Belgrade, Serbia: a bombed ministry, an oft-sacked fortress, & Nikola Tesla


Belgrade is located in a territorial hotspot. Emperors, kings, feudal lords, sultans, princes, and despots; all have wanted Belgrade for themselves.

The city has been involved in no less than 115 wars, and it has been razed to the ground no less than 44 times. Surely that must be a record of some kind?

Kalemegdan Fortress / Belgrade Fortress

Photo credit: Benjamin White

For many centuries Kalemegdan Fortress was Belgrade (Kalemegdan is a Turkish phrase meaning Battlefield Fortress – not a bad name when you consider the city’s history).

The entire settlement was contained within the walls of the fortress, and thus when I say Belgrade was razed to the ground 44 times, I really mean Kalemegdan Fortress was razed to the ground 44 times.

Photo credit: Benjamin White

A settlement has stood in this position – Kalemegdan Fortress is situated on a high ridge above the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers – since at least the 3rd Century BCE. At the time the region was occupied by a Celtic tribe known as the Singi.

A few centuries later the Romans swept through the Balkans and conquered the Celts. They named the settlement Singidunum.

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Kalemegdan Fortress has been knocked down and rebuilt countless times; and it’s been expanded time and time again.

Much of what can be seen today dates to the 1700s when Serbia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Church of Saint Sava

Photo credit: Benjamin White

The Church of Saint Sava is deceptively big. It’s actually one of the largest churches in the world, and it’s the largest church in the Balkans (St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria is second biggest).

The church is dedicated to Saint Sava, who founded the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Ottomans set fire to Saint Sevan’s relics in 1595 in this very location.

Planning for the church began in 1895. Construction began in 1935; the main dome (which reaches 70 metres in height) was completed in 1989.

Knez Mikhaila Street

Photo credit: Benjamin White

This pedestrianised avenue, lined with many charming Neo-classical buildings, is the primary shopping district of Belgrade.

The street follows a road alignment laid out in Roman times.

Nikola Tesla Museum

Photo credit: Benjamin White

The Nikola Tesla Museum – housed in an opulent mansion built in 1927 – opened in 1952 and celebrates the work of the Serb/Croat inventor Nikola Tesla.

The museum displays many of Tesla’s most famous inventions and experiments, including the alternating current (AC) induction motor, early X-ray imaging, the Tesla-coil, and a remote-controlled boat (one of the first successful prototypes of a remote controlled device).

Museum staff conduct demonstrations of his experiments throughout the day.

Ministry of Defence Building, Belgrade

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Belgrade’s Ministry of Defence building, completed in 1965, was designed to resemble a section of the Sutjeska River in which a famous battle (the WWII Battle of Sutjeska) took place. There was a time when the structure was regarded as a significant piece of modern architect, It was bombed by NATO in 1999 during the Kosovo War.

Parts of the building have been demolished since my visit in 2015, and there are some locals who would like to see the entire building demolished. Others want the building retained as a war memorial.

There was a rumour going around for awhile that the site would be ripped down and replaced with a Trump Hotel. 😀

Western City Gate

Photo credit: Benjamin White

This impressive brutalist structure, completed in 1977 (actually it is two buildings connected by an elevated walkway) was conceived of as a modern gateway to the city, in the manner of the gates of yore found in medieval walled cities.

Those entering the city do not actually pass through the structure though, meaning this is a symbolic gate rather than a real one.


Is Belgrade worth visiting?

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Dirty, and nothing to do there; that seems to be the impression people have of Belgrade. But it isn’t true. Well, there are a few soot-stained buildings around (see photo above), but their griminess adds to the city’s understated grandeur.

Belgrade is full of beautiful, Neo-classical architecture, and it is absolutely worth visiting.

Photo credit: Benjamin White


Practical information and how to reach Belgrade:

Belgrade has its own international airport with frequent flights to cities throughout Europe and the Middle East. Trains run from Belgrade to Budapest (8 hours), Skopje (10 hours), Sofia (10 hours), Vienna (12 hours), Ljubljana (18 hours). More transport info here.

Or visit my crappy capital city page.


More on South eastern Europe:

Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Sarajevo – Franz Ferdinand, and the Jerusalem of Europe

Mostar – bullet holes, sniper tower, Ottoman bridge

Bulgaria:

Belogradchik Rocks – crazy rocks = perfect spot for a fortress

Magura Cave – Stone Age cave paintings + fertility rituals

Northern Macedonia:

Ohrid – an old, deep lake, where Cyrillic was invented?

Skopje – controversial statues, and ownership of Alex the Great?

Romania:

Bran Castle –  it wasn’t Dracula’s castle, so why is it famous?

Rock sculpture of Decebalus – the last king of Dacia

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.