top of page

Impressions of Serbia

Serbia is the product of the making, unmaking and re-making of States, throughout the centuries since the Slavic tribe of Serbs settled in the Balkans in the 6th and 7th century AD. Created as a Grand Principality, then a Kingdom in the 11th century under the Nemanjić dynasty, with the Serbian Orthodox Church as a prime common denominator, Serbia quickly became an Empire which stretched deeply into the Balkans, even including Central Greece. But in politics and geopolitics nothing is permanent, and like all other peoples of South-Eastern Europe, the Serbs were swallowed in 1540 by the Ottoman Turkish appetite for territory and Islamic expansion. Which is why so many Serbs fled and migrated North, to what was then Hungary and now is the Vojvodina region in Serbia. A couple of Serbian Uprisings in the 19th century put an end to Turkish occupation and in 1878 an independent Serbian Principality emerged, which would even expand South to Kosovo, Vardar Macedonia and the Raška region, Serbia's ancient cradle, as a result of the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. Then, the Great War came and a large multi-ethnic Kingdom emerged, which would eventually become Yugoslavia after the Second World War. The rest is very recent history, the Yugoslav break-up, the war between Serbs and Croats and Bosnians, between Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim communities, the tragedy of the 1990s. Why this historic time line? Because it explains the enormous variety of cultures in this country, the pride and the tragic feelings of heroism of having fought for a cause which certainly not all the world agreed upon, the feelings of not having been understood, but also the feelings of wanting to get over it and move on. In the main cities of Beograd, Novi Sad and Niš life is quite fast, looking forward, uninhibited. But there is always that little bit of detail that reminds of the tragedies of the Serbian past. And even if multi-cultural Yugoslavia belongs to the past as well, there is still a multi-cultural Serbia, because in the Sandjak of the ancient Raška region, there are definitely more minarets than bell towers: Novi Pazar and its surroundings are a lovely and very interesting place to spend time, heart-warming as school children in Islamic and Western attire wait hand in hand for the school bus, and yet it still is a bit frightening when you are warningly reminded that 'Kosovo is Serbian, full stop', as soon as you mention the place. Tension is not gone yet... Will it ever, for this is the Balkans?

Before visiting the place of your choice:

Throughout the centuries, the fortress of Niš has been expanded, re-modelled, reinforced by all occupants, and there have been a few! When the Ottoman Turks took the city in 1448, they laid the basis of the still existing fortress on Roman and Byzantine foundations. The façade of the main gate shows typical decorative elements of Ottoman architecture. Behind the gate and the double line of defence walls, a forested park is the setting for a variety of historical traces, with a late-Roman lapidarium of tomb steles and sarcophagi, the remains of a Byzantine street and baths, an Ottoman domed building and the Bali Bey mosque of the early 18th century, nicely restored but with a broken minaret.

bottom of page