Belgrade. From its early period and Celtic settlement in the 3rd century BC, it’s been a city almost always clinched between two empires, two rivers, and two desires: West and East, Danube and Sava, to be conquered and to be free. This inborn duality is deeply embedded in the spirit of the Serbian nation like the Cyrillic and Latin script in the chronicles of Europe, and consequently the eternal changes of old and new currents.
We shall start from the end of the main city artery. On the Kalemegdan medieval fortress, placed at the western axis, you can enjoy the panorama of the urban New Belgrade and the confluence of the Sava and Danube, a landmark of the city and geographical feature known from medieval maps. The Fortress preserved its authenticity and holds a legend of Roman well that impressed another legend, Mr. Alfred Hitchcock in 1964, for obvious reasons. Well, you can discover “The Mystery of the Roman well” in your own scenario along with other intermingled historic layers by strolling through the lovely park sprinkled with stairways and terraces, historic gates and masonry. The ambience of Kalemegdan is a combination of stone, iron and greenery – one can feel a distant space and time in the air, an ideal setting for various images inside the mind. If you are lucky, on a nearby plateau in springtime you can see a coach training the falcon, the security employee of the Nikola Tesla Airport in charge of protecting the steel birds from common birds.
Exiting the compound we walk back through Prince Mihailo’s Street, the capital’s hub with very nice Classicist facades, to the Square of Republic, the melting pot of the inner city and actual geometric navel of Belgrade. Two significant cultural foundations are situated here, National Theater and National Museum, both looking at the Statue of Prince Mihailo that dominates the Square and is a popular meeting place locally known as “The Horse.” The way further descends to Skadarlija, another cobblestone downtown gem, a quarter reflecting urbane atmosphere, a window into Bohemian lifestyle of the end of 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Due to its proximity to the National Theater, many actors lived here and after their performances rushed in, together with poets, thinkers, writers and artists, looking for food, drink and music, trading spotlights for pleasant shadows.
Nowadays, this place abounds in galleries and fine restaurants with gourmet domestic cuisine. Numerous taverns with live music will take you into slow and dignified rhythms of old times, when people came here to enjoy in conversation, comment on operas and plays, and exchange compliments. Skadarlija is like a time capsule nested in the urban fabric, an attraction hidden like the promising smile of a lady behind the bulky hat and lace, from the age when bustle and hustle walked in diapers.
We will finish our short promenade at the source of the city axis, the protruding Saint Sava Temple next to the National Library and above the Slavija Square, a mighty looking white-marbled orthodox cathedral near the former swamps where dignitaries and their fellow citizens went to hunt ducks in the 19th century! Today, this biggest Eastern Christianity temple on Balkans is undoubtedly the awe-inspiring Serbian spiritual center, and its 82-meter-high gilded cross guards the faith of the nation.
All this was only an hors d’oeuvre of the delicious dish that waits to be tasted by you: the Ada islet, barges, architecture, arts, colorful streets, markets and people, diversity – all facets of the Balkan coin. Welcome to our city and enjoy your stay!
Miloš Vuckovic was born in 1964 in Belgrade, and turned freelance translator in 1994. Interested in archaeology, history, languages, and arts, he is also a choir singer who likes opera and church music, but also smooth jazz, jazz, and world music. Nature, the Mediterranean region, and good food provide him with life energy. Favorite phrase: Nil bastardum carborundum.