I know my history – or at least after three plus years of living in Budapest, I know more history than I used to know. Why, then, is it that I am constantly surprised to visit places outside Hungary and hear Hungarian, see monuments built by Hungarians, and see Hungarian names on tombstones? I’ve done the math. I’ve seen the maps. I know the score. And still it surprises me.
This latest one was in Zemun, which pre-1938, was a town outside Belgrade. Many residents still consider it a separate entity, but on paper, it’s now one of the 17 municipalities that make up the Serbian capital.
Dating back to the neolithic period, Zemun has quite a pedigree. The celts set up shop there in the 3rd century BC and the Romans came to call in the 1st century BC. In the 12th century, it was conquered by Hungary, and as was done in those days, it was given as a personal possession to Đurađ Branković, once the richest monarchs in Europe. [Am already thinking about where I’d like for my birthday!]
As the southern-most town within Hungary’s empire (as it was back then), Zemun was favoured with one of the many monuments built to commemorate 1000 years of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Built in 1896, it’s a little worse for wear and the fortress on which it was built has all but disappeared. Positioned on top of Gardos hill, it’s a great place to if you’re in search of a view. Standing up on the balcony, I could almost feel the presence of the ghost of the despot himself, as he surveyed all he used to be lord of.
The old town itself is hilly and cobblestoned, with narrow streets and small slate-roofed houses, so very different from the architecture in Belgrade. Looking down from above, it’s as if someone threw a bunch of buildings up in the air and let them settle where they landed. There are nearly as many churches as there are cafés and the place definitely has an other-world feel to it. It’s no wonder the locals still consider themselves set apart. If you’re in Belgrade, and fancy something different, it’s worth taking the time and dropping by for lunch.
Maybe one of these days, the world will stand still long enough for my geography to catch up.