Hidden Belgrade (56): Prehistoric Belgrade

As the world seems to be teetering on the edge of a catastrophe in the past few years, many are looking back to pre-history for answers, whether it is in terms of diet (paleo!) or socio-political hot takes, from evolutionary psychology-based recommendations to (the very controversial) Bronze Age Mindset.

No stranger to political controversies in more recent times, Belgrade (and Serbia) is the for pre-history aficionados to learn about the by-gone days, thanks to it having a type settlement of the most advanced European neolithic culture at Vinča/Belo Brdo.

Although Vinča culture (which existed here some 7000 years ago, 3000 years before the Pyramids in Giza) is the most important one associated with Belgrade, Belgrade was also dotted with other settlements from even more ancient Starčevo culture (whose type site is a short drive away from Pančevo), and Lepenski vir culture existed further down the Danube in Đerdap gorge.

Remains of all of these can be seen in Belgrade whether on actual archeological sites, through reconstructions or exhibited in museums.

Vinča/Belo Brdo

Some 40 minute drive from central Belgrade, on the Danube lies Vinča, which intrigued archeologists since 1908, when the first excavations were done at Belo Brdo site by Miloje Vasić. Interrupted by WWI, archaeologists from all over the world returned in 1920s, which led to some Vinča artefacts, including terracotta idols, being included into the collections of the British Museum and the Ashmolean.

The site, which was last excavated in 1970s, now contains a small museum with an excellent curator who is more than eager to explain all the aspects of this impressive culture. Although I don’t want to spoil too much: Vinča culture was peaceful, probably built around worship of the Earth Mother and enjoyed significant periods of propserity. They traded between Central Europe and the Mediterranean and were the first to discover copper metallurgy in Europe: their oldest mines can be seen at Rudna glava by Majdanpek and the first metalworking shop can be visited at Pločnik in Toplica region. They are also hypothesised to have developed a symbols to mark their wares, creating a sort of proto-script.

Although far away, the site if worth a visit for sweeping views over the Danube as well the impressive look of the excavation site which is within a cliff face. There is also a reconstruction of a Vinča house to get a feel of what the settlement looked like.

Mali Dunav reconstruction

A 15 minute drive from Vinča, next to the famous Radmilovac hotel on the Smederevo road, is Mali Dunav park, maintained by Belgrade University’s prestigious School of Agriculture. Although it is primarily centered around teaching the little ones about Danube’s biodiversity, it also includes an impressive area with reconstructions of pre-historic housing: from Palaeolithic caves to Vinča houses.

National Museum’s Prehistoric collection

Serbia’s premier museum is of course the best place to see all of the country’s prehistoric treasures. Star exhibits are Lepenski Vir‘s fish-shaped stone statues (from 7000 BC) as well as the Bronze age Dupljaja chariot which shows an androgynous deity pulled by birds.

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