Belgrade is located at the confluence of two big rivers – Sava and Danube. River Sava brings to Belgrade waters from over 50 smaller rivers from Dinaric Alps and connects three capitals – Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Belgrade. The Danube is the second largest river in Europe, and it connects four capitals – Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade.
Danube and Sava mark the border between Central Europe and the Balkans. They have always been the border between civilizations, between the East and the West. Most important routes coming from Europe to the Asia Minor pass through Belgrade, making it the melting pot of cultures and one of the most important cities in Southern Europe and the Balkans.
Belgrade was first founded by the Celtic tribe called Scordisci around 400 BC. The first recorded name was Singidun, meaning “the fort on a hill”. Romans also thought it was neat to have a fortress on this specific hill, so they conquered it and add “UM” to the name, making it – Singidunum. Name Belgrade came with the Slavs, which named the city after its white walls of stone, Beo – white, Grad – city. “Beograd”, the Slavic name was first mentioned in the 8th century.
Being on the crossroads and on two big rivers and several important roads, Belgrade was interesting for many nations. The one that controls Belgrade, controls the entire region. In its recorded history, Belgrade was razed to the ground (not a stone left standing on a stone) more than 40 times. All this destruction left a serious mark on the city.
Famous French architect Le Corbusier said that Belgrade is the ugliest city built on the most beautiful place in the world. He is kind of right about that. As Belgrade was destroyed so many times, we do not have that many old buildings like other European capitals like Budapest or Vienna. Instead, we have an architectural mess, a mix of old and modern which cannot exactly be described as “a good mix”.
Today Belgrade has 1.6 million people living in it. If you add all the students, refugees from the wars of the 90s and other people who are just “temporarily” living or working here, that brings us to a final number of more than 2 million people.
There are 3 completely different parts of Belgrade: The Old city (south of the rivers), New Belgrade (the communist part of town) and neighborhood of Zemun (Austro-Hungarian part). All three parts have their own distinctiveness and are very different from each other in many ways.
The Old Town – Stari grad
The Old town is usually considered the part around Kalemegdan fortress and around the main pedestrian area – Knez Mihailova Street. Districts like Dorćol, Savamala, Kosančićev Venac are the prime examples of Old Belgrade. You can visit this part of the city on foot, as everything is relatively close by.
New Belgrade – Novi Beograd
New Belgrade, the modern part, is on the other side of the river. It was built after World War 2, in the time of Yugoslavia. New Belgrade is a concrete utopia, built to represent the best of Yugoslavia and its nations. You will see lots of brutalist architecture here, everything is made out of concrete, but it is also very green. The buildings are not that tall, and pretty far from each other, which leaves enough space for the parks and greenery.
Zemun – a city within a city
Zemun is now a neighborhood of Belgrade, but before WW2 it was actually a different city. It is a more “german-like” kind of town, with baroque influences visible at every corner. People in Zemun are very specific too, although they are part of Belgrade for more than 70 years now, they do not consider themselves as Belgraders. If you ask someone from Zemun where is he from, he will proudly tell “From Zemun”, not mentioning Belgrade at all. Lifestyle is indeed different here, the pace is slower and people are more laid back. You can enjoy good fish restaurants here on the Danube, and enjoy the view from the Gardoš tower, one of the best viewpoints in the city.