The Homeland Museum in Knjaževac
  • 08-16:00

Knjaževac has woven its destiny among the hills beneath vineyards and thickets, surrounded by gentle plateaus descending from the nearby Tresibaba and Tupiznica, in the shadow of the Old Balkan Mountain and the basins of the Svrljiški and Trgoviški Timok rivers. In the eastern corner of Serbia, a region of 1202 km² has unfolded with 37,172 inhabitants.

Anthropogeographic factors, along with social ones, have influenced ethnic processes and the formation of the contemporary ethnic landscape of the Knjaževac region. Despite wars and historical challenges in the past, Knjaževac has over time gained the status of an important place for the eastern part of Serbia. Among the first, it acquired a hospital, a reading room, a church, an elementary school, and a gymnasium. With the construction of the Niš-Prahovo railway at the beginning of the 20th century, the city accelerated its development. Today, Knjaževac is a city with great potential for the food, machinery, shoemaking, wood processing, and clothing industries.

The city of Knjaževac welcomes visitors with its streets and bazaars, its bridges and promenades, for which it was once nicknamed “Little Venice.”

The wealth of material and spiritual culture of Knjaževac and its surroundings— the origin and migration of the population, traditional economy, living culture, folk costumes, social life, folk customs, and beliefs—has been a significant and interesting area of scientific research since the establishment of the ethnological department in 1980. The rich and diverse collections include items from the 18th to the 20th century, photographs, audio and video recordings.

Collections such as the economy, crafts, folk and civil costumes, textiles, construction and architecture, furniture, utensils, domestic crafts, looms, textile crafts, musical instruments, technical devices, and items from everyday life stand out in terms of the number of items and their beauty. Particularly notable is the collection of double-knit socks from the Timok region from the 18th to the 20th century, which exists as a separate entity in The Homeland Museum of Knjаževаc and represents a unique collection accompanied by over 1000 handcrafted cardboard patterns of designs and motifs.

The ethnological department is presented in part of the exhibition of the The Homeland Museum of Knjаževаc, as well as in the house (designated as a cultural monument) of Alekse Ace Stanojević, with the exhibition “Knjaževac at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.”

Economy

Ethnological display begins with the collection of objects related to textile handicrafts in Knjaževac area. An important place in the traditional life was occupied by female domestic production related to the manufacture of textile items, furniture and national costumes. From the processing of raw materials to the weaving, everything was done within the household. In order to process hemp and wool, women used various aids: scutcher, combs, different spindles, destaff, reels, a ‘fawn’ etc. and for weaving – horizontal loom.

Most of these objects are displayed in glass cases at the beginning of exhibition space. Basic furniture fabrics were rugs and bedspread – sheets, blankets and other. They also made other household items, various types of carpets, among others, famous Pirot kilims. They are characterized by a wealth of techniques, coloring and various ornaments – geometric, zoomorphic and herbal. In economic terms, from the anthropo-geographical point of view, Knjaževac area can be divided into mountainous (hilly) and the lowland part or into three wholes called Timok, Zaglavak and Budžak.

*All of these objects are from the XIX and XX centuries.

Different altitudes and mountainous terrain provided favorable conditions for the development of livestock breeding, especially sheep breeding. The slopes of the surrounding mountains and hills were fertile ground for growing vine, fruit and field crops, while the fertile valley of the Timok river favored growing cereals and gardening. Knjaževac area was known for exporting sheep and goats, wool and leather, yellow cheese, nuts, beans, wine and coal. The people in mountain settlements mainly lived on livestock breeding, especially sheep breeding. The herds consisted of as many as a hundred sheep. Sheep were kept at field huts – shepherds’ shelters where milk was collected and processed into cheese.

Agriculture has always been basic economic activity in this area. The main cereals were rye, oats, and less common wheat and barley. Maize was widely grown, too, and fruit production was well developed. The glass cases display items which were used in the economy of Knjaževac area, such as bells, saddle, ploughshare, and plow. Viticulture has always been developed particularly in those villages where the natural conditions were favorable. Around 1880 grape phylloxera insect destroyed the domestic varieties. At the beginning of the XX century vineyards were renewed and a new technology was applied in the grape processing. Agricultural cooperative was established in 1927 and a year later the Wine Cellar was built. The items characteristic for viticulture are: wine measuring tools, wine balloon, traditional wine flask and “Džiban”.

Crafts

The next part of the exhibition is related to trades in Knjaževac of the late XIX and early XX century. Knjaževac had 450 different artisans at the end of the nineteenth century. After the liberation from the Turks, the town had the following guilds: 15 innkeepers, 12 merchants and over 50 artisans (furriers, tailors, weavers, potters, silversmiths, tailors, celebrants, brick makers, carpenters, gunsmiths, blacksmiths and others). Newer crafts appeared only in the early twentieth century (tailors, carpenters, watchmakers, shoemakers, tinsmiths, cobblers, doctors, barbers, goldsmiths, confectioners). Modern and traditional clothes tailors are continue their development. Modern tailoring arises in the 20’s of the XX century. Within the ethnological display, there are items related to tailoring and these are: furrier tools, molds for fur hats, a mannequin, a metal tool for tensioning the canvas called ‘cimbar’, a male sheepskin jerkin. Furrier trade is very old in Knjaževac. From year 1910 until the beginning of World War II, the production was at its peak. The development of this trade is a result of large livestock growing in the vicinity of Knjaževac, especially goats and sheep. The furriers purchased raw skins from butchers in the town and surrounding villages and tanned them. They made male and female fur coats, fur jerkins, fur hats, vests.

*All of these objects are from the XIX and XX centuries.

In the next display case there are items related to footwear industry which developed in the early twentieth century. Shoe moulds and shoemakers’ tools are exhibited here. Cobblers in Knjaževac were first mentioned in 1876. Peasant shoemakers’ guild was one of the largest in this region. Peasant shoes are hand-made from beef or calf leather. At first, shoes were made of raw skin. Peasants made them themselves, and also women. Because of infection hazard and dissatisfied cobblers, raw footwear was prohibited. The form of raw peasant shoe remained, only tanned leather was now used. The famous traditional shoemaker – “opančar” in Knjaževac was Dragi Milosavljević, who was awarded for his work at the World Exhibition in London in 1907.

Mining

The next industry that is represented is mining.

In the second half of the XIX century in Knjaževac area two coal-mines were opened, in Podvis in 1884. and ‘Dobra sreća’ in Vina in 1896. At the beginning of the XX century, four more coal mines were opened in Vina, Podvis, Vlaško Polje and in Dubrava. The first owner of the mine in Vina was a blacksmith from Knjaževac Stevan Sibinović. The present museum building used to be a private house of the family Sibinović. That is why over the entrance to the courtyard there were two ceramic statues. One was a miner, and the other a blacksmith. The miner is still in place. The showcases are presenting mining lamps, lanterns, a carbide lamp, a hammer, a hack. Pottery production was also developed. In the exhibition examples of pottery from the early XX century are presented. 

Settlements and traditions

The exhibition further presents objects related to settlements and houses in Knjaževac area. The Knjaževac surrounding with its 86 settlements is not densely populated. The villages were located far from main roads in the past. After the liberation from the Turks the people started to move towards the roads and river valleys. In the mountain areas called ‘Budžak’ a scattered type prevails, whereas in so-called ‘Zaglavak’, in river valleys a compact type of settlement prevails. Human settlements underwent significant changes. Modern shepherds’ huts remind of old pit houses which were followed by pile houses, cob houses, wickerwork houses old and new Morava style, all built by hard working masons from villages Crvenje and Žlne who brought to their homeland new architectural elements. The interior arrangement of rooms and furniture is quite uniform, the main room is called “house” with a hearth in the centre. There you can see a place for preparing food with different pottery, stands and nails for hanging ceramic vessels, a low table, spoons, clay dishes, wooden bowls, etc. The “house” is designed in such a way that it communicates with all the other rooms. This collection also includes objects from ritual tradition: a church flag from 1893, a chest and a cup, handmade ceramics, earthenware baking dish, low table, wooden spoon, Slava cake, etc. Besides the model of a Morava style house from Gornja Kamenica village, there are also models of a barn from Beli Potok village, cob houses from Zubetinac and Berčinovac, a model of a sheepfold and a model of straw-covered watermill from XIX century.

*All of these objects are from the XIX and XX centuries.

In the last part of the exhibition are the objects used for folk ceremonies and beliefs. Knjaževac area is rich in preserved traditions related to the cycle of life of an individual, through religious beliefs and ritual practices that accompanied the birth, marriage and death. Mountain peaks and river sources have always been regarded as natural sanctuaries and habitats of various deities and mythical creatures. Items that make up this collection are: the bride’s corolla, a leceder heart, a wedding flask – “buklija”, a baby carrier, a bowl with Easter eggs and ritual breads, accessories for incantation and Dobromir, dwarf the Hop tribe.

Costumes

The exhibition further represents the clothes of the XIX century in Knjaževac area. National costumes ostumes in the Timok and Zaglavak area differed significantly from costumes in Budžak. Each had its own peculiarities and special development. In the Timok and Zaglavak, in the XIX century and the first decades of the XX century women’s costume was characterized by combing hair in a special way with inserts of wool or hemp, head covering with tied scarves and a long embroidered shirt and the skirt over it that was worn open over the entire length and the upper woolen garments among which “zubun”, upper dress with rich embroidery was most prominent. Men’s national costume was predominantly from natural brown cloth called “klašnja”. Trousers “benevreci” and “gunjče” , a thick vest with sleeves completed with the hemp shirt, woolen belt, fur hat, richly ornamented two-string knitted socks and peasant shoes. In Budžak, until the thirties of the XX century women’s costume was characterized by a long linen shirt, on top of that garment a black cloth dress, sleeveless, woven with belt, on her head a white scarf called “zabratka”. Men’s costume was made predominantly of white cloth and decorated with black woolen braids. Over clothes cloak raincoat with a hood which, like leather boots, was carried on the entire territory of Knjaževac mainly by shepherds. In the exhibition space there are examples of national costumes in the Timok and Zaglavak from the late XIX and early XX century, namely: peasant footwear, everyday costumes, women’s dress called “Litak” buckles (clasp jewelry for women’s belt), men’s shirts, woollen gloves, women’s dress “zubun” female camisole “pamuklija”, men’s shirts, women’s blayer from Zubetinac, clasps from the end of XIX century, and two string knitted socks.

*All of these objects are from the XIX and XX centuries.

The first note about Gurgusovac comes from XV century. Records from the XVII century describe the position of Gurgusovac on the Big/Upper and Small/Lower Timok river, the Turkish fort enclosed with a palisade, of a small town which has 46 Turkish and 120 Christian houses, two mosques, two inns, and most of the houses made of wood. The Turks conquered Gurgusovac on the 25th of September in 1436, and was freed by the Serbs and Prince Miloš who annexed it together with the other six administrative units to Serbia in 1833, making it a trading and crafts town. To the great pleasure of Gurgusovac residents, on his way back from Romania, Prince Miloš gave the order on the 17th of January, 1859. to burn down to the ground the infamous Gurgusovac tower – prison called “Serbian Bastille”. The grateful citizens gave a new name to the town – Knjaževac – the Prince’s town. According to the official act from 1866 Knjaževac was proclaimed a “varoš” – a town settlement. The process of formation of the middle class society started in the XIX century with mixing of urban population and immigrant rural population, with all the characteristics of folk culture and patriarchal family life. A civic costume consisted of a shirt, scarf, belt “Bajader”, long skirts, a short jacket – “libade”, “bareš “ a ribbon tied with branch or ring with braided pigtails. Over time, the bourgeois class accepted new materials and patterns of European fashion. Men’s costume consists of the same elements, only in European style. These are white cotton shirts, pants, vest, jacket – a jacket or tuxedo and a bowler hat. The photos of Knjaževac accompany the exhibition, as well as items that were present in town houses: a tea set, a mirror frame, binoculars, toys for children. The collection of urban culture also includes costumes of the XX century, women’s ceremonial dresses and a women’s set – a suit and a tergal skirt, underwear and a gown for the wedding night.

Two-string knitted socks

The Museum of two strings knitted socks from Timok area is a separate unit in the Homeland Museum of Knjaževac. Some of the socks are dating from the XVIII to the XX century, and they represent unique collection. Two strings knitted socks are expressed as representatives of folklore “naive” art.

*All of these objects are from the XIX and XX centuries.

The socks are made of domestic wool in two colors, and are therefore given the name. Socks are knitted from the top of the toes to the heel and further up. Foot and upper part form a single whole.

Furthermore, along with the national clothing a collection that includes male and female civil costume from the late XIX and early XX century to is exposed as a part of urban culture.