Prior to 6th century the western Balkans were occupied by the Illyrian people, whose descendants became present-day Albanians. During the 6th and 7th centuries, Slavic tribes migrated into the Balkans from north of the Carpathians. At the turn of the 13th century, the Serb prince Rastko Nemanjic created the first Serbian national church. After a brief alliance with Rome, it became part of Orthodox Christianity.
In 1389 the Ottoman Turks conquered Serbia at the Battle of Kosovo. In the 15th century, Ottoman influence was extended to Bosnia in 1463 and to Herzegovina in 1483 and Islam expanded accordingly. In the 16th century, Slovenia and Croatia came under the influence of Austria and Roman Catholicism was introduced.
After Russia defeated the Turks in the 19th century, Serbia was granted independence but Kosovo and Macedonia remained under the control of the Turks. The Austro-Hungarians retained Croatia and Slovenia and got control of Bosnia-Herzegovina. With the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the collapse of the Ottoman empire, and the conclusion of World War I, Serbia became part of the kingdom of Yugoslavia that included Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.
During World War II, the Nazis overran Yugoslavia and partitioned the country. A Nazi puppet state including Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina was established by the fascist Ustashe (mostly Croatian Roman Catholics) and large numbers of Orthodox Serbians, Jews and Roma (Gypsies) were exterminated. A civil war followed World War II and as many as one million were killed.
In 1945 Joseph Tito unified the 6 republics into a communist dictatorship, independent of Russia. He was able to suppress religious and cultural rivalries among the Roman Catholics, Serbian Orthodox and Muslims during his lifetime but no concerted attempt was made by the political or religious leaders to settle centuries-old religious hatreds. In 1974, Tito granted autonomy to the north-eastern province of Vojvodina that had a large Hungarian population and to the southern province of Kosovo that had an Albanian majority.
In 1987, Slobodan Milosevic made himself the champion of the Serb minority of Kosovo against alleged mistreatment by the Albanians and was able to force changes to the Yugoslav constitution terminating the autonomous status of the provinces of Vojvodina (in the north) and Kosovo (in the south). Milosevic established direct Serbian rule over the province, expelled the Albanians from the Kosovo parliament, the state bureaucracy, and state owned industries, and closed the state-run school and medical systems to them.
The unraveling of Yugoslavia accelerated. The north-west province of Slovenia voted the Communist party out of office and won its independence from the rest of Yugoslavia in 1991. Croatia made a bid for independence in 1991 which led to a civil war between Croats and Serbs ended by a U.N. assisted cease-fire in 1992. Macedonia declared independence in 1991. It was admitted to the UN under a provisional name in 1993, and was recognised by the U.S. and Russia in 1994. Bosnia declared independence in 1992 but a civil war among the Croats, Serbs and Muslims erupted with the unavowed blessing of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Finally the Dayton Accord, brokered by the U.S., established a fragile peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Following the Dayton Accord, many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo decided that their non-violent approach was getting nowhere and the Kosovo Liberation Army began a guerrilla campaign in 1996 and the Serb army responded by destroying several villages in Kosovo in 1998. Since 1999, Yugoslavia consisted of only four provinces: Serbia, Montenegro, Vojvodina and Kosovo.
In 2002, the Serbian and Montenegrin components of Yugoslavia began negotiations to forge a looser relationship. These talks became a reality in February 2003 when lawmakers restructured the country into a loose federation of two republics called Serbia and Montenegro. An agreement was also reached to hold a referendum in each republic in three years on full independence.
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It took six hours for the train to reach Belgrade from Zagreb. I arrived in the afternoon and found a room for 12 $US at the Centar Hotel just across the Savski square in front of the train station.
When the finishing touches were put on this building in 1932, it was the Parliament of a Yugoslavia that included Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. Now, because of the excessive domination exerted by Serbia, it only serves Serbia.
The main Post Office in the background is another important Belgrade landmark along Revolution Boulevard.
Further south, past the post office is the imposing St Mark's Serbian Orthodox Church with a small Russian Orthodox church behind it.
Moving north along Revolution Blvd past the post office and the Parliament brings us to Republic Square where the National Museum and the National Theatre, shown here, are located.
From Republic square, the pedestrian Kneza Mihaila continues north to the citadel.
The Kalemegdan Citadel occupies strategic heights overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. The site was occupied by Celts from the 3rd century BC to the first century of our era when they were replaced by Romans who stayed until the 5th.
Much of what is seen today dates from the Ottoman occupation that lasted from the 14th to the 19th centuries.
The large Military Museum just inside the outer wall and moat was closed when I was there but everything else was open.
This picture shows the citadel's northern battlements.
And now, here is the entrance across the moat on the southern side of the citadel.
Past the outer defences is a second wall crossed through this gate.
Here is the same gate seen from the inside.
This view looks south towards the five bridges across the Sava river.
Finally, this panorama, overlooking the Veliko Ratno Ostrovo Island around which the Sava flows before joining the Danube, explains why this site has been occupied and fortified since the third century BC. Use your browser's slider to see the rest on the right.
I tried in vain to get transport to Kosovo but no trains nor busses went there when I was in Belgrade. Just asking about ways to reach Kosovo got me dirty looks from the several travel agents and officials I asked. They all complained that they did not control anything in "that dangerous place" but nobody volunteered that Kosovo should be independent from Serbia.
I had no problem however to get a sleeper on the train to Bar in Montenegro.