Get familiarized with the interesting and unusual history of the monastery of St. John the Theologian, in the canyon of river Jerma, as well as the beauty of the surroundings that preserves the legacy of the old times.
The story begins at the spring and unfolds in unpredictable directions that are worth remembering.
The river Jerma springs near the village of Klisura, a few kilometers east of Vlasina Lake. It crosses Bulgaria, breaks through the Trnovo Ždrelo and then returns to Serbia. At that point, it separates the massif Greben and Vlaška Mountain.
In the spacious Pirot field, river Jerma flows into Nišava. Along the river, the Romans built their summer houses and Serbian nobility have built monasteries. Both recognized the beauty of the gorge and the need for healing spa waters. This is where the story begins.
Spa Zvonačka banja is located on the steep slopes of Vlaška Mountain, near the settlement of Zvonce, at an altitude of 670 meters. It is followed by an interesting history. It is said that in 1904 a Roman-era pool was found that was so well preserved that it was used without any adaptation until 1922. In the center of the spa is the hotel Mir.
Until recently, this beautiful and modern building is located on a steep slope and has an attractive view of the Asenovo kale massif located on the other river bank. Currently, the hotel is a wreck and the whole spa is waiting for the building to be rebuilt because the hotel also functioned as a hospital. From the Spa Zvonačka banja, Jerma flows slowly past the Muštar monastery. The monastery church is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and was built three centuries ago on the foundations of a fourteenth-century church. Above the monastery, on the slopes of Greben is the picturesque village of Trnsko Odorovce. The whole location is filled with historical traces.
Greben and the nearby Vlaška Mountain were once probably connected, but Jerma separated them and made one of the most beautiful river gorges in Serbia. The gorge is extremely narrow and only the afternoon sun breaks through to the river. A road passes through the canyon of the river, but because of the tight space, most of the road runs through tunnels. After two kilometers of breaking through the narrow gorge, the river reaches the extension where the Poganovo Monastery is located.
The old name of the place, including the monastery itself, was Dobroševo, but the Turks changed it to Poganovo. An interesting legend is attached to this name. It is said that the villagers used to plant vineyards in the old days and the landlord did not pay them regularly. So, they began to bury the grapevine upside down. When the landlord saw it, he angrily said “Pogan hora”, meaning – a heathen people. The name Dobroševo was officially returned to the village in January 1934 by a decision of the competent ministry, but the Turkish name persisted.
The Poganovo Monastery is the foundation of the nephew of Emperor Dušan, Konstantin Dejanović Dragaš and his daughter Jelena Dragaš. Jelena later became the wife of the Byzantine emperor Manojlo the Second Paleologist, and it was she who completed the monastery after her father’s death. By then, she was already a nun of Hipomen. The church is dedicated to the Holy Evangelist John the Theologian and was founded in 1395. There is an inscription on the door of the church that the shrine was painted in 1499. The painters did not leave their signature, so it is unknown who did these remarkable murals.
The monastery complex was rebuilt in 1876. Today, the Monastery of St. John the Theologian is protected as a cultural monument of great importance and according to an old record it will last “if God permits until the will of God”. The monastery was never set on fire because it was practically inaccessible, so many robbers did not even know it existed. In 1917, however, the Bulgarians took away much of the monastery’s valuables, which are now housed in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia. It was not until 1927 that a narrow rail was placed through the impassable canyon of Jerma. When it was removed half a century later, the asphalt road reached the monastery.
Immediately behind the monastery, the river continues its course through the gorge. As if she knew that after a hundred meters or so, the dull plain begins, the river here was particularly inspiring in shaping the rocks. The exit of the gorge was shaped like paradise doors by two huge rocks. The right rock extends semi-circularly and covers the old settlement of Vlasi. Vlasi is a picturesque village, old houses that deserves a special story. When it leaves the narrow gorge, the river slowly enters the spacious Pirot field. Not far from Sukovo, Jerma flows into Nišava. There is also the old Sukovo Monastery. The monastery church is dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. It was built in 1857 on the foundations of an old place of worship. A few kilometers from Sukovo is the Planinica Monastery. There is also a hidden small church that is painted on the outside as well. Particularly interesting is the old bell tower made of wicker and mud. And that’s where the circle closes.
To walk in these surroundings means to feel the whisper of centuries. And be silent in front of the magnificence of nature itself.