Facts about Serbia
Belgrade lies on the confluence of River Sava into the Danube.
To the south of these two are the ascending hills of the Balkans mountain ranges while to the north is the Pannonian plain.
Thus Belgrade has a strategic position en route from central Europe towards Asia Minor.
For travelers through South Eastern Europe this means that it is hard not to bump into over and over.
Today Belgrade spreads across its rivers and over some thirty something hills,
all the way to (and around) Mount Avala, the first mountain to the south.
The city enjoys a continental climate characterized by warm summers and cold winters,
while springtime and autumn are short.
Daily highs from June to September are almost always over 30oC, while in winter the temperature oscillates from 0 to 10 oC.
The best months for visiting are May and September, with lots of sun and very pleasant temperatures.
The new census is due for 2011 but the current estimate is that the Belgrade metropolitan area has about 1.7 million inhabitants,
while in the city itself live some 1.3m people.
Absolute majority of inhabitants are Serbs, with many Serb refugees from Croatia,
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. The only other notable ethnic group is Roma,
who often live in improvised settlements on the outskirts.
As the ex capital of Yugoslavia, Belgrade has many Croats, Albanians and Slovenes living in it as well,
and as a capital with numerous embassies and offices of foreign companies there are groups of people
from all around the world living or working here.
The official language in the Republic of Serbia is Serbian, a south Slavic language.
The same language, with some dialectical differences, is spoken in Croatia,
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, so if you’ve already learned some phrases there feel free to use them in Serbia as well.
Knowledge of other Slavic languages, for instance Bulgarian, Russian or Slovak will come in handy since many words are identical.
Serbia is one of the rare countries in the world where there are two official scripts – Cyrillic and Latin.
Whether something will be written in one or another is left to personal discretion.
Most of the things a foreign visitor might need in Belgrade are written in Latin but learning some Cyrillic would help you a lot.
Note that Serbian Cyrillic differs from other Cyrillic alphabets in a few letters.
English is widely spoken and rarely there is a younger person which will not be able to answer your basic questions.
Many people speak German, Italian, Spanish or Russian.
For better or worse, Belgrade has witnessed almost all of European history.
It actually saw so much of its violent outbreaks that there not too many monuments
from previous eras survive out of the museums.
The area was settled as far as 6000 years ago and was thriving in Neolith.
The Illyrian tribe of Singi was subdued in 3rd c BC by Celtic Scordisci who gave it the first name Singidun,
“the Town of Singi”. Around the time of Christ’s birth Romans conquered the town Romanizing its name to Singidunum.
For the next four hundred years the town was thriving around a military camp of Legio IV Flavia Felix,
giving one Emperor to Rome - Jovian (363-364 AD). It survived many barbarians passing by but not the Huns and their looting.
It continued to exist only as a small fort on the borders of Byzantium.
The middle ages saw it being wrestled by Hungarians, Bulgarians, Byzantines and Serbs.
With the Ottoman pressure moving the centre of medieval Serbia north it became its capital for the first time in 1402,
under the reign of Despotes Stefan Lazarević. The first Turkish siege came in 1439,
and then the epic battle of 1456 but it finally succumbed in 1521.
In Ottoman times it was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the Balkans,
with estimated 100,000 inhabitants in 17th c,
wherefrom the campaigns of Sultans in central Europe would start from.
As the Ottoman power collapsed 18th c. brought the city devastation as it changed hands between
Habsburgs and Turks no less than six times, decimating its population to some 3,000 at the start of the 19th c.
After the two insurrections brought Serbia autonomy,
the city was divided between the Serbs and the Turks until 1867 when the latter left.
The town, already the capital of Serbia, now developed along European lines.
This was interrupted by the Austro-Hungarian attack in 1914 that marked the beginning of World War One.
City saw heavy shelling and street fighting in 1914 and 1915 and then the draining occupation.
It was liberated in 1918 and became the capital of the Kingdom of Serbs,
Croats and Slovenes, the future Yugoslavia.
This was the heyday of Belgrade when many of the buildings we admire today were erected.
In 1941 Hitler’s Germany bombed the town after its people demonstrated against joining the Axis.
The Nazi occupation brought death to many thousands of people, amongst them almost all of the 7,000 Jews,
most of them in the concentration camp located in the city as well as Anglo-American
bombings of 1943 and 1944 that brought deaths to thousands more.
In socialist Yugoslavia the city developed fast, quadrupling its population in 50 years,
with newcomers moving into tower blocks of new settlements with New Belgrade as a model new town.
The Yugoslav wars of the 1990s culminating with the 1999 bombing by NATO impoverished population,
chased out much of the intellectuals and young people and brought in tens of thousands of refugees.
The only legal tender in Serbia is Serbian dinar (RSD) but due to the constant inflation people calculate all the larger sums in euros.
Currency exchanges (menjačnica) are easily found,
the main problem being that almost all of them work only to 7pm with only a few open until 9pm.
After that time your only solution are several electric ones.
All of the exchanges are well stocked with euros and dollars,
with other most common currencies being Swiss frank,
English pound (not the Scottish and Northern Irish one which might be refused!) and Canadian dollar,
while others, though the rates are displayed, might be harder to change.
In case you’re changing a less frequented currency you might be asked to present your passport.
None of the exchange offices charge any commission and the differences in rates are slight.
Generally speaking Belgrade is a safe place.
Thefts are no more common then in any other European metropolis and robberies of foreign tourists are still very rare.
The groups one should beware are the football hooligans, extreme nationalists as well as drunken persons.
Be careful when stating your opinion on the Balkan problems to unknown persons;
listen what the other side thinks and try not to get into any kind of argument.
When drinking, being very loud and annoying might easily get you into conflict with people around you.
Tourist traps are still not known in Belgrade and no restaurants or bars have any hidden costs or double pricelists.
It is not however unknown for a waiter to try to add a drink or two to your
lengthy bill or for a taxi driver to take a longer route to your destination,
so keep your eyes open in these and similar situations.