RTANJ, Serbia - Agence France-Presse
A picture shows the pyramid-shaped Siljak peak in the Serbian mountain of Rtanj on December 20, 2012. AFP photo
A pyramid-shaped mountain in Serbia, believed by some to be a source of unusual electromagnetic waves that could shield it from catastrophe, was attracting record numbers of visitors ahead of the predicted Mayan apocalypse on Friday.
All the hotels around the Rtanj mountain in southeastern Serbia have been booked up ahead of "doomsday", many of them for a New Age conference that is due to run beyond the forecast end of the world on December 21.
"I do not really believe that the end of the world is coming, but it is nice to be here in case something unusual happens," said Darko, a 28-year-old designer visiting from Belgrade.
His friend Zaga Jovancic said she had brought some canned food and bottled water, "just in case." "I don't expect 'doomsday,' but it will be nice to tell our children that we were here at a time when the whole world went mad," Jovancic said.
The main reason for the influx of visitors -- some from as far away as Australia -- is a four-day conference opening Thursday hosted by the Spirit of Rtanj Association to look into the alleged properties of the snow-covered mountain.
Rtanj is normally a quiet winter resort visited mainly by hikers and climbers from Serbia and was once home to a number of now defunct coal mines. It is known for its wild countryside and fields of medicinal herbs, a main source of income for its hundred inhabitants.
"We have already registered interesting electromagnetic activities in previous years and we hope that we can gather more evidence to prove this mountain is different from the rest of the world," said Milovan Radisic, one of the conference participants.
The conference -- which runs until December 23 -- will also look into reports that calendars from several ancient civilisations including the Aztecs, the Hopi Indians and the Egyptians predicted a new era beginning on Friday -- at the 11th minute of the 11th hour.
But physicist Stjepan Kulenovic scoffed at claims that Rtanj -- which legend has it was once a sorcerer's castle -- had magical properties.
"Such assumptions are scientifically so groundless that one can only laugh at them," he told AFP. "There are still unknown fields in the physics, but this one could be denied even by a fifth-grader." Local hoteliers and tourist officials weren't complaining however.
"We have never had foreigners here at this time of the year," said Marina Zikic of the tourist office in Boljevac, the main town in the area.
Nebojsa Gajic of the hotel "Rtanj" said the area's modest quota of rooms -- just 250 -- had all been booked, with visitors from France, Germany and Australia due to arrive.
"We have some 30 percent more tourists this year compared to previous ones, maybe due to the 'doomsday' rumours, but also because (of the conference)," Gajic told AFP. "We have no more rooms available." And Serbia's Tourist Office was also delighted with the influx.
"Our official stance is not to support such mythology, but if it is good for business, so much the better," said tourist office representative Sandra Vlatkovic.