Belgrade's vast underground world a mystery to most

Mon Jun 8, 2009 8:45am EDT
 
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By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE (Reuters Life!) - Only a few patrons enjoying drinks at Belgrade's Underground club know that a Medieval mass grave lies just beyond the bar's walls.

To repel Turkish invaders in 1440, Christian defenders of the city used a giant gunpowder mine to blow up hundreds of attackers digging tunnels beneath the city. Turkish bodies remained in the rubble that sealed one of the tunnels, meters (yards) away from the club's bar.

"I know this place is old and sometimes eerie, but I only recently read a history book about what happened here," said student Ivana Jovanovic, 23.

Over the centuries, attackers and defenders have carved a vast network of underground tunnels, fortifications, storage areas, command posts and bunkers. Today, only the occasional tourist, archaeologist or historian knows about the hidden world below Serbia's sprawling capital.

"We explored and mapped about 15 km (9 miles) and have only scratched the surface," said Vidoje Golubovic, a Belgrade-based historian who occasionally hosts guided tours for enthusiasts.

The city's tumultuous history accounts for the unusually rich honeycomb of tunnels below.

It was just a decade ago that Belgraders most recently went into underground basements and bunkers, this time to avoid NATO bombs during the war involving Kosovo.

In Belgrade's more than 1,000-year history, Celts, Romans, Huns, Slavic tribes, Byzantines, Hungarians, Ottoman Turks, Serbs, Austro-Hungarians and Germans have tried to dominate the strategically important confluence of rivers Sava and Danube, considered the gateway to Europe.   Continued...

 
<p>A general view shows the old part of Belgrade on the Sava River in a file photo. Over the centuries, attackers and defenders have carved a vast network of underground tunnels, fortifications, storage areas, command posts and bunkers beneath Belgrade. Today, only the occasional tourist, archaeologist or historian knows about the hidden world below Serbia's sprawling capital. REUTERS/Marko Djurica</p>