Ancient City at the Confluence of Great Rivers
Belgrade is the largest city in Serbia and its capital, with a population of about 1.7 million people. Belgrade, or its Slavic name “Beograd” meaning the “white city”, has belonged to many different nations and conquerors since the beginnings of its settlement, some 10.000 years ago. Due to its strategic location at the confluence of two rivers, Sava and Danube, as well as the intersection of Western and Eastern Europe, Belgrade has been fought over in 115 wars and raised to the ground 44 times.
The first settlements around the Belgrade belong to the great Vinča culture. The city grew around an ancient fortress on the Kalemegdan headland that was encompassed on three sides by the Sava and the Danube. The first fortress was built by the Celts in the 4th century BC, later belonging to the Roman empire when it was known as Singidunum. It was destroyed by the Atila the Hun in 442 and changed hands among the Samaritians, Goths and Gepids, before it was retaken by the great Byzantine emperor Justinian. Later it was held by the Franks and the Bulgars, and in the 11th and 12th century it became an eminent town first of Byzantine empire and later Kingdom of Hungary. In 1284 it came under Serbian rule of royal house of Nemanjić, and in 1402 despot Stefan Lazarević made it the capital of Serbia. The Ottoman Turks besieged the city several times and finally claimed it by Suleiman the Great in 1521, after which the destiny of the city was in their hands, except for three periods when it was held by Austrian empire (1688–90, 1717–39, and 1789–91). During 17th and 18th century Belgrade was a lively commercial center where goods were traded from various parts of Europe and Middle East. After the first Serbian uprising under Karadjordje in 1804, Belgrade became the Serbian capital during 1807–13, but the Turks reclaimed it again. After the second Serbian uprising against the Ottoman rule, led by Miloš Obrenović in 1815, the time that follows is marked by a dynastic battles between Obrenović and Karadjordjević royal families, as well as against the Ottoman empire. It was only in 1867 under prince Mihailo Obrenović, that the Serbs were given back the full control of the Belgrade fortress, when city once more became the official capital of Serbia. The period of the second half of the 19th century is marked by cultural, scientific and architectural progress. Unfortunately, Belgrade was heavily damaged during both World Wars and occupied first by Austro-Hungarians and then by Germans.
In 1945, communist Yugoslavia was proclaimed in Belgrade. The post-war period was marked by industrialization and formation of the New Belgrade on the north bank of Sava river. With the dissolution of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992, Belgrade became the capital of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and in 2003 the capital of the newly formed State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Finally in 2006, Belgrade became the capital of the Republic of Serbia.
Interesting fact about Belgrade is that through history it changed its name 15 times. The Celts called it Singidun, which the Romans later changed to Singidunum. Its Slavic name is Beograd. Occasionally, the name was translated to various languages e.g. lat. Alba Graeca (Greek White City), ger. Griechisch Wießenburg (Greek White Castle or Town), ita. Castelbianco (White Castle), and hun. Nándorfehérvár (Bulgarian White Castle or Town). During the Ottoman reign, Belgrade was named ”Dar Al Jihad”, meaning house of war. Prinz Eugen Stadt was the name that the Nazis gave the city.
Today, Belgrade spreads over 3.6% of the territory of Serbia, and 15.8% of Serbian population lives in this city. Belgrade is the capital of Serbian culture, education, and science with 300 cultural monuments, 70 libraries, 30 theatres, 50 museums, 40 churches and more than 700 archaeological sites. Belgrade boasts magnificent cultural and historical edifices, such as, among others, the Belgrade Fortress, and the Orthodox Cathedral.
Kalemegdan, is Belgrade’s central park and fortress complex, and the most spectacular site of the city predominantly due to its breathtaking view of Sava and Danube confluence, as well as well-preserved fortress. Just visiting the Kalemegdan and seeing the spectacular confluence of two rivers from it is worth coming to Belgrade.
The first fortress on the granite hill overlooking the Sava-Danube confluence was built in the 1st century and developed over the years into a Roman fortress (2nd century) and the Byzantine castle in the 6th and 7th century. After that, it became a medieval Capital of Serbia (13th and 15th century), and finally an Austrian / Ottoman fortification (17th and 18th century). Kalemegdan Fortress is a unique cultural and historical complex within Kalemegdan park with numerous medieval well-preserved walls and beautiful gates. The shadows of the high towers, capture the spirit of a history that is still alive in this place. Destroyed and rebuilt numerous times, the fortress has become the symbol of the city. People, armies and conquerors have left their mark, hence the historical layers that were left by Romans, Serbs, Hungarians, Turks and Austrians are lying one beneath the other.
Within the Kalemegdan fortress is one of the largest military museums in Europe. The museum houses over 3,000 ancient and modern items, that include swords, heavy knight’s armor, axes, shields, helmets, crossbows, armored gloves. Large part of the museum is dedicated to the two World wars. Dioramas, plaques, and displays illustrate the use and historical context of the museum’s collection. The permanent display is within the museum building, while on the outside, artillery weapons and armored vehicles line the ramparts and trenches of the fortress.
Saint Sava’s Temple
The Temple of Saint Sava is dedicated to St. Sava (Rastko, from the royal Nemanjić family), the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1219, and one of the most important figures in the history of medieval Serbia. Temple was built at the place where it is believed that the remains of Saint Sava were burned in 1595 by Ottoman Grand Vizier in an attempt to suppress Serbian uprise.
St Sava’s Temple is the largest Orthodox church in Serbia and the Balkans, and one of the largest Eastern Orthodox churches, also ranking among the largest churches in the world. It is the most recognizable building in Belgrade and a landmark, as its dominating dome resembles that of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, after which it had been modelled. The facade of the temple is done in white marble and granite. The church contains a rigorous symmetrical layout with a great sensitivity to light due to its large dome and four apses. Its interior is covered with 12,000 m2 (130,000 sq ft) of gold mosaics, making it one of the largest church mosaics in the in the world. The central dome contains a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator. There are more than 49 bells in the bell towers and over 18 gold plated crosses on its domes. With a surface of 3,500 m2 on the ground floor, the Temple can receive an amazing 10,000 people at any time. The crypt of the Temple is most spectacular. The ceiling of the crypt is wonderfully decorated, the images of apostles, martyrs and saints covering the ceiling, and the space between them is covered by the gold leaves. The walls are also covered by imagery and the entire area is dominated by gold color patterns. The inside of the crypt is also richly decorated with relief art.
Belgrade Cathedral and surroundings
Belgrade Orthodox Cathedral (Saborna Crkva) was built between 1837 and 1840 by order of duke Miloš Obrenović, as a classicist church with late baroque elements. The church is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. The interior is richly decorated, and the treasury of the church is especially valuable with its collection of ancient religious paintings and lavishly decorated works of art that date from the 17th to the 20th century. The location of the church is of high importance as it is located near Kosančićev Venac, the very heart of the city, around which Belgrade was built and spread.
Walking around this lovely cobble-stoned street it is possible to admire historic houses and an amazing view of the rivers. Near the church you stumble across the Palace (Konak) of Princess Ljubica, which was built in 1829-1831 in the so-called Serbian-Balkan style. It was the living place for Duke Miloš Obrenović family. The palace offers exhibitions consisting of original furniture, made in Oriental-Balkan style as well as in other styles of that time (classicism, Biedermeier, neo-baroque). Additionally, clothes of the Princess and several family portraits of the family are exhibited.
Prince Mihailo’s street and Republic square
Heading away from the Kalemegdan fortress, through the beautiful Kalemegdan park, you’ll come across a Prince Mihailo’s street, the main Belgrade street, a popular pedestrian zone, with boutiques, restaurants, and cafes. After quick walk, you reach the central town square, Republic Square with the famous equestrian monument of Prince Mihailo, the 19th century founder of modern Serbia. Surrounding the square are the National Theater and the National Museum.
The National Museum in Belgrade is the most significant, oldest and central Serbian museum, which after a hundred and sixty years of growth and development has 34 archeological, numismatic, artistic and historical collections. The Museum’s collections have over 400,000 most representative and superior archeological, historical and art works, representing development and changes of civilization in the territory of today’s Serbia, from prehistoric times to late medieval period, as well as crucial artistic merits in national and European art, from medieval period to contemporary works.
The most impressive collections are: Lepenski Vir Danube culture (7th millennium B.C.), Vinča culture (6-5th millennium B.C.), Dupljaja Chariot (16-13th century B.C.), golden masks from Trebenište (6th century B.C.), artefacts from Roman period like Belgrade Cameo (4th century), Miroslav’s Gospel (12th century), medieval coins and frescoes, numerous paintings of world impressionist and that of the most famous Serbian painters Paja Jovanović, Uroš Predić, (19th century) and Sava Šumanović, Milan Konjović (20th century). Most of the collections have been obtained mainly through excavation or as gifts from benefactors, who, in the long and rich history of the National Museum, came from the ranks of both rulers and, more often, common citizens. All of them contributed to the National Museum becoming a true symbol of the Serbian culture.
Skadarlija is the famous bohemian quarter not far from Republic Square. Belgrade’s unique corner offers exquisite restaurants with beautiful gardens, delicious food, and live music. It is paved with cobblestones and represents the heart of Belgrade’s bohemian spirit. You can visit some of the most famous restaurants and cafes, like Tri Šešira (Three Hats), Mali Vrabac (Little Sparrow) and Dva Jelena (Two Deers). These more than century old restaurants offer local delicious specialties, especially mixed meat on the grill (ćevapčići i pljeskavica) with cheesy cream (kajmak), as well as excellent Serbian wines and the world famous rakija (fruit brandy), of which the šljivovica (plum brandy) stands out.
Nikola Tesla Museum
Nikola Tesla Museum is located in the city center, in a residential villa built in 1929. Originally the building was used for various purposes until 1952, when the Museum was founded. Museum is a unique institution of science and culture in the world, that preserves the original and personal inheritance of Nikola Tesla. It possesses several exceptionally valuable collections: original documents, books and journals, historical technical exhibits, photographs and photo plates of original, technical objects, instruments and apparatus, plans and drawings. The museum also houses the urn with the earthly remains of one of the greatest scientists in the world.
The Royal Compound
The Royal compound in the part of the city called Dedinje, consists of The Royal Palace, a Royal Chapel and the White palace. The Royal compound is covered with parks of the English garden type, where the vegetation is allowed to grow naturally, whereas around the two palaces the French garden concept of park arrangement is applied, meaning that flowers, bushes and trees have neatly shaped forms and are planted in strictly geometrical order.
The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Karadjordjević royal family. It was built between 1924 and 1929 becoming the home of King Alexander I and his son King Peter II. After the Second world war it was confiscated by the Communist regime. Today, the palace is the home of Crown Prince Alexander (son of Peter II), Crown Princess Katherine, Alexander’s three sons and one grandson. The palace is built in the Serbian-Byzantine style and is surrounded with park terraces, swimming pools, pavilions, and platforms. The Entrance Hall is paved with stone and decorated with copies of medieval frescoes from the medieval Serbian monasteries. The ground floor of the palace houses a large hall and a number of rooms. The Blue Drawing Room is decorated in the Baroque style, while the Golden Drawing Room (Palma Vecchio) and Dining Room are in the Renaissance style with impressive wood carved ceilings and bronze chandeliers. These rooms are lavishly decorated with paintings of old masters and Renaissance. The Greater and Lesser Libraries are decorated in the same manner. The most impressive part of the Palace is the basement with a wine cellar, billiards and cinema room, and are painted in the style of the Palace at the Kremlin, featuring scenes from Serbian national mythology.
The Royal Chapel, is devoted to Saint Apostle Andrew the First-Called, the patron Saint of the Karadjordjević Royal Family. The church was built at the same time as the Royal Palace and is attached to it through a colonnade with semicircular arches from where there are magnificent views towards northern, western and southern parts of Belgrade, as well as to the terraced rose gardens. It is covered with frescoes of the most famous Serbian medieval monasteries. The church is today used by the Royal Family, especially during Easter, Christmas, and Slava (patron saint day).
The classicist White Palace was custom-built by command of His Majesty King Alexander I as the residence for his three sons HRH Crown Prince Peter (the future King Peter II), princes Tomislav and Andrej. The rooms of the White palace are furnished in the style of Louis XV and Louis XVI. During the period after the Second World War it was occupied as an official residence by the leaders of the communist Yugoslavia.