independent media producer - filmmaker, writer & researcher

The White Fortress — work in progress

   Belgrade is a city whose position at the confluence of two of Europe's biggest rivers, the Sava and the Danube, has also placed it at the confluence of much of European history. Running its course from Slovenia, through Croatia and along the northern border of Bosnia before finally draining into the Danube, the Sava's waters travel through much of what was once Yugoslavia. Before meeting the Sava, the waters of the Danube first pass under the Austro-Hungarian bridges of Vienna and Budapest, threatening seats of power that were to bring much of the impetus behind the very creation of Yugoslavia itself. With Belgrade as its capital, Yugoslavia was created as a way protect itself against the domination of the fading Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires that surrounded it, yet its very creation brought about internal problems that turned out to threaten it equally. With the Sava and Danube rivers continually flowing past the Kalemegdan fortress perched high atop their confluence, it was often that both regional and international issues were to come head to head here.
   Belgrade was for centuries fought for, sieged, destroyed, taken, retaken and rebuilt. In the 20th Century alone, it was bombed on four separate occasions: in 1915, 1943, 1945 and 1999. Each time it was rebuilt. It is the stoicism of its inhabitants that led Rebecca West to write, rather prophetically for she wrote this passage in 1937,

"Belgrade knows all this, and looks forward to her future with apprehension. For, to tell the truth, it is a mournful city. Even in spring, when the young lovers walk among the flowers in Kalemegdan, and their elders sit in the restaurants talking politics with a new and rosy vehemence, because their nostrils are filled with the savour of roasting lamb and piglet, its underlying mood is an autumnal doubtfulness." (p. 613-4)

   Even its name, which means the "White Fortress", reflects its all too often brutally tragic history. Yet this name is somewhat poetic. It seems like this is a city doomed to be reduced to nothingness by the tides of history, only to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of what it once was.  It is this mystical city, with its multi-layered history that is visible for all to see, that lies at the root of what this project is attempting to seek.


  • The confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers.
    The confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers.
  • "Statue of the Victor" by Ivan Meštrović was erected in 1928 to commemorate the wars over the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian Empires. In one hand, the statue holds a falcon that is on the watch for new threats; in other is the sword of defence.
    "Statue of the Victor" by Ivan Meštrović was erected in 1928 to commemorate the wars over the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian Empires. In one hand, the statue holds a falcon that is on the watch for new threats; in other is the sword of defence.
  • The Danube and Sava rivers have throughout centuries connected Belgrade to distant lands, and peoples, beyond its horizons.
    The Danube and Sava rivers have throughout centuries connected Belgrade to distant lands, and peoples, beyond its horizons.
  • Kalemegdan (from the Turkish words 'kale', meaning fortress and 'meydan' meaning battlefield) is the name of the Belgrade fortress. Apart from a few years, it was occupied by the Ottoman Empire from 1521 to 1867. This building is an Ottoman tomb from that period.
    Kalemegdan (from the Turkish words 'kale', meaning fortress and 'meydan' meaning battlefield) is the name of the Belgrade fortress. Apart from a few years, it was occupied by the Ottoman Empire from 1521 to 1867. This building is an Ottoman tomb from that period.
  • Many of Belgrade's streets have had their names changed several times—a reflection of the different political systems that have ruled the city.
    Many of Belgrade's streets have had their names changed several times—a reflection of the different political systems that have ruled the city.
The confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers.
The confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers.

To give a taste of what Belgrade looks like to anyone who hasn't yet walked its streets, above are some photos that briefly sketch out the theme of the historical 'scar' on the cityscape.

Below is a simple video of a tram ride through the city. By just looking out of the window, it is possible to get a sense of its visible landscape; a city that has experienced much destruction and turmoil in the past, with buildings from different periods coexisting side by side, the built environment goes a long way to spell out the city's story.