The Morava

The first sources that tell us about the Morava river are in the works of an old Greek historian, Herodotus. He calls the river the Brongos. The Romans call it the Margus, most probably by its old Celtic name. The origin of the Slavic name, the Morava, is very old and according to some interpretations, it has something to do with the dangers of water and the word derives from a name of a mythological deity. The name Moravska also denotes a region in Eastern Czech Republic, around their Morava river. The region once used to be a part of the Slavic lands Velika Moravska (the Great Moravska), but it ceased to exist in the early 10th century.

The Morava river is the backbone of Serbia, its blood system, its largest river, sung in many songs. Velika Morava (the Great Morava) is formed by the confluence of the Juzna (the South) and Zapadna (the West) Morava, making a junction at the town of Stalać, nearby Kruševac, and it goes to the Danube between Smederevo and Kostolac.

The towns along the Morava are: Bujanovac, Vranje, Vladičin Han, Grdelica, Leskovac, Niš, Aleksinac. Along the Zapadna Morava: Požega, Čačak and Kraljevo, Trstenik and Kruševac, and along the Velika Morava: Paraćin, Ćuprija, Jagodina, Svilajnac, Požarevac, Smederevo.

The fertile Velika and Juzna Morava valleys have been one of the main Balkan routes from the times immemorial. The Constantinople Road, that goes along the valleys as a centuries long connection between Europe and Asia, is one of the major European routes towards the southeast. Before the Constantinople Road, the Romans had built a military road (Via militaris) in the Morava valley. As early as in the 30’s A.D. the road was paved with stone slabs, and many fortifications and resting places were built along its course.

For centuries, great armies marched through the Morava valley from the East to the West and back. And that is the reason Serbia was being often laid waste or invaded. Who’s to blame if you’ve built your home in the middle of the road, are the words that are often used to reflect the Serbian history on both sides of the Morava.

Only in the last fifty years people have managed to tame the river to some extent, by straightening its course. Now it does not flood so often as it used to, particularly in springtime. As a flatland river, the Morava carries vast amounts of earth debris, so when its waters are high, the river is completely murky. Thence a saying when someone wishes to get rid of something or someone, let it/him be carried away by the murky Morava.

In the past centuries, the lands along the Morava used to be famous for their vast and endless forests. And that is how the region above the Zapadna and left of Velika Morava got its name, Šumadija (a forest area). Travelling through the region in the early 19th century, a French poet Lamartine recorded that he was travelling through “an ocean of Serbian forests”. Today not much has left of those big trees – everything has been turned into fertile arable fields.

In the old times, the Morava was navigable from its junction with the Danube all the way to Ćuprija (a place called Horeum Margi in the Roman times, or the Morava Wheatland). But today the Morava is not deep enough any more to be navigable,  and is full of mud debris. Nevertheless, there are still dangerous whirlpools.

Also, there used to be many wooden watermills on the Morava, known as moravka, almost non existent today. After the death of emperor Uroš and under the rule of prince Lazar Hrebeljanović, the so-called Morava Serbiastarted to develop around the Morava river and its tributaries. It was then that the Morava Art School came about, giving us some of the most beautiful monasterial structures, like the Ravanica, Ljubostinja, Manasija, Kalenić, Koporin and the Lazarica Church in Lazar’s Kruševac.

„Oj, Moravo, moje selo ravno,
Kad si ravno, što si vodoplavno!
Kiša pade, te Morava dođe,
Te poplavi moje selo ravno,
A u selu Jovanove dvore,
I u dvoru Jovanovu ljubu.“

(a popular folk song lyrics)