An alternate mountain retreat

So if you were one of those folks whose travel agent didn’t get the trip to Pic de Bugarach booked before officials decided to shut down the area, it turns out there is a fall-back destination for you: Mount Rtanj, a peak in the lovely mountains of east-central Serbia.  Rtanj is one of the last mountains in the Serbian Carpathian mountain range, and is easily recognizable, due to the height (1565m/5134ft) of its distinctively pyramidal peak, named Šiljak.

GIS maps are great, no?

GIS maps are great, no?

That peak and its particular shape, unusual in general and said to be atypical for mountains in the region, has long held a reputation for being otherworldly.   The name itself is said to be derived from the Old Romanian “aartan” referring to its artificial nature, and local legends ascribe the shape and the very existence of the peak to the work of otherworldly or supernatural origins.

It is a lovely peak, and distinctive from a distance

It is a lovely peak, and quite distinctive from a distance – note the almost perfect slopes.

Local myths abound.  One tradition highlights the distinctive shape and suggests that beings from another world built a crystalline pyramid below the mountain and covered their construction with soil and rock to bury it, only the mystical forces exuded by the perfect form of the inner pyramid have forced the earth to take on the regular shape of the (really badly) hidden object, revealing its existence.  What’s inside that pyramid?  An escape vehicle, of course.  The whole mountain serves as a garage for the storage of a massive spaceship that the aliens (have they been here all the time – that would certainly explain some things) will use to escape the fiery destruction of the planet next Friday.

Local tradition holds that the peak was once the home of a great wizard or sorcerer, who built either a tower or a castle over a treasure buried deep within the mountain (gold is the usual guess, though perhaps they already knew about that spaceship long before The “History” Channel got word of it) and harnessed the power of the mountain for use in mystical rites of ancient magic.  Unstable weather patterns around the mountain, and the frequency of lightning strikes during abundant local thunderstorms are used to support the suggestion that the mountain has special properties.  Some say that (and as I wrote those words, I was immediately drawn to wonder if this is where The Stig goes for annual recharging) “magical lights” can be seen around the peak at some points of the year, and that the distinctive shape of the mountain, and markings on the slopes, aid in navigation and landings by UFOs (maybe this is the intergalactic equivalent of JFK?).  Sadly, no trace of the castle remains – it long since fell victim to the ravages of weather and treasure seekers.

After World War I, residents of the village at the base of the mountain built a memorial chapel at the summit for the owner of the local mine, but sadly this too has fallen victim to vandals, treasure seekers and the area’s violent storms and generally bad weather.  Only a fragment of the chapel remains as a popular site for climbers to take photographs to document the picturesque ruin.

All that remains of the chapel at the summit

All that remains of the chapel at the summit

There isn’t much cover on the peak, and much of the mountain is covered in scrubland, but the northern slope is said to be rather thickly forested, with good hunting opportunities for deer and boar and ample drinkable water.  In the event that the end brings zombies, you’d be out of luck, but if the mountain doesn’t crack open to reveal a massive interstellar escape pod, you could manage to camp there and have a great barbeque.

Better book that trip soon, though, as there’s no saying what will happen when people start flowing into town.  It’s likely that the Serbian officials will cut off access just as the French did, spoiling the fun for apocalypse watchers.


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