At the historical and geographical turning point, at the crossroads of river and land roads, with natural elevation to the mouth of two major European rivers, the Sava and the Danube, Belgrade has from the most distant past drawn many to settle here. The Celtic tribe, Scordisci, permanently settled in this territory in the 3rd century BC. The name of the settlement, Singidunum, was given by the Romans, who conquered it at the transition from the old to the new era, but it should be noted that part of its name, “dunum”, is of Celtic origin, and means ‘city’. At first it was only a military base, and later a seat of elite Roman units.
After the fall of Rome and the division of the empire into the Latin and Greek parts, the border passed just below the walls of Singidunum. In the 6th century, the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian, strengthened the walls of the city to defendagainstthe Avars, the Huns, the Slavs, the Sarmatians, and other “barbarian” peoples.
The attacks of these tribes led to the gradual destruction of the ancient city. For that reason there is no written data about this period. When it rejoined the historical stage in 878, its name was mentioned in Latin form with the Slovenian base – episcopus belogradiensis. Belgrade was then the seat of the Episcopate, and probably a more developed city, through which a great deal of traffic between the Balkans and Central Europe took place. During that period it was under the control of the Bulgarians for decades. The penetration of the Hungarians into the Danube river basin interrupted the development of the city as a significant traffic point. At the end of the 10th century, it became the property of the Macedonian state of Emperor Samuil, and, after its fall in1018, it again became part of Byzantium.
After the fall of Jerusalem under Turkish rule in 1076, several crusades passed through Belgrade, remembered for looting and destruction. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Byzantines and the Hungarians fought. Thus, in 1127, the Hungarians destroyed Belgrade and built Zemun with its stones. When Byzantium conquered Belgrade again, it destroyed Zemun, returned the stone taken, and restored Belgrade once more. By the end of the 12th century, Belgrade remained largely part of Byzantium.
About 630, Belgrade was in the Slavic ethnic territory, which was considered Serbian at the end of the Middle Ages. It came under Serbian rule in 1284 for the first time when the Hungarian king gave it to his son-in-law, the Serbian king Dragutin, who ruled there until his death in 1326. About seventy years later, the Hungarians gave Belgrade into despot Stevan Lazarević’s rule, who turned it into his capital, strengthened the walls of the upper city, built his palace – a fortified castle with towers, and rapidly developed the economy. After hisdeath, Belgrade again became Hungarian property.
The Turks continued to penetrate the countries of the Balkans and, after several conflicts with the Hungarians, conquered Belgrade in 1521. First they turned it into a major stronghold for further penetration to the north. After the fall of Buda, when the Turkish border moved farther north, Belgrade used a great geographical position, and turned from the provincial fortification into the economic centre of European Turkey. The “Key to Hungary”, as European writers of the 15th century called Belgrade, became a border fortress that allowed the Turks to penetrate into Central Europe. It is, therefore, no wonder that the Turks called it “the Holy War’s threshold”.
As an administrative, military, and trading centre with an increasing number of inhabitants, Belgrade became one of the leading European cities. Judging by the descriptions of contemporaries and engravings from that time, it looked “magnificent”, and, for some, it was a bigger and more beautiful city than Buda and Nuremberg, with all the features of eastern settlements. According to the description from 1663, the upper city in the fort was surrounded by high walls with towers, covered with lead and trenches. Within the walls, 200 houses were packed, surmounted by the magnificent mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent. The lower town too was surrounded on all sides by ramparts and towers, with residential buildings, caravanserais, inside. The buildings were solidly constructed, with the tendency to permanently remain as artistic or architectural monuments. In the suburbs, with cobblestone – or wood-covered narrow streets, there were lots of small trade and craft shops. The centre of the trade was set up in a built bedestan, which reminded an English traveller of the London Stock Exchange.
A Papal representative, who was in the city in the 1630s, claimed that Belgrade at that time had 100,000 inhabitants, as confirmed by the Turkish geographer and travel writer, Evliya Celebi.
The relative boom of the city as a trading centre lasted more than 150 years, followed by turbulent events that not only stopped the further development, but also annulled the achieved successes. In 1683, after defeat under therule of Vienna, Belgrade again became a frontier military zone. Several times, alternately, it fell under Austrian or Turkish rule, and each time the winners destroyed it.
During a longer occupation of Belgrade, the Austrians destroyed all outer fortifications, but also restored the upper city. Today’s fortress almost completely retainsthe appearance that the Austrians gave it then. Under Austrian occupation from 1717 to 1739, the Belgrade fortress was one of the strongest military strongholds in Europe.
In 1791 Belgrade remained under Turkish rule, but not for long. In the second year of the Serbian uprising in 1806, the Turks had to surrender the Belgrade fortress to the Serbs, but they continued with their bloody retribution until 1867, when they surrendered Belgrade and other cities, and when Serbia got the status of an independent state.
Belgrade also remembers terrible bombings in two world wars, as well as the embarrassing NATO bombing in the 21st century in a democratic and free Europe.
There are few cities that throughout their history have witnessed so many turbulent, especially military events.
Always on the path of conquering armies passing from Europe to Asia, or vice versa, about 40 times it was demolished and rebuilt.
That is why through its history Belgrade appeared at times as an ugly settlement, at times as one of the great European cities, or a large battlefield on which empires broke.
That is why Belgrade doesT not have many buildings older than 100 years, so its architectural past is far more likely to be told by written testimonies than by architectural monuments.
After Serbia gained independence in 1876, Belgrade paid great attention to the cultural and economic development of the city.
The urban construction of Kalemegdan - Terazije - Slavija was revived rapidly.