokobanja is the second in Europe with this characteristic.
Some visitors with respiratory problems and lasting illnesses like asthma, bronchitis, and lung inflammation do see the change on the first step in the region of Sokobanja. After a few days they see a great change to their health. Some people do speak of better sleep and better appetite during their stay without any side effects to their health. These patients usually come with the note from the doctor and they stay in many villas that serve as a ‘medical hotel’, or if their situation is serious they are sent straight to Specialized Wing on mountain Ozren where they have doctors on ready 24 hours a day.
Speaking of thermal waters, Sokobanja is rich with sulfur springs and hot springs used for baths. These waters are used for skin infections, skin revitalization and calming down the symptoms of rheumatism and popped out veins under the skin. Such baths can feel refreshing; rejuvenating where after a week you will feel younger and full with energy.
Our Novelist Ivo Andrić who won a Nobel Prize in literature once wrote:
Sokobanja, Soko Grad.
Dođeš star, odeš mlad.
Which translates to: Sokobnja, Soko Grad. You arrive old, you leave young.
History and a legend
Sokobanja got its status of a spa when prince Miloš Obrenović was sent here for treatment. Because this place had no infrastructure, he raised Milošev Konak, or in translation Miloš’s Dormitory and a Miloš’s drinking fountain that runs freely on the road for Sokobanja. During the later years, this place attracted many notable people and Sokobanja grew into what it is today. Now, the Miloš’s Dormitory is a place full of bars and cafes where you can sit under the shade and enjoy your stay with a view on the marble street built in the 60’.
Sokobanja got its name from the falconry and falcons that made this region their dominion. During the time before Ottoman rule, falconry was the primary way used for hunting and later on entered the military service in the King’s royal army. These people were considered a skillful scouts and hunters that brought food for the King. Residents of Sokobanja have utmost pride in that tradition, even if there is no falconry today.
Sokograd was is a fortress built in the fourth century by the Romans, destroyed and rebuilt by the Ottomans, won and lost by the Empire of Serbia and now it lays a ruin of that time with a few towers still standing and a water tank built underneath the fortification. It was an important trading town on the Via Militaries, a war path of ancient Romans that used this place as a resting ground for their troops.
In the ancient time what is now Sokobanja, was a vast lake hard to cross over, so with the cliffs of Ozren on the south and lake on the north, Sokograd was an impregnable fortress with few steep paths that lead in and out of the city. To some estimations, it had around a few thousand citizens and a garrison able to defend the fort for a year with well built in the fort, so it could last a long siege.
Since the fort belonged to Ottomans, Serbian population and ‘hajduk’ rebel militant group that fought against the Ottomans defied the Fortress is numerous hit and run attacks. This rebel group used mountains and forests to hide, aided the villages when Ottoman raider descended into the populations, looted the homes and butchered the population. A fierce battle occurred where whole platoon of Ottoman soldiers was annihilated and this grievous news reached the Ottoman ruler of the region.
It retribution, he ordered the damn to be destroyed and lake unleashed onto the villages that lay underneath the fortress. Ottoman forces did as commanded and broke the damn letting the lake to take care of rebellious Serbs. A huge amount of water in a form of a tidal wave fell over the villages and washed them away from existence. The place where these villages once stood is called Trebič (istrebljenje – trebiti – trebič – annihilation). Now, Trebič is a crossroad that leads to various villages settled in the forests and hills where groups of people ran from the main road to hide from the Ottoman raiders. This is a legend of how villages came to be where they are now. Many locals will say that the current place where villages are positioned now were not founded there originally, but say that they were much more into the forested lands around the village, but migration and depopulation brought the villages closer to the main road again.
When the water retracted and years passed, people got back to their settlements and started rebuilding their homes which resulted in birth of Sokobanja. Like any other place, people looked to build their homes near the water, near the road and near to the forest where they can easily ran if there is some emergency. This is how the current way of building is formed today and anywhere you go in Sokobanja, you can see a river, a forest and it is usually close to the main road – build in close circles.
Sokograd stands as one of the historical monument where people like to go and stand in the crippled walls and gaze over the valley see the fertile lands and the forests, the mountain range that envelops the town and enjoy a fresh radon air.
Even today, some people stumble across a arrowhead left from the war, of some pieces of broken pottery that lies near, like prehistoric bones of cave men who also lived here.
And to conclude, this is a place full of wonders, natural beauty, many opportunities where everybody is welcome. For your next vacation plans, do reconsider in visiting Sokobanja, a green heart of Serbia.