Modica Sicily – Baroque, Earthquakes, and Chocolate

Saint George Cathedral Modica

I’ve been relaxing in Pozzallo, content with long walks on the beach and uninspired to post on my travel blog or chase Sicilian attractions. The days are long (6:30 am – 8:30 pm) and April weather is mild. Like most coastal areas, Pozzallo’s wind can be fierce and unpredictable with temperatures changing quickly. We’ve had a few sudden Mediterranean squalls – ominous skies followed by rain, thunder, and lightning – almost as exciting as African storms.

Sicilian Poppy – chainimage.com

Transportation

I’ve considered the best way to navigate Sicily and explore places of interest. You don’t need a car in Pozzallo. For other parts of the island, depending on where you want to go, you can rent a car or bike or take a ferry, bus, or train. There are multiple daily departures. Ferries are costly but buses inexpensive and reliable. Figuring out the schedule and pickup and drop off points is the hard part.

Sicilian Wildflowers

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Buildings in Modica Alta “almost climb the rocks of the mountain”.

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Modica Architecture – Scopri Modica

Bus stops aren’t marked and the website and learning where to catch buses is confusing. Contacting the bus company directly helps but don’t expect English.

Hyblaean Mountain (Monti Iblei) Gorge Sicily – footage.framepool.com

Once you find the pickup point, if you have the exact fare bus drivers may sell you a ticket when boarding the bus. If you’re friends with the driver, a new pickup point might even be created in your honor… If not, you’ll have to figure out where to buy your ticket – sometimes it’s a nearby gelateria or café. You can miss a bus trying to buy your ticket – not fun but it happens in Sicily.

Sicilian Modicana Cattle – sicilianroots

Spring Scenery

Tuesday, I took a day trip to Modica. It’s close to Pozzallo in the southeastern part of Sicily, about an hour away. The drive was beautiful with glorious scenery reminiscent of favorite coastal areas in Greece and Turkey. We passed stone villas and ruins, olive groves, grazing cattle, and open fields of purple, white, and yellow wildflowers with patches of bright red poppies. The other passengers were Sicilian men of all ages – most fell asleep during the gentle ride.

Temple in a Field of Sicilian Wildflowers – pixabay

The Mediterranean climate encourages flowers year-round, but in spring Sicilian wildflowers are spectacular! They thrive in rich volcanic soil “fed by ash and lava from the volatile tantrums of Mt. Etna and other volcanoes”.

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In April and May Sicily is “awash with a ribald rush of color”.

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Santa Maria di Betlem – Scopri Modica

Baroque Architecture, Earthquake, Economy

Modica is an elegant Baroque town – population about 60,000. In 2002, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like Pozzallo it’s in Ragusa Province near the southern Iblei Mountains.

Easter Sunday Festa della Madonna Vasa-Vasa – Le Case dello Zodiaco

In 1693, a devastating earthquake reshaped southeast Sicily drastically changing  Modica and destroying its charisma and political importance. Reconstruction helped the city regain its popularity and Baroque appearance.

Modica – italythisway.com

I explored Modica by foot covering as much territory as possible in four hours. I couldn’t find a guide and didn’t see any other tourists. It’s off-season, so you do your own research. Later I heard about Hermes-Sicily – guides who organize visits in southeastern Sicily. I’ll contact them before visiting Syracuse and Noto.

Stray Cats Modica Old Town

I got sidetracked following networks of winding side streets with houses, buildings, stray cats, and cafés. I entered Santuario Madonna delle Grazie and spent quiet time inside with about ten faithful Catholics. Some backstreet houses seem to be built into the rocky hillside. The quiet cobbled streets were mostly empty and several abandoned houses in disrepair.

Santuario Madonna Delle Grazie

Modica has Greek, Roman, Arab, and Phoenician ties. From the seventeenth until the early nineteenth century it was known as the “City of Hercules“. The 1693 earthquake destroyed Modica and other cities in the valley of the Sicilian Baroque.

Il Duomo di San Giorgio at Night – typicalsicily.it.

The Noto Valley has eight Medieval late-Baroque cities – Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa, and Scicli. These cities “were rebuilt (in part or entirely) after the 1693 earthquake”. Their architecture marks the end of one of the “last Baroque periods in Europe“.

Hillside Old Town Modica

Modica’s economy is mostly agricultural, “characterized by olive, bean, wheat, and cereal production”. The area is known for prized Modicana cattle that flourish in the Mediterranean climate and produce “quality meat and milk”.

Church of the Carmine Modica

Modica – Bassa and Alta

As we approached central Modica, the bus veered sharply down a steep rocky ridge with stone houses sprawled along the hillside.

Bell Tower

Modica Bassa is in a valley where two rivers – Ianni Mauro and Pozzo – meet. Because of destructive flooding locals “covered” the rivers. Today, the area – Corso Umberto – is a historical center with spectacular churches and monuments. The third part of Modica – Sorda – is a new residential, commercial area.

Church of St Mary of Bethlehem

I divided my time between Modica Bassa and Alta. Bassa buildings guaranteed to blow you away include:

Antique Horse-Drawn Cart

Notable Corso Umberto attractions include Palazzo Grimaldi – the “finest example of neo-Renaissance style buildings in Modica”. The Palazzo’s art gallery displays paintings by famous nineteenth century artists from the karst plains of the Iblean area. Palazzo Polara also has exquisite Baroque architecture and Palazzo de Mercedari – attached to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace – which was previously a convent and hospital during the 1709 plague”.

Fountain Palazzo Grimaldi Modica Bassa

History

Modica’s history dates back to 1000 BC when the Sicels (ancient Sicilians) became part of a Greek colony from Siracusa. Following the Punic Wars, the Romans took over the colony and later passed it to the Byzantines, Arabs, and Normans.

Modica Hillside

The first settlements began during the Bronze Age. After Arab conquest, Modica became an important commercial, agricultural center.

Palazzo della Cultura

Churches, Palaces, Monuments

Modica is a powerhouse of history, culture, and architecture. A day trip is a tiny intro to exploring and understanding its treasures. Known as “the city of a hundred churches” Modica is rich in Baroque Period cathedrals, convents, and monasteries. Most of these religious structures were built with “local golden stone”. There are brief descriptions of some in this post.

Reliefs Church of San Domenico

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A special feature of Modica Baroque churches is that instead of overlooking squares, they face “imposing and spectacular flights of steps modeled on the slopes of the city’s hills”.

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Teatro Garibaldi Modica – Nuovo Sud

A “fanciful rococo church”, the Cathedral of St. George looks like a “wedding cake topper”. Perched above 164 steps San Giorgio is the Modica’s mother church and on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Modica Street – typicalsicily.it

The Cathedral of St. George is a monumental symbol of Sicilian Baroque art. Italian architect Rosario Gagliardi helped reconstruct the church after the 1693 earthquake. It reopened in 1738.

The Church of San Pietro is at the top of a staircase lined with “saints resembling a statuary welcoming committee”. It’s the Patron Saint of Modica Bassa. San Pietro is a typical example of eighteenth-century Sicilian Baroque.

Modica Panorama – typicalsicily.it

San Pietro’s original foundation dates back to the 1300s but the current structure is from the seventeenth century. Destroyed by the 1693 earthquake, it was rebuilt on masonry structures that survived the earthquake. Statues of San Cataldo, Santa Rosalia, San Pietro, and the Madonna embellish the residence of the second order of mendicant nuns. The church façade has a sculpture of Jesus.

Interior Santuario Madonna Delle Grazie – Scopri Modica

The Santuario Madonna Delle Grazie was built in 1615 after discovery of a slate tablet depicting the Madonna with the Child in her arms. The tablet burned incessantly for three days in a bramble bush without being consumed. The tablet is preserved in the central altar of the church. In 1627, Madonna delle Grazie was proclaimed the main Patron Saint of Modica.

Frescoes Rock Church of San Nicolò Inferiore – izi.TRAVEL

The Rock Church of San Nicolò Inferiore is the oldest church in Modica. It’s a rare example of the Byzantine rock architecture of Ragusa’s Iblea area. Discovered in 1987, it reflects original architecture created by rock excavation. The interior has paintings of icons “articulated around a rectangular hall and an apse”.

Enzo Assenza – Colasanti Aste

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Known as “the city of a hundred churches” Modica is rich in Baroque Period cathedrals, convents, and monasteries.

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Chiesa di S. Maria del Soccorso – lasiciliainrete.it

Jesuits built the Rock Church in 1629. It’s near the Jesuit College. Architect Rosario Gagliardi designed and helped rebuild it after the 1693 earthquake.

Chiesa del Carmine Franciscan Rose Window – Scopri Modica

A fourteenth century Gothic-Chiaramonte style monument, the Church of Santa Maria del Carmelo (Carmine) accommodated Carmelite friars. A beautiful Franciscan rose window adorns the church portal. Carmine is one of few churches still showing “architectural traces from before the violent 1693 earthquake”.

Church of San Domenico

The seventeenth-century Baroque Church of San Domenico is in Piazza Principe di Napoli. The Dominicans built it in the fourteenth century. It was destroyed by the 1693 earthquake and rebuilt.

Church of San Domenico – Discover Modica

The Church of St. Mary of Bethlehem also dates back to the fourteenth century. Traces of its past are visible in “bas-reliefs depicting adoration of the shepherds”. Inside there’s a late Gothic style Palatine Chapel. The arch has Arabic, Catalan, and Norman decorative elements. It houses tombs of the family of the counts Cabrera.

Church of Santa Maria di Betlem

Restored after the earthquake, Duomo di San Pietro is one of the most beautiful churches in Modica. The façade has four statues representing San Cataldo, Santa Rosalia, San Pietro, and the Madonna. The church includes a sculpture of Jesus and statues of the twelve apostles.

Nativity of St. John the Baptist – Gian Battista Ragazzi

Modica Chocolate

Modica has a history of chocolate making detailed in its Chocolate Museum. The ancient chocolate recipe came from Spanish conquistadors during their domination of Sicily. They got it from the Aztecs. Modica produces chocolate in many flavours like orange, cinnamon, and chili pepper.

Palazzo della Cultura

Palazzo della Cultura is Modica’s Civic Museum. In the seventeenth century it was San Placido’s Benedictine Monastery and during the fifteenth century a palace for the Platamone Family of olive oil fame.

Eracle by Cafeo – ragusanews.com

The most valuable piece in the museum is the Eracle by Cafeo, a bronze statuette “depicting Hercules naked in a standing position dating from the end of the 5th to the beginning of the 4th century BC”. Found in 1967 along the Irmino River, the statuette is one of the most important Hellenistic finds in Sicily.

Teatro Garibaldi Modica Interior – commons.wikimedia.org

Garibaldi Theater

Described as “a jewelry box of velvet seats surrounding an opera stage.” Garibaldi Theater’s first foundation dates back to the 1820s. Expanded and embellished the theater reopened in 1857 with Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata.

After the unification of Italy, the theater was named for renowned independent thinker Giuseppe Garibaldi, a leader of freedom and independence. Garibaldi theater became an important center of cultural life in Modica with opera, music, art exhibitions, and prose and theatrical performances.

Church of St. Mary of Bethlehem Palatine Chapel – Cosmo Ibleo

Famous Modica Residents

Twentieth century poet Natale Salvatore Quasimodo was born in Modica in 1901. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959. The house where he was born is now a museum displaying his books and furniture.

Poet Salvatore Quasimodo – Sicily Widespread Hospitality

Quasimodo’s archives appear at Museo Civico F.L. Belgiorno in the Palazzo della Cultura. The museum also has archaeological and historical collections and the modern art of Enzo Assenza.

Enzo Assenza – Antonio Randazzo

Tommaso Campailla Philosopher and Poet – RagusaNews

Tommaso Campailla was an Italian philosopher, doctor, politician, poet, and teacher. Born in Modica in 1668 to the aristocratic family of Antonio and Adriana Giardina, he studied law in Catania at the young age of sixteen.

The Castle of the Counts of Modica – typicalsicily.it

Castello Dei Conti Di Modica and Clock Tower

Castello Dei Conti Di Modica and the Clock Tower are two iconographic symbols of Modica. They dominate the historical center of town and the Counts of Modica and County Governor lived there. Built for military purposes, the castle was the seat of Modica’s political and administrative power. It also served as a prison and courthouse.

St. Peter’s Church Modica

Easter in Modica

Easter in Modica includes a special celebration – the. “On Easter Sunday two processions, one with the Madonna and one with the risen Jesus, start from two different paths and meet where the two hug and kiss each other. In the dialect the kiss and the hug are called ‘vasata’ – that’s why it’s called Vasa Vasa.”

The “moving and engaging meeting of Madonna and Jesus” includes the release of white doves. It’s Modica Easter tradition to follow “Idria Tuesday” by continuing Easter celebrations on the Tuesday after Easter Sunday in the homonymous sanctuary on the hill of the Idria overlooking the city.

Farm Ristorante Al Monaco – almonaco.it

There is so much in Modica! This blog post doesn’t touch many cultural and architectural attractions or local restaurants and cuisine. Farm restaurants are popular and Modica has a renowned cookery school.

Buona giornata, più tarde…

Pozzallo Sicily

Pozzallo Torre Cabrera – lidoisolaverde.it

Pozzallo is a sleepy Sicilian seaside village on the Mediterranean – as “Italian / Sicilian” as you can get! I arrived Monday afternoon after flights from Belgrade to Munich and Munich to Catania followed by a 1.5-hour bus ride from Catania to Pozzallo. Each leg of the trip had unique challenges which I won’t belabor in this post.

Central Pozzallo

Italiano or Siciliano?

After a few days it’s clear not much English is spoken in Pozzallo. Even cats don’t understand it :o) … I visited Rome in 2017, so it’s been a few years since last speaking (or rather trying to speak) the Italian language. I’m starting each day with 15 -30 minutes on Babbel hoping it helps me improve.

Considered its own language, Sicilian is a “distinct and historical Romance language of the Italo-Dalmatian family”. Many Sicilian words are of “Greek origin with influence from Norman, Arabic, Catalan, Spanish, and other languages”.

Parrocchia Santa Maria di Portosalvo

My landlord – Saro – speaks some English but when his eyes go blank, it’s clear he doesn’t understand. Most locals are patient but after a poor pronunciation there’s usually a good-hearted boffola followed by a correction and then – usually – a smile. Europeans appreciate efforts to speak their language even if they’re not perfect.

Basilica Cattedrale San Nicoló Noto Sicily – Wikimedia

It’s interesting to note how patient (or not) countries are with tourists and foreigners. I’ve learned it’s unrealistic to expect locals to understand how it is to be new to a place learning everything from directions to local customs and food. I think the only way someone can relate to that is by experiencing it themselves – this usually makes everyone a little humbler.

Some days are a test of survival. Travel isn’t always fun – maybe with an entourage and someone doing the hard work for you… If you hadn’t already guessed, I’m experiencing some long-term travel grouchiness…

Spiaggia di Pozzallo – VivaSicilia

I had lunch yesterday at a café along the promenade where locals eat. I sat at a window table and soon 5 or 6 Italian guys (regulars for sure) piled in and joined me. They probably figured I wasn’t Italian and didn’t speak their language… I said “ciao” when leaving and thankfully got smiles all around.

Unknown Tree Central Pozzallo

Meals and Riposo

Time has new meaning in Pozzallo – a massive change from fast-paced Belgrade! In Belgrade lunch begins around 2 pm. Food is available whenever you’re hungry, but you’re likely to get a funny look if you order lunch early.

Sicily Map

In Pozzallo lunch is between 11 and 1 and everything closes for riposo from 1 until 4…. Dinner is after 8. Most gelato shops stay open all day, even during siesta, and locals start flocking to them around 4 pm.

Pozzallo House – Casa Vacanze Pozzallo

Fish, Food, New Apartment

Pozzallo is a fishing village (population 20,000) with a commercial port and “ancient nautical traditions”. It’s a popular seaside resort for Italians but few tourists from other countries know about it. If you’re not fluent in Italian, the language barrier is challenging.

Central Pozzallo

You can buy fish from fishermen coming back to the harbor early in the morning. There are fresh fish shops everywhere and it’s super clean and pink – zero smell. Fresh vegetables and cheese are also great.

Sicilian Sunset Pozzallo – casevacanzapietrenere.it

This is my 6th kitchen since I began traveling in October, each one with a new stove, pots, and cooking utensils to learn. This Italian kitchen has a gas stove hooked to a propane tank. You turn on the gas and then use a lighter to start the burners – new for me. I’m getting better at it and hope I don’t burn myself while lighting the stove or forget to turn the propane off at night… The mocha pot makes fantastic strong coffee!

Central Pozzallo

Saro has a beautiful villa on the coast that he rents for 250 € / night. It has a swimming pool, sleeps 7 to 8, and looks beautiful.

High tourist season begins in June. I’m an early arrival. The apartment is comfortable with beautiful knotty pine doors and closets. It has a wrap-around deck and the sea is visible between buildings. A walk to the promenade takes a few minutes.

Central Pozzallo

There are a few problems with my apartment that Saro is addressing – slowly. Like kitchens, this is my 6th landlord – enough said… Pozzallo internet is slow and I haven’t been able to download many photos – succeeded with a few. Not sure why some download and others don’t – probably the size.

Ferries, Catamarans, Tours

For the time being, I’m content not renting a car. Anything you might need or want is within walking distance. Pozzallo has ferries and catamarans to Valletta Malta, Catania, and points along the Sicilian coast. Buses are inexpensive and easy for exploring nearby Sicilian villages. I may rent a bicycle and will take a few group walking tours. For now, I’m acclimating. Nearby places of interest include:

Catania and Mt. Etna

Weather is mild in the 60s – 70s. Since we’re on the coast, early spring can be windy and bone-chilling cold at night. Thunderstorms come and clear quickly. It’s raining today, with a series of storms on the way.

Nearby Beach

Beaches and Environment

The FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education) awarded Pozzallo four Blue Flag beaches. To qualify a beach must meet “strict criteria for water quality, environmental education, management, and safety”. Eight beaches in Sicily have the Blue Flag designation, including the four in Pozzallo.

La Spiaggia di Pozzallo – Case Vacanze Pomelia

Pozzallo’s recycling procedure is formidable. The Italian instructions describe preparation and pickup days for organic waste, glass, plastics, and rubbish. Sorting the containers and determining the correct day for each pickup is confusing. I learned to watch what others put out and follow their lead.

Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Valletta Malta

Torre Cabrera

My apartment on Via Carlo Pisacane is near Torre Cabrera is an ancient tower in the heart of Pozzallo. It was part of a coastal defense system built in the early fifteenth century to protect Pozzallo from pirates. The complex includes piers, warehouses, and equipment for loading ships.

Sicilian Arancini – The Passionate Olive

Lido Isola Verde

Lido Isola Verde, a promenade Beach Club, provides loungers and umbrellas for beach bums, sunbathers, and swimmers. There’s also a picnic area and a small bar. It’s off season so no one is there now :o) – a great place to ponder the sea. I took a short walk today in the rain and the surf was wild!

Central Pozzallo

Piazza della Rimembranza

Piazza della Rimembranza is in Pozzallo’s city center. Gorgeous buildings line the uncrowded streets. I’m still exploring the piazza and side streets

Sicilian Purple Cauliflower – Banggood

Spiaggia Pietrenere

A narrow, long beach hugging Pozzallo’s waterfront Spiaggia Pietrenere is a scenic 7-mile walk from Pozzallo to Santa Maria di Focallo. The walk is definitely on my to do list – maybe a few times a week. The firm golden sand is great for walking and the shoreline surf is shallow for some distance.

Pozzallo is all about the sea!  I’ll be here through April. Addio – più tardi…

Jevremovac Botanical Garden Belgrade Serbia

Belgrade’s botanical garden – Jevremovac – is a few minutes’ walk from my flat. I spent some peaceful time there yesterday afternoon. The small urban paradise is bursting with spring buds.

Serbian Spruce

Jevremovac was founded in the 1800s by Josif Pančić, a Serbian botanist. Pančić also created the Institute for the Study of Medicinal Herbs.

The land was a donation made by Serbnian King Milan Obrenović who inherited it from his grandfather Jevrem Obrenović, known as a humanist and forward-thinker. The King’s only stipulation was that the garden be named “Jevremovac”.

Jevremovac Greenhouse

The herbarium accommodates “plants from the Balkan peninsula and the entire European continent”. The greenhouse has an impressive collection of tropical and subtropical plants.

Jevremovac Arboretum is a “unit of the Botany Department of the University of Belgrade“. The Arboretum includes the greenhouse, herbarium, research laboratories, lecture hall, and one of the oldest libraries in Serbia.

Greenhouse Botanical Garden Jevremovac – My Guide Belgrade

Turkish Hazel Tree Flower

Monkey Puzzle Tree – Maya Gardens, Inc.

After spending three fantastic months in the Balkans – Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia – I leave Belgrade for Sicily on Monday!

King Milan Obrenović – Technology Clearinghouse University of South Florida

Josif Pančić Botanist – New Serbian Political Thought (NSPM)

What an interesting exciting time it’s been in Belgrade – now a favorite city!! A smile and a few simple expressions have served me well:

  • Hvala (Хвала) – thanks
  • Dobar Dan (Добар дан) – good day
  • Da (да) – yes

Verdi’s Rigoletto at Belgrade National Theatre

Belgrade National Theatre – Perspectiv

Last night I attended Rigoletto at Belgrade National Theatre. The Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied the opera. Rigoletto has appeared at the National Theater many times. It premiered in 2001 with soloists from Teatro Alla Scala Milan.

Rigoletto Cast Left to Right – Assassin Sparafucile, Duke of Mantua, Gilda, Rigoletto, Maddalena Sparafucile’s Sister, Countess Ceprano

It’s my third performance at the National Theatre. As with the other performances, it was sold out. I arrived 20 minutes early to an empty house. Five minutes before the performance began, the theater filled quickly.

Serbians are friendly but you must make the first attempt to communicate. If someone approaches you, they’re often openly taken aback if you don’t speak Serbian.

Opera, ballet, and classical music are popular in Belgrade. Drama is also in high demand and there are many theaters – performances are in Serbian.

Belgrade National Theatre Ceiling – Maximilian Böhm

Rigoletto

Rigoletto is sometimes described as an “exciting and gritty opera not for the faint-heated” … If you like drama, Rigoletto has few rivals – heart-wrenching tragedy and human emotions are well portrayed!

National Theatre Ceiling

The programs and supertitles were in Serbian. I found limited information about the singers online. With a basic understanding of the plot, the incredible voices describe what’s going on during an opera.

Gabrijela Ubavic Soprano (Gilda) – Newtiers

The original title, La Maledizione (The Curse), refers to “a curse placed on the Duke of Mantua and Rigoletto (his hunchbacked court jester) by Count Monterone, a courtier whose daughter the Duke seduced with help from Rigoletto”. The curse materializes when Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda falls in love with the philandering Duke and sacrifices her life to save him from Sparafucile, an assassin hired by her father”.

Soprano Gabrijela Ubavic made a guest appearance as Gilda. She has an extraordinary voice! Her first “major international success” was in 2010 singing the role of Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Since then, she’s received considerable recognition and won many awards.

Belgrade National Theatre – Narodno Pozoriste

I found a list of the opera’s cast from earlier productions but not the names of singers during last night’s performance. At any rate, it was a rousing production and an evening thoroughly enjoyed!

Belgrade’s Rivers, Bridges, Islands, and Lakes

Savamala Clubs Sava River – serbia.com

Serbia is a country of rivers, lakes, valleys, and mountains. Each one “tells its own story”. I’ve been exploring Belgrade’s riverside and Savamala District on foot. Early spring weather is warm and beautiful – perfect for walking.

Ušće Park – Wikimapia.org

Transportation isn’t Belgrade’s forte. There’s no metro and traffic is heavy. Drivers are impatient and like honking their horns. Packed trolleybuses are slow and knowing where and when to catch them seems complicated. Taxi drivers are untrustworthy, and the transportation apps I’ve tried – Moovit, CarGo – didn’t work well. My apartment is well-located, so it’s easier and less stressful to walk. The most pressing issue is deciding where to go each day.

Building Savamala Neighborhood

Belgrade rests along the banks of two major rivers – the Sava and Danube. They “connect the city with the world and provide food, water, and recreation”. In addition to the two big rivers there are “192 smaller rivers and streams, a dozen lakes, 20 islands, 3 large beaches, and countless tiny inlets”!

French Embassy Near Sava River – lakwatsa.net

Savamala

Savamala is a lively neighborhood along the Belgrade riverside. Young people enjoy popular destinations like party riverboats and trendy nightclubs. The cobbled streets lead to Brankov Bridge, cafés, restaurants, galleries, and unique architecture.

Ušće District Sava River Statue of the Victor by Ivan Meštrović – Wikipedia

Karađorđeva Street is Savamala’s “main artery”. It follows the Sava connecting Belgrade Fortress and Port with Sava Square. Spectacular buildings in the area include embassies, Belgrade Cooperative (Geozavod), and Bristol Hotel.

Bristol Hotel Belgrade – Vestinet.rs

There’s a variety of restaurants and shops in Beton Hala. I’ve walked the area – usually teeming with people – but enjoy kafanas on quieter backstreets.

Geozavod Building Savamala

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In the summer people flock to the rivers to escape the heat. For Belgrade residents “the rivers are their seaside”.

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Port Splav Belgrade – Belgrade Experience

Splavs – Floating Restaurants and Nightclubs

On hot summer days Belgrade residents visit splavs – floating cafés, restaurants, and nightclubs. The opening of splavs is the first sign of summer.

St. Sava Orthodox Church Sava Square – shutterstock

Hundreds of floating restaurants, bars, and clubs anchor along the banks of the Sava and Danube. I haven’t noticed any splavs open yet but with warmer weather it may happen soon.

Belgrade Port – belgrademyway

In addition to restaurants and clubs, Belgrade rivers have hundreds of floating cabins of various sizes and designs. Floating cabins are usually built on wooden platforms buoyed with metal barrels for stability.

Belgrade Fortress – Belgrade at Night

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Belgrade splavs are a unique experience that can seem surreal, magical, and incredible.”

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Floating Cabins Sava River – Depositphotos

Each splav has a distinct personality – usually characterized by its music. There’s something for everyone. Finding just the right splav is challenging, but local guides are available to help. For those “who want to be seen fashionable splavs blast international pop music; casual splavs play Serbian folk music; and cool hipster splavs spin underground music”.

Rivers

Danube River

The Danube is Europe’s second largest river, after Russia’s Volga. It flows through 10 Central European countries and “connects Belgrade with the North and Black Seas via canals and waterways”.

Serbia Map – World Atlas

Floating Cabins Sava River – Serbia.com

Sava River

The Sava was former Yugoslavia’s “largest national river connecting three capitals – Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Belgrade”. The Sava meets the Danube at Ušće in the center of Belgrade. Great and Little War Islands are directly at the confluence of the two rivers.

Great War Island – Enjoy Belgrade

Great War Island is an uninhibited nature reserve with wildlife and lush vegetation. If the Danube is “Europe’s great river, the Sava is its equal for Yugoslavia”.

Drina River Canyon – visegradturizam

Drina River

The Drina River is the “most famous body of water in the Balkans”. It forms a border between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Drina became famous in 1945 with Yugoslav novelist Ivo Andrić’s Nobel-Prize-winning novel The Bridge on the Drina.

King Alexandre Bridge Destroyed During WWII – Wikipedia

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After Rio de Janeiro and Istanbul, Belgrade is third among world cities with the most beautiful locations.

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Valley of Lilacs Ibar River – Breathtaking Places in Serbia WordPress

The Drina is the Sava’s longest tributary. It’s known for speed, character, and sharp curves. The Drina “became a modern lexicon”. Someone trying to solve an impossible problem is said to be “attempting to straighten the Drina”. The river has inspired songs and stories and is “close to the hearts of Serbs”.

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“People don’t take trips, trips take people.”  John Steinbeck

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Ibar River Valley – Company

Uvac River

The Uvac River forms some of the “most majestic natural sights in the Balkans”. Dramatic cliffs and lush forests surround the river’s bends.

Uvac River Nature Reserve – Avanturista

Ibar River

The Ibar River is the most polluted river in Serbia. The river’s lower course “created a number of gorgeous valleys. The Ibar Valley has spas and natural springs. It’s also called the Valley of the Kings and Valley of Lilacs. Over the centuries, famous Serbian monasteries like Studenica, Žiča, and Gradac were built near the Ibar”.

Bridges

Urban Belgrade has six bridges on the Sava River and one on the Danube. The Danube has three more bridges in the southern suburbs. Brankov and Ada are Belgrade’s most famous bridges. Many of the smaller ones don’t have names.

Danube River – mix.com

Bridges Sava River

Ada Bridge

Ada Bridge opened at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2012. It’s the newest and tallest bridge in Belgrade and the “longest single pylon bridge span in the world”.

Ada Bridge – Wikipedia

Brankov Bridge

Brankov Bridge is the most famous bridge in Belgrade. It has a walking path and is the main connection between Belgrade City Center and New Belgrade. It’s visible from Kalemegdan and Ušće Parks. One of the oldest bridges in Belgrade, Brankov’s pillars are from the King Aleksandar Bridge destroyed during WWII.

Gazela Highway Bridge – Wikimapia

Old Tram (Sava) Bridge

The Old Tram Bridge is the “only arch bridge in Belgrade”. During WWII it was the “only bridge that remained intact in Belgrade and is one of few bridges the retreating German forces didn’t demolish”.

Banko Bridge with Ada Bridge in Background – A. Nalbantjan

Gazela Bridge

Gazela Bridge “has the shape and color of a gazelle”. The bridge is part of Route E75, a major European highway passing through City Center connecting Belgrade with the Serbian cities of Niš and Novi Sad.

New Railway Bridge – Wikipedia

Old Railway Bridge

Located between Gazela and New Railway Bridges, Old Railway is the oldest bridge in Belgrade and the only bridge from the 19th century.

Gradac Monastery Ibar River Valley – TrekEarth

Studenica Monastery Ibar River Valley – Depositphotos

New Railway Bridge

New Railway Bridge, Belgrade’s second railway bridge, opened in 1979. It was built to help facilitate Belgrade’s traffic. It was the first railway bridge in Europe to use the cable-stayed girder system.

Sunset at Confluence of Sava and Danube Rivers – Lonely Planet

Bridges Danube River

Pančevo Bridge

The Danube’s Pančevo Bridge is a “combined road and railroad truss bridge“. Built in 1935 it was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt at the end of the war. Pančevo bridge was constructed as a “temporary 10-year solution”, but it’s still being used.

Pančevo Bridge – Wikipedia

Islands

Great War Island

Great War Island is an “oasis of wildlife and tranquility in the heart of Belgrade”. Located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube it had “strategic importance for either conquest or defense of Belgrade Fortress”.

Ada Međica Island – alo.rs

Great War Island is accessible by boat from Zemun Quay or crossing a pontoon bridge built in summer to connect it to the mainland. Undeveloped but popular Lido Beach is on the northern tip of the island. The island is “covered in forests providing a habitat for small game and over a hundred bird species”. It’s ideal for birdwatchers.

Ušće Park – Belgrade Beat

Bela Stena Resort

Bela Stena (White Wall) is a getaway resort for “lovers of untouched nature.” It’s on an island in the Danube River between Belgrade and the city of Pančevo. Pančevo is only accessible by boat.

Ada Cignalija Island Belgrade Seaside – serbia.com

Ada Ciganlija Island

“From the hand of God to the plans of man” – Ada Ciganlija was once an island in the Sava. Now it’s a man-made peninsula known as “Belgrade’s Seaside”.

Old Sava Bridge – Wikipedia

Ada Međica Island

A small island covered in trees Ada Međica is unspoiled by modern tourism. The Ada Međica Fan Club is making sure it stays that way.

Ada Međica Island – Mapio.net

The only means of transport to and from Ada Međica is a small boat from Sava Quay in New Belgrade. A walking path and “picturesque floating cabins and stilt houses” run the length of the island. There’s a small café next to the boat platform but there are no electricity, water, or public toilets on the island.

Perućac Lake – serbia.com

The south-eastern tip of the island is a good place for swimming, but swimmers need to beware of strong river currents. The island’s code of conduct “requires taking all your garbage with you when you leave”.

Ada Ciganlija Island – belgrade-beat.com

Lakes

Sava Lake

Also known as Ada and Ciganlija, Sava Lake is the largest lake in Belgrade. Its pebble beach is popular in summer. Features include a marina, picnic spots, ground and water sports, fishing, rowing clubs, cafés, floating cabins, and paths for walking, biking, and skating. To the delight of fishermen, the small lake is “brimming with carp”.

Sunset Lake Palić – serbia.com

Lake Palić

Lake Palić is North of Subotica on Serbia’s border with Hungary. “The story goes that Lake Palić was made from the tears of a shepherd who lost his golden lamb”. The lake hosts a film festival and is known for its health spas.

Vlasina Lake – serbia.com

Vlasina Lake

The “highest lake in Serbia” Vlasina Lake is another “magnificent body of water.” It’s home to permanent and floating islands.

Silver Lake Resort – belgrademyway

Silver Lake

An oxbow lake, Silver is on the right bank of the Danube. It’s near spectacular medieval Golubac Fortress, remnants of the medieval town of Golubac, and the entrance to Đerdap Gorge and National Park.

Đerdap National Park Serbia – Modern Flaneurs

Bela Crkva – serbia.com

Bela Crkva Lakes

Bela Crkva Lakes consist of six artificial lakes with the most “unpolluted water in Serbia”. A favorite “cooling off spot” during the hot summer months, Bela Crkva is known as the “Venice of Vojvodina“. The city is surrounded by the Serbian Carpathian Mountains in Banat – between Romania, Serbia, and Hungary.

Austrian Embassy Belgrade

Ada Ciganlija Lake

Belgrade’s most popular resort, Ada Ciganlija, is a big island on the Sava River. Embankments connecting it to Belgrade’s mainland created an artificial lake with swimming beaches. Bathing season runs from June through September.

Golubac Fortress Danube River – tvrdjavagolubackigrad.rs

Žiča Monastery Ibar River Valley – PanaComp

Perućac Lake

An artificial lagoon on the Drina River, Perućac Lake is a fisherman’s paradise. It’s named after a nearby Serbian village. The lake is the result of the dam that created Bajina Bašta Hydroelectric Power Plant.

Zemun Quay – belgrademyway

Belgrade is a fascinating city – there’s so much in Serbia. Time exploring was well spent and reaffirms the need to experience a place yourself to better understand it!

Stilt House River Sava – Remorker Architects Miloš Martinović

Jeunesses Musicales Competition Belgrade Serbia

Radio-Television Symphony Orchestra of Serbia (RTS) – Belgrade Beat

This week I’ve enjoyed exceptional performances in Belgrade. Last night the concert was part of the 49th International Jeunesses Musicales Competition. It enables young musicians to “test and confirm their artistic values”.

Belgrade Philharmonic Studentski Square 

I tried to get tickets for the Belgrade Philharmonic in Studentski Trg (Students Square) – a different venue than ballet and opera at the National Theatre. I missed the Philharmonic’s special March performances. Officially, symphony season begins in April and annual passes sell quickly. Single tickets are almost impossible to find.

Ilija M. Kolarac (1800-1878) – Wikipedia

As the name suggests, Studentski Trg is lined with educational and cultural institutions like the University of Belgrade and Kolarac Public University. Kolarac University Concert Hall is the venue for the Musicales Competition.

Kolarac Music Center Studentski Street – British Council Takeover

Kolarac Public University Music Center

The group sponsoring the piano competition – Ilija M. Kolarac Foundation – isn’t associated with the Philharmonic. The Philharmonic performs in the foundation’s Concert Hall but tickets and information are in another building. Maybe I’m getting rummy learning my way around new European cities?

Kolarac Concert Hall – News Kolarac

Jeunesses Musicales Competition

Founded in 1932 by successful Serbian merchant Ilija Milosavljević Kolarac, Kolarac People’s University is a “unique cultural institution”. Its aim is “spreading knowledge and cultivating the attributes of its own culture”.

Buildings Studentski Trg Belgrade – Itinari

Since 1971, the Jeunesses Competition has promoted the discovery of new international music talent. The “multidisciplinary competition has a five-year cycle”.

Johannes Brahms Composer – Dallas Symphony Orchestra

Brahms and Dvorak

The performance last night was the Opening Ceremony. Everything was in Serbian, so I didn’t understand the introductions and tribute to distinguished judges.

Antonin Dvorak Composer – Classic FM

The music was beautiful! The program lasted a few hours and included two pieces:

Dvorak’s dramatic New World Symphony is a favorite!

Pianist Eugen Indjic and Conductor Bojan Sudjic

Piano soloist Eugen Indjic was masterful during the Brahms piece! The Serbian Radio-Television Symphony Orchestra’s (RTS) performance of Dvorak’s New World Symphony was outstanding! It’s one of the best philharmonics I’ve heard! Before leaving Belgrade, hope I can hear them perform again.

Bojan Sudjic – Chief Conductor Serbian Radio-Television Symphony – mp.rts.rs

Bojan Sudjic is chief conductor of the symphony and artistic director of RTS Music Production. He’s a powerful but happy conductor, smiling during the entire performance.

Eugen Indjic Pianist – Bohemian Ticket

It was an impressive and memorable evening.

Central Belgrade Serbia

Church of St. Mark

After catching my breath, I’ve continued exploring Belgrade. It’s an impressive European city influenced by Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Serbian, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian empires. One of the oldest cities in Europe, it’s the only capital built at the confluence of two rivers – the Danube and Sava.

Old Telephone Exchange – Wikipedia

Complex history, language, and names make writing about Belgrade a formidable task. Belgrade’s history runs deep. Memories are short, so the purpose of my blog is making the effort to capture travel experiences.

Branko Radičević Serbian Poet – sikari.rs

Belgrade Tours

I’ve taken several guided walking tours and learned about Belgrade on my own. The complex history is a bit overwhelming. One tour guide – the owner of my rental flat – is “strongly connected with the history of Belgrade and Serbia”.

St. Mark’s Cathedral

Aleksandar’s family has lived in Belgrade for four generations. He’s knowledgeable about its history, traditions, and heritage and enjoys sharing his knowledge with visitors. The goal is providing tourists with an “understanding of Belgrade’s history and a perspective on modern life and culture”. Aleksandar is developing tours of Belgrade and outlying areas. His central city tour was fun and well-organized.

Syndicate House – Wikimedia

Central Belgrade

Central Belgrade is near my apartment. It’s a short walk to iconic buildings like the Old Telephone Exchange, Central Post Office, Church of St. Mark, Parliament Building, Presidential Palaces, and other landmarks. Many of the buildings were damaged during WW I and II and rebuilt.

Building of the Patriarchate Serbian Orthodox Church

Old Telephone Exchange

The Old Telephone Exchange is around the corner. Completed in 1908 it was designed by architect Branko Tanazević in Serbo-Byzantine style. The beautiful building is part of Belgrade’s cultural heritage. I enjoy admiring it from cafés along Kosovska Street.

Belgrade Central Post Office

Belgrade Central Post Office

A significant cultural monument, Central Post Office architecture reflects the “complexity of social and political circumstances during the interwar period – 1919 to 1940”. It represents modernist and functional architecture. Built as a branch of the National Mortgage Bank, Serbian architect Aleksandar Đorđević designed it in the “spirit of the French school of academic style”.

Belgrade Historical Museum – Virtuelni Mazei Dunava

Orthodox Church of St. Mark

The Church of St. Mark is spectacular inside and out! Dedicated to Apostle and Evangelist Mark it’s in Tasmajdan Park near the National Assembly. Spring is in the air and trees in the lovely park are beginning to bud. Walks in the park and stopping for coffee at nearby cafés is always on my itinerary.

Old Telephone Exchange Belgrade

The original church was destroyed during the war. Construction of a new building occurred during the interwar period. There are several tombs inside the church, including Mlan Obrenovic, King Alexander Obrenovic, his wife Queen Draga Mašin, and King Stefan Dušan the Great.

Belgrade National Assembly – Parliament Building

Completed in 1936 and designed by Russian architect and painter Nikolay Petrovich Krasnov, the National Assembly is the Republic of Serbia’s “supreme representative body holding constitutional and legislative power”. The Assembly has 250 elected members. The scope of the National Assembly is “given by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia”.

Belgrade National Assembly

I haven’t been inside the National Assembly but it’s beautiful and the sculptures at the entrance are magnificent. Entitled Black Horses at Play, they’re the work of Croatian sculptor Toma Rosandića.

Belgrade National Theatre – Shutterstock

Supposedly, the theme of the statues is the struggle between man and nature. There are other more “political stories” about the meaning – most of them over my head. Belgrade has sculptures throughout the city honoring leaders and historical events. Some are by exceptional Croatian artist and sculptor Ivan Meštrović.

Black Horses at Play – Toma Rosandica Sculptor

Old and New Palaces

Belgrade’s palaces are across the street from the National Assembly on Andrićev Venac Street. Each palace has complicated history. There are interesting stories of Serbia’s two royal dynasties – Karađorđević and Obrenović – including an assassination.

Terazije

New Palace – Novi Dvor – was the royal residence of Serbia’s Karađorđević dynasty and later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Today, it’s the seat of controversial President Aleksandar Vučić.

Belgrade National Assembly

Built when Serbia became a Kingdom, Old Palace – Stari Dvor was the Royal Palace of Serbia’s Obrenović Dynasty. The beautiful palace was restored after damage from WW I and II. Today it houses Belgrade City Assembly.

King Alexander Karageorgevich – Heroes of Serbia

Nikola Pašić Square

Serbian and Yugoslav politician Nikola Pašić is an “important statesmen and diplomat”. He’s credited with protecting Serbia from Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian influences.

Mihailo Obrenović III, Prince of Serbia

Pašić founded the People’s Radical Party and held prominent government positions including president of the Serbian National Assembly, Prime Minister of both Serbia and Yugoslavia, Mayor of Belgrade, and Serbian Envoy to Russia. He was one of the authors of the St. Vitus Day Constitution of 1921 giving Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes a unitary monarchy.

Belgrade National Assembly

A square in Central Belgrade is named after Nikola Pašić. In 1998 a monument created by Serbian Sculptor Zoran Ivanović was erected in his honor.

Tasmajdan Park – debuggil.wordpress

Terazije Square and Fountain

Terazije Fountain began as a water source for Belgrade. Towers were built throughout Belgrade to bring water from wetlands into the city. The “Turks called the water towers terrazioni,” so the square was named Terazije.

Nikola Pašić – en.wikipedia.org

Located close to famous hotels, taverns, and shops, Terazije Square was “the center of Belgrade’s social life”. It’s also near the location where German fascists hanged five Serbian patriots in 1941. Moved and reconstructed many times, the Terazije is now in front of famous Moscow Hotel, a great place to enjoy tea or coffee.

Terazije Square Moskva Hotel Belgrade – Tradesco Tours

Republic Square

Republic Square is undergoing major renovation. The square features a monument to Prince Mihailo Obrenovic (1823-1868), son of Prince Miloš and Princess Ljubica. He came into power following the death of his elder brother Milan in 1839.

Belgrade Republic Square Statue Prince Mihailo Obrenovic – Travel to Serbia

Italian sculptor Enrico Pazzi created the monument in 1882 honoring one of Prince Mihailo’s most important political achievements – “expulsion of the Turks from Serbia after five centuries of governance”.

Djura Danicic Serbian Scholar – Wikipedia

Mihailo Obrenovic was elected. He wasn’t a hereditary prince. In 1842, an uprising forced him into exile and brought Alexander Karageorgevich to the throne. Obrenovic spent six years outside Serbia collaborating with writers and poets including Vuk Karadžić, Đura Daničić, and Branko Radičević. When Prince Miloš returned to Serbia in 1858, Mihailo accompanied him and took command of the army.

Nikola Pašić Square – Relja Ivanić

After the death of Prince Miloš, Mihailo regained the throne in 1860 and established an army to “rid Serbia of the Turks”. “Expecting war with Turkey, Mihailo made alliances with other Balkan states – Montenegro, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania.” In 1868, he was assassinated in Košutnjak, a forested Belgrade suburb.

Black Horses at Play Toma Rosandića – Atlas Obscura

Albania Palace

Built in Republic Square in 1939, Albania Palace is one of the tallest buildings in the Balkans. It replaced beloved 19th century Albania Tavern, a popular but cramped and neglected establishment. In spite of its shabby condition, the old Turkish-style building was a favorite spot for local socializing.

Palace Albania

Albania Tavern’s loyal patrons were “reluctant to abandon their favorite gathering place”. On the day it was demolished they gathered at the tavern. Guests were served “until firemen started taking tiles off the roof”.

Belgrade National Assembly

The Palace was the main headquarters of the Nazi work organization Todt. During 1944 in a WW II Allied bombing it was hit by a “half-ton bomb”. Luckily the well-constructed building only suffered minor damage. In 1983 Albania Palace became a Belgrade Monument of Cultural Importance.

Cathedral Church of St. Michael – Flickr

Belgrade National Theater

As directed by Prince Mihailo Obrenović, Aleksandar Bugarski, the “most productive Belgrade architect in the 19th century”, designed the National Theatre. The architecture is based on the design of La Scala Theater in Milan. It’s built on the location of former Stambol Gate – one of four gates placed at each way out of Belgrade.

Belgrade National Theatre Republic Square – Hostel Show Belgrade

Built in 1869, it’s a symbol of Serbian culture, tradition, and spirituality. The popular theatre hosts opera, drama, and ballet performances. The amazing performing art venue has performances every day of the week. Most are sold out. National Theatre was declared a Monument of Culture and Importance in 1983.

Nikola Pašić – Zoran Ivanovic

Bombings during 1941 and again in 1944 damaged the theatre’s exterior, interior, and façade. Many architects and engineers participated in upgrades, annexes, expansions, and reconstruction between 1870 and 2018.

Vuk Karadžić Serbian Linguist – Kurir

The design is a blend of Vienna Secession and Baroque architecture. Even with auditorium and stage expansions, there’s limited seating.

King Alexander Obrenovic and Queen Draga – balkanekspresrb.rs

Belgrade National Museum

Established in 1844, Serbia’s National Museum is the largest and oldest museum in Belgrade. Since 1950 it’s been in Republic Square. The “museum’s collection has grown to over 400,000 objects, including several foreign masterpieces”. It was declared a protected Cultural Monument of Great Importance in 1979.

Belgrade National Museum – Like A Local Guide

Like the National Theatre, the National Museum experienced bouts of redesign and renovation. Various architects and builders were involved, including Andra Stevanović and Nikola Nestorović. It’s built in Neo-Renaissance style with Neo-Baroque elements on the domes. WW II bombings destroyed the domes.