Serbia is one of the hidden gems of Europe. Still pretty much unexplored, it’s home to pristine wilderness, mountains, deep gorges, rivers and wide expanses of unspoilt nature.
So here are 20 interesting facts about Serbia that will teach you something new about this small but extraordinary country, as well as links to more information on adventures and mountains.
1. Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, is one of the oldest and largest cities in Europe. It was ranked as a number one party city by Lonely Planet. The history of Belgrade dates back to 7000 BC. One of the largest prehistoric cultures of Europe, the Vinča culture, evolved from the Belgrade area in the 6th millennium BC. In 279 BC the Celts conquered the city and named it Singidūn. Then in mid 2nd century the Romans came, and in 520s it was finally settled by the Slavs. Belgrade was also the capital of Yugoslavia, in all its form of government, until its dissolution in 2006. It’s name in Serbian translates to White city.
2. 18 Roman emperors were born in the area of modern day Serbia. That’s a fifth of all Roman rulers. The most famous one is Constantine the Great, Roman emperor who declared Christianity as official religion. The city of Sirmium (today’s Sremska Mitrovica) was also one of 4 Roman capitals during the Tetrarchy.
3. The word “vampire” derived from Serbian “vampir”. Also, Dracula isn’t the first vampire! Petar Blagojević, a Serbian peasant, was believed to have become a vampire after his death in 1725. The case was one of the earliest, most sensational and most well documented cases of vampire hysteria, extensively written about in Austrian press.
4. The first video transmission between North America and Europe in 1963, after the launch of the first telecommunications satellite, featured a fresco of the White Angel from the Mileševa monastery in Serbia.
5. Serbia is the largest exporter of raspberries in the world. It contributes 30% of all raspberries to the international market. They are usually grown in small family plantations, the way it’s said contributes to its quality.
6. If you visit Serbia in June, you can see the insects dance! This dance occurs during the phenomenon called Blooming of the Tisza river. It happens once a year and it’s a 3 hour performance of the insects Palingenia longicauda, known as Tisza mayfly, which starts when the larvae wake up, turn into the flying insects who then dance their love dance, create the next generation and then fall to their deaths covering the surface of the river.
7. Serbia has two lakes with floating islands – Vlasina and Semeteš. They are pieces of cut off land, and some bigger ones with willows and birches look like oasis in the middle of the lake. Driven by the wind, they float from one shore of the lake to another.
8. The Temple of Saint Sava is the second largest orthodox cathedral in the world, and also one of the largest church buildings in the world. It’s located in Belgrade, in the place where the remains of Saint Sava are believed to were burned in 1595 by Ottoman Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha in order to break the Serbian spirit. It’s visible from any approach to the city.
9. The Serbian clock-making industry is at least 200 years older than the world-famous Swiss one.
10. Nikola Tesla was one of the most important inventors in history, and is probably the most famous Serb (together with today's Novak Djokovic, tennis player). He is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. His 1891 invention, the "Tesla coil," is still used in radio technology today. His name is also used in the unit of magnetic induction (T). He died as a Serbian American (the name for United States of America citizens of Serb ethnic ancestry.)
11. Vratna Gates are the Europe’s tallest stone gates, natural stone bridges. They’re located in the Vratna Gorge in Eastern Serbia. There are three gates called Little Prerast, Big Prerast and Dry Prerast. Mis-named, Little Prerast is actually the biggest, being 34m high, 33m wide and 15m long.
12. The Djerdap gorge, also known as the Iron Gates, is Europe’s longest breakthrough gorge. It’s 100km long, and is actually made up of four gorges – Gornja klisura, Gospodjin vir, Veliki i Mali Kazan i Sipska klisura, separated from each other by ravines. One of the greatest river depths was measured right in Gospodjin vir – 82m (269ft).
13. Devil’t town is a weird natural stone formation, located in southern Serbia, on the Radan mountain. It features 202 stone “towers”, which were created by a strong erosion of the volcanic soil. Many of the towers have “heads” which protect them from further erosion. There is of course a legend that says that the towers are actually petrified wedding guests who on devil’s orders tried to marry a brother and a sister. Another legend says that towers are people petrified by a witch as they didn’t fulfill their promises. Djavolja Varoš was a nominee in the New Seven Wonders of Nature campaign.
14. Mount Povlen hides a weird mystery – huge stone globes of unknown origin. Some claim they are a wonder of nature, some believe that they were created by aliens, but scientist claim they are a result of volcanic activity about 150 million years ago when this area was covered by the sea. Locals believe that they have healing properties and that they even grant wishes if you put both hands on the globe. It’s certainly safe to try!
15. Mountains cover most of the country. Four mountain systems meet in Serbia – Dinaric Alps in the west, Carpathian Mountains and Balkan Mountains the east, and Rilo-Rhodope mountain system in the south.
16. The largest mountain range in Serbia is Kopaonik in central Serbia, which extends from northwest to southeast for 80km. The highest peak of Kopaonik is Pančićev vrh at 2017m (6617ft). It’s the most popular winter sports destination in Serbia.
17. The highest point of Serbia is Midžor (2,169 metres (7,116 ft)) in Stara Planina (Old mountain), on the border between Serbia and Bulgaria. This is if you’re not counting Kosovo as part of Serbia (ongoing dispute). In the other case, the highest point is Djeravica (2,656 m (8,714 ft)) in the Prokletije Mountain Range.
18. There are over 1500 known caves in Serbia, and seven are prepared for tourist visits. Most caves are located in limestone massif of eastern Serbia. The longest cave is Lazareva cave, with over 9,818 metres (6.1 mi) of recorded passageways, and the ongoing exploration indicates even more unexplored passageways. Other significantly long cave systems are Ušački system (6,185 meters) and Cerjanska cave near the city of Niš (6,025 meters).
19. Milutin Veljkovic was a Guinness world record holder for the longest stay underground, which is still uncontested. In 1969 to 1970, Milutin spent 464 days in Samar Cave. He kept contact with the outside world using radio and he also had medicines, cans of food, a stove and gas. He wrote a book about his experience called “Under the stone sky”.
20. The Skull Tower near the city of Niš, called Ćele kula in Serbian, is, as its name suggests, tower made of human skulls of Serbian soldiers fallen in battle of liberation of Niš in 1809. This horrific monument was built by the Ottoman Empire as a warning to anyone rising against it.