SAVA SAVANOVIC - THE RESTLESS VAMPIRE

The locals of the village of Zarožje (in Bajina Bašta, Serbia) have long been wary of the ruined old mill house on the rustic Rogacica creek.

Since the 1700s, this millhouse has been home to Sava Savanovic, a lesser known vampire than many though even today his name is still feared in this region.

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According to the local folklore, Sava was content to prey upon villagers who came to grind their grain at the millhouse, the ruins of which stand today.

Sava gained wider notoriety in November 2012, when the millhouse collapsed, throwing the locals into a fit of concern that Sava had been disturbed, or worse - re-awakened. Preventative measures including the display of garlic and hawthorne branches have been undertaken by the locals. The Jagodic family, which has owned the property since the 1950s, considers restoration or repair of the mill much to dangerous to undertake.

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"People are very worried," Miodrag Vujetic, local municipal assembly member, told ABC News. "Everybody knows the legend of this vampire and the thought that he is now homeless and looking for somewhere else and possibly other victims is terrifying people. We are all frightened."

"I understand that people who live elsewhere in Serbia are laughing at our fears, but here most people have no doubt that vampires exist," he says.

The paper says Vujetic has confirmed the local council has advised all villagers to put garlic on their front doors and windows, adding: "We have also reminded them to put a Holy cross in every room in the house."

IN CULTURE

Sava Savanovic appears in the story Posle devedeset godina (After Ninety Years) written by Serbian realist writer Milovan Glisic, and in the horror film Leptirica inspired by the story. He also appears in the novel Strah i njegov sluga (Fear and His Servant) writtne by Mirjana Novakovic. Leptirica (Serbian Cyrillic: translation The She-Butterfly) is a 1973 former Yugoslav horror TV movie based on the story After Ninety Years written by Serbian writer Milovan Glisic. Leptirica is considered one of the top Serbian and former Yugoslav horror films.

Milovan Glišić was known mostly for his realist stories, but he also had a few which included horror motifs of Serbian folklore and superstition. The most famous one is -- After ninety years (1880) -- published some 17 years before Bram Stoker's Dracula.

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                     Milovan Glišić

The opening scene shows an old miller in a mill listening to strange sounds coming from the woods. While he sleeps a millstone suddenly stops working and a strange human-like creature with black hands and long teeth and nails bites his neck.

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After the opening scene, the film turns to a romance between a poor young man Strahinja (Petar Božović) and a beautiful girl Radojka (Mirjana Nikolić). Radojka, the daughter of landowner Živan (Slobodan Perović), refuses to allow her to marry Strahinja. Disappointed, Strahinja leaves his village and goes to Zarožje. He meets peasants discussing the cursed mill and accepts their offer to become the new miller. He spends the night in the mill and survives the attack of the creature, finding out its name - Sava Savanović. The villagers visit the oldest woman in a neighboring village and ask her if there is a grave of somemone called Sava Savanović somewhere nearby. After finding the place where his body is buried, they nail a stake through the coffin and a butterfly flies out.

The peasants help Strahinja take Radojka from her home and bring her to Zarožje. During the night, while the villagers are preparing the wedding, Strahinja sneaks into his future wife's room while she is asleep. As he undresses her, he discovers a bloody hole under her breasts. Radojka opens her eyes and transforms into a disgusting hairy creature which climbs onto Strahinja's neck while he is trying to run away. She leads him to Sava's grave where he manages to take the stake out of the coffin and impale her.

The film ends with Strahija lying motionlessly on the ground and a butterfly in his hair moving its wings.

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Traditions die slowly in this part of the world. "In the dark forested mountains of Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia, many people still believe in vampires and take them quite seriously," says Dr. James Lyon, Ph.D, a noted Balkan historian who has done extensive research on the folklore behind vampires.

"In local folklore, vampires are hideous, blood thirsty creatures with red eyes and iron teeth that bloat when they feed, and are able to shift their shape," says Lyon, author of "Kiss of the Butterfly," a historical thriller about vampires in the Serbia.

"Vampires originated in Serbia, not Romania," says Lyon. "The word vampire entered western languages from Serbia in the late 1720s."

Austrian forces returning from conquests in Ottoman Serbia in the early 1700s brought back vampire stories, which circulated throughout Europe, later inspiring Byron, Keats and Coleridge, he claims.

"In 1730-31 the Austrian Army sent a military surgeon into Serbia to conduct autopsies on suspected vampires. He and other Austrian Army officers wrote of their experiences, and these records still exist today," Lyons said.

Vampire folklore has been a distinct part of Serbian history for centuries.

In January of 1732, Dr. Johannes Flückinger, regiment medical officer dispatched by the Honorable Supreme Command, was sent to Serbia to exhume the bodies of 13 alleged vampires, according to Scientific American.

“After the examination had taken place,” reads Flückinger's official report, “the heads of the vampires were cut off by the local gypsies and then burned along with the bodies, and then the ashes were thrown into the river Morava.”

His report would become recognised as the most throughly documented and widely circulated vampire account in the world, according to Scientific American.

Serbia also holds claim to Petar Blagojevic - the world's first, and only vampire, on official record. Blagojevic died in 1725, but allegedly returned to torment the villagers of Kisiljevo, 100 kilometres east of Belgrade - until they decided enough was enough. They dug up his grave, drove a stake through his heart, decapitated him, burned his body and threw the ashes into the Danube. At the time, eastern Serbia was under Austrian rule and the case was documented, in orderly Austrian fashion, by the contemporary steward of the region, a man named Frombald, and sent to Vienna. It seems that dealings with vampires were common enough to go unrecorded by most Ottoman administrators. But Frombald was amazed by the events and his report was eventually published in Viennese newspapers, becoming the oldest documented case of vampirism - or at least of vampire hysteria. "We're sure there were other incidents of the kind, but they just weren't documented," says Mirko Bogicic, a village official and collector of old archives and stories from the area. "The villagers went about it knowing what they had to do, but were afraid of the new authorities and asked for Frombald's permission," he says. In the two months after Blagojevic's death, a number of villagers had also passed away after a short, mysterious illness. Before dying, they all complained that Blagojevic was tormenting them. "There was no bloodsucking or the other sorts of nonsense that Bram Stoker invented for Dracula - who, by the way, was never thought to be a vampire until that novel and would have been forgotten without Hollywood," says Nenad Mihajlovic, a history teacher in Veliko Gradiste, a nearby town and regional hub. "Blagojevic growled, frightened, choked and generally tormented his victims," Mihajlovic explains. According to local legends, vampires are not "infected" by other vampires, but are actually born marked out as future vampires. Blagojevic's wife, so the story goes, said that every night Petar came to her and demanded his opanci, traditional peasant's footwear. Then one day she herself slipped away from the village and was never heard of again, Bogicic says. According to Frombald, whose full name has been lost, Blagojevic's corpse showed no signs of decomposition after eight weeks in the ground and had fresh blood on his lips. When he was impaled, more blood gushed from his ears, nose and mouth. Though the oldest part of the Kisiljevo graveyard, with its partly disintegrated headstones, dates back to the 16th century, there is now no trace of the vampire's grave. But that may be because he was dug up before his headstone was put up, Bogicic says. And in any case, headstones at the time remained unmarked - engraved crosses came in the later 1700s and names only after the local church was built in 1825.

 

 

 

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