For five years now, the Serb community of Novo Brdo, a town in eastern Kosovo, has been organizing an event called "Novo Brdo - Zlatni grad (the City of Gold)" . The city was an important commercial and cultural hub in the Balkans in the 13th and 14th centuries, and one of the biggest cities of its time in the region. Today, the fact that Novo Brdo has the status of a city, even though it consists of several villages around the old castle, is a testament to its historical significance.
Agriculture dominates and its inhabitants have difficulties to make ends meet. "The most important reason for holding this manifestation, which consists of cultural performances by Serbs from Novo Brdo and its vicinity, along with guests from other towns in Serbia, is to recall the city's illustrious past and especially to educate the young people about the history of their city" says Slobodan Kostić, professor of Serbian literature and one of the founders and organizers of this event.
"This year's Novo Brdo - the City of Gold manifestation was a one-day event held on Sept. 26 consisting of performances of folklore from the Kriva Reka and Kosovsko Pomoravlje regions, school plays, and literary and art exhibitions," says Kostić.
"Novo Brdo was one of medieval Europe's most important cultural centers and owing to numerous written records we know that several prominent Serb medieval writers including Dimitrije Kantakuzin, Konstantin Mihajlović, the author of 'A Jannisary's Memories,' and Vladika Gramatik, one of the biggest copiers and grammaticians of his time, lived in it," says professor Kostic.
Isaija, a holy man and the first person to translate The Areopagites, a major work of medieval theology, into Serbian, was born in Kriva Reka, near Novo Brdo, says Kostić. Prilepac, another nearby village, is the birthplace of Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović, the medieval leader who led the Serbian army against the Ottomans in the battle of Kosovo in 1389.
We asked Novo Brdo historian Dobrisav Ivković how the manifestation got its name.
"In their books, merchants from Dubrovnik referred to Novo Brdo as the 'City of Gold' because gold and silver coins were coined there, and also because it was a city famous for its mines and its lead mines from where silver, forged into an alloy of silver and gold called argentum glame, was extracted," Ivković explains.
The professor says that a mining boom in the town, which was founded by Serbian King Uroš Nemanjić (1243-1276), in the mid-13th century started after the arrival of Saxons from central Europe. The Saxons were master miners, and they operated mines throughout Serbia, including the mines in Novo Brdo.
"Novo Brdo is one of the best known mines of its time.The Saxons were experts at surveying for, extracting and processing ore, and this is how they settled there, at the invitation of the Serbian king, and they left a mark on the city's remarkable past. One part of the village of Jasenovik near Novo Brdo is called Utmanci today, a derivative of the German word 'hutman', meaning mine supervisor,"
The professor adds that other remnants of the Saxons can be found in the remains of a Saska crkva (Saxon church) in the village of Bostane.
"The Saxons stayed in Novo Brdo until the Ottomans conquered the area in the 15th century, when the city had a population of 40,000. After that, the city's demise began and it never recovered or regained even a fraction of its former glory or wealth," Ivković says.
A local legend speaks of buried treasure hidden in the walls of the fortress or in the nearby hills, luring treasure hunters who use some of the most modern methods and equipment in hope of finding a portion of the vast wealth rumoured to be buried in the area.
Every now and then, the locals say, someone will stumble across a huge, freshly dug hole in the ground, a clear sign that someone was looking for treasure there.
"Though the splendor of Novo Brdo has long since disappeared, its customs remain, its folk songs and dances, and the purpose of the Novo Brdo - the City of Gold manifestation is to preserve this spiritual treasure," Ivković stresses.
"We must protect our cultural heritage from oblivion, preserve the old songs and the area's folklore, so we organize exhibitions of artefacts that were once employed, from household items to tools, so that the younger generations can see a little of how their ancestors used to live," Ivković says.
* Under UNSCR 1244/1999