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Serbia

History & Architecture

History

In about 400-300 BC the Greeks moved into present-day Serbia under the rule and conquest of Alexander the Great. About 200 years later the Romans swept in and in this region Emperor Constantine was born, later gaining fame as the introducer of Christianity to the Roman Empire. With the split of the Roman Empire, Serbia fell under Byzantium rule and later adopted Orthodoxy, creating a divide between themselves and their neighbors to the west, who remained under Roman control, and hence were primarily Catholic.

In about the 800s and 900s the Serbs gained some independence from Byzantium, but were more or less on the fringe of the major empires' rule. Various parts of the region fell under Byzantium rule, Frankish rule, and even self-rule on and off in differing regions. This self-rule was magnified in the 1200s and 1300s as the Serbs held control and even expanded their territory into modern day Kosovo and what is now known Macedonia.

Later in the 1500s however the Serbian Empire diminished and the Turks invaded, eventually taking Belgrade. This invasion led to Kosovo and Bosnia converting in great numbers to Islam and the ability for Venice to take coastal lands held by Serbia (modern day Croatia) and for Hungary to take Serbia's northern lands. After the Turks were defeated, Serbia was ruled by the Austria-Hungarians until the 1800s.

During the later years of the Ottoman occupation the Turks were losing power and slowly retreating as the Serbs staged a number of uprisings and fights for land and other resources, creating conflict among the Serbian Christians and the Muslim Turks.

In the early 1800s the Turks and Austria-Hungarians held the Balkans, but the locals wanted independence so turned to Russia and France to support their cause and to fight the Austria-Hungarians. In 1835 this wish came true as the Serbs gained nominal independence.

In 1912 and 1913 the Balkan Wars broke out to finally end Ottoman domination over the Balkan Peninsula. The first of these wars united Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and many Greeks against the Turks, which ended with a Turkish defeat. War however broke out the following year with the new Turkish government, and again the Balkan countries won this war to finally end Turkish dominance in the region.

Just prior to World War I (WWI), the Serbs expanded their rule and again re-took their former lands in the south through war. After these battles, another war was started when Bulgaria attacked Serbia, but again this war was short-lived and again Serbia ended the war with more land.

World War I (WWI) began in Sarajevo with the assassination of the Austrian Archduke by a Serbian nationalist. This act caused Austria-Hungary to react, followed by the defense of Serbia by their allies, the Russians and French; soon after war had begun. WWI devastated Serbia since much of it was fought on Serbia land, but the result was a growing empire. After the war, Serbia united with Montenegro, Bosnia, Slovenia, and Croatia to create what was later known as Yugoslavia, with Serbia acting as the dominant force in the alliance.

In 1941 Yugoslavia was invaded and quickly overcome by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. The Croatians joined the Germans, while the Serbs united more closely with Russia, creating hostility between the two countries, which can still be seen today. After the war, Yugoslavia's government was ruled by the communists, but weren't aligned with the Soviet Union.

Yugoslavia was dominated by Serbs prior to WWII, but in the 1950s and 1960s the Croatians and Muslims gained more power and, as rights were extended to Muslims, Serbs were removed from power to accommodate these changes, a move that created much hostility between the Serbs and the Muslims and Croatians.

In 1989 an ethnic Serb, Slobodan Milosevic came to power in Yugoslavia and immediately began removing the rights of the countries within Yugoslavia, including Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. This led to multiple independence movements from these future countries and the outbreak of war and genocide. Only Montenegro remained tied to Yugoslavia as Bosnia and Kosovo were the focal point of the Serb-led government's attacks. This led to Belgrade becoming a target for United Nation (UN) bombings through 1995.

Since independence Serbia has struggled to regain a positive international image, lost Montenegro in 2006, and is still rebuilding from the war.

Architecture

Serbian Architecture - Studenica Monastery
Studenica Monastery

Serbia's architectural monuments are limited in scope, partially because many historic buildings are in the former capital cities of Prizren, Pristina, or Skopje, all of which now fall outside their borders. Additionally, due to war and violence in the 1990s much of the country's historic architecture, primarily in Belgrade, was destroyed due to internal violence or United Nation's bombings.

Serbian Architecture - Sopochanin Monastery
Sopochanin Monastery

Among the best preserved ancient architecture in Serbia today are old Roman ruins in Gamzigrad, but these ruins don't compare to many others throughout Europe. Stari Ras also has ancient ruins, which are in better condition and are more authentically Serbian. The site contains the monastery at Sopocani (1200s) and the Petrova Church (700s), both of which are excellent examples of early church architecture in the Balkan Peninsula.

There are a number of historic churches and monasteries spread throughout the country with some history. The Studenica Monastery (1100-1300s) near Kraljevo is a good example of traditional Serbian architecture, while most other churches in Serbia have been influenced by the occupying Byzantines, Turks and Austria-Hungarians, although again many of these have been destroyed over time.

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This page was last updated: March, 2013