Living meaningfully with cultural heritage – the example of „Centuries of Bač“ project
TEXT: Dr VIŠNJA KISIĆ Associate Professor of Heritage Management, UNESCO Cathedra in Cultural Policy and Management Secretary General, Europa Nostra Serbia
The town of Bač has once been an important administrative and trade centre. Located on a small river Mostonga, with easy access to Danube, Bač has been a thriving area, defence centre and border town for centuries. The town was so significant in the early Middle Ages that the whole area between rivers Tisa and Danube got its name Bačka. Diverse archaeological sites in the area testify the presence of humans throughout eight millennia, while the remaining architecture from the 12th to the 19th century, shows numerous cultural influences. Traces of Western Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles, as well as Byzantine and Islamic art, tell the stories of turbulent and impressive links between the cultures of the Balkans with the West and the East. Bač and landscape that surrounds it are home to some of the most iconic, but still lesser known monuments of national significance – the Bač Fortress, the Franciscan Monastery of Bač, and the Bođani Orthodox Monastery. Up until fifteen years ago, most of the iconic heritage sites in Bač were falling apart. This is when a local municipal initiative to revitalise cultural heritage of Bač met the knowledge and vision of professionals from the Provincial Institute from Heritage Protection, led by architect dr Slavica Vujović. Their dream was to start a process of heritage-led regeneration of the area – in which new research, careful conservation, educational activities and community involvement would contribute to the quality of life and socio-economic development. The project Centuries of Bač was born! It all started in 2006 with the revitalization of Bač Fortress, the oldest and most iconic cultural monument in the area, in close partnerships with the Municipality of Bač, the University of Novi Sad Faculty of Technology and the Museum of Vojvodina. Firstly, new research has been enhancing the knowledge about the site, which then influenced pioneer findings, informed conservation decisions and educational activities. Secondly, principles of careful conservation and minimal intervention were used, so that the age and the history of the Bač Fortress could still be felt. Furthermore, conservation involved the planning for sustainable purpose and use of the site – as a tourist focal point and exhibition area. Thirdly, every step of professional research and conservation was followed by equal attention on education and awareness raising of the local community. The Centuries of Bač functioned as a joint platform for numerous interrelated projects – implemented through numerous partnerships and funded by local, national and European funds. Today, Bač is still a sleepy town, but proud and aware of its rich history and diverse heritage. European Heritage Days are organized each year and local tourism organization moved its venue to the Fortress. The Bač Fortress has been revived and turned into a tourist and education centre, with museum exhibition in the Donjon tower which helps visitors to interpret the wider cultural landscape of Bač. The Foundation “Centuries of Bač” has been established, and recently a museum unit has been opened in Bač. In last few years significant works have been done in bringing back old glory to frescoes and architecture of Bođani Monastery. This Spring, after two years of restoration works with funds from the European Union, a newly restored Franciscan Monastery will be opened to the public, together with the new museum that showcases tradition, customs and religious objects from Catholic communities in Bač. The dream of the project team is coming to reality with each new day. And they wanted whomever comes to this region of Vojvodina, to feel as if they came to an openair museum. This open-air museum encompasses acres of river banks, natural reserves, cultural monuments, villages and settlements, which all together tell a unique story in a unique ambient. The area of Bač and its surrounding has been the first case to be valorised and protected as the cultural landscape in Serbia. Since 2018, the area of Bačko Podunavlje features on UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves, due to its characteristic natural resources, flora and fauna. The crown of these achievements is the current preparation of the nomination of «Historic City of Bač and Its Surrounding», to the UNESCO World Heritage List – which would make it a first cultural landscape in Serbia and wider region to be given this prestigious title. This Spring, as the Serbian capital is heated with public discussions and professional appeals for protection of Belgrade Fortress Kalemegdan, it is important to remember the high quality, awarded practices of heritage safeguarding in Serbia. The story of Bač shows why passionate, dedicated and professional long-term efforts in revitalizing cultural heritage bring more benefits than spending public funds on destruction of valuable heritage resources.