Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Belgrade and Topola Serbia

Oct 13, 2010 -
First we toured the fortress, a huge compound overlooking the Danube and Sava Rivers. It is connected to the Kalemegdan Park and we saw people playing tennis and there were also basketball counts in the park, along with a zoo and Military museum. There were approx. 20 tanks and weapons in the fortress. In the moats, they once had sharp sticks and contained wild beasts as the fortress was too high to get water into the moats. There are two bricks used in its building: Red colored from the Austrian time of rule and white from the Turkish time of rule. The doors are metal plated wood. There are four gates and all royalty lived within its walls. There were once 16 mosques in Belgrade and there is only one now.

The people pay 18% VAT (tax). Children lean English in 1st grade and begin their second language in 3rd grade. There are four types of high schools: Technical, medical or classical – all for four years. University used to be free but they pay to attend now - about $2200 per year. The annual salary is $450 per month. The Serbian language is written in Cyrillic and Latin letters and they learn both in school. There was a concentration camp in Belgrade or the Jews were taken to Germany.

We passed the bombed out Department of Defense, bombed by NATO in 1999. It has taken the city over 35 years to build the train station and it is still not finished.

We drove to the other side of the city to the 25th of May Museum – the final resting place of Josip Broz TITO. He was born in Slovenia (?) 1892 and died in 1980. Born a peasant, he finished high school and was a locksmith. He was drafted into the Austrian Army in WWI and fought against Serbia with Austria, was captured and sent to jail in Russia. While there, he learned about communism and came back to spread communism through Yugoslavia. He organized troops and was elected President in 1945. He real name is not Tito; that is a nickname. Tito means, “YOU, do that.” He was a diabetic and built his House of Flowers in 1975. Until 1991, there were guards at his tombstone who changed guard every ½ hour.

He received relay batons from the citizens and his admirers and had over 20,000 batons. Richly decorated, they were on display in the House of Flowers. On his birthday, May 25th, he turned the day into a National day of Youth. May 25, 1892. There were lavish event performances in large stadiums.

There are rumors about Tito. It is said he cut off his left finger before he went to Russia. When he returned from Russia, he had all his fingers. When he returned from Russia, he spoke many languages, smoked cigars, never went back to where he was from or contacted his friends from his youth and never went to confessional, except on his deathbed. There is no communist star on his tomb nor a catholic cross and he spoke with a funny accent, like he did not learn the Serbian language at birth. There are not written documents that he lost his finger but many wonder if it was the same person who returned from Russia as the one who was sent there??

We toured the Cathedral of St. Sava. Similar to Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia church, this church is being built for over 100+ years and there are many years yet to go. They just added the roof in 1990! It is a white marble and three services a day are held in the church next door, a much smaller church. There will be four bell towers, two are in use now. They will hold 49 different bells ranging from 60 kilos to 7 tons. Half of the walls will be covered in frescoes and half in mosaics. One eye of Christ, in the dome above the church, will be 3 feet wide. There will be there areas for the choirs – an 800 person choir! Money is only being raised through donations – so imagine how long it will take to finish this masterpiece.

Mom and I tried to go to the War Museum but the police were blocking the paths in all directions. They had a marathon in the city but we never saw any runners! We could not get passed them to get to the museum so we headed to the Mansion of Princess Ljubica. As a rare preserved example of architecture from the time of Prince Milos Obrenovic, Princess Ljubica lived there with their sons Milan and Mihailo. It was a beautiful Balkan museum home with a large center meeting area and four rooms in each corner - on each floor. Each room had furniture from different periods showing the development of the modern Serbian state and Belgrade’s transformation from an Oriental city to a modern European town – Asian, Turkish, Biedermier and neo-Baroque – all coming from wealthy families from the city. Beautiful portraits of the various family members and wooden floors. They also had a Turkish bath in the house on the main floor and after she died, they had a hamam Turkish bath in the basement, which now houses the antiquities from 5500 BC found near the Neolithic site Vinca. Very nice museum and it was only $0.75 to enter. It was started in 1829 and completed in 1831. They no longer have a ruling family in Serbia.

We also went to see the Saborna Crkva, the Orthodox Cathedral, the head of the Serbian Orthodox faith built from 1837 – 1840. The iconostasis was honed by master goldsmiths and is highlighted by a backdrop of rich, charcoal-colored marble. Rich in detail with magnificent icons.

We are headed now on the bus to Topola Serbia, about 1.25 hours away from Belgrade. The traffic is heavy and the countryside is green and hilly. We drove through several villages and bounced along on roads which had been patched several times.

The church was built in 1920-30s and is the jewel of churches, built in white marble. Karageorge (Black George) was the leader of the Serbs vs. the Turks. No churches and schools were allowed – Four Turks opposed the Serbs and the Serbs were killed. Karageorge Petrovic became Jorvanovic and there was an uprising in 1804-13. Jorvanovic had a house in Topola and started to write the 1st constitution there. In 1813, the Turks attached again and Jorvanovic went to Austria. Milos Obrenovic Dynasty began but Milos assassinated Jorvanovic so Milos came to power. He forced the Turks to sign a peace treaty and they were semi-independent. His son Michael was assassinated. His other son Alexander had no children and in 1903 the military killed he and his wife in the Town Hall. The grandson of Jorvanovic came to power, Petar I Jorvanovic. His son, Alex I Jorvanovic, came to power in WWI and the royal family and military supporters moved to the Greek island of Corfu and the Thessalonniki area. 120,000 Serbian soldiers were with them.

The countries became independent and the grandson wanted to build a memorial to his grandfather, Karadorde Petrovic Jorvanovic. Artists were sent to all the churches in the country to copy the most famous frescoes - 1913. The king was assassinated in 1934 in Marseille, France. A peace treaty was signed in 1941 with Hitler and Belgrade was bombed. King Petar II fled to the UK, where he lived for many years. King Alex II was born in the Claridges Hotel, London, with a mound of dirt from Serbia put under his mother’s bed, thus claiming he was “born on Serbian soil”. He, their current king, was not raised in Serbia and he and the family do not speak proper Serbian.

Mausoleum of the Karadjordjevic Royal Dynasty - In the beautiful mosaic mausoleum under the church’s main floor, there are 22 burial plots for the royal family. One member is currently buried in Libertyville, IL, USA and they hope to move the body back to the family grave. There are over 15,000 shades of mosaics in the church and many with 14K gold.

Karadorde Petrovic Jorvanovic liberated the Serbs from 400 years of Turkish rule. We visited his home, saw the first iron cast cannon (they used cherry trees before) and the crown of the new King was made from the handle of the 1st cannon used. They had a gusle instrument on display – similar to a mandolin.