The mythical creature might not be so mythical in Serbia, where lots of vampire stories are part of the rural folklore, and for some, even seem to be reality. Nowadays, those vampires are a motive to develop tourism in some isolated areas of the country.

When people hear “vampire”, they are more likely to think about Romania and its famous count Dracula. However, another Balkan country also has its stories around that creature. Serbia also hosted a lot of vampires in its rural villages, vampires who are now part of the national folklore.

One of them is the mythical Sava Savanović, one of the most renown vampires in the country. Said to have lived during the 18thcentury, he was working in a watermill in the small village of Zarožje, in the Western part of Serbia. The village is nowadays home to 700 inhabitants, one of them possibly being vampire Sava Savanović.

In Sava’s footsteps

Isolated in the middle of the mountains, the village is only accessible after several hours of driving from Belgrade, sometimes on rocky mountain roads. Here, between land and sky, the green landscape shows white stains of snow remaining from the strong winter. Spring is already well installed in the capital, but in those lands, life happens differently. And so, does death. At least, according to the history of Sava Savanović.

Little is known about him and what exactly happened. But after Sava Savanović died, a series of mysterious deaths occurred in the village, and fingers were pointed at him. Some said he was responsible for those deaths and accused him of being a vampire. At the time, some inhabitants even said they saw a silhouette walking around his watermill at night. 

Nowadays, the watermill is only accessible going down a 2 kilometres dirt and rocks road, which lead to a small area below the village main road. It is surrounded by tall grass and brambles. Uneven rocks lead to the entrance of the mill, composed of one room not bigger than 6 square meters. “It is said that Sava Savanović often stayed to sleep at night in the mill,” explains the mayor Dragoman Jagodic, pointing at one corner of the room.

A disputed leadership

Sava Savanović’s story is well-known in Serbia due to a horror movie, The Butterfly, released in 1973. It was the first Serbian horror movie and is considered by many as the best examples of the genre in Yugoslav cinema. He is often seen as the first Serbian vampire but another similar creature is supposed to have lived around the same time.

Kisiljevo, on the other side of the country, near the border to Romania, also has its vampire. Petar Blagojevic, lived in the village and died in 1725, followed by a series of deaths in the surroundings. “There was a mass hysteria around those deaths,”says Danilo Trbojevic, PhD student in ethnology and anthropology at the university of Belgrade, currently writing an anthropolgical thesis about social and political role of vampire in Balkans culture and societies.

At the time, Serbia was under the Austrian empire’s control. Kisiljevo’s inhabitants and doctors from the empire dug up the grave of Petar Blagojevic and found an almost intact body. “It’s probably because the soil around the body was too cold for it to decompose,”underlines Danilo Trbojevic. 

But at the time, little was known about bodies decomposition after death. Because of his intact body and the series of deaths that happened after his own death, Petar Blagojevic was said to be a vampire. The news quickly spread in Western medias, creating fascination and fear. “In a way, vampires were used to illustrate the supposed backwardness of the Balkans,”says Trbojevic. “It was then seen as a place where everything can happen.”

Along with Sava Savanovićand Petar Blagojevic, several vampires’ cases were reported throughout the 18thcentury in Serbia. And three centuries later, the leadership for the title of “first Serbian vampire hometown” is still disputed by several villages in the country.

« The Romanian scenario »

Fascination for vampires is still alive nowadays in the Western world, and vampire tourism has its fans looking for chills, garlic in their pockets. Some years ago, Romania developed its tourism around the famous count Dracula, whose associated castle is to be visited in Transylvania. Danilo Trbojevic talks about a “Romanian scenario”, with tours organized around the fascination of vampires.

Some tours are already offered in Serbia by travel companies, such as a one-day trip called “Upon the trails of Serbian vampires”. But Zarožje dreams bigger. The whole land around the watermill is aimed at being developed and arranged as a recreational area, with picnic installations and touristic spots. The plans are not very clear yet, but the village is trying to manage the project step by step.

The area around the watermill has been left abandoned for years and needs a lot of work to be developed. Photo: Anastasia Marcellin

“There is potential for a complex around Sava Savanović,”explains the mayor Dragoman Jagodic. “But we don’t have the money. So to start with, we’ll give a piece of land to someone willing to build something here, to develop the area.” 

A project that can be seen both ways: “On the one hand, people in villages don’t want to open to foreigners. But on the other hand, it’s also a big asset from the economic aspect,”explains Danilo Trbojevic. Other Serbian villages have already started developing the same kind of tourism, hoping to attract visitors.

Here, three centuries after their deaths, Sava Savanović, Petar Blagojevic and others still can’t rest in peace…