Monday, April 11, 2011

Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, (Београд = white city), has about 1.6 million people and is Serbia's capital city. It is one of the oldest cities in Europe and over the centuries it has been demolished 40 times. The city has been leveled so many times that no building is over 250 years old which is pretty unusual for a European capital. The city is pretty compact so you can see most everything on foot in a couple of days. Belgrade is well-known for its nightlife which goes in to the early morning almost every day of the week. I only have a couple of days in Belgrade so I'm electing to skip the nightlife. Otherwise I'll be too exhausted to check out the sights.

The Belgrade Fortress and St. Sava Temple are the city's best known sites. The Belgrade Fortress sits on a hill that overlooks where the Danube and Sava Rivers meet up. It was built at the end of the 1st Century as a permanent Roman Legion camp. It is made up of Upper Town, Lower Town and Kalemegdan Park. The Upper Town has most of the preserved gates and the Military Museum. This is also where the Victory Monument is.

The Lower Town was the main city center during the Middle Ages. Kalemegdan Park has random sculptures, a zoo, souvenir vendors and plenty of people playing chess. The Monument to France was built in 1930 as recognition of France's help during WWI.

St. Sava Temple is dedicated to St. Sava (1169-1236) who founded the Serbian Orthodox Church. It is built, or rather is being built, on the site that is believed to where his remains were burned by the Ottoman Turks in 1594.

Construction started in 1935 but was interrupted during WWII. Construction resumed in 1985 and the exterior was completed in 2004. The interior is still underway. It is massive and the dome can be seen from most parts of the city. It is one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the world.

Republic Square is one of the city's main squares. This is where the National Museum is and a monument to Prince Mihailo. On Sunday the square was used to host a "Belgrade to Japan" Red Cross blood drive.

Palace Albanija is in the city center. In 1939 it was the first skyscraper in Southeast Europe. From this landmark all distances in Serbia are measured.

The city's main church, dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, was built in 1845 on the site of the former Cathedral Church. Across the street is the seat of the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church. On the other side of the street is a tavern named ?. It opened in 1823 and is the oldest restaurant in Belgrade. It was originally named the Cathedral Tavern but the church objected to the name so the owner changed it to ? because he didn't see what the big deal was.

Since the city has been destroyed so many times there is a wide variety in the architectural styles of the buildings. Unfortunately, not everything has been rebuilt. There is still visible damage from the NATO bombings during the Kosovo War in 1999.

Serbian uses the Cyrillic script so its alphabet is similar to Russian but with a few extra letters. A lot of things are also written with the Latin alphabet. However, all of the street signs are in Cyrillic. I remember enough Russian that reading the signs was not a problem. Serbian is related to Czech so I just speak Czech, with a few Serbo-Croatian words thrown in, and I'm able to get by. Most people ask if I'm Slovenian or Polish. But oddly enough they never ask if I'm Czech.

Today's agenda has a +9 hour train ride to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Then I'll be back for more of Belgrade on Friday night.

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