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NEGOTINSKE PIVNICE are a rural compound (settlements consisting of wine cellars) which are located in the Negotin Frontier area, in the far eastern corner of Serbia, next to the Bulgarian border, some 300 km away from Belgrade.
In the area of the Negotin Frontier, famous for its vineyards dating from the ancient times, the village population, living off viticulture, used to establish secondary settlements - compounds not far from their permanent homes. The settlements were named after the wine cellars called "pivnice" in this region. These cellars were used to process grapes into wine and brandy, as well as storage facilities. Out of the many settlements located to the north-west and south from Negotin only a few remained: the Rajačke, Rogljevske (Rogljevačke), Štubičke and parts of Smedovačke, Trnjanske, Sikolske and Bratujevačke. The rest of them, such as Badnjevske, Rečanske, Mokranjske and many others no longer exist.
The oldest documents on the Negotinske Pivnice date back to the mid 19th century. There are no reliable data on the time when they were first built in this region. Records on the year of their building can be found on many existing structures, while the time of building of other cellars can only be guessed: the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. It is assumed that before the present-day pivnice were created, structures made of much poorer quality material and construction had been built at these locations: They were partially dug-out structures, having just a roof covering (made of grass, hay and the like).
The significance of these secondary settlements and their structures for the Negotin Frontier population is reflected in the fact that these wine cellars were often built as more monumental and better quality structures than family houses were. Each family had one or even more such cellars, constituting an integral part of the life of every villager in the region, which is mirrored in that that a cemetery was established in one of these cellar compounds, in Rajačke Pivnice, and not in the village where the people lived. These cellars and the wine were incorporated in many birth and burial rituals. Even today, an archaic and very interesting custom has been preserved - the last rites and funeral ceremony are performed with wine, and for those who have their cellars, the funeral ceremony is held in the cellars complex, while for others in the village. The ceremony goes like this: each head of the household takes the red wine from his cellar and when the procession passes by he pours the wine over the hearse wheels.
The two greatest celebrations of the Village Patron Saints' Days, St Trifun and Holy Trinity, used to be in the cellar compound. Earlier, on the St Trifun's Day, people used to go to the vineyards and pick three grape vine stalks and nettles so that the saint would help the grapes to be fruitful, after which the people gathered by the Sacred Tree and the common table - an assembly place where the feasting started. On the Holy Trinity Day, in front of the village church, a procession would assemble to go visiting all the sacred trees in the area. They would end up in the cellar compound, in the centre, at the Sacred Tree. On these occasions, all the cellars were open and everyone would be sitting at a feast table in front of their own cellars. Such customs, in somewhat modified forms, have been preserved to the present day.
The Štubičke Pivnice and the Rajac cemetery were declared cultural heritage in 1980 and the Rogljevske Pivnice in 1983 when they were all classified as an area cultural-historic ensemble of outstanding value in the Republic of Serbia. Štubičke Pivnice were registered in the Central Register of the Cultural Monuments of the Republic Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments / Belgrade, as entry number 10 and the Rajačke and Rogljevske (or Rogljevačke) under numbers 14/1 and 14/2.
Rajačke Pivnice, a compund of wine cellars belonging to the village of Rajac, located 2 km to the west of the village, along the vineyards, on top of Beli Breg hill. The compound is densely clustered, built spontaneously, following the terrain. Its winding streets go along the irregular shaped cellars, often on both sides and even around them.
Records of the Negotinske Pivnice date back from the mid 19th century but there are no reliable information on the period of their construction. On many of those cellar structures there are inscriptions on the year of its building, which helps in assuming the period when the others were built - the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Also, we may guess that there used to be some earlier ones, built of wood. Some earlier literature mentions 270 or even 300 cellars. Today there are 166 structures with 196 cellars and 3 distilleries, of which 16 are in ruins and 57 cellars are still used for making wine, while 19 have adopted other functions: taverns, museum display space, exhibitions, etc.
There are several types of cellars, but two basic ones can be distinguished: the ground floor ones and the two storied ones. They are often clustered in a row or in blocks, both the ground floor ones and the stories ones, but there also the free-standing ones.
The lower floor ones are usually stone built of irregular rectangular ground plan. Normally, they are up to 1-1.2 m underground. Entrance to an individual cellar is usually on the side where the hillside slopes down, or if the structure is perpendicular to the land contours, the entrance is made in the long, side wall. If a household is not much well off, a cellar may have lower walls with a smaller size portal set in a rectangular wooden frame with double doors. On the other hand, if a household is well off, the walls may be very high, with monumental portals set in the decorated stone frame. In two-storey cellars, the lower floor was a dug-out wine cellar, while the upper floor was used as a dwelling for the owner or season workers who come to work in the vineyards or wine and brandy distilleries.
The two-storey cellars can be classified into two subtypes, depending on how steep the hillside is. If the slope is steeper, the cellars are often between two alleys. The lower level is mostly dug-out, so the wall at the entrance is about 1-1.2m high, while the one on the opposite side is completely dug into the ground. The upper level is entered from the side opposite to the cellar entrance, directly from the road level. The other subtype are those built on the not so steep slopes, so that the cellar is about 150cm dug into the ground, and the upper floor is accessed by a wooden or sometimes stone staircase. There are only about a dozen of those structures. They were mainly built at the major crossroads or around the central squares, and look like towers.
Along the south-west end of the compound there is a village cemetery and in its centre there is an old one with about 200 old tombstones dating from the 19th century, extraordinarily preserved, quite unique valuable and unique in Serbia. The cemetery tombstones on Beli Breg are in a shape of a monolith cross or a tall column-like stone capped with flat stones. These extraordinary headstones are of yellowish compact sandstone (bioclastic limestone) and almost all the surfaces are covered with relief ornaments. The most common bas-relief motif is a cross displayed in various, quite elaborate ways, combined with letters IS HS NI KA, as the image symbolises the Golgotha Cross, the Crucifixion. Often there are rosettes symbolising the Sun, then a circle, a swastika, serrated ribbons and zigzag lines, simplified and stylised branches, vines, broken lines and slanted cuts, spiral ribbons and shallow arched niches.
Rogljevske Pivnice are wine cellars in the village of Rogljevo, located on a hill north of the village of Rajac, built next to the vineyards. This secondary settlement is between 80 and 110m above the sea level. Its centre is most densely built around the sacred tree and the common table, the folk table and the well.
The compound was formed as if following the structures of a real settlement, so it was on a plateau and like a village has an elongated form. The structures were built along the two, almost parallel main roads that follow the land contour, with several side ones, connecting the main roads. Some of the structures were built in a row, two or more, although there are also the free-standing ones, following an imaginary line of alleys. The cellars could also be accessed from two sides, the main entrance façade, with a monumental portal - along the main road, and from the back, where there are openings for the grape pulp - along the side roads. However, these side roads for one row of structures is often a main road for the second row behind. For that reason, there is a tradition, a rule not to close the access to the openings for the pulp, even if they are not in use.
According to the local population, there used to be more than 300 cellars but many were destroyed in fires or just deteriorated, particularly after the WWII, when the owners left them to the elements. Today, there are about 122 structures, of which 40 are in use for wine making and about 8 have become taverns of exhibition spaces.
The earliest preserved cellars of Rogljevo were most probably built in the first half of the 19th century and one or two storey structures. Both types have the foundation or cellar walls made of broken stone, while the ground and upper level walls are made of wood, dressed planks using the corner saddle notch joints. The wooden part was covered with a mixture of mud and straw - cob, and the hipped roofs with extended eaves were covered with tiles of Mediterranean type. Such cellars were built until the mid 19th century, when the region saw an economic expansion, exporting wine to the West, since at that time phylloxera destroyed many vineyards, in France in particular.
The majority of cellars, 40 of them, were built between 1859 and 1890. Those were mostly large, even monumental structures of vast rectangular ground plan and of substantial height, built mostly of sandstone blocks (bioclastic limestone), with simply decorated but imposing arched portals. Here, in this compound, a great number of cellars are still in their original use.
Štubičke Pivnice - wine cellars of the village of Štubik are located some 5km north of Negotin, on the road to Donji Milanovac, while the main settlement is located 15km up north. This compound of cellars, today numbering only 28 of them, is different from the above described ones. The settlement is somewhat scattered and was built around the regional road cutting the compound in two. These are detached buildings on two hills, unlike the wine cellars in the described settlements which were built in a row. They are mostly of a ground level type with only a few storied ones. They were built on stone foundations with post and beam walls construction with timber frame filled and covered with mud mortar. Their hipped roofs and extended eaves are covered with roof tiles of Mediterranean style. These cellars are quite modest in size than those of Rogljevačke and Rajačke Pivnice. There are no more vineyards in this area so this compound has been deserted.
III. Negotinske Pivnice with partially preserved vineyards are a testimony of the local population tradition of continuous growing of vineyards from the Roman times up to the present day.
IV. Negotinske Pivnice are specific architectural compounds with regard to typology and form of diverse, commercial structures meant only for the production and storing of wine and brandy, but also of common structures, like the distilleries (for brandy) and the wells. Besides these buildings, each settlement has its sacred or spiritual centre, the sacred tree, usually a mulberry tree, a stone cross and a feast table, as well as a common folk table - the assembly. Pivnice, or compounds of wine cellars are located next to vineyards and form their integral part.
V. These settlements are unique in character and therefore examples of outstanding value of unplanned seasonal settlements whose building construction and form differ from the houses in permanent settlements in this area. According to the building practices and materials used, these wine cellars resemble the objects of the same function in somewhat distant regions of Kosovo and Metohija and Macedonia, from where the one-time settlers as well as builders came to live in this region. So, apart from the customs they brought, they are also a testimony of their origins.
VI. Pivnice are an inextricable part of every inhabitant in the region, which is reflected in the fact that they were buried next to one of the compounds, and not at their permanent settlements. In the late 18th and early 19th century, a cemetery was formed next to Rajačke and Rogljevačke Pivnice with tombstones representing exceptional examples of stone-carving handicraft. Substantially extended, it is use even today. In many birth and burial ceremonies, both wine cellars and wine itself are integral to traditional rituals.
Besides the Aleksandrovac "fields" in southern Serbia and the Crvenka wine cellars in Vojvodina, the Negotinske Pivnice are unique settlements of wine cellars in the territory of Serbia, the Balkans and beyond. They are entirely authentic, formed in this particular way for many reasons, one of the most important ones being, of course, the proximity of vineyards, small gardens in very densely built villages. The settlements are well preserved and many are still in use.
It is not known that anywhere else in the world there are still extant compounds of wine cellars, forming settlements with a network of streets, squares, sacred places and cemeteries. Therefore, there is nothing they could be compared to. There is vineyard region in Hungary, Tokay, inscribed in the World Heritage List as Tokai Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape, with groups of the same type wine cellars but not arranged as settlements, like the Negotinske Pivnice.
Also, in some parts of Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic there are series of wine cellars along the village roads, with specific structures featuring long, underground tunnels where the wine is stored. However, these compounds are not settlements with a street network and places of assembly, like those in the Negotin Frontier region.
Today, in Serbia there are still preserved several groups of wine cellars but they do not make settlements like in Negotin Frontier region.