The “comprehensive,” full-day tour of Belgrade was fantastic, despite cloudy, windy weather. We began around 9 a.m. and finished at 7, so it was truly a full day. I’ve done several self-guided Belgrade walking tours, but accessing the areas we covered requires a car or skill at maneuvering the buses. We visited the most important sights on both sides of the Sava and Danube Rivers. This would have taken a few days, had I done it on my own.
There were four in our group, including another guide from Victor Tours named Aleksandar – one of the best guides I’ve known in my travels! In addition to leading tours, Aleksandar is an archaeologist and has helped unearth discoveries throughout Serbia. He specializes in long-term European excursions for fellow Serbians. An excellent communicator, Aleksandar summarized complex Serbian history in a clear and succinct, yet meaningful way. The other two in the group were Bella and Dion from Vienna Austria. They were fun and good company.
I’m a bit camera shy and not fond of selfies, but have included a few photos taken by others in the tour group. The high wind is evident from my “wild-woman” hair :o(. The poorly focused image in one shot illustrates the difficulty of getting quality photos of yourself taken when traveling solo. I place no blame on the people I asked to take the photos – as they say, beggars can’t be choosers. I have no answer to the dilemma of getting decent photos of yourself while traveling solo.
We covered too much territory for a single blog post, so I’ll summarize main attractions that contribute to gaining a better understanding of Belgrade. Of course, each attraction has its own unique in-depth history, so links are included for those interested in more detail. Highlights include:
- Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan Park
- New Belgrade
- Avala Tower
- Museum of Yugoslavia History and House of Flowers
- Temple of St. Sava
Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan Park
We began our day walking Belgrade Fortress in Kalemegdan Park, enjoying exquisite panoramic views, learning about different civilizations that ruled Belgrade over the centuries, and observing the distinct archeological characteristics and styles each culture left behind. Although I’ve visited Kalemegdan several times, Aleksandar’s narrative was enlightening.
Belgrade Fortress is the “most important cultural-historical complex in Belgrade”. Since its construction and throughout history, the fortress “has been constantly attacked, defended, destroyed, rebuilt, and renovated”. Historians have traced a “history of about 40 to 60 devastations of the fortress”.
No longer used for military purposes, the fortress is now a public park. Its historical remains and monuments peacefully overlook Belgrade and the Sava-Danube River confluence. Kalemegdan Park is identified by its many attractions, including lush leafy grounds, art galleries, rose gardens, Clock Tower, a Military Museum, Roman Well, Statue of the Victor Belgrade by Ivan Meštrović, Monument of Gratitude to France, Nebojsa Tower, restaurants, sports courts, Belgrade Zoo. and others.
After visiting Belgrade Fortress, we moved on to Zemun, a municipality with strong Austro-Hungarian and Roman influence. It’s located on the other side of New Belgrade, in what seems like another world. Zemun has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. Zemun neighborhoods include Donji Grad (modern district), Gardoš, Ćukovac, and Gornji Grad.
Zemun was “originally developed on three hills – Gardoš, Ćukovac, and Kalvarija”. It sits on the right bank of the Danube, “at a point where the river widens and Great War Island formed at the mouth of the Sava River”. An interesting characteristic of Zemun is its “lagums” – artificial underground corridors. The land is one of the “most active landslide areas in Belgrade”. The “Romans began digging lagums 1,700 years ago, using them to store and protect their food supply. In previous centuries, “settlers constructed vertical ventilation shafts to the lagums”.
Some of the most notable attractions in Zemun include the 17th century Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, Zemun Citadel with Millennium Tower, the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and Magistraski Trg, magisterial square in the center of Zemun noted for its beautiful 19th century administration buildings. We climbed Millennium Tower for an incredible panoramic view of the area. The tower was erected in 1896, to celebrate the millennium of Hungarian settlement.
Neo Beograd is the product and pride of Tito’s Socialist Yugoslavia. It was created as a “new part of the capital,” and built for and by the people using concrete blocks, I wrote about New Belgrade in a previous post – Exploring New Belgrade Serbia.
On the way to our next stop – Avala Tower – we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Avala Restaurant. The menu included a combination of traditional Serbian and Austrian dishes.
Avala Tower is a popular Belgrade attraction. It’s 204.68 m (673 ft.) high and the area’s renowned telecommunication facility serving radio and television broadcasters and mobile operators.
The towner was built on Avala Mountain, known for the mining, and excavation of lead, silver, iron, cinnabarite, and mercury deposits. In the Middle Ages, Žrnov Fortress was built on Avala Mountain. In 1422, the Turkish army of Sultan Murad occupied Žrnov, and converted the fortress into a Turkish stronghold. Centuries later in 1859, Mt. Avala was “declared a protected area, and afforested with deciduous and pine trees”.
Panoramic views from the tower’s observation deck are spectacular! The mountain has popular hiking trails. At the highest point, there’s a monument called “Tomb of the Unknown Hero“. It commemorates the tragic 1964 crash of a plane of Soviet WWII heroes into the side of the mountain.
Museum of Yugoslavia History and House of Flowers
The Museum of Yugoslav History includes the House of Flowers, resting place of Josip Broz Tito, lifetime president of the Social Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. The museum is located in upscale Dedinje and was once Tito’s summer home.
The Museum of Yugoslav History includes three sections – Museum of May 25 (Tito’s birthday), Old Museum, and House of Flowers. While Tito was alive, each year on May 25th, massive youth relays were organized across Yugoslavia as a part of his birthday celebrations. May 25th became known as Youth Day.
Tito’s grave in the House of Flowers mausoleum is covered with a white marble panel, and his wife, Jovanka Broz, is buried next to him. More than 200 statesmen from 127 countries and over 700,000 citizens attended Tito’s funeral on May 8th, 1980, at the House of Flowers. Displays include:
- Tito’s massive wooden carved desk and book collection
- Youth batons passed during nation-wide relays on May 25
- A piece of the moon’s surface given to Tito by members of US Apollo 11 when visiting Belgrade in 1969
Temple of St. Sava
Our last stop was the beautiful Temple of Saint Sava, the largest Serbian Orthodox church in the Balkans. It was built on the site where the Kodza Sinan-Pasha burned the remains of Saint Sava, founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
After the burning of the remains of Saint Sava, the “Society for the Construction of the Temple of Saint Sava” was founded to build a temple in the same location. The First and Second Balkan Wars stopped construction of the temple. After the war in 1919, construction resumed but in 1941 was interrupted again by German attacks on Yugoslavia. In 1985, construction finally began with a German Patriarch at the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Built in Serbian-Byzantine style, the exterior of St. Sava Temple was completed in 2004, but work on the interior continues. Saint Sava Temple has four towers, a gilded cross, a dome 82 meters (270 feet) high, and galleries that circulate around the dome.
“Saint Sava Temple is adorned with 49 bells from the Austrian Foundry Grassmayr and 18 gilded crosses. It’s coated with white marble and granite.”
The Church of Saint Tzar Lazar, home to the treasury of Saint Sava and the crypt of the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, is located underneath St. Sava Temple. The temple is also referred to as “Eastern Europe’s Sagrada Família“.
It was an enjoyable but mind-bending day full of information. I’m still trying to understand Serbia’s vast history and culture.