Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a court? The time of aristocracy may have passed, but around sixty Vojvodina castles and summer houses testify to it today, standing proudly like fairy-tale buildings, telling legends about the noble families, tragic loves, stories of balls and turbulent historical and political turmoil in this area. On the last weekend in May, we suggest that you go outside of Novi Sad and visit some of the castles we have singled out for you. Although some of them are not open to the public, their beauty will win you over at first sight.
Vojvodina is adorned with more than 60 magnificent, old castles and nobles’ summer houses, which were once intended for occasional or permanent residence of upper and wealthier social classes. Some of these buildings are in excellent condition and have a modern purpose, some are in private ownership, and some are, unfortunately, in ruins, overgrown with ivy and weeds. These breath-taking buildings are the guardians of the history and architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries when they were usually created, following the example of the European nobility. At the time, a rich bourgeois class and a petite noblesse emerged in this area, as well as large spahi estates on which such buildings were erected.
Castle Fantast, nearby Bečej is a monumental building from the beginning of the 20th century. This is one of the best-preserved and most magnificent castles in Vojvodina. It belonged to the Dunđerski family, one of the wealthiest families in Austria-Hungary in the 19th century. They owned as many as seven castles. Legend has it that it was built by Bogdan Dunđerski out of spite, to prove the opposite to all the malefactors who claimed he was bankrupt. He named it Fantast after his favourite stallion, who was buried on the castle estate. In the courtyard of the castle, there is a church, which serves as the tomb chapel of Bogdan Dunđerski. The mosaics in this chapel were painted by the famous Uroš Predić. One of the icons is very unusual. Allegedly, Bogdan asked that the Madonna look like Mara Dinjački, the woman he was in love with. After the Second World War, the chapel was supposed to be turned into an electric power plant, but Uroš Predić managed to save it. Only the walls and doors of the old castle remain authentic, while the original furniture, crystal chandeliers, works of art, and carpets disappeared after the Second World War. For a time, the castle was a sheep barn, until it was finally renovated and turned into a luxury hotel. Fantast can be visited alone or accompanied by a guide. Today there is a horse stable with around 80 heads, a gallop training trail, a huge French-English-type park, walking trails, tennis courts, and a traditional carriage that you can ride. The castle is a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance.
A complex of two castles was built in Kulpin, for the Stratimirović family. The smaller castle was built at the end of the 18th century, and the larger one in the middle of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, the entire complex was bought by Lazar Dunđerski, who contributed to the development of Kulpin. The Dunđerski family kept the property until its nationalisation in 1945. The great castle was reconstructed in 1912, according to the project of the architect Momčilo Tapavica. A frequent guest was Queen Marija Karađorđević, with her sons. Due to the preserved architecture and interior, this building is often used for making local films and series. Both castles are cultural
monuments, although the great castle now houses the Agricultural Museum, which is open to visitors. Visitors to this complex can see antique furniture from that time, an exhibition of agricultural machinery and tools, objects of traditional Vojvodina rural culture, the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the Slovak Evangelical Church.
Sokolac Castle in Novi Bečej was built by Lazar Dunđerski at the end of the 19th century. He later bequeathed it to his daughter Emilija. The castle was designed in the style of classicism. Legend has it that Lazar Dunđerski was a gambler and that he once lost his entire property while playing cards. He was offered to retrieve it by shooting an apple placed on his wife’s head with a shot from a pistol. He aimed, shot the apple, and regained Sokolac. The castle is in very bad condition today.
Perhaps the saddest impression of all castles in Serbia is left by the legendary Spitzer Castle in Beočin. It has long been abandoned and is in an advanced stage of decay, so it is often called the castle of ghosts. It was built in 1898, for the Spitzer family, wealthy Ashkenazi Jewish landowners. This family was one of the three co-owners of Beočin Cement. This castle was projected by the famous Budapest architect Imre Steindl, whose most famous work is the building of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. Combining different styles of architecture – Gothic, Romantic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau, which is called the eclectic style, Spitzer Castle was one of the most beautiful architectural treasures in this part of Europe. There was a park surrounding the castle, called Spitzer Garden. At the beginning of the Second World War, the Spitzer family moved to Germany, where their descendants still live today. The castle was nationalised, after which it housed a library, a cultural centre, a radio station, etc. until it was eventually abandoned by everyone. Numerous films and music videos were made in Spitzer Palace. Some of the most famous movies filmed there are: ‘Boom Town’ by Veljko Bulajić (1961), ‘The Holy Sand’ (1968) and ‘Breakfast with the Devil’ (1971) by Miroslav Antić, ‘Early Works’ by Želimir Žilnik (1969), ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ by Brian Hutton with Clint Eastwood in the lead role (1970), Emir Kusturica’s ‘Black Cat, White Cat’ (1998), Rian Johnson’s Hollywood film ‘The Brothers Bloom’ (2008), etc.
The Ilion Castle in Sremski Karlovci was built from 1836 to 1848. It is actually an urban residential palace, which was the residence of Josif Rajačić, the Metropolitan of Sremski Karlovci and later the Patriarch. Rajačić bought this house and renovated it in 1856, according to the plan of the architect Sidek from Vienna. Above the car gate, there is the coat of arms of the Rajačić family. The Patriarch’s Fountain can be found in the yard. Today, the City Museum of Sremski Karlovci is located there, with an ethnological collection of objects, and a room and a kitchen from the end of the 19th century.
Patriarchate Court in Sremski Karlovci was the court of the Bishop of Srem, and until 1930 of the Serbian Patriarch. It was built on the site where Pašin Konak used to be, i.e., the first seat of the head
of the Serbian church, after the transfer of the archbishopric from Peć to Sremski Karlovci. It was built from 1892 to 1895, in the Neo-Renaissance style, according to the project of the architect Vladimir Nikolić. The base of the court is in the shape of the Cyrillic letter š (Ш). The court chapel was painted by Uroš Predić. There is a well-kept garden around the court. After the unification of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1920, the patriarchal seat moved to Belgrade. Until a new court was built in 1930, the patriarch stayed in this court in Sremski Karlovci. In one part of the Patriarchal Court, there is a Treasury, which is open to the public and houses a permanent exhibition. The seven rooms house valuables, art material, icons, portraits, old, printed books, and valuable manuscripts. This court is a Cultural Monument of Exceptional Importance and admission is allowed, but it is subject to certain conditions.
The villa of Radenko Stanković, cardiologist and minister of education during the reign of King Alexander I, was built in 1930 in Čortanovci. It was made according to the project of the famous architect Dragiša Brašovan, and at the request of Dr Stanković, in the style of Serbian medieval castles and based on castles in Lombardy. The place where it was built has been called Zlatni Breg since Roman times. A fragment of an ancient relief in white stone from the 3rd century, which was found during excavations, is built into the wall of this villa. Today, Villa Stanković is under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Government of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina and is not open to visitors. Since 2014, every June, the international Shakespeare Festival is being held there, which is visited by renowned theatre troupes from all over the world.
The Castle on Zobnatica, better known as Castle Terlei, is located on the Zobnatica estate. This castle dates back to 1882 when it was built by Sipahi Đula Terlei, who got rich due to the production of champagne. The castle was named after the woven bag from which the horses were fed. Naturally, Đula, like Bogdan Dunđerski, was a big fan of horses. The building was built in the style of late classicism. On the side of the roof, there is an observatory of the entire property, and a hidden tunnel leads from the castle to Lake Zobnatica. Nowadays, the castle has been turned into a hotel and is surrounded by a large stable of horses. The Zobnatica estate is a very beautiful destination for families with children, because it offers a handful of interesting contents – a stable with a riding school, a hippodrome, a Horsemanship Museum, an art gallery, Lake Zobnatica, and a mini zoo.
Castel Ečka is a recognisable red castle in a small village of the same name, near Zrenjanin. Back in 1787, the lord Lukač Lazar bought an abandoned wasteland and built a castle, a church, and a settlement for his serfs. Construction took more than thirty years. The castle was ceremoniously opened one summer evening in 1820, with a magnificent ball and torchlight procession. More than three hundred famous guests from Vienna and Budapest enjoyed the three-day celebration. The castle often hosted Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand, who hunted in the area, and later, King Aleksandar Karađorđević. Young Franz Liszt played in the ballroom of this castle. After the Second World War, its owners left it forever and emigrated to America, and this castle suffered the sad fate that most similar types of buildings did. Nowadays, it has been renovated and turned into a hotel where visitors can
enjoy the beautiful nature and some peace, and also see a rare example of a preserved old water tower in Ečka.
In the middle of the Banat Plain, between Zrenjanin and Vršac, near the village of Stari Lec, there is an unusual castle Kapetanovo, reminiscent of a medieval castle. This castle was built by the župan Botka Bela, of Polish origin, back in 1904. Different architectural styles, medieval and neo-Gothic, can be seen in the castle. The castle was named after its last owner Milan Kapetanov. Namely, the rich merchant Franz May bought it for his daughter’s dowry, and by marriage, its last owner became Milan Kapetanov, who kept it in his ownership until its nationalisation after the Second World War. Župan Bela was a passionate gambler, who lost everything he had overnight. His wife, hearing that she would lose the castle in which she lived, poured gasoline on herself, and set herself on fire. Many legends have been told, surrounding this event, and one of them even claims that since that August of 1938, a shadow of a long-haired woman has appeared every Saint Elijah’s Day in one of the rooms. In any case, this intriguing building with an unusual look has a monumental and unique exterior, which has been renovated and now houses a hotel.
Author: Historian Ljiljana Dragosavljević Savin, MSc
Translator: Ana-Marija Radosavljević
Photo: Photos were downloaded with permission from the website of the Tourist Organisation of Vojvodina; Jelena Ivanović for Visit Novi Sad