The capital of the Republic of Serbia
Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and is, as such, the country’s largest city with a population of about 1.7 million people. It lies on the confluence of the two major European rivers, Sava and Danube. The city has a long history, dating back to the 4th century BC, when the area was settled by Celtic tribes. Later on, it became the Roman city of Singidunum, and relics of that era can still be seen in the city, particularly at Kalemegdan Fortress. During the Middle Ages the town changed hands between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Serbian Despotate (of which it was the capital) until 1521, when it was captured by the Ottoman Empire. Until Serbia retained its independence in 1878, the city again changed hands multiple times, but between the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Empire.
After the First World War, Belgrade became the seat of Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, from 1929) until its collapse in 1941, after the subsequent German invasion. During the Second World War it was the seat of the Nazi puppet Government of National Salvation and it was heavily bombed twice, once by the Germans and once by the Allies. Belgrade was again liberated by the joint Yugoslav – Soviet Army, and in 1945 it became the capital of communist Yugoslavia (although the country wasn’t part of the Eastern Bloc after the notorious Yugoslav – Soviet split in 1948), led by Marshal Josip Broz Tito until his death in 1980. During this period Belgrade became the economic, cultural and political center of the Balkans, as the country was balancing itself between the East and the West.
This often violent history and outside influence has colored much of Belgrade’s evolution, which is evident in its culture and architecture. Often caught between the hammer and anvil of clashing empires, the city has taken on a unique character, reminiscent of both Austrian and Turkish influences, with a unique set of Communist elements thrown in by the Marshal Tito Government. Yet, the city has its own spirit, and in it can be found some not only unique features, but also a healthy joie de vivre in its café culture, nightlife and often a Mediterranean flavor in its lifestyle.
While there isn’t much ethnic or cultural diversity in Belgrade compared to other European cities, there are some minority communities (largely Roma and Chinese), as well as people from other former Yugoslav republics, such as Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia. There is also a small expat community.
Cultural events from around the world, however, are starting to become increasingly common, particularly in the spring and summer months, due to the involvement of local arts and culture organizations, as well as foreign embassies and cultural centers. These attract a good deal of local attention, and are helping in raising the city’s profile as a cultural hotspot. Belgrade is an energetic city re-discovering its tourism potential.
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