One of the largest cities in Western Serbia, Valjevo has produced many of the nation’s most notable individuals over the years. This is a town of history and culture, full of sights and sounds that will surprise even the most jaded of tourists in the Balkans.
Is this the prettiest street in the country? It may well be. All visitors to Valjevo make an immediate beeline for Tešnjar, the part of the city that still preserves its Ottoman-era aesthetic. This was once the centre of town, a bustling open-air theatre of craft and culture lit up by the gossip of the locals and the trade of everyone else. Many of the establishments on the street have long since shut their doors, but Tešnjar remains the most impressive attraction in Valjevo.
It isn’t unusual for a Serbian town to come with a somewhat grim history, but Valjevo’s misery can be traced back to long before the horrors of World War II. It was here that the First Serbian Uprising began, albeit under fairly tragic circumstances. In an attempt to curb the growing feeling of rebellion, the Ottoman janissaries embarked on a campaign of slaughter against the dukes and nobles of Serbian. It soon became known as the Slaughter of the Knezes, and was every bit as horrible as that sounds
The oldest preserved building in the city also happens to be where two of the most important dukes were held hostage before being executed. Aleksa Nenadović and Ilija Birčanin spent their last hours in the basement of the Muselim’s Konak, and a permanent exhibition to the two Serbian uprisings is now found in their stead.
High above Valjevo sits Vidrak hill, home to a large memorial park full of sculptures and monuments. One of the most impressive statues in the country is found here, itself a dedication to one of the greatest showings of defiance in modern history. On this spot in 1942, Stjepan Filipović was executed by the occupying Nazi army. Before being sent to his death, Filipović threw his arms in the air and screamed ‘smrt fašizmu, sloboda narodu’ (‘death to fascism, freedom to the nation’). A photo just so happened to be taken at the same time, and an iconic image of defiance was born.
There are many symbols of this impressive town, and the Nenadović Tower is one of the most recognisable. It was built in 1813 by the duke of the same name, but it was occupied by the Ottomans less than a year into its existence. It thus became a prison, before being rebuilt as a tower following liberation in 1836.
Valjevo is as Serbian as towns get, and as such it is no surprise to find a wide mix of impressive cafés and restaurants here. The town does surprise when it comes to the quality of its pizzerias, but the traditional restaurants are well and truly where the value resides. Kraljević Marko may well be the best, an authentic Serbian eatery with old paintings on the walls and fresh treasures on the menu.
The city of Valjevo plays host to a number of impressive festivals throughout the year, many of which take place in the idyllic street of Tešnjar. Tešnjar Nights might be the most well known, but May’s Valjevo Jazz Festival might just nip ahead of it in our own rankings. The Tobacco Pork Greaves Festival isn’t far behind, although your enjoyment will depend on how much you are interested in trying the product known as ‘Serbian caviar’.
It doesn’t have the modern charm of Zaječarsko of the traditional marketing might of Lav and Jelen, but Valjevo’s native beer remains king in these parts. Valjevsko is a refreshingly light lager, and is found in any city establishment worth its salt. Valjevo is obviously the best place in which to try and pint of the golden liquid, and don’t miss out on the opportunity when in town.
The Modern Gallery in Valjevo is one of the best in country, thanks largely to the impressive work of Ljuba Popović. Ljuba was a Serbian realist painter who spent most of his life in Paris, which may well have had an influence on his unashamedly erotic creations. Many of these can be seen in Valjevo’s National Gallery, along with some fine works from other important Serbian artists.
Valjevo is a lively town, and the best place to experience that energy is the pedestrian streets called Vojvode Mišića. People young and old will invariably stroll up and down this spot from early in the morning until late at night, stopping only to engage in conversation or maybe for a coffee at one of the ubiquitous cafés. Valjevo is a historic city of defiance and tragedy, but its modern heart is found on the street named after its most famous general.