BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Belgrade today is known for nightlife, clubbing and a fun-loving lifestyle, but its past is scarred by war.
Over the centuries, it was conquered and demolished dozens of times, standing at the historic crossroads between two mighty empires, Turkish to the east and Austro-Hungarian to the west. Even at the very end of the 20th century, the city was bombed by NATO.
But Belgrade’s citizens like to compare their city to the mythical phoenix bird that always rises from the ashes. Here are five things to see and do — all free — that illustrate the Serbian capital’s poignant history, mix of cultures and contemporary easygoing lifestyle.
Perched on a 125-meter-high (410-feet-high) cliff, the ancient Kalemegdan Fortress was built to fend off conquerors. Its ridge overlooks the confluence of the Sava river into the Danube, and offers a magnificent view over the new part of town and the plain that lies ahead.
Over the centuries, at least 100 battles have been fought over this site, and parts of it have been erased 44 times. What remains today has been rebuilt many times. The fortification has massive gates and bridges. Kalemegdan hosts a military museum with a collection of tanks, cannons, guns, and other military vehicles.
RIVER BANKS AND ADA CIGANLIJA
A stroll down the hill from Kalemegdan leads to the rivers. There is a cycling and walking path upstream along the Sava River, which is a wonderful way to explore this side of Belgrade. The path first passes the tourist port — a popular area that is dotted with old warehouses turned into restaurants and cafes.
Under the Branko’s bridge, next on the route is the Sava Mala area, a historic center turned into a design and nightlife hub. An industrial zone by the Belgrade Fair then leads into Ada Ciganlija, a lake resort that is Belgrade’s favorite relaxation and picnic area. The water in the lake is clean and there is a 7-kilometer (4.3-mile) route around it, again filled with cafes and restaurants that stay open late into the night in the summer months.