Serbia’s capital city in medieval times is in the Rasina Region at the centre of the country. Scattered around this modern urban centre are lots of clues, both new and historic, that point to Kruševac’s former power.
In the middle is the Archaeological Park, which encompasses what used to be Prince Lazar’s city in the 14th century. Not much of this has made it to the 21st Century, but the Church of Lazarica is original and a Serbian national treasure. You can get to know Prince Lazar a little better at the National Museum next to the park, and Kruševac is also endowed with lots of magnificent Neoclassical architecture from the early 1900s, epitomised by the lavish City Hall.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Kruševac:
1. Church of Lazarica
The value of this medieval church in the city’s Archaeological Park can’t be overstated: It dates to the 1370s, and was erected at the same time as Prince Lazar’s fortified city to celebrate the birth of his first son.
This Serbo-Byzantine building would be a model for the medieval Morava School of architecture, replicated across the Rasina region over the next century.
Lazarica was abandoned and desecrated during Ottoman rule, to be revived in the 19th century.
The building has a trefoil plan (like a condensed cross) around a central dome and a five-sided apse.
The masonry is in the classic Byzantine style, with layers of pale sandstone interspersed with bricks for a two-tone effect.
2. National Museum
The National Museum has a few locations in Kruševac, but the main exhibition is in a large Neoclassical hall fronting the Lazarica Church.
This was the city’s Gymnasium (Grammar School), and dates to 1863. In the galleries you can try to get your head around Kruševac’s 6,000 years of complicated human history, from Neolithic times to the rebirth of the Serbian State in the 19th and 20th centuries.
If you can spare a couple of hours there are lots of interesting things to pore over here, like the family legacy of the eminent Kruševac-born composer, Stanislav Binički.
There’s also a faithful replica of Prince Lazar’s tunic, gold earrings from the Bronze Age and a cache of medieval weapons and ceramics.
3. Donžon of Lazar
A showpiece of the Archaeological Park is Kruševac’s old castle keep, the last remanrts of Lazar’s fortifications.
Even though it’s in a state of ruin it’s easy to picture what this would have looked like in medieval times.
The five-storey keep once rose to more than 20 metres and was reinforced on the corners with blocks of ashlar sandstone.
At the base of the tower you can make out the historic defensive earthworks and fragments of the outer walls.
This keep would have been a last resort to defend against attackers who had already broken through the city walls.
4. City Hall
The centre of Kruševac was utterly transformed at the start of the 20th century by intensive construction.
Perhaps the grandest project of all was the Neoclassical City Hall, completed in 1904 and with a solemn central facade of three arched windows framed by Ionic columns.
But the real highlight awaits inside: On the mezzanine level is a hall adorned with mosaics by the 20th-century artist Mladen Srbinović.
These were inspired by medieval Moravan art and are imbued with symbols and imagery from historical events, medieval epic poems, folklore and mythology.
5. Monument to Kosovo’s Fallen Heroes
This monument on Pionirski Park is another of the grand designs from the early-1900s is.
It was created by the sculptor Đorđe Jovanović and earned him the gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. The monument was brought to Kruševac and unveiled in 1904 on the 100th anniversary of the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire.
It’s in the Beaux-Arts style and is rich in symbolism relating to Serbian nationalism and the overthrow of Ottoman rule.
One of the scenes depicted on plinth’s bas reliefs is the notoriously bloody Battle of Kosovo of 1389, which claimed Prince Lazar’s life and inflicted heavy casualties to both the Serbs and Turks.
6. Galerija Milića od Mačve
Milić Stanković, who went by the pseudonym Milić od Mačve was a prolific Serbian painter active in the 20th century.
He is seen as a Balkan Salvador Dalí for his figurative surrealist work.
When he passed away in 2000 he bequeathed 120 paintings to Kruševac.
These works have medieval themes, harking back to the reign of the Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja in the 12th century, Prince Lazar and events in Kruševac in the middle ages.
When Stanković donated this work, his one condition was that the permanent collection should be hung somewhere overlooking the Lazarica Church.
7. The Simić House
One of the oldest buildings in the city, the Simić House is known to go back to the start of the 19th century, but could be even older.
The first thing that will catch your eye is the handsome wooden gallery on the first floor, held up by five wooden columns and covered by elongated eaves.
The house’s earliest owners were members of the Turkish Vrenčević family, which ruled the city as “Beys” towards the end of Kruševac ‘s Ottoman period.
Later, Stojan Simić, one of the city’s liberators was given the house as a gift from his godfather, Prince Miloš Obrenović.
This fine old building is just the setting for the National Museum’s ethnographic collections, shining a light on life in Kruševac at the dawn of the 20th century.
8. Umetnička Galerija
There’s a snapshot of the interesting interwar period in the city’s history at this refined property.
Umetnička Galerija was built in the 1920s as a home to the affluent Ljotić family, and is now used for temporary art exhibitions.
The house is managed by the National Museum and both the architecture and interior decoration reflect the Classical tastes of the city’s upper crust in the 1920s.
The balustrade outside has an unusual detail, with the reliefs of four boys on either side of two sculpted windows.
A lush hill on the southern cusp of the city, Mount Bagdala has an urban location but feels totally detached from Kruševac.
It’s a destination for walks and summer picnics, and is loved for its meadows, forest and sweeping views.
In fact the hill’s name “Bagdala” is a word with Turkish roots and can be translated as “divine view”. At the top, you can poke your head inside the Church of St John and its adjacent chapel, which is totally covered with frescos and has an image of Christ Pantocrator on the ceiling.
10. Slobodište Memorial Park
On a more sombre note there’s a monument to the Second World War close by.
Here to the south of the city, on the slopes of Mount Bagdala, is where the city’s concentration camp used to be during the Second World War.
In the 1960s a memorial park was set up to honour the 1,642 Partisans, Chetniks and Romanis who were killed here in mass executions.
The monument is a series of sculptural installations, including burial mounds, an amphitheatre, cenotaph and 12 stone birds.
It was all designed by the modern architect Bogdan Bogdanović at the behest of the politician Dobrica Ćosić who would become president of Yugoslavia in 1992.
11. Monument to Prince Lazar
You can meet Lazar himself on the eastern side of the Lazarev Grad archaeological park.
This monument was unveiled in 1971, on the 600th anniversary of Kruševac’s foundation.
The Belgradian sculptor Nebojša Mitrić portrayed him in the style of Serbian coins from the medieval era, sitting on a throne with a sword across his lap.
Lazar’s likeness was taken from a contemporary fresco on the wall of the Ravanica Monastery about an hour out of Kruševac, while his clothing is inspired by a replica of the prince’s garments that can be seen at the National Museum.
12. Naupara Monastery
A little way out of Kruševac is a 14th-century monastery church, seen as another seminal example of the Morava School architecture.
The clearest indication of this style is in the pair of rose windows on the western facade.
These have astoundingly intricate masonry in their frames, and the higher of the two has three elaborate borders.
There are also captivating scraps of 14th and 15th-century frescoes on the walls of the narthex and in the vaults beneath the dome and side chapels.
These depict the Virgin and Child and Christ Pantocrator.
13. Bela Voda
This village is in an idyllic setting bordered by the Zapadna Morava River and the southern slopes of the Gledić mountains.
For hundreds of years Bela Voda has been a centre of excellence for stonemasonry, and this is down to the village’s bountiful ashlar sandstone deposits.
That material has been exploited to build scores of monuments around the country, while in the 20th century the Ministry of Trade and Industry opened a school to teach the stonework craft.
This was turned into a museum in 2009, and documents the most famous buildings made from Bela Voda sandstone, like St Mark’s Church in Belgrade.
Maybe the best excursion from Kruševac is this imperious 14th-century castle sitting in the clouds at a height of 920 metres.
Once again, this landmark has links to Prince Lazar, and his widow Princess Milica stayed here for a time at the start of the 15th century.
The castle was heavily disputed over the next few decades, until it finally fell to the Ottomans at the same time as Kruševac in 1455. Even though the castle has been abandoned for centuries, big chunks of the walls and towers are still in place.
At this altitude the vistas of the Kampaonik Range and the Rasina Valley are as stirring as it gets.
Not far south of Kruševac the scenery becomes rugged and wild as you journey towards Jastrebac, the highest mountain in the region.
Just 20 kilometres from the city there’s an activity centre on a plateau 650 metres above sea level.
In the summer you can cool off in the artificial lake, and in winter there’s a deep coating of snow for skiing.
The rest of the time hikes and bike rides are in order, sending you into almost supernatural silver birch forest.
On the east side of the range is Ribarska Banja, an elegant spa resort frequented for its hot springs.