St. Sava Plateau, situated on the elevated ground in the centre of Belgrade, introduces to its visitors the masterpiece of Orthodox Christian religious architecture, an establishment of great cultural significance and a pleasant park. Additionally, you can familiarize yourself with the destinies of some prominent Serbian historic personalities, who marked different epochs during Serbia’s turbulent history.
St. Sava Temple
This glistening architectural masterpiece becomes one of the most resplendent of Belgrade’s sites when illuminated at night. Mostly created of marble and granite, it features the Serbo-Byzantine architectural style and is among the largest of the Orthodox religious structures in the world, and is the largest in the Balkan region. The temple features four semicircular steeples that are 44 meters tall, a number of turrets on top of which the gilded crosses are located, and a 70 meter tall cupola. The cross atop the cupola makes the St. Sava Temple 82 meters tall.
Although featuring modest internal decorations (only a couple of icon reproductions are present and a few frescoes are completed), the St. Sava Temple is an excellent example of Orthodox Christian architecture. If you have visited Catholic Christian cathedrals, you surely remember the overwhelming height of the structure, which symbolizes closeness to God. In contrast, Orthodox religious structures, generally expand width-wise, potentiating infinite kindness and glory of God. The oval features of the Orthodox ecclesiastical structures are another crucial distinction from the peaked Catholic churches.
St. Sava Temple is devoted to Sava (Rastko) Nemanjic, the first Serbian Archbishop, who established the Serbian Church institution in the Middle Ages. Born as a prince, he renounced the life of splendor of the court by becoming a monk, despite his father’s opposition. During the centuries long Turkish occupation of the Balkans, St. Sava’s mortal remains were transferred in 1594 to the exact place where the temple stands today. The remains of St. Sava were burnt here as a punishment for rebellious conduct of the Serbs.
As you enter the St. Sava Temple, lateral frescoes illustrate St. Sava (left) and St. Simeon (right). St. Simeon was Sava’s father, who became a monk, too. Simeon was born as Stefan Nemanja; he was the founder of the Serbian Medieval State and the Nemanjic Dynasty, which ruled Serbia until the Turks emerged in the 14th century.
Monument to Karadjordje
An imposing monument in front of the St. Sava Temple honours one of the greatest Serbian heroes in history. His name was Djordje (George) Petrovic, commonly known as Karadjordje (meaning Black George, Kara = Black) among the Serbs and, especially, among the Turks. Karadjordje was the leader of the First Serbian Uprising (1804 – 1813), which was a reaction against ever-growing Turkish terror.
Karadjordje himself led the outnumbered Serbian rebels in numerous battles against better armed and experienced Turkish forces, defeating them each time. During the battles, he never flinched to face hardened Turkish champions in duels, nor to punish his soldiers for misconduct. Even Napoleon Bonaparte honoured Karadjordje when he was asked who the greatest commander is: “It’s easy for me to be successful with an experienced army and huge resources. But in the Balkans, there is a leader who gathered the sheepherders, and without real weaponry made the mighty Ottoman Empire tremble. It is Black George, and he is the greatest military leader.”
The First Serbian Uprising was crushed in 1813, shortly after the Russians, who supported the Serbs, had withdrawn to their motherland, to engage Napoleon’s forces in the Russian campaign (1812). Karadjordje withdrew to Austria, coming back to Serbia in 1817. He was betrayed by his best man, who killed him by orders of Milos Obrenovic, the leader of the Second Serbian Uprising.
Next to the temple is the National Library. Besides printed material, the library offers interactive content, which can be consulted in its 12 reading rooms. Foreign citizens are eligible for membership, which cannot be shorter than 3 days, nor longer than a year. A three day membership costs approximately 2 EUR (2.15 USD), while ten days is 4.50 EUR (4.90 USD). The National Library has computers, equipment for the blind, and more. The library operates from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm (3:00 pm on Saturdays), but is closed on Sundays and during national holidays.
St. Sava Plateau is an area for relaxation, with the decorative fountain, water fountains, and benches. As you sit on a bench, you are very likely to be approached by curious pigeons wishing to share your meal. At times, booths are installed throughout the St. Sava Plateau, selling honey, various souvenirs, local delicacies, and drinks.