The White Cross Vukovar Croatia
, The Hero Town
is a city in Slavonia
) along the Danube River
. Although the city has a long cultural history, today it is most noted for its fate during the war in the early 1990's in the former Yugoslavia and often called "The Hero Town". It is the only town in Europe completely devastated since WWII. The Siege of Vukovar is famous amongst military analysts as 2000 self organized Croatian civilians,and volunteers from all around the Croatia defended the town for 3 months against 40 000 heavy armed Serbian soldiers and 110 tanks, resulting in a pyrrhic Serbian victory. City was defended up to the last street and therefore it was a modern model of a Stalingrad battle.
Water Tower view from street in Vukovar
The city has long had a highly mixed population of different ethnicities, including large numbers of ethnic Croats and Serbs. As a result it suffered greatly during the war between the Croats and the Serb-dominated Yugoslav National Army in the early 1990's. The three-month siege of the city in 1991 and the subsequent occupation by Serbia destroyed or damaged much of the city's infrastructure and resulted in a massacre of Croatian population. As a result, it is difficult to find employment, and much of the population has left; around 30,000 still remain. Those who remain in the city live together nonviolently, although there is still animosity between ethnic groups. Today, it`s a living war and massacre monument.
One may consider traveling to Osijek (an hour's drive from Vukovar) by train or air, then proceeding to Vukovar from Osijek.
By bus: The city has direct bus connections with Osijek (approximately every hour), Zagreb (numerous times a day), Ilok and Vinkovci, and daily to Sombor and Novi Sad in Vojvodina (Serbia). There are also seasonal buses to the Dalmatian coast and cities in Germany.
By train: Infrequent trains operate to Vukovar from Osijek and Vinkovci. The station, Borovo-naselje, is around 3 miles north from the main area of Vukovar. There is a daily direct train to Zagreb at 3:00 PM from Zagreb Central Station and returns 6:00 AM from Vukovar.
By Bicycle: Vukovar lies on the Euro Velo 6 route between Osijek and Ilok.
By car: Highways lead to Vukovar from all directions.
The town is best explored on foot. All the main areas of interest are within a short walk of each other.
Entrance to Castle Dvorac
Restored building in Vukovar
The war damage is still very obvious throughout most of the city.
- Hospital: The hospital in Vukovar is the same one used during the siege of the city. Make sure to act politely and respectively because after the "Fall of Vukovar" Serbian army dragged all wounded people (including children) and massacred them at the "Ovčara" site, making this building a living UN critic as UN forces located outside the hospital did nothing to prevent it. The above-ground portion of the hospital has been restored into a typical modern facility, but the basement area (which was the only part of the hospital used during the siege due to the continuous shelling of the above-ground parts of the hospital) has been made into a museum. The museum is very well-designed and gives a chilling feel of what the hospital was like during the siege. While you're in the hospital, if you're lucky you may see Dr. Vesna Bosanac, who was the hospital director during the war and still works there and is regarded as something of a national hero in Croatia because she saved many lives.
- Tank Graveyard Street: A location of one of a greatest battles in Europe. In the time of a siege Serbian army ,equiped with 110 tanks tried a breakthrough with tanks against a lightly armed Croatians led by national hero Blago Zadro, but it resulted in a greatest tank destruction site ever, with tanks mostly being destroyed on many unconventional ways . Today, although rebuilt it still gives an unexplainable chilling feel of a battle, and one tank is left as a memorial.
- Museum: The museum in Vukovar placed in the baroque Eltz castle, is horribly damaged from the war, but it is still in use, and there are plans to reconstruct the museum in 2009. Aside from the war damage, the museum has various exhibits to see. Many of the pieces are archaeological artifacts, including a right-footed ceramic shoe from several thousand years ago (Vučedol culture) that the museum staff seem to be particularly proud of. The museum also periodically exibits paintings from the Bauer collection which is considered one of the more significant collections of Croatian modern art.
- Ovčara massacre site: The Ovčara field is a short drive from the main area of Vukovar. After the fall of the city to the Serb-dominated Yugoslav National Army, the Serb soldiers gathered 200 of the hospital's doctors and injured patients and massacred them in the Ovčara field. Today at the massacre site there is a memorial and a nearby museum.
- Cemetery: The cemetery has the graves of many who died during and after the siege. At the center of the cemetery is a memorial statue. The statue has a symbolic flame at its center, and the stones present the image of the Christian cross facing outward in all directions. While walking amongst the graves, there are several interesting things to consider: Graves labeled 'Hravtski Branitelj' are the graves of untrained volunteers who helped defend the city. People who died after November 18th were usually tortured to death. There are also many graves where you can see that an entire family died on the same day.
||WARNING: There are active mines in the woods around the Vukovar cemetery. Only walk through the cemetery's paved and grassy areas. Avoid the woods.
- Crkva Sv. Filipa i Jakova: This is the main Catholic cathedral in the city. It is the 3rd longest church in Croatia and also has the 3rd most significant library in Croatia with several books (incanabulae) from the 15th century. It was horribly damaged during the war. There have been slight reconstructions since the war (Namely, a simple roof was added in order to keep out the rain. The church also has a new organ.), although the cathedral is generally the same as it was in 1998. The walls of the church still bear many holes from mortar shells and grenades, and there is still graffiti that was left by the Serb soldiers, including images of Orthodox Christian crosses and a slogan that translates into English as "God forgives. Serbs don't." If you have extra time and money, you may want to hire a Croatian translator and arrange a visit with the priest, as he is extremely knowledgeable about Vukovar, the siege, and what occurred at the cathedral during the siege. As it is placed on a hill over the Vukovar centre it has a great lookout over the city and the Danube river.
- Serbian Orthodox Church of the Translation of Relics of Saint Nicholas was first built in 1737. It was badly damaged and looted in WWII by Croatian Ustashi forces, and again demolished and dynamited by Croatian forces in September 1991; the final renovation took place in 2012. The original baroque iconostasis was saved and restored, but it is still pending the approval to be returned to the church.
Walk the streets. It's as moving as visiting any war museum!
Replicas of the pottery of the Vučedol culture, which flourished in this area between 3000 and 2200 BC. They can be bought in any souvenir shop, as well as the museum dedicated to it at Castle Eltz.
Local specialities are based around smoked pork meat and freshwater fish.
Smoked meat : Be sure to try šunka (smoked ham), kulen and švargl (check Wikipedia for details).
Fish dishes : The Danube area in Croatia has very strong tradition in fishing and fish based dishes. Be sure to try the spicy fish soup which is very common in Slavonia. But also try to get your hands on some smoked catfish stakes or šarani u rašljama (carp baked in wooden forks over an open flame) which are more traditional to the Danube subregion of Slavonia and Sriem.
Other dishes : čobanac and paprikaš (meat stews)
Local cuisine tends to be very spicy due to extensive use of red paprika, so if you don't like hot food ask in restaurants to make your food less spicy.
Cakes and sweets : There's a funny thing called poderane gaće (Torn underpants) which are made from pancake-like dough and are sweetened with sugar or honey. There are numerous cakes and pies indigenous for the region but they can rarely be found in restaurants. It's best to ask the locals, people are very friendly and very hedonistic in regards to food so they might just invite you for a treat.
- Try the local beer, Vukovarsko pivo.
There are hotels in Vukovar; however, they are somewhat expensive. You may choose to visit Vukovar as a day trip and then sleep in a nearby city such as Osijek.
Osijek and Novi Sad are about an hour's travel away.
The town of Ilok is about an hour away and well-known for its wine, food, Castle Ilok, and a beautiful little church, the Church and Monastery of Sv. Ivan Kapistran. A few of the best restaurants are located in this area as well, including Principovac and the restaurant at Hotel Dunav. Touring vineyards, the Castle, and indulging in the culinary specialites of the region can easily take up an entire day.