The legends of Sokograd, a falcon city

Milena Mihajlovic | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Being the crossroad of cultures and civilizations for the last 1000 years, Serbia has gained and preserved some iconic establishments, that often look outplaced of space and time that we observe them in. These make for the local people creative explanations and imaginative stories full of metaphors and exaggeration in order to explain why and how these establishments still lay there, abandoned and intimidating. Just like that, there are many local legends about the ancient town Sokograd, a falcon city in central Serbia.

How Sokograd got its name

Sokograd means “a town of falcons”, and the story behind its name is rather interesting. If you guessed that it has to do with the many falcons that live in the area, it’s partially true. Particularly, it got its name due to the many falconers who lived in the town during the Ottoman empire. Instead of paying taxes in gold and goods, the inhabitants of this small town used to contribute their tyrants with the trained falcons.

A view over Sokograd © Credits to Milena Mihajlovic

A mandatory love story 

It’s only expected that there was a romantic connotation to the daunting stone walls dominating the landscape. The first of three legends suggest that there was a mighty commander of Sokograd, who had a beautiful young daughter Lepterija, that was tragically in love with the son of the ruler of the neighboring town.

Sokograd and the starry sky © Credits to Rile14

As it usually goes, love didn’t know any boundaries, as their parents used to fight for years over the territory. The couple decided to leave and escape far away together. Lepterija escaped the city walls through the secret passage and joined her beloved on a horse, ready to leave everything behind. What started like a fairy-tale soon turned into a tragedy as her father, blind with anger and fury, organized a search party and ordered to kill the young couple when captured. The beautiful Lepterija died by the swords of her father’s soldiers, and her unintended jumped in the deepest whirlpool. 

Symbolically, the designated walking and park area that connects Sokobanja and Sokograd nowadays holds the name “Lepterija”.

The epic betrayal plot

The second legend tells the story of resistance, ingenuity, and deceit. A strong and unbreachable construction has given a lot of troubles to the invading Ottoman soldiers. The legend goes that with a broken spirit, they tried bribing a local grandmother to help them breach the walls.

She advised them to keep a single horse without food and water for nine days and then walk it to the city gates, promising that the city gates would be open. Having nothing to lose, the Ottomans agreed on the deal and paid a good fortune to the old lady.

Detail from Lepterija park © Credits to Cedomir Zarkovic

However, she was a double player and warned the commander of Sokograd of the situation. She advised him to put the horseshoes on several horses upside down and walk them in front of the gate and leave the gate open in nine days time. Afterwards, they were advised to leave the city through a secret passage. The ruler acted on her advice, and when the Ottoman soldiers came and saw the prints leading towards the open gate, thought that Sokograd received a hefty reinforcement. Another couple of days passed and after deciding to enter the city, regardless of the consequences, they were surprised to see an empty and abandoned city walls.

The fantasy outcome

The third story includes the elements of the supernatural. To be specific, the story describes a dark time, when the unprecedented storm transformed the skies above Rtanj and Ozren in the horror story scenery. The thunder pierced a hole between the mountains, the whole ground trembled and a frightened horse threw off a rider from its back. It was a ruler of Sokograd. He lifted his head from the muddy ground and thought he was in hell, feeling excruciating pain in even the tiniest bones of his body. 

Seconds later, he heard the murmur of water and forced himself to take a sip - determined to not go to the next life thirsty. However, the sip cleared his mind and brought him back some strength. He then put a hand in it, and then the other one, legs following. Within minutes he recovered from the miraculous water and built a new settlement on its well. The legend of miraculous water has not vanished ever since - the picturesque spa settlement of Sokobanja, between Ozren and Rtanj mountains, lives to tell stories of many cured people who sought help. 

Sokograd landscape © Credits to Sasha SB

Whether you enjoyed the folklore legends about Sokograd, or like more science fiction elements about extraterrestrial energy and creatures specific to the Rtanj mountain, one thing is certain - this area offers a curious and rejuvenating experience to everyone. The falcon city has many more legends in its repertoire, thanks to the various waterfalls, caves, unique shaped rocks that decorate the area, and the creative locals.

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