We stopped the car under the trees, just after the sign indicating the church. Large trees. A grid. Stones.
To the left, a house, from which a young man steps forward.
— You want to visit the church, maybe. I can open it for you.
He walks with a slight stoop, his face is flushed from the heat. He shakes our hands. A young man in faded blue T-shirt, flowery shorts and blue plastic slippers.
— I’m the priest, even if I don’t look like one.
The village below is deserted, not a face in the windows, not a shadow, not a voice, not a dog to bark and jump in front of our car. A cat which flees at my approach. Braids of garlic and onions hanging from the porches, empty milk jugs. Death announcements tacked to a pole. And, like a sudden omen, two tractors crossing each other’s way at full speed in front of me before disappearing elsewhere.
We walk behind the priest. We have to climb the stairs, enter a gate opening in the dry stone wall, leave behind the pines and linden trees which bend their branches as if covering up what must be kept hidden. This is how the church of Borač has been hidden to the world for centuries, concealed by the cliff emerging behind it, itself a rock among the other rocks.
Is he sure? Yes, he says, he is sure, there was a town up there, a huge city, and this church was the cathedral. It was a prosperous city, a powerful city, as the frescoes of the church witness – archangels in armor, saints with serious faces, Constantine and Helen showing the true cross, an elder of the Apocalypse and Noah’s Arks face to face, Christ Pantocrator and Christ Immanuel on either side of the door separating the tiny narthex from the tiny shrine, and at the end, the iconostasis with naive paintings.
But where was the city?
— Up there, you see, all these rocks — the city was there.
Are there any ruins up there? He hesitates.
Yes, the ruins, everything is ruined, you cannot see anything more. Yes, he went up there once, when he arrived here.
He shows us the pile of rocks, the cliffs that draw the contours of an enchanted fortress against the sky, the landslide that closes the path to the dead city, and I think of all those cities buried under water – the city of Ys under the sea off the coast of Brittany, Kitezh under the waters of Lake Svetloyar, these cities, where only the pure souls can hear the bells ringing. Borač, in central Serbia, a city swallowed up in the air, seized by the rock at the end of the 14th century, in the tumult of the advance of the Ottoman army, while the surounding area was abandoned by its fleeing population.
Does our young priest, lost in his desert, believe in it?
— The city was up there, see.
We are going to leave.
When sitting back in the car, a last look around us, and there, behind us, emerges another city hidden by the tall grass. There is not a single stone in this cemetery which would not date back to past centuries, not a tomb that would wait for the inhabitants of the village below, not a cross that would not turn to the cliff.