Zemun Minus Sausage Still Equals Very Yes

Posted on September 15, 2014

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Believe it or not, but here comes an entry about Zemun that isn’t just ‘OH MY GOD SAUSAGES’.

Zemun is possibly my favourite part of Belgrade, a claim which is almost created in order to bring up contention. There are many parts of this city that I adore, so truly claiming that one is more adored than another is naive at least. Kalemegdan is my favourite, Dorćol is my favourite, Savamala is my favourite. Etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum.

The main point of contention will come from the people of Zemun themselves. Zemun might now officially lie within the city boundaries of Belgrade, but to say it is a part of Belgrade isn’t quite accurate. The phrase ‘town within a town’ gets thrown around in travel writing all the time, and in the case of Zemun it is entirely true. A different history, different architecture and a different atmosphere. True, the history of Zemun is closely linked to that of Belgrade, but wholly its own in the process. Buckle in kids, here’s some history.

The Celts and the Romans knew it as Taurunum, and the Byzantines, Hungarians, Serbs and Ottomans took turns in ruling it under it stabilised in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early 18th century. The Austrians ran through what was Ottoman land in the area in 1717, and when they returned much of their conquered lands to the Ottomans in 1739, they decided to keep various points along the Sava and the Danube, which essentially became the border between the two feuding empires. Kalemegdan was the last Turkish outpost, looking over the river towards Zemun, its Austro-Hungarian equivalent.

Under the Austrians, Zemun prospered. Whilst Belgrade itself stifled under the Turkish yoke, the sizeable Serbian population of Zemun built themselves an economically-stable Western town. The German population also grew during this time, as expected. These trends continued until World War One came and everything in Europe went shitty. As the empires dissolved at its climax, Zemun was incorporated into the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which would become Yugoslavia. In 1934 it was attached to Belgrade for the first time, before separating once more, and finally being swallowed up by the now much-larger Serbian capital with the building of New Belgrade, during which time Belgrade’s population increased by some 66%.

Aviator trg

That’s as much history as I can take in one sitting, but reminders of Zemun’s past are dotted all over the town. The architectural differences are most clearly seen on Glavna ulica, the main drag of the town, and Gospodska, its pedestrian sister. Just off of Glavna we find Avijatičarski trg, complete with monument dedicated to the dead civilians of the town who perished in World War Two. Next door is the former headquarters of the Yugoslav Air Force, a vast modernist building that resembles a jet from the sky, and resembles an abandoned hole from the ground. It was bombed during the illegal NATO aggression in 1999, and hasn’t been restored to this day. Clinging to the side of the building if a statue of Icarus, he of Greek mythological status (not to mention the current Chikara Grand Champion), the fool who flew too close to the sun causing his wax wings to melt. Icarus is an important character to remember, especially if you happen to be flying with newly-minted wax wings.

millenium tower

Zemun itself was built around its hills, the most lauded of which is Gardoš, and from the many panorama views available there Zemun’s red roofs stand in stark contrast to the rest of this splendid city. Gardoš is arguably the town’s leading tourist light, and not just for the views. The Millennium Tower, built on the remains of the medieval fortress from which the town began, sits astride its apex. The fortress itself is as good as kaput, but the tower is an aesthetically-striking monument, one of the most photogenic in the region. It was also used by firemen for a long time, for obvious reasons, and anything that helps folk put out fires is fine with me. At the foot of the gradient is the Church of St Nicholas, which has the impressive standing as the oldest preserved temple in Belgrade/Zemun, built in the mid-18th century on the land that previously housed a super old wooden Serbian church. Churches on churches on churches.

What else we got? Well, for the more macabre-minded among us, the main park in town has an interesting history itself. The city park, imaginatively titled Zemun Park, developed as the town did under Austrian rule. The park itself was a quarantine station for good and peoples passing into Zemun from the Ottoman empire, known as a Kontumac. To be honest, whenever someone says ‘quarantine’ I immediately think of Red Dwarf , but attempting to restrict the spread of diseases in particular was a big deal back in t’day. Turkey wasn’t too hot on sanitary regulations, so all sorts of epidemics crept into Zemun, and the park was the place where these were snuffed out. Not much is left of the station, the Catholic chapel of St. Roch and Orthodox church of St. Archangel Gabriel providing a clear view of the historical religious tolerance of the area, but since when did parks need to have things in them? As long as the park has benches and green stuff, it is worth a visit. Zemun Park’s historical position as a quarantine station only adds another reason.

park

The town has itself an excellent collection of bars and cafes as well, ranging from fancy schmancy to the dive bars I prefer. Possibly due to its close proximity to where Rusmir once sat, Crveni Rak has generally been my most visited. It might also be because the translation of its name is Red Crab, which is an excellent name for a bar. It’s pretty small, you’d struggle to fit too many red crabs inside, but that’s what we want right? Small, dark, barman with World War One facial hair, inconsistent beer and walls covered in old timey paraphernalia, a word that I’ve only just learnt how to spell. There are plenty more bars worth visiting in town as well, whether its pub-esque Crni Mata, the excellently-named Ona, a Neka Druga (‘her, and not some other’) or even Fest, although I’ve only ever been there to see Filip Obradović play music. Excellent, excellent music.

I’m certainly biased, but Zemun really is a gorgeous little town within a city with a history that never ceases to interest. There are nooks aplenty, the river quay is everything a river quay should be and of course, views from above frequently impress. All of this without mentioning sausages, except for that time I mentioned sausages.

 

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