The Hungarian Empire in Serbia


On Saturday we walked up to the top of Gardoš Hill in Zemun to check out the tower of the same name and the view. As you can see in the photo above, in the foreground is the now Belgrade suburb of Zemun, with the Danube (Dunav in Serbian) flowing by with the city of Belgrade in the distance.

The tower was built in 1896 to celebrate 1000 years of Hungarians presence on the Pannonian Plain. This is the large, flat, grasslands in the north of Serbia stretching into Hungary, that geologically, used to be a sea. Zemun was the southernmost city in the Hungarian Empire and towers were built in the four corners. It is common for nations to celebrate their largest historical empire. Listening to the radio commentator and historian Dan Carlin however, has me thinking a bit differently about this. He argues that people should think about the consequences of empire, that some other people were conquered and there was probably much death and destruction to build that empire.

The Gardoš Tower – January 18, 2014

In this case, the Gardoš Tower, which is also named after the 15th century Hungarian general, Jonas Hunyadi, is celebrated by both the Hungarians and the Serbs. Hunyadi’s armies repelled the Ottoman Turks, a common enemy of both the Hungarians and the Serbs.

Today in Zemun, one can immediately see and feel the architectural difference left by the Austo-Hungarian builders. Zemun, once a separate city, has a much different look than Belgrade. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the attack on Belgrade by the Hapsburg armies in retaliation for the assassination of ArchDuke Ferdinand was launched from here to start WW I.

I can see why people have gravitated to this spot over time. The Danube provided transport and the hill a defense against invaders. I could see the hill of Kalamegdan and Avala in the distance and understand the importance of the high ground in pre-industrial warfare.

Zemun today is quite pleasant to visit with a nice promenade and bike trail along the river. There are also quite a few restaurants and cafes along the waterfront, and the old buildings, cobblestone streets, and winding alleys make for a quaint atmosphere. My children love running up and down the levees on the banks of the Danube. Another nice thing about Belgrade is that the rich have not taken over the waterfront as in other places. One does not see private residences, luxury apartments or yacht clubs. In fact, most of the boats in Belgrade are like the one below, simple and for the common man.

I have a lot of nice memories of Zemun and will definitely miss it when I leave Serbia.

Visit to Mount Avala


Yesterday we visited Avala, a mountain located in the outskirts of Belgrade. It is about 1,600 feet (500 meters) high and it is the highest point of the forested Šumadija region just south of the city. Because of its height, it has always been a strategic point and people naturally gravitated to it. Both the Romans and the Turks established fortresses there. The Serbian royal family and government also used the area through the years for various activities, like hiking, hotel, children’s clean air refuge, communications towers, etc.

Today it is still a preserved area with some interested things to see. The photo above is taken from the top of the newly completed tower. On April 29, 1999, NATO destroyed the tower as part of their attacks on the Milosevic-led Yugoslavian government. The purpose was hinder Milosevic’s use of the media, as the tower was used to broadcast the national television station. It didn’t stop the broadcast however because the station was broadcasted through many different stations. A big waste of money! Not only in the bombing raid, but also in the fundraising for construction of the new tower.

The kids were excited to go up to the top. Ocean was most enthused about handing the ticket to the lady at the elevator. The views over Šumadija were impressive. There is supposed to be a restaurant on the top but it was not open I guess. The attendant told me that between 500 and 2,500 people a day visit the tower.

I was annoyed to learn that the big monument on the mountain to the Unknown Soldier, built after World War I, was put over the ruins of a Turkish fortress. The strategic mountain must be rich in archeological history, but this has not been studied or developed. The medieval Serbs called the fortified city on top Žrnov. It was later taken over by the Turks. The Ottoman general, Gazi Porča, renamed it Havala, meaning obstacle or barrier. I guess it was a barrier against tribes from the south heading into Belgrade. Below is a picture I found in the Wikicommons of the remains of his fort. The monument is beautiful, but they could have preserved and improved the fortress AND build a monument. I would have preferred a center for Ottoman and Roman studies with the sites excavated, rather than monument.

Zrnov Fortress
Oliver In Front of the Tower

There are a couple of other monuments on the mountain. One is dedicated to the Soviet military. A plane crashed in 1964 full of World War II veterans. They were going to Belgrade’s 20th anniversary of its liberation from the Germans. I want to see the Memorial Gardens in the nearby village of Jajinci. The Nazis used the area as a “killing fields” and over 80,000 Yugoslav were executed and/or buried there.

We got some popcorn and played “hide-and-seek” in the gardens around the monument. As we climbed on the monument, the marble is chipped in places. Owen was fascinated to learn that it was from flying shrapnel from NATO bombing raid 11 years ago. The kids slept in the car on the way home. It makes a good day trip any time of the year. We’ve gone several times and the kids always enjoy it.

I completed my second full day as a single dad. Nadia gets home today and we’ll head out to the airport this afternoon to pick her up. After Avala, I did some shopping while the kids slept in the car and we hung out at home. We have a sauna and hot tub in our apartment building. The steamy sauna was refreshing way to brighten up a cold February night.

Family Weekend Journal: January 24, 2010

It was a busy weekend with four basketball teams visiting our school. I coached both Friday night and Saturday afternoon. On Sunday, I had a morning skype interview but managed some family time. I took Ocean out for a short run in the jogging stroller. It was cold yesterday and looks to be cold all week with temperatures around -7C. We did some shopping in the afternoon and wrapped up the day by visiting some friends.

Above is my favorite building in Belgrade, the famous “gate” to the city, the Genex Tower. It has an optical illusion beer advertisement on one of its sides. Jelen Pivo (Elk Beer) is probably the most popular beer in Serbia, although I prefer Lav, the other popular domestic brew. I wonder how much it costs to put a billboard on the side of an entire building? How about the people with offices or apartments on that side? Who makes signs that big? So many questions… I see large advertisements on several buildings around the city.

Below, Ocean and Nadia are coming out of Kika, a new home furnishing store in Belgrade, similar to Ikea. Kika is originally from Austria and it is expanding throughout eastern and central Europe.

Nadia and Ocean Exit Kika