If you are wondering where the centuries of Islamic rule in Serbia went, the answer lies in Novi Pazar. The little town in the south of the country is the centre of Islamic culture in the nation, and as such offers something very different to Belgrade, Novi Sad and the rest.
Where it all began
Before heading out of the city, nip into Novi Pazar’s bustling market for your first taste of just how different things are here. There is an undeniable Eastern feel to it all, and the energy of the people is markedly different to that displayed in Kragujevac, Kraljevo, Zrenjanin and the rest. You’ll find plenty of fresh fruit and veg here, along with a plethora of seemingly random items.
With the market behind you, we recommend heading out of the city in the morning. This might seem a little unusual, but the cradle of Serbian civilisation is worth prioritising. Hardline Serbs like to claim that Kosovo takes that title, but the truth remains within the internationally recognised borders of the state. Here we find Stari Ras, a vastly influential fortress that acted as the centre of the medieval Serbian Empire. It was this fortress that allowed Novi Pazar to develop in the 15th century. Little remains today, but the intangible sense of history is difficult to shake.
A number of other hugely important historical sites can be found nearby. The Church of St. Peter and Paul is the oldest medieval church building in Serbia, and Sopoćani Monastery is one of the most prestigious in the country. You could easily spend a day exploring the area outside Novi Pazar, so we suggest giving it a morning at least.
A little bit of ‘me time’ at the spa
If you have time in the morning, be sure to stop at Đurđevi stupovi as well, another magnificent Serbian monastery with stories to tell. You may well be a little tired of history however, and an afternoon of relaxation at the spa should be just the ticket. Luckily for you, Novi Pazar has a spa waiting just 2.5km outside the city.
The Novopazarska Banja has been around for centuries, and actually belonged to Đurđevi stupovi once upon a time. This is a place of true restoration, with thermal spring water waiting to bring you back to full health. It is also a great place to treat sciatica, although you probably shouldn’t be travelling if you are struggling with the lower back condition.
Islam in Serbia
Novi Pazar is a small city by modern standards, and as such the centre is easily explored in a single afternoon. This is a town that is well and truly lived in, meaning the most exciting experience once should be looking for is the opportunity to watch a different way of life unfolding. The Altun-Alem Mosque is the obvious place at which to start — it’s the main mosque in town and an almost constant hub of activity.
The Amir-Agin Han is one of the best examples of Ottoman architecture in the country, and is a must for anyone interested in glimpsing into Serbia’s Islamic past. It also happens to be the last surviving element of the main bazaar that once tempered life here. Round off the Islamic sightseeing with a little trip to Novi Pazar’s fortress, a surprisingly short walk from the centre and the spot from which the best views of the city can be found.
A different kind of nightlife
You’ll notice that the streets of Novi Pazar are every bit as busy as anywhere else in the country, especially when the sun has gone down. The main difference here is that you’ll see very little alcohol, as the Islamic side of things takes over. Rather than sipping rakija and throwing a variety of questionable shapes, you’ll spend the evening in Novi Pazar drinking coffee and diving into deep discussions about all subjects. This is Serbia’s most youthful city, and the future is bright.
28 Novembra street is the place to be. It’s a long pedestrian thoroughfare that is full of cafes on both sides. Take your pick — you can’t go wrong.