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.

Zemun Quay

Dinner Along the Danube, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

We went out to eat last night at the restaurant Šaran on the Zemun Quay. It was such a pleasant experience, I had to blog about it.

Zemun used to a separate city from Belgrade, but is now one of the 17 municipalities of Belgrade. It has a slightly different feel (architecture) than Belgrade, being under the Austrian-Hungarian Empire influence for a long time.

Zemun was founded on the banks of the Danube River, on three hills. There is a nice riverfront area of restaurants, that with a few modifications, could be made even nicer, and perhaps another attraction like Kalamegdan or St. Sava’s Church.

There are quaintly, slightly decrepit buildings, small fisherman’s boats, cobblestones, trees, and breeze coming off the river, with the view of a green opposite bank. One feels like it could be a Greek island waterfront, or a neighborhood of Venice. There were old men sitting on tables in front of dimly lit cafes, having a drink and some laughs. The restaurants in the summer have temporary dining areas along the river, outside of their main buildings. Many have live music. Besides diners and cafe-goers, there were families going for a walk along the quay, fishermen coming back from a day on the river, etc. It is perhaps a bit like San Francisco’s Fishermen’s Wharf before it became a tourist trap.

They can improve the area by stopping cars from entering the cobblestone street along side the quay. There are several areas nearby that could be developed as parking areas. We saw they were improving the walking paths along the quay and this would also help, especially if they can figure out a walking path up to the Gardoš Tower, which is a short two blocks from the river. There are also potential green areas further up the river bank that could be included in the quay area. Further down river there is the Grand Casino, more riverside parks, Great War Islands, with Lido Beach, and many great “splavs” – restaurants and night clubs on stillts on the river – also close by and with some creative development, could be connected to the Zemun Quay. It could be a good alternative to the downtown Bohemian Restaurant district of Skadarlija.

The food was good at Šaran and we had the best waiter I’ve encountered in Belgrade, Some of the dishes were a bit over-salted for our taste, but overall a fantastic meal.

Lido Beach


Last night we visited Lido Beach in Zemun. It is located on the northern tip of “Great War Island” (Veliko – big Ratno – war Ostrvo – island). The island is situated at the spot where the Danube River (Dunav in Serbian) splits into its tributary, the Sava River. The island gets its name from the numerous armies that use the island as a launching pad for attacks on the city. The Turks, Serbs, and Austro-Hungarians all used it and the Serbian Army still has a presence on the island today.
In the summer, the city of Belgrade, with the help from the Serbian army, they make a pontoon bridge from the island to the suburb of Zemun. I wanted to check it out so we took the family over last night. There is a small beach on the northern point of the island, called “Lido Beach,” named after the Lido sandbar in Venice, Italy. Of course it was a body of water, so I had to jump in. The kids took off their shoes and splashed in the water a bit. Ocean loved the sand. We will probably head back there sometime. It is much like Ada Ciganlija, but the currents are a bit faster. The island is also a big bird sanctuary so I should try to do some birdwatching.
The View from Lido Beach at Sunset

There have been numerous attempts to develop the island. The Danube occasionally floods it in the spring, which is good for stopping people from putting hotels on it! It is a large green area in the city as you can see from the ariel view. It is supposed to be quite popular swimming beach and they do have a life guard, a couple of restaurants, and two volleyball nets.