Belgrade – History Between Two Rivers

Belgrade is the only European capital on the banks of two international rivers, namely the Sava and the Danube. The medieval town of Singidunum, which has been known by the Slavic name of Belgrade since 878, was built at the site where the Belgrade Fortress and the Kalemegdan park are situated today, above the place where the Sava flows into the Danube. Only in the 19th century did the town spread to the right bank of the Sava, where Novi Beograd, connecting Belgrade with Zemun, was built, and in recent years towards the right bank of the Danube and the town of Pancevo.

Belgrade History

Belgrade is one of the oldest towns in Europe. It has a 7000-year-old history and the oldest archaeological findings date back to 5th millennium AD. Due to its auspicious geographic position, it was exposed to numerous invaders and was under the influence of many civilizations, such as those of the Celts, the Thracians, the Romans, the Huns, the Goths, the Byzantines, the Hungarians or the Turks. As many as 40 armies have conquered Belgrade and as many as 38 times it rose again from the ashes.

Belgrade became part of Serbia for the first time in 1284, when Serbian king Dragutin, as the son-in-law and a vassal of Hungarian king Ladislaus IV, obtained the region of Macva with Belgrade for administration. In that period, Belgrade was intensively populated by the Serbs and the influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church became stronger. A newly-built Orthodox Cathedral reflected the power and wealth of the young Serbian state. When his brother Milutin succeeded to the throne, he ruled Belgrade for a very short while, as it was in 1319 that the Hungarians invaded Belgrade and reduced it to rubble. Thus the deserted town became a border base for the Hungarians to oppose the expansion of the Serbian state from the south, at the time of the reign of Milutin’s grandson, Serbian Emperor Dusan. In the 15th century though, another invading power – the Ottoman Turks – came onto the scene.

belgrade history

In their attempt to oppose the Turkish onslaught and to provide a stronghold for themselves both on the Sava and the Danube, the Hungarians allowed the construction of Belgrade during the rule of Serbian Despot Stefan Lazarevic. This was the first time that Belgrade became the Serbian capital. Despot Stefan Lazarevic ruled Belgrade from 1403 to 1427, during which period the town truly flourished and was the most important economic, cultural and religious centre of the Serbian state. In 1521, Belgrade was invaded by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and the Ottomans remained in the town more or less until 1867, when they left it for good. After gaining independence at the Berlin Congress in 1878, in 1882 Serbia became a kingdom and Belgrade again its capital. The very following year, Belgrade saw the introduction of the first telephone lines, a railway station and a railway bridge were built on the river Sava, the first waterworks network was put into operation in 1892 and the first electric lighting was introduced, so, towards the end of the 19th century, the Serbian capital boasted electric trams, but also the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the National Library, the National Theatre, etc. It also was the seat of Belgrade University, founded in 1808, and the University of Arts.

Belgrade was utterly devastated in World War II and many innocent people were killed in bombings by the Nazis and the Allies alike. Only several hundred thousand citizens of Belgrade survived the war. Today, the population numbers 1.6 million. There are some 300 cultural monuments in Belgrade, more than 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.

As a tourist destination, Belgrade is also famous for its nightlife, Belgrade Food and excellent restaurants. It is surrounded by natural resorts such as Mt Avala and Mt Kosmaj, as well as the Big War Island, on the river Danube, in the very heart of Belgrade, with a visitors’ centre where one can observe 200 bird species and 50 mammal species. One can also go for a swim at Ada Ciganlija, an island on the river Sava, with pebbly beaches and numerous sports and recreational facilities. Guests to Belgrade can also visit a downtown bohemian quarter of Skadarlija, reminiscent of the 19th century life of numerous famous artists and poets, and can also walk along the most central Belgrade street, Knez Mihailova, which is a pedestrian zone and which, when it comes to urban planning, takes its descent back to Roman times.