Down the Danube River from Belgrade, Semederevo is a city that was planned as Serbia’s capital in the 15th century not long before the Ottomans took over the country. Despot Đurađ Branković’s colossal fortress is still going strong after centuries of conflict and a catastrophic explosion in the Second World War.
Those last decades of the medieval Kingdom of Serbia are at the core of Smederevo’s culture, and they’re remembered at a vibrant harvest festival every September. In the centre of Smederevo is Republic Square, furnished with stately monuments, and there’s an animated promenade where bars are stocked with wine from the city’s historic vineyards.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Smederevo:
1. Smederevo Fortress
For a few decades in the 15th century, Smederevo’s gigantic citadel was the capital of Serbia.
These were the last years before the Ottoman occupation, when Serbia was squeezed between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Turks.
Despot Đurađ Branković’s fortress was modelled on Constantinople and has more than 1.5 kilometres of walls reinforced by 25 towers.
And on the northern corner you can see the remnants of what was Branković’s palace, in the form of double-arched windows.
This was lavish in its day and those windows were glazed with Venetian glass from Murano.
Today the space inside the fortress is a green park, and you can access the battlements and walk the whole length of the walls.
2. Church of St George
Watching over Republic Square is this beautiful church, which is from the 1850s.
Come around the north or south side to see the building’s five 12-sided domes in profile.
These are an homage to medieval Byzantine architecture , notably the cherished Manasija monastery in Despotovac.
The facade though is more Baroque, with little Islamic touches in the blind horseshoe arches under the cornice.
The interior and original iconostasis were ransacked in the First World War, so the frescos, iconostasis and icons seen now are from a decoration campaign that began in the 1930s.
3. Museum of Smederevo
The city’s museum is heaven for history geeks, offering three floors brimming with artefacts.
Excavations at the fortress have brought up architectural fragments like a rosette from the long lost church, jewellery, hundreds of coins and a knight’s helmet dating to the 1400s.
There are also plenty of Roman artefacts, like a lead sarcophagus from the 300s, coins from the rule of Septimius Severus in the 2nd Century, fragments of columns and a sculpted tombstone.
There are also some intimate pieces relating to the Prince of Serbia, Miloš Obrenović, like his personal handkerchief and a flag carried at his funeral.
4. Crkva Uspenja Presvete Bogorodice
In the Old Smederevo Cemetery there’s a marvellous late-medieval monument: The church here is in Serbia’s Moravan style, a type of Byzantine architecture, which flourished in central Serbia from the 14th century.
Not much is known about this particular building, but it has been dated to the start of the 15th century.
The church has a trefoil plan in the form of a compressed cross, and around its apse are colonettes supporting blind arches.
The church’s murals were composed in the 1500s in the fresco-secco technique.
In the vaults these evoke chapters of the life of Christ, while the dome depicts Christ Pantocrator.
If you’re clued up on the bible you might recognise images from Psalms 148 and 149 in the narthex.
5. Karađorđev Dud
In the middle of a plaza a little way from Republic Square grows a very old and knotted mulberry tree.
This goes back hundreds of years, and has real meaning for Smederevo.
Because at this exact spot in 1805 during the First Serbian Uprising the Ottoman commander formally handed over the keys to the fortress to Karađorđe, the first ruler of modern Serbia.
There are benches around the tree, and a plaque to mark the event.
It was an honourable withdrawal, carried out with military fanfare: The Ottomans filed out of the fortress, leaving behind a cache of weaponry and boarded boats bound for Vidin in Bulgaria.
6. Zgrada Opštinskog Doma
The decorated Russian architect, Nikolay Krasnov drew up the plans for the distinguished City Hall on Republic Square.
Krasnov’s career brought him to Yugoslavia after the First World War, when he designed a host of Belgrade’s government offices.
This building in Smederevo dates to 1926 and curves around a corner of the square.
The facade is imperious, broken up by bulky twin pilasters.
The balustrade on the roof is capped with four statues, which are illuminated at night and symbolise justice, labour, science and culture.
7. Zgrada Okružnog Suda
Rounding off the stately scene on Republic Square is Smederevo’s courthouse, constructed between 1886-1888. This landmark is on Serbia’s list of “Monuments of Great Importance”, and was conceived by the Belgrade architect Aleksandar Bulgarksi in the Eclecticist style.
The size of the courthouse is awesome, with a facade that stretches for more than 50 metres.
On the ground floor this is finished with rusticated stone blocks, broken by windows and portals in semi-circular arches.
8. Dunavski Kej
West of the fortress, Smederevo’s Danube waterfont is traced with a long, leafy park and benches where you can look across the second longest river in Europe.
The Danube has come to Smederevo all the way from Germany, well over 1,000 kilometres, and will continue through Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and the Ukraine before it empties into the Black Sea.
There are a couple of cafes by the water, and in the morning you might see rowers from Smederevo’s club sculling up and down the river.
9. Ulica Kralja Petra I
Starting next to the Danube and cutting in all the way to Republic Square is Smederevo’s main promenade.
It’s a pedestrianised street flanked by iron gaslights and with a tavern, wine bar, cafe or restaurant every few steps.
In summer the outdoor seating hugs the sides of the street in two continuous columns, so if you’re in need of a meal or just light refreshment, chances are you’ll end up here.
It’s the most dynamic street in the city, and morning or night people will be out and about and chatting on the terraces.
10. Vila “Zlatni Breg”
You can make arrangements with Smederevo’s tourist office to see Miloš Obrenović’s country estate.
This palace is four kilometres from the city centre, couched in vineyards planted by the prince himself.
Miloš bought the property from a Turk in 1829, and it was passed down to King Milan and Queen Natalija later in the 19th century.
At that time the couple entertained some of most illustrious Serbian figures of the period, like the writers Milan Rakic, Laza Kostic and Milovan Glisic.
The palace is now a historical museum, replete with rich furnishings, and you can come to revel in the views from this hill across the Danube and Pannonia Plain.
11. Smederevo Wine
There are vineyards coating the hills on the Danube, profiting from the sandy soils, sunshine and cooling effect of the river.
Vine cultivation was introduced by the Romans, and production continued through the Islamic occupation, even if it was heavily regulated.
As we saw at Zlatni Breg, Miloš gave the industry a shot in the arm in the 19th century when he planted vines on his summer estate.
The local grape variety is Smederevka, which has an acidic quality and goes into some very drinkable wines when blended with Riesling, Chardonnay or Sémillon.
There are two wineries and four cellars open to visitors in Smederevo if you’re keen to know more.
12. Smederevska Jesen
An eight-day celebration that starts around the middle of September, Smederevska Jesen (Smederevo Autumn) is a wine and harvest festival with a medieval theme.
A lot of the action happens in the fortress, where there’s a market and fairground rides.
There’s also a parade through the city, in which wine-growers take to the streets, together with medieval knights and soldiers in the garb of regulars and commanders in the Serbian Uprisings.
Also riding in a chariot is a couple playing Despot Đurađ Branković and his wife Irene Kantakouzene, and they preside over the festivities.
13. Deliblato Sands
Europe’s last desert is not far from Smederevo on the left bank of the Danube about 20 minutes out of town.
Encompassed by a natural reserve, the Deliblato Sands is an otherworldly environment of steep elliptical hills coated by light savannah.
This is all a vestige of the ancient Pannonian Sea that dried up some 90 million years ago.
For as far as the eye can see, the colours and vegetation look like they belong more in Africa than Europe.
Indeed, some of the 900 plant species in the park, like dwarf-steppe almond and Banat peony only grow in this location.
14. Danube Cruises
The “Ada” is a boat moored at Dunavski Kej and in summer you can hop aboard for a trip along the fabled river.
You’ll get a fresh angle of the fortress walls and the two river islands in front of Smederevo.
Before you leave the city behind and find yourself in untouched countryside where the river widens to as much as two kilometres across.
If you want to make a day of it you could start Belgrade: Here, the company River Skipper provides cruises that depart from the capital and ease their way down to Smederevo.
You’ll make a stop at Vinča on the way, where you’ll be given a guided tour of a Neolithic settlement
15. Day Trips
Downriver from Smederevo, just before the Danube divided Serbian from Romania there’s a romantic 12th-century fort on a ridge above the river.
Ram Fortress is in great condition considering the last work was done by Sultan Bayazid II at the turn of the 16th century.
In the other direction is Belgrade, and as the capital can be reached in under 45 minutes you have every reason to make a flying visit.
Belgrade has its own fortress, an epic system of defences at the confluence of the Sava and Danube, all stacked with monuments.
Belgrade is a young, vivacious capital with a party scene notorious for its splavovi, floating bars, restaurants and nightclubs on the banks of the Danube and Sava.
There’s also culture aplenty at the sensational National Theatre and myriad museums, for anything from aviation to the Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla.