The city of Šabac is in the northwest of Serbia, a little way from the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Despite being rather modest in size, this city has produced many of Serbia’s most important historical figures, from acclaimed authors to, to artists, to psychiatrists, and even Einstein’s first wife Mileva Marić. Šabac has also made a name for its cheeky character, and there’s an annual festival to celebrate this penchant for pranks and satire.
Jevrem Obrenović, the brother of modern Serbia’s first monarch, was the mayor here in the 19th century and gave city centre its palatial character, which is still obvious today in its mansions and splendid municipal buildings.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Šabac:
1. Church of St Peter and St Paul
The city’s main orthodox church harks back to Jevrem Obrenović’s administration, and was completed in 1831 at the very end of his time in Šabac.
Nearly all of the ornamentation inside is from after the First World War, as the church was shelled by the Austro-Hungarians and its interior was ransacked.
The walls outside still bear battle scars from this time.
The thing that many worshippers come to see inside is a perfect reproduction of the Trojeručica, the venerated “wonder-working” icon in the Hilandar Monastery at Mount Athos.
Lastly, the frescos were painted by the Russian artist Andrej Bicenko using the medieval fresco-secco technique in 1932.
2. Šabac Fortress
Now just a rectangular shell, the fort beside the river has seen better days, but maybe it’s apt that a building that has lived through so much turmoil should be in pieces today.
It’s an Ottoman construction, erected in 1471 by the Bosnian General Isa-Beg Ishaković and reinforced with stone ramparts in the 18th century.
The Hungarians and then the Austrians both had temporary control of the fort at various times in its past, but the Ottomans held out until 1867, long after the rest of the city had reverted to Serbian rule.
As you survey the ruins keep an eye out for the plaques commemorating that final liberation in 1867, and remembering citizens executed here in the Second World War.
3. Šabac National Museum
Set on Masarikova Street the city’s museum lays out Šabac’s history and ethnography.
The museum’s noble Classical building needs a mention because it became Serbia’s second ever gymnasium (Grammar School) when it was constructed in 1857. And for anyone eager to know more about Šabac and the storied history of the Drina River Basin, this is the go-to attraction.
You’ll begin with Neolithic tools, weapons and ceramics, and move on to compelling Roman artefacts like jewellery, glass containers for cosmetics and bronze statues to Mercury and Venus.
The ethnology department will answer any questions you’ve got about Šabac’s traditional crafts, furniture, costumes and spiritual culture.
4. Ulica Gospodar-Jevremova
Šabac’s finest street adopted the name of Jevrem Obrenović on his centenary in 1890. This thoroughfare had started to take shape earlier in the 19th century and is replete with lordly Central European buildings, in the form of townhouses, municipal buildings and public amenities.
To maintain the street’s old-world atmosphere no fewer than ten edifices are listed monuments, and these have painted stucco facades embellished with balustrades, floral motifs and regal portals.
Some to keep in mind are the townhouse Kuća Pavla Stanića, the District Courthouse (Zgrada Okružnog Suda) and the First National Pharmacy (Prva Narodna Apoteka).
5. Dunjića Kuća
This palatial townhouse was built in 1920 for the prominent military surgeon Mihailo Dunjić.
He managed Šabac’s hospital from 1920 to 1936 and the house is just across the way from his workplace.
Having been restored in the 1980s Dunjića Kuća is an impressive piece of Neo-Renaissance architecture and gives you an idea of the lifestyle of the city’s more affluent residents.
The house is open to the public and upstairs is an exhibition of paintings by the Šabac-based Post-Impressionist landscape painter Branko Stanković.
6. Sights around Šabac
There a line-up of marvellous buildings in Šabac that may not be tourist attractions in their own right, but are all worthy of a photograph if you’re passing by.
Krsmanovića Kuća is a resplendent Neo-Renaissance mansion opposite the cathedral and with wreaths, niches and statues on its facade.
Zgrade Bliznakinje (Twin Buildings) is another residence for the well-heeled, designed by Milorad Ruvidić who contributed as much to the capital, Belgrade’s cityscape as any other architect.
It’s a Beaux-Arts mansion with nods to the 17th-century Louis XIII style.
Also be sure to pass by the garlanded Kuća Dragomira, the Intermunicipal Archives from 1865 and the City Library, which is in the old episcopal palace.
7. Sava River
Just by the fortress there’s a sandy river beach with grass on its foreshore.
On hot summer days the beach is packed with sunbathers and swimmers.
It has all recently been refurbished, with a row of permanent sunshades and a small promenade, where there are a couple of restaurants with terraces overlooking the water.
Whether the river is safe enough to swim in is up for question, but you could have just as much fun in a kayak, ambling beside the water or sunbathing.
8. Šabac Summer Festival
Around the last weekend of July the fortress and beach throng with music fans for the Šabac Summer Festival.
Nearly all the acts performing here are domestic, and if you’ve ever wondered what the music scene is like in Serbia’s here’s your chance to find out.
There’s a special commitment to new, upcoming artists, and the whole spectrum of musical genres is covered, from punk rock, to hip-hop and techno.
There’s a party zone with DJ sets and a new “Art Zone” for high-brow classical music, workshops and theatre.
The event is billed as the leading music festival in Western Serbia and pulls in many music fans from neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Šabac has an image in Serbia as a city of jokers and pranksters.
And this reputation goes back to an apocryphal tale from the 19th century: As Jevrem Obrenović made his dignified arrival in the city, a mischievous local removed the linchpin from his coach, causing it to fall apart in comical fashion.
The city’s irreverent character has been celebrated every September since 1968 with a humour and satire festival named after that missing linchpin “Čivijada”. In 2008 this ballooned into a boisterous carnival with marching bands, street theatre, stand-up shows and a parade with a raunchy theme.
10. Šabac Fair
Following on from Čivijada is the city’s annual fair, which happens on September 21, the day of the birth of the Virgin Mary.
This event has immense importance in Šabac, and is famous all over Serbia.
Thousands of residents show up, along with people from the surrounding Mačva District, and they all come down to the banks of the Sava to browse the market stalls and to dine and drink in tents.
There’s a local superstition that if you don’t buy something from the market on this day you’ll be cursed with a year of bad luck! It’s a vibrant event, with folk bands, street performers, gypsies telling fortunes and old-school fair rides for kids.
11. Cer Mountain
Not far southeast of Šabac is a massif traditionally held as the western gateway to Serbia (Zapadnom kapijom Srbije). This was true for numerous armies and cultures down the ages, and the Illyrians, Huns, Slavic tribes, Romans and Byzantines all had strongholds in this range.
In August 1914 Serbian and Austro-Hungarian forces clashed in this mountainous terrain for the Battle of Cer, in which the Serbian army defeated and then routed the larger Austro-Hungarian forces.
Now Cer is all about restorative walks, and has trails that guide you into refreshing oak and beech forests inhabited by deer and wild boar.
See what you can find in summer as the range is carpeted with wild herbs and fruit like strawberries and blueberries.
The view of the Pocerina and Mačva plain from the highest peak at 687 metres is one you won’t soon forget.
12. Kaona Monastery
A brief drive and then a walk south of Šabac will bring you to an active monastery that goes back to the 14th century.
The story goes that it was founded by Ikonija, a sister of Miloš Obilić a knight serving under Prince Lazar.
Obilić went down in folklore and became the subject of epic poems for his supposed heroic deeds in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. The monastery suffered during Ottoman rule and then in the two world wars, so not much of the architecture is original.
But it has a charming whitewashed Byzantine church next to a chapel, both of which are have intensely coloured frescos inside.
Come for the scenery, as the church is couched in remote, green wooded hills beside a pond fed by a trickling spring.
13. Petkovica Monastery
Like Kaona, this monastery at the foot of Cer mountain has come through centuries of damage and dereliction.
According to tradition it was founded by King Dragutin of Serbia in the 13th century.
The church and monastic buildings survived many assaults until they were finally brought down in the First Serbian Uprising at the start of the 19th century.
They were quickly restored in a clean Moravan style, and the main church has a two-storey tower and a beautiful altar decorated with floral motifs.
In front is a bizarre curio: A vine believed to have wonder-working qualities, healing infertility in women.
Beside the Sava on the eastern fringes of the city is the village of Mišar, which made history in August 1806 for its eponymous battle between the Serbs and the Ottoman Empire.
This was fought on the cliffs above the river and ended with a comprehensive Serbian victory, temporarily forcing the Turkish armies to withdraw.
A monument was installed at the battleground in 1906 on the centenary and there’s a modest but interesting museum with artefacts from the conflict.
You can make arrangements with the tourist office in Šabac for a tour.
It is said that Šabac’s true character can be discovered in its kafanas (traditional taverns). There are more kafanas per capita here than in any other Serbian city, and at one point people would jest that the city had more kafanas than people.
Coming to a kafana used to be the privilege of men alone, but Šabac broke the mould in the 19th century, becoming the first Serbian city to allow women to visit as well.
A meal at a Kafana is no simple or brief affair, and entails many courses starting with a meze and building up to platters of grilled meat.
Be prepared to make toasts with shots of rakija (strong Balkan brandy), and try your best to join in the singing that accompanies the live folk bands.