Despite its links to one the darkest chapters of the city’s history, Belgraders are fighting to keep their oldest bridge.
Recent plans to replace the Old Sava Bridge with an expanded, less rickety version were met with widespread disapproval among Belgraders, so much so that it became a major issue in the recent municipal election campaign.
However, Belgrade’s relationship with the green-arched bridge, the city’s shortest and oldest continuously standing, started off in the worst possible way during the darkest days of World War II.
After Nazi Germany attacked the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941, the Royal Yugoslav Army blew up all of Belgrade’s bridges on the Sava and the Danube in order to slow down the enemy advance. Given that the army surrendered to the occupying force just eleven days after the attack begun, the move was less than successful.
The Nazi occupiers decided in 1942 to construct this iron bridge over the Sava instead of the Tisza, a river in northern Serbia, as was originally planned. The idea was to ease transport between central Serbia and central Europe.
The new bridge was named after Prince Eugene of Savoy, an Austrian general who took Belgrade from the Ottomans in the 18th Century. The name was in line with a Nazi plan to turn occupied Belgrade into a fortress called Prinz Eugen Stadt and settle the region around the Danube with ethnic Germans.
Given that the Ustasa-run Independent State of Croatia occupied territories across the Sava in present day New Belgrade, the bridge had a border post in the middle. It was used in turns by pedestrians, cars and even trains.
Besides transporting military personnel and supplies, it also eased the transport of Belgraders, especially Jewish and Roma citizens, to the infamous Sajmiste concentration camp that stood on the other side of the river, occupying the site of an art-deco fairground that was built in 1937.
Despite its dark beginnings, the bridge became a symbol of personal courage and resistance against the Nazi occupation.