Hidden Belgrade (8): The mysterious green heart of Belgrade

The beauty of the Great War Island is hiding in plain sight. Although bang in the middle of the confluence of the Sava into the Danube, its thick forest, inaccessible for most of the year, make it seem like an enchanted kingdom, choked by the grey concrete of New Belgrade and watched over by the Belgrade fortress.

This uninhabited heart-shaped refuge for birds survived due to the fact that Belgrade and Zemun were for centuries split between two empires. This awkward position was responsible for its strange name, which is due to the fact that all sieges of the Belgrade fortress used it as a base for bombardment of the city. If it were not for its location on the old border, its marshy soil would probably have either been developed into a (very scenic quarter) or destroyed. Indeed, it nearly lost its soil during the post-WWII construction of New Belgrade, but was saved by the Danube’s tricky waters. Its smaller neighbour, the Small War island, was not as lucky and is now reduced to a few trees.

Although there were recent plans to redevelop it, most famously into a zoo, it was protected by law since 2007. The protection efforts increased since then and now there is a beautiful path around that makes you feel like you are in a jungle, rather than just across the water from USCE shopping centre. Although the main draw are the views across the river, some lucky visitors may be treated to the sight of a pair of white tailed eagles who have made it their home. The path around the island is also the most accessible way to experience the unspoiled nature of the Danube banks, which is under threat by the proposals to build the new port of Belgrade (here is a report by Noizz in Serbian and the link to the group trying to preserve our ornithological heritage).

If you decide to visit, I recommend going early in the day as in the evenings mosquitoes can be a hassle. Also beware of ticks: my father got bitten once, so an insect repellent is a good idea. After you finish your 5km round, cool off by dipping your feet in the Danube at Lido.

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