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.
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.