September 29, 2010

Lesson 4 in Traditional Serbian Rural Architecture:The Family Homestead

This is what I saw the first time I visited the homestead. The ground is on the right side of the village road on a little hill whit a wooden entrance gate. 
On the left there is the older house (where my husband's grand dad Velimir was born) and in the background is the newer house that Deda Velimir has build in the 1970's.

I noticed right away, that the view from the house is really nice , you have control over the village road seeing who's coming and going (fantastic!)
This is the view from the terasse of the newer house. 
A big pear-tree (with two kind of pears on the same tree, Deda Velimir liked to cross sorts of fruits!) gives a nice shadow over the house, in front the older house and in the background the village road.
Deda Velimir choose the best place to build the new house, on top of his terrain with the best view. He arranged trees in manner to have shadow and to be protected from too curious looks.

Also in the back he built a couple of stalls, for chicken, pigs and other smaller animals. Now for a couple of years they're been empty. 
It corresponds pretty good to the typical arrangement of a traditional Serbian Homestead, where single or mixed stables are arranged around the house, with stalls and toilets in the back, between the house and the stalls or in front of the house it's usually a good place for the fruit garden (grapes, pears, apples and of course plums) or the vegetable garden.
Some houses have also the hayloft and all sorts of workshops around the main house. Common is also to have a pantry or place for storage placed somewhere near the house.

Above is a sketch I made of the arrangement of the homestead. Usually homesteads consisted of several buildings, each one of a specific purpose. 
Deda Velimir lived with his wife Jelica in the newer house and used the older one as a workshop (he weaved baskets, worked also as the local barber and did all sorts of craft works around the house).
He used the basement of the old house as a storage for Rakija and a lot of other kind of winter supplies from the garden and fields. (The fields are not directly connected with the homestead and lay lower in a flatter part of the village). 

This the newer House like I saw it for the first time. Not in very bad shape, but however staying empty for years and on the other hand, the fact that Deda Velimir couldn't completely finish the house, showed that if we want to renovate it, it will be a big work and it will need to be planned carefully.

Also from the terrasse there is a very nice overlook (over the old's house roof) to the other mahalla (district) of the village. Deda Velimir built the house high enough to overlook the older house and to have a nice panoramic view.

The terrain has like two entrances. One below, arriving from the lower village and one a bit up the road, what would allow to enter the terrain without climbing up a foot path.
In the background is the backside of the older house. 

On the foot of the terrain is one of the intersections of the village...ok it's not particularly crowded, but it's sort of a center. Alo there is the source of water, a very old source with always very good quality water for drinking (summer and winter).

Another very important piece of the traditional homestead is the fountain (бунар). This one in front of the house was made by Deda Velimir. 
Water is a big question here in the village, in winter there is enough of it, but in the summer months, when it doesn't rain much, the private water basins run out of water and the sources dry out.

View to the upper side of the terrain. I also see it better as the main entrance instead of the lower entrance so far away and with the steep path.

Walking around the ground, we were pretty sure that we liked most of the components of the homestead and didn't wanted basically to change their arrangement. The main question was more, if to keep the newer house like it is...or to tear it down and build a completely new one on the same place.
We decided to sleep over it and to consider the two options. 
What we knew so far was, that yes, we wanted to put all our energy into this project. Too tempting to create our getaway far away from traffic, noise and all sort of craziness you want to escape from time to time.

Later we went to vist Uncle Radivoje who showed us the two little goats that were born a couple of weeks before.

September 18, 2010

Lesson 3 in Traditional Serbian Rural Architecture: The South Serbian Village

In Lesson 1 of rural architecture I wrote about two basic types of rural Houses (Brvnare = Log Cabins and Bondruke=Wood Skeleton Cottages) and in Lesson 2 I wrote about the regional styles of Serbian Houses.

But all that had a purpose for me, it was to find out, how to approach the renovation works of an old family home. The house I wanted to remodel is in the village of Kovaceva Bara (Ковачева Бара) in South Serbia. 

The village of Kovaceva Bara

The village lays in the municipality of Leskovac (Лесковац) and belongs to the Jablanica District (Јабланички округ, Jablanički okrug) and ис about 300km from Belgrade. The first 270km are on the E75 highway, then it's 20km on a good road to Grdelica a town south of Leskovac. 

From there the last 7-8km are a steep mountain road тo reach the village at 652 meters altitude, the paved road goes only until the lower village (1.5km distance) called Velika Sјenica. The last piece of road is just a narrow dirt road with a big loop on the end. And around this loop the village of about 170 habitants (it counts 55 homesteads) is settled. 

Kovaceva bara is a relatively young settlement, only around 1820 some Serbian families arrived from the Kopaonik region (Western Serbia). Following what farmers tell, in a district called "Staro selo" or "Kovanlak” the 3 oldest houses were founded by Deda Mladenovci, Deda Andjelkovci and Deda Djorinci and constituted the first 3 clans (zadruge).
Kovaceva Bara has also a cimitery in a district called "Muzan" (мужан) and for religious celebrations people go to the church in Kozare (Козаре), a place 4km distant.

The first time I visited the village a couple of years ago, I walked through and around the village. With my husband's uncle we took a 3 hours walk through the oak forests around to see all the different lands that belonged to the family. Obviously all the houses are made with that oak wood and oak is also used for all sorts of carpentry works.

The rural houses in this area are of the Bondruka-Type and are examples of Moravian Style Cottages (Моравка Кућа, Moravka Kuca). 

It was a good opportunity to compare different Bondruka Style cottages and to study the common details:
Just around the corner of the family house is the old tavern (Kafana) the place where people used to go out but now it's abandoned. The signs of time give the oportunity to see the wooden construction filled with woodsticks and mud and how the corner are reinforced with more wood.
Arangemet of the homestead, the typical 4-sided roof and the white painted mud-walls

The hayloft is made with same wooden skeleton but without the filling, allowing so the hay to dry.

Idyllic backyard with luscious forest around

Strictly functional reasons decide whether open wooden skeleton or the mud-covered are applied.
One of the big houses of the village. The color palette for the facades goes from white, to muted yellows, to earthy oranges and brick shades.
Typical shape of the local Bondruka: two rooms with small windows with retracted entrance in the middle (protected from weather) standing on a stone socle to even out the terrain.
The cemetery near the Muzan Mahalla: It's a small graveyard embedded in a green scenery.
The view over the village valley.
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September 11, 2010

Lesson 2 in Traditional Serbian Rural Architecture:Style by Regions

The method of construction in Serbian rural architecture were based on the experience of Serbian farmers, self-taught builders, who choose the best solutions and adjusted their houses to their life and work. This was not only expressed by the disposition of basic layout, format and organization of residential homes and commercial buildings, but also in the construction and the details. It was not based on fashionable developments in architecture and urbanism.

According of needs and lifestyle of the farmer, there were various types of houses:
• the unicellular houses in which the farmer shared the space with its cattle and the fireplace was located in the middle of the room with no chimney
• the two-room houses (this was the most popular type) were the living space was divided from a backroom and the animals were located in stalls
• more-room houses, where more rooms and a porch were added to the two room form (typical for the Vojvodina region)

When you travel cross the Balkans you notice various type of regional rural architecture:

• The Log Cabin of Western Serbia

 Typical Homestead of Western Serbian Cottages

The Log Cabin (Brvnara) with straw- or shingles-roof is found mostly in forestous and mountainous areas like Zlatibor and Tara region in Western Serbia (and in general in the dinaric alps - Western part of Serbian Kraijna, Bosnia, Eastern Montenegro). 

The luscious pine forests supply with good building material. Usually it has an elongated form, stands on a stone cellar and is placed orthogonally to the steep terrain and shows the cellar (izba) on the downhill side. Also typical is the huge pyramidal high-hipped roof placed on a relative low cubus of the cottage. Usually different cottages are placed together and build a harmonious looking homestead.

The harmonious composition of roofs in Kusturica's "Drvengrad" in Mokra Gora
Dinaric cottage interior (from Etnografic Museum Belgrade)
Homestaed of Cottages in Tara National Park, I like in particular how all the color graduation are only made by choosing different colored stones and different kind of Woods
Derivates of the Dinaric Cottage in Kusturica's "Drvengrad": he maintained the traditional language in shapes and materials and adapted it modern requirements.

Timber Cottages in Trsic (Vuk Karadzic's village): where the terrain is steep, the house has to adapt with its soccle 

Every cottage had its purpose. A typical homestead consisted of a chicken coop, a corn crib, a baking cottage, a place for drying plums, a guest cottage, a granary and a milk house for instance.
Sheperd's cottages in Tara National Park (link to the picture)

• The Moravian House 

 Typical old Bondruka (link to the picture)

In the area of the West Morava (Central and Eastern Serbia) it's more the Bondruka-type of house, usually two-room (living-space and sleeping-space) with tented roof covered with ceramic tiles. The walls are plastered and mostly white. Some have a stone socle or even a stone basement underneath. The Moravian House is widespread all over Serbia.
Moravian homestead in the Raska region 

A Bondruka style house of Eastern Serbia (link to the picture)

On the weather exposed side, the painted mud dries out and start to crumble down after a while. Here the wooden construction can be seen (link to the picture)

A 2-storeys version of Moravian House (link to the picture)

The interior of a Bondruka (picture from arvin studio)

• The Pannonian House (Vojvodinian House)

In the flat Vojvodina region, the layout of villages is orthogonally structured and houses are laid perpendicular to the street. So they were organized with a front room (living-space) a backroom (sleeping place) and a kitchen (with fireplace) just after the front porch. Between the houses lays the garden and the yard.
Influenced by Austro-Hungarian Empire these houses were often decorated in Art-Nouveau and Baroque-Style.

For more information about the Houses of Vojvodina there is a good link in Serbian here.

• The Oriental Style House in Southern Serbia  

 (link to the picture)

The Konak (word from turkish - palace) was represented for most of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, that is to say the end of the Ottoman presence and autonomy of the Principality of Serbia. Vranje is a city with lots of this style of houses.
In general, buildings of this period include a basement and two floors. The walls are pierced by many windows arranged symmetrically. The façade is decorated with one or two bay windows, a cantilevered glass Advanced overlooking the street and expanded interior space, while the courtyard façade is decorated with a balcony. The court, located at the rear of the manor, is fenced by high walls.

• Coastal Stone Houses


Stone houses are situated in Eastern Hercegovina, on the Montenegrin Coast and in some part of Dalmatia. Usually not only the walls were build in stone but stone was used for the roof decking as well.

Look also to this very interesting file to download here:
and part two here: 


When talking Balkans, a simple definition like "region" can easily provoke discussions about proper names, geographical definition and whether the buildings I'm talking about are just Serbian or generally just south-slavic houses. I try to give accurate informations keeping in mind that the purpose of my research work on rural Serbian houses, was to remodel an old Serbian family house and I was studying it traveling through Serbian regions (of today and the past). I'm of course aware that also in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and all over the South-Slavic region same (or similar) buildings are found. Also in specific regions that are Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia per definition today, were settled by Serbians earlier who left so prints in rural architecture. So it's not about who made what and where and who influenced who. These buildings were born out of specific necessities regardless of ethnic ideology….!