We’ve come to the last days of summer in Belgrade. This happens to be, by far, my favorite time of the year in the city. With kids back in school, adults back in their work routine and hoards of university students settling into their dorms and getting ready for the fall semester that begins in October, city life becomes a little more functional as the lovely Indian summers that have become common in Belgrade linger on. This is the perfect time to attempt to see all that Belgrade has to offer.
In September and October, I make visits to Kalemegdan a daily habit and I believe you’ll find almost everyone in the city does. Kalemegdan is the oldest urban part of Belgrade. When I say oldest, I mean this is the spot where the Scordiscians settled in the 3rd century BC. You can read more about that in the “About Belgrade” section of this blog. Today, I’d like to reveal a little more about my favorite part of Kalemegdan Fortress, called Little Kalemegdan (Mali Kalemegdan).
Cvijeta Zuzorić Art Pavilion
Whether you’re looking to take the family on an outing or a killer date, this is the perfect spot. Little Kalemegdan is the small Eastern section of the Park and Fortress, just off Knez Mihailova and Francuska streets. If you make your way from Knez Mihailova, you’ll run into the Cvijeta Zuzorić Art Pavilion, which often hosts interesting exhibits and parties, but also has a lovely indoor cafe as well as a relaxing esplanade. Mom and dad can have an espresso while the kids are free to roam about and play in the grass or, if you don’t have kids, you can just enjoy the sights and sounds of a lazy afternoon, just meters away from busy downtown Belgrade.
The Belgrade Zoo
If you’ve come from Francuska Street or decide to continue down the path behind the Pavilion, you’ll find the Belgrade Zoo, also dubbed the “Garden of Good Hope”. I can’t be too objective when it comes to the Belgrade Zoo. It happens to be one of my absolute favorite places on Earth. I used to spend so much time there as a university student that some of the employees thought I worked there.
The Zoo will quite possibly be one of the smallest you will come across and its location, among the hustle and bustle of Belgrade traffic, may seem inappropriate and disturbing. What you will find, however, is literally an oasis in the midst of a busy city.
The Belgrade Zoo is one of the most successful zoological gardens in the world when it comes to breeding. This is why it is currently hosting various species, some quite rare, from all parts of the globe. Last winter, two white Kruger lions were born in the Garden of Good Hope and seem to be very happy calling this their home. White Kruger lions are said to number less than 50 worldwide and their existence is maintained mostly by selective breeding in zoos and wildlife reserves. Belgrade is home to 10% of that population. I think this, and other similar facts, boosts the Belgrade Zoo into the “must see” category.
The Kalemegdan Terrace (restaurant)
Once you’re done with the Garden of Good Hope, turn right at the exit and keep walking uphill. You’ll find the Kalemegdan Terrace (Kalemegdanska Terasa) restaurant there. The menu is international, although I would recommend the Serbian dishes on there. Now, I’m used to good food. Really good food. And Kalemegdan Terrace doesn’t have the perfect dishes, but they haven’t failed me yet. The restaurant is pretty high-end with prices to match, but well worth it for both the food and the atmosphere.
The staff and service are almost impeccable, so much so that anything goes here. Allow me to clarify. Family outing? No problem. They’re kid friendly, have plenty of space on the terrace itself for kids to roam a bit and great desserts (bribe material, should you need it). Business meeting? Again, not a problem. They’ll set you up in a nice cozy spot, away from the kids and other distractions. Large party? I would recommend a reservation, but the Terrace is large enough that they will always accommodate you easily and quickly.
Just a few words of advice though:
1.) Don’t sit too near the edge of the terrace. Suffice it to say the Zoo is directly below. The staff is there to make sure you aren’t aware of this fact.
2.) On a scorching Belgrade day, this is the place to go. They have fans that spray mist across the entire terrace. A decadently lovely experience as you look over old Belgrade and enjoy your meal.
The Ružica Church & St. Petka Chapel
Done with lunch and feel like walking it off a bit? I was hoping you’d say that. The Ružica Church and St. Petka Chapel are next, just hang a right again when you leave the restaurant. Careful going down those stone steps though, as they’re a few centuries old and just a little worn. The Ružica Church is the oldest church in Belgrade. The history of the location is long and interesting but will have to wait for a post of its own. A brief account will do for now.
There have been several legends passed on as to the first Ružica Church, erected here during the rule of Serbian king Stefan Lazarević and destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1521. One legend says that a knight, while tending to an injured maiden, found the water spring that still runs beneath the Saint Petka Chapel today. He used the healing water from the St. Petka Spring to nurse her back to health and she had a church built on the spot in gratitude. Another legend says that, around the same time, Serbian troops were surrounded and trapped in this spot without food or water. The miraculous spring appeared and enabled them to survive. Yet another legend says that three sisters, Ružica, Marica and Cveta, each erected a church here to show their devotion to Christ. Usually, I’m a relentless truth seeker. In this case, I find ignorance is bliss and choose to believe a little of each of these legends.
The current edifice was first erected in the 18th century as a gunpowder storage facility and later converted into a military church. The church was badly damaged again in WW I, restored in 1925 and has been under the protection of the city and state since 1965.The St. Petka Spring still flows today and the water it yields has proven medical benefits. The Ružica Church, with the St. Petka Chapel, has been declared the 8th among the 10 Most Unique Churches of the World by the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (WFTGA). Don’t miss the opportunity to see it.
There is a special comfort in walking through old cities. A feeling of serenity that comes from the knowledge that its roads have been paved by generations before we came to stand there and that the passage is safe. There are very few places in the world that bring that comfort in more volume than Belgrade’s Kalemegdan.