Saturday, February 18, 2017

219. Hello Serbia - Hello Belgrade ...

With my 3 week stay in Sarajevo over, it was onto an Air Serbia flight for a very quick dash across borders ( in fact just 45 minutes – I didn’t even have time to finish reading the in-flight magazine … !!! … ) and into Serbia for my next three week adventure exploring Belgrade.

Belgrade is the capital and largest city of Serbia and is located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, where the Pannonian Plain meets the Balkans. Its name translates to "White City". 

My first day’s exploration is to wander over the massive Belgrade Fort ( at the end on my street – just ten minutes’ walk from my apartment ) …this ancient citadel is the core and the oldest section of the urban area of Belgrade. For centuries the city population was concentrated only within the walls of the fortress, and thus the history of the fortress, until most recent times, equals the history of Belgrade itself.


The city has a rather startling history of “ownership” … being in a strategic location, the city has been battled over in 115 wars and razed 44 times ... !!! …

Chipped stone tools found at Zemun show that the area around Belgrade was inhabited by nomadic foragers in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic eras. Some of these tools belong to the Mousterian industry, which are associated with Neanderthals rather than modern humans. Aurignacian and Gravettian tools have also been discovered there, indicating occupation between 50,000 and 20,000 years ago.

The first farming people to settle in the region are associated with the Neolithic Starčevo culture, which flourished between 6200 and 5200 BC.


In 34–33 BC the Roman army led by Silanus reached Belgrade. It became the romanized Singidunum in the 1st century AD, and by the mid-2nd century, the city was proclaimed a municipium by the Roman authorities, evolving into a full-fledged colonia (highest city class) by the end of the century.

The first Christian Emperor of Rome was born in the territory of modern Serbia in Naissus — Constantine I known as Constantine the Great — another early Roman Emperor was born in Singidunum: Flavius Iovianus (Jovian), the restorer of Christianity. Jovian reestablished Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, ending the brief revival of traditional Roman religions under his predecessor Julian the Apostate.

In 395 AD, the site passed to the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire.

The first record of the name Belograd appeared on April, 16th, 878, in a Papal letter to Bulgarian ruler Boris I. Then for about four centuries, the city remained a battleground between the Byzantine Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary and the Bulgarian Empire.

There is not enough space on this blog to document all the conquerors of the city – so here is a quick summary

Kingdom of Serbia (Syrmia) 1282–1325
Kingdom of Hungary 1325–1404
Serbian Despotate 1404–1427
Kingdom of Hungary 1427–1521
Ottoman Empire 1521–1688
Habsburg Monarchy 1688–1690
Ottoman Empire 1690–1717
Habsburg Monarchy 1717–1739
Ottoman Empire 1739–1789
Habsburg Monarchy 1789–1791
Ottoman Empire 1791–1804
Revolutionary Serbia 1804–1813
Ottoman Empire 1813–1815
Principality of Serbia 1815–1882
Kingdom of Serbia 1882–1915
Austro-Hungarian Empire 1915–1918
Kingdom of Serbia 1918
Kingdom of Yugoslavia 1918–1941
Government of National Salvation 1941–1944
SFR Yugoslavia 1944–1992
Serbia and Montenegro 1992–2006
Serbia 2006–present day

A glimpse of the Danube way down below ...

The First World War began on 28 July 1914 when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia - after the assassination of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his then pregnant wife Sofia as they were on a visit to Sarajevo.  Most of the subsequent Balkan offensives occurred near Belgrade. Austro-Hungarian monitors shelled Belgrade on 29 July 1914, and it was taken by the Austro-Hungarian Army on 30 November. On 15 December, it was re-taken by Serbian troops. After a prolonged battle which destroyed much of the city, between 6 and 9 October 1915, Belgrade fell to German and Austro-Hungarian troops on 9 October 1915. The city was liberated by Serbian and French troops on 1 November 1918.

After the war, Belgrade became the capital of the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. During this period, the city experienced fast growth and significant modernisation. But then came the second War War ...


On 25 March 1941, the government of regent Crown Prince Paul signed the Tripartite Pact, joining the Axis powers in an effort to stay out of the Second World War and keep Yugoslavia neutral during the conflict. However the city was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe on 6 April 1941, killing up to 24,000 people. Yugoslavia was then invaded by German, Italian, Hungarian, and Bulgarian forces. Belgrade was occupied by the German Army later the same month and Belgrade became the seat of the puppet Nedić regime, headed by General Milan Nedić.

During the summer and fall of 1941, in reprisal for guerrilla attacks, the Germans carried out several massacres of Belgrade citizens; in particular, members of the Jewish community were subject to mass shootings at the order of General Franz Böhme, the German Military Governor of Serbia. Böhme rigorously enforced the rule that for every German killed, 100 Serbs or Jews would be shot.

Just like Rotterdam, which was devastated twice, by both German and Allied bombing, Belgrade was bombed once more during World War II, this time by the Allies on 16 April 1944, killing at least 1,100 people. This bombing fell on the Orthodox Christian Easter. Most of the city remained under German occupation until 20 October 1944, when it was liberated by the Red Army and the Communist Yugoslav Partisans.

On 29 November 1945, Marshal Josip Broz Tito proclaimed the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia in Belgrade ( later to be renamed to Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on 7 April 1963 ). Higher estimates from the former secret police place the victim count of political persecutions in Belgrade at 10,000.

In 1948, construction of New Belgrade started, and during the post-war period, Belgrade grew rapidly as the capital of the renewed Yugoslavia, developing as a major industrial center.

Kalemegdan Park now occupies the inside area of the Fort ...

The Military Museum within the Fortress walls ...

On 9 March 1991, massive demonstrations led by Vuk Drašković were held in the city against Slobodan Milošević.  According to various media outlets, there were between 100,000 and 150,000 people on the streets. Two people were killed, 203 injured and 108 arrested during the protests, and later that day tanks were deployed onto the streets to restore order.
Further protests were held in Belgrade from November 1996 to February 1997 against the same government after alleged electoral fraud at local elections. These protests brought Zoran Đinđić to power, the first mayor of Belgrade since World War II who did not belong to the League of Communists of Yugoslavia or its later offshoot, the Socialist Party of Serbia.

The Sava River flows into the Danube River directly below the Fort ...

The Pobednik ( The Victor ) monument at the edge of the Fortress overlooking the Danube and Sava Rivers - built to commemorate Serbia's victory over Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire during the Balkan Wars and the First World War. Built in 1928 and standing at 14 meters high, it is one of the most famous works of sculptor Ivan Meštrović

Kalemegdan is the most popular park among Belgraders and for many tourists visiting Belgrade because of the park's numerous winding walking paths, shaded benches, picturesque fountains, statues, historical architecture and scenic river views. In the true sense, The Fortress is today the green oasis in the Belgrade's urban area.

And on this chilly afternoon as the last rays of the setting winter sun give a golden glow to the landscape, I pull my beanie down, wrap my scarf around my face, hunch myself into my jacket and head post-haste for my centrally heated apartment just down the road, before my nose and ears become too frost-bitten …