Belgrade is a city like no other. Concrete high-rises of the Communist era contrast with neo-classical buildings, whilst the construction of wholly modern skyscrapers is on the rise. This contrast of old, new and plain old ugly is quite symbolic of the increasingly globalised country held back by its outdated social outlook.
In the Serbian capital, wholly different styles of architecture attempt to blend together, but ultimately jar. Walking through the city, the different types of architecture tell a plethora of different stories.
Belgrade is a city that has seen it all including bitter conflict that is all too recent for many of the city’s people.
One of the best ways to get around Belgrade is via their extensive tram system. Several of the trams originally serviced Basel in Switzerland, which by some serendipity is where I’d visited before embarking on my Eastern Europe trip, so that gave some sort of continuity to my trip.
Also, on a late night cab ride, I was also robbed blind by a taxi driver who took all my dinar so it was definitely a good idea to stick with the trams after that.
Saint Mark’s Church is one of the most recognisable structures in Belgrade. The Orthodox Church was completed in 1940, on the site of an old church that had been damaged by Austrian troops during World War I.
By chance in a city that has a population approaching 1,400,000, on the street outside of the church I ran into a woman that I had shared a compartment with on the sleeper train to Belgrade from Podgorica. Whilst neither one of us could speak the other’s native language well at all, we managed to just about muddle through a conversation – this time about how surprised we were to see each other – just like we had on the train.
New Belgrade refers to the newest portion of the city, built on the left bank of the Sava River, following the end of World War II.
Belgrade Fortress is built on the right bank of the river which runs directly through the center of the city and is a constant reminder of the military conflict that Belgrade has endured. As recently as 1999, the city was a war-zone, relentlessly bombed by NATO during the Kosovo War.
The bombing of Belgrade remains highly controversial and at the forefront of the city’s consciousness, with banners permanently posted outside of the House of the National Assembly highlighting the children lost during the campaign.
Construction only began on the House of the National Assembly in 1907 and was completed thirty years later.
Despite same-sex couples not being recognised in Serbia (like in much of what was Yugoslavia), and a poll conducted in 2012 finding that 48% of Serbs believe homosexuality to be an illness, the Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic is openly gay. This is maybe even more surprising when you consider that Belgrade only held their first *successful* gay pride march in 2014.
Belgrade, like the rest of Serbia, has a massive gun culture, perhaps due to all of the conflict experienced by the country.
I visited a shooting range that occupies what was a bunker built during the 1999 NATO bombing of the city and ended up feeling like Bree Van de Kamp. I also felt like a bit of a weakling because it turns out guns are pretty heavy and I also nearly broke my thumb BUT I also managed to hit the targets!!
That same night I got locked in a toilet in a restaurant and managed to kinda kick the door down, so really I felt like Action Man or at least Lara Croft on that day!
Belgrade was fun to experience over a few days, but for me it isn’t one of those places that would pull me back time and time again. But, I got locked in a toilet and robbed by a taxi driver, so I might be just a little bit biased. 😉