Historically, Smedervo has an immense importance. It was the last capital city of the Serbian Despotate before Serbia disappeared from the map of Europe for centuries. Fatih Sultan Mehmed conquered Smederevo in 1459 and fully absorbed Serbia within the Ottoman Empire. It took 400 years for Serbia to re-emerge as an independent state.
The most magnificent historic site from that era remains today and that’s what I went to see. I think, that’s what everyone living in Serbia should go to see. If you visit Belgrade as a tourist, you can easily do a day trip to Smederevo.
HOW EASY IS IT TO GO FROM BELGRADE TO SMEDEREVO?
It’s very easy. Smederevo is approximately 45km east of Belgrade, on the right bank of the Danube river. It means that you can do a day visit, like I did. There is no need to stay there, unless of course you choose to do so. I took a bus from Belgrade around 10am and arrived to Smederevo in just over an hour.
The route is a bit slow because the bus stops frequently. But, that wasn’t a problem. The afternoon that I spent there was more than enough to see everything. Smederevo is small and, apart from the most important site, there is very little to see.
I took a bus back to Belgrade at 5pm. It was a perfect excursion, I saw a completely new place and came back home full of impressions.
The main reason why I went to Smederevo was to see the Smederevo Fortress. It was this fortress, with the urban settlement within its walls, that was the last capital of medieval Serbia before the Ottoman conquest in 1459.
In 1427, after the death of Despot Stefan Lazarević, Belgrade went to Hungarians. His successor, Despot Đurađ Branković, needed a new capital city and that’s when they constructed this fortress at the confluence of the Jezava and Danube rivers.
The castle or the “Small Town” was completed in 1430 and the rest of the fortress in subsequent years.
I will write more abut it in my next post. It has an immense historic significance and it’s also included in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The photo below is a view of Danube from the fortress. It really is in a spectacular setting which was clearly meticulously chosen by the then ruler of Serbia for the new capital city.
MY TOUR OF SMEDEREVO
I started my tour of Smederevo by visiting the fortress. It was the most logical, as the bus station where I arrived is next to the fortress. I spent approximately an hour there. Apart from what used to be the castle, there isn’t much else to see. The “Big Town”, where the urban settlement used to be, is a big park now. I went around the park, but then I decided to see the rest of the city. I also wanted to find a place to eat something and to have a coffee.
Smederevo Fortress is in the city, so it’s just a short walk from there to the city centre. It can’t be easier.
The first important building that I came across was the Smederevo Museum. Established in 1950, the museum is in a building that you can see in the photo below since 1972. It was a hotel in the past, but they adapted it to become a museum.
Unfortunately, only one small section of the museum was open for visits, the rest was closed. When I asked them why, they told me that it was because of the coronavirus epidemic. That was strange because previously I went to museums in other places that I’ve already written about, where they were open without any problem.
The photo below shows the Legacy of Milan Jovanović Stojimirović, a Serbian journalist from Smederevo. That was all that I could see in this museum. It’s a pity. I don’t know if I will ever go back, so it was the unique opportunity for me to see the whole museum. But, there was nothing that I could do.
Withdrawal of the Turkish garrison from Smederevo in 1867 marked the end of the Ottoman rule. So, Smederevo was in the Ottoman Empire for just over 400 year. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was just across the river, Danube was the natural border between these two states.
It’s there in Republic Square that you see the crucial difference between cities and towns in Vojvodina, which were in the Austro-Hungarian Empire for 200 years, and Smederevo.
Republic Square, the main square in the city, is nothing like the main squares that I saw in places that I visited prior to coming to Smederevo. Perhaps, the most striking difference is that the Serbian Orthodox church is in the square and not the Catholic one. In fact, I didn’t see any Catholic church in Smederevo, although perhaps there is one.
Furthermore, there are no beautiful town halls and other monumental buildings adorning the square. The only such building in the square is the Court House that you can see in the photo below, built in 1888, after the liberation from the Ottomans.
And that’s it. There are several more architecturally imposing buildings in the city, the rest are ordinary edifices and communist era blocks of flats.
SAINT GEORGE CHURCH
The Serbian Orthodox St. George Church occupies the most central position in Republic Square. All other places that I visited before coming to Smederevo had the Catholic church in the main square. But, there was never any place for the Catholic religion in Smederevo. There was Islam as a dominant religion for 400 years and, after the liberation, the Serbian Orthodox religion took over.
The church was built in 1854, which means shortly before Serbia became an independent state. The fact that the Ottomans allowed this church to be built in the main square at that time clearly points out at their diminishing control over that area.
In other words, the church was constructed only when it became clear that the Ottomans would leave for good. There are no Serbian Orthodox churches built in the 16th, 17th or 18th centuries. That was the time for mosques, when Islam ruled, although you can’t see a single mosque in the city today.
Architecturally, it’s a beautiful church, modelled on the Serbian monastery Manasija, with neo-Byzantine and Baroque influences. It’s very different from churches in Vojvodina, where they follow the Austro-Hungarian architectural style.
Andrej Bicenko, the Russian academic fresco painter, decorated this church between 1935 and 1937, which means 80 years after its construction. He worked in many other churches in Serbia, such as Ružica Church and Church of the Ascension in Belgrade.
Of course, it’s impossible and impractical to take photos of every image, however here is one fresco as an illustration of the beautiful interior of this church.
There are several more interesting buildings in the square. One of them is the Old Municipal House, built in 1928, that you can see below.
The other building is directly opposite the Old Municipal House. It’s not a monumental construction, although it adds to the charm of the square.
I left the square and went to see two more important sites.
Smederevo Gymnasium is probably the most beautiful building in the centre of the city. The gymnasium was established in 1871, but the building in which it resides was built in 1904. It looks freshly restored and it’s kept in a perfect condition.
KARAĐORĐE’S MULBERRY TREE
From there, I went to see Karađorđe’s Mulberry Tree. Karađorđe was the leader of the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottomans, at the beginning of the 19th century. Apparently, on the 8th November 1805 the Ottoman commander Dizdar Muharem Guša handed over the keys of the city to Karađorđe. But that wasn’t the end of the Ottoman occupation, that would come much later.
This 300 years old tree is under state protection.
KING PETER I PEDESTRIAN STREET
It’s in this main pedestrian street that what I said earlier about Smederevo having a different history compared with cities and towns in Vojvodina becomes reinforced. Despite being the most central street in the city, you will not see charming, colourful buildings with fairy-tale like facades.
In Novi Sad and Zrenjanin these equivalent pedestrian zones are magical. In Smederevo, well it’s a different story.
I assume that, after the Ottoman occupation, Smederevo must’ve looked like a typical Ottoman backwater place. So, the same as Belgrade and other southern Serbian cities and towns, it started to develop in the second half of the 19th century. But, you are not going to see many buildings of that era in the city centre.
Rather, as you can see in the photos, the street is primarily made of ugly communist era constructions. It’s all very uninspiring, especially when you think that people who made such buildings could’ve designed and constructed something much nicer.
Perhaps, it was an ideological thing to distinctly separate the communist era from a previous period. The communists probably regarded beautiful buildings as the most obvious sign of “rotten capitalism”, which communism staunchly opposed.
If my speculation is correct, it was a stupid way to reason. People constructed aesthetically pleasing constructions throughout history. Today, we admire them for their architectural and artistic value.
There are several nicer buildings in this street, one of them is in the photo below.
But, the most beautiful building is in a rather desperate state. Perhaps, there is no money for its restoration, although I think that the city should restore it.
In fact, the city should restore all buildings in this street regardless of how they look. It’s where people of the city come for a walk or for something to eat and have a drink. It should be a magical area where they come to nourish their souls, in company of friends or family.
Perhaps, future generations will think of that and reconstruct and restore this main street to become the pride of the city. But I also need to mention that, the same as throughout Serbia and regardless of how the street looks, you will find excellent restaurants and bars there. That’s where I had my coffee, in one of splendid coffee shops.
THE REST OF THE CITY
Having visited the main historic sites, I ventured further afield. I had time and wanted to see as much of the city as possible.
The same as in every other place, there wasn’t much to see, just residential houses and buildings. In Smederevo, most of the city consists of communist type blocks of flats, as you can see in these photos.
If you go to Smederevo, it’s really to see the fortress. Of course, once there you would want to see the city centre and the few sites that I’ve mentioned in this post. You can also relax in one of its nice restaurants or bars and enjoy your day in a new place.
But as I said, there is no need to stay in Smederevo, a day trip from Belgrade is perfectly sufficient and very easy to organise. Especially as it means that you would see the spectacular Smederevo Fortress.
Back to Serbia
Regarding the architecture in the city center – don’t forget about the Smederevo Fortress explosion on June 5, 1941. The Fortress itself absorbed some of the blow, but 3500 people died, the most of the center was flattened and 2/3 of the city was damaged. (There are some pretty haunting photos from that eta floating around the internet). I blame the ugliness of the center on a hasty reconstruction!June 6, 2022
Yes, I know about the explosion and I mentioned it in my post about the Smederevo Fortress. I assume, after the war, the main objective was to restore the city and make it habitable for its residents. The city centre can be ugly, but at least they can maintain all buildings in a good state. Having said that, I enjoyed my visit to Smederevo, the fortress is magnificent, especially its history.June 11, 2022