The capital’s Great War Island is a natural habitat for many birds, river otters, nutrias, pine martens, and some very hardy humans.
According to legend, the Great War Island was created after two Roman military galleys collided and were stranded at the confluence of the rivers Sava and Danube. In reality, it was formed by the natural movements of the Danube sands at the point where the biggest river of Europe meets its Balkan match.
The first mention of the island in historical records dates back to the 15th Century, while its potential strategic use as a military vantage point was first discovered by the Ottoman Turks when they attacked Belgrade Fortress in 1521.
Its current name – Veliko Ratno Ostrvo in Serbian – came into use after Prince Eugen of Savoy, commanding Austrian troops, retook Belgrade in 1717. One century later, during the First Serbian Uprising, it was used to bombard the fortress that was once again held by the Turks. During World War I, the island served the same purpose but this time for the Austro-Hungarian army.
Today, the Great War Island is an oasis of peace in the centre of Belgrade. It is divided in three sections; the largest section – about 90 per cent of the island – is comprised of woods and wetlands and is a protected animal habitat. A second part covers meadows in the middle of the island and is reserved for recreational purposes while the third is a tourist lido beach.
The island is home to some 163 bird species, domestic and migrating, while some use it as a resting spot on their seasonal travel from the north to the south of Europe. This natural oasis is also home to many mammals, such as river otters, nutrias, pine martens, and some very hardy humans.
At the end of the 1980s, Zemun municipal officials rented land on the island to people willing to grow crops on it. Many of them later decided to stay and live here. One of them is Velja Tepavac. He told BIRN that previously around 190 people maintained plots on the island. Today, only 36 remain.