Around 50 miles north of the capital city of Serbia, Belgrade, on the slopes of the Fruska Gora National Park and on the right bank of the Danube River, is one of Serbia’s most important spiritual and cultural towns, Sremski Karlovci. Since 1713, this place has been the seat of the Serbian Archbishops so don’t be surprised if among the sea of tourists from different countries you come across a group of black-robed Orthodox priests come to visit the ornate 19th century Archbishop’s Residence. Especially famous for its good wines and honey (which both you can taste at various establishments around the town), its local dessert kuglof (a fruity, spiced cake), its beautiful baroque architecture and very nice inhabitants, Sremski Karlovci is also well known for its contribution to history books since it was here that the term ‘round table’ was first used when describing the signing of a peace agreement. The first peace agreement to be so described was signed here in 1699 between the Turkish, Polish, Venetians and Austrians, and it was thrashed out around a round table on a site a little way out of the town which is commemorated by a circular building, the Chapel of Peace, that has four doors, one for each party to the treaty.
According to the caretaker of the Chapel of Peace, a well-informed and talkative chap, this unusual building is beginning to be popular with visitors again since the EC decided to invest in its reconstruction on the condition that it opened its fourth door behind the altar, the so-called Turkish Door. When we came to visit the Chapel of Peace there was no one to greet us except strong winds and closed doors. We, like history-hungry peeping toms, looked through the windows and keyholes trying to catch a glimpse of the past. Suddenly a tall guy appeared in front of us telling us to go to the opposite side of building and he would open the door for us. It seemed strange that he did not tell us to enter the building with him, but later he explained that he only carries the key for the Turkish door as most visitors are from Turkey – as we were Christian we could only enter the building by one of the other doors. Inside there is an altar which covers the Turkish door (the chapel was built by the Catholics of the town), and there used to be an organ but it was damaged by the rather careless builders who restored the building recently. The windows are distinctive – on the first floor they are made in the shape of the Dutch flag and on the ground floor they represent the Union Jack – both England and Holland were the ‘international peacekeepers’ overseeing the peace agreement of 1699. The whole building is painted yellow inside and out, the staircase to the first floor is original but covered in paint stains and refurbishment is ongoing.
The Chapel of Peace is a witness to a significant historic event, but nowadays is sadly underused – it would make a wonderful space for concerts and exhibitions, and is definitely well worth the stroll from the town centre along the quiet residential streets.