Old, authentic street from the Turkish age, famous for trading, the symbol of Valjevo, Tešnjar is one of the most important cultural monument in Serbia.
Tešnjar – the symbol and the heart of Valjevo
Squeezed between the right bank of the Kolubara River and the slopes of Vidrak Hill, in the city center, Tešnjar has been adjusting to the flow of the river, history and time ever since 1830.
Valjevo was first mentioned in a document from Dubrovnik dating back to 1393. The history of Valjevo, as well as the history of Tešnjar, which follows the destiny of the town upon Kolubara, is rather tumultuous and unpredictable.
It is assumed that Tešnjar was named after its narrow streets. Certain documents claim that it was named after Tešnjar-beg, a coffee-house keeper from Bosnia, but there is no mention of him after WWII.
It is one of the most valuable cultural monuments in Serbia, unadulterated, best-preserved complex of its kind from the Turkish age, and it has been through a lot. It even survived knez Miloš Obrenović’s order to destroy Tešnjar and bring Valjevo closer together and back to the left bank of the Kolubara River.
Joakim Vujić, a well-known Serbian writer, wrote that in the mid 19th century there were 200 shops in Tešnjar, and the town came to life thanks to Valjevo pinđur (fair), which used to be held once, and later twice a year.
The Soul of Tešnjar – street vendors
According to chronicles, street vendors were the soul of Tešnjar in the 19th century; they used to spend their whole day there, from dawn till dusk. At the crack of dawn, the vendors of salep would come first; salep was sold from pails and poured into cimentas (tin mugs).
Salep is sweet, warm beverage made of ground roots of a few types of wild orchid, brought to the Balkans by the Turks. The Macedonians usually offered it, and they also sold halvah and boza during the day, and sour milk around noon.
All morning bakers around Tešnjar used to sell buns and rolls. In the afternoon “cuker bakers” would carry around chocolate-covered cakes on trays. Barbecue chefs didn’t appear till early evening.
At night the main city street, Tešnjar, turned into a promenade. This is where boys and girls met and got married. People used to sit in front of their houses and talk.
You can find out more about Tešnjar throughout the centuries in the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPDVfKlaHCU
Today Tešnjar is a special complex. Its architecture is characterized by folk construction, bondruk construction and šeperuše houses whose walls are made of čatma-šeper or of ćerpič, i.e. brick.
Cobbled streets are narrow and winding, and there are various fragrant, colorful flowers and shady trees in the gardens around Tešnjar. Gates, balconies and gardens face the Kolubara, so their owners can enjoy warm summer nights listening to the water gurgle.
Vladimir Krivošejev, a historian, says the following about this unique complex: “Most of the houses in Tešnjar were built in the 19th century, respecting the style and special layout of the time. Upon their construction they were used as shops, workshops, mercantile and craft storehouses, so Tešnjar was in a way a trade-craft quarter of Valjevo.
This way it lasted until the mid 20th century, when due to abrupt industrialization it loses its former purpose and significance in the city life and suddenly starts to perish.
That was the time when numerous Turkish streets disappeared in this way, but unlike others, Tešnjar survived owing to the people of Valjevo, and though it was in a bad condition for a while, the process of its restoration and conservation started in the last decades of the 20th century, and it is still ongoing.“
Tešnjar – ideal film scenography
Tešnjar boasts some of the major Serbian films and TV series which were filmed in its oriental milieu such as “The March to the Drina” or “The Republic of Užice” directed by Žika Petrović, as well as Yugoslav films “Member of Parliament” and “Shots in the Sky”.
Siniša Pavić filmed his TV series here, Šotra his TV drama “Ilka”, cult movies “Ivko’s Slava” and “Professor Kosta Vujić’s Hat”, and Laza Ristovski has recently shot some scenes for his TV series “King Peter’s Socks” whose premier is expected soon.
There is something extraordinary about Tešnjar and Valjevo, ideal scenography for shooting our as well as foreign films and series.
During the shooting of “Ivko’s Slava”, well-known Šotra made sure this is real heaven for filmmakers because of its authenticity dating back to the 19th century. Simply put, it is perfect for the films from that era.
Tešnjar – a note
I was passing through Tešnjar yesterday, through Birčaninova Street, which used to be called Obrenovića Street up until WWI. It was named after the famous Serbian duke Ilija Birčanin, who was decapitated together with the well-known duke Aleksa Nenadović in 1804.
Nowadays Tešnjar is full of cafes, clubs and restaurants which are open mainly at night or at weekends, stores and boutiques with Turkish goods. There are fewer and fewer craftsmen. Some old crafts still manage to survive: weaving, pottery, shoemaking, candlestick making, embroidery, dressmaking (national costumes) and barber’s shops.
I keep thinking how nice it would be if my note on Tešnjar sounded like this:
As ideal scenography for time-traveling, the sound of travelers’ steps echoes along the street, film crew and extras chatter, handy craftsmen and artists talk. The sounds of the Roma music could be heard in the background, Valjevo plum brandy is drunk, the smells of sarma and gibanica keep mixing with the smell of barbecue.
In traditional Serbian kafanas bohemians cheer to the beauty of life while boys and girls dressed in national costumes walk around the cobbled streets just like during “Golden Shoe”, an encounter of folklore dancers.
But what I see is different. The Craftsmen House, shabby and inconspicuous, here on the corner, as if waiting for better days to come. The street is almost empty, a few kafanas with flower arrangements welcome their guests cordially, there are a few passers-by and supply vehicles.
32nd Tešnjar Nights
Today when the traditional Tešnjar nights begin, the image will be totally different. The town of Valjevo will come to life.
It will remind us a bit of the 1980s when Tešnjar was alive 24/7, as a trade quarter during the day and as a popular place for going out at night.
The summer festival is a perfect occasion for Valjevo to show its people and visitors a beautiful picture of a town with rich historical and cultural heritage, the town of fairytale-like nature, open to anyone and anything.
You can find a more detailed program for the 32nd Tešnjar Nights here: http://www.tesnjarskevaljevo.rs/
In the spirit of nostalgia and some better times, I suggest you listen to the song “Tešnjar Dreams” by “Valjevci”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNATw3fzio0
Photo: tesnjarskevaljevo.rs, tov.rs / Miroslav Jeremić i Dragan Đurćević
Edited by Rada Sević
Translation: Marija Đurđević