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Civil engineering played a big part in the construction of Europe’s socialist states. As the largest republic in what was once Yugoslavia, Serbia didn’t miss out on the engineering boom and is thus full of impressive bridges, canals, railways and more.
Serbia changed immeasurably during the 20th century as civil engineering and communism united, creating an environment obsessed with functionally improving life. Did it work? That is harder to answer, but the country is nonetheless full of delightful examples of civil engineering.
You can’t really talk about civil engineering in Serbia without bringing up the hugely impressive Ada Bridge in Belgrade. Opened on New Year’s Day in 2012, this monolithic cable-stayed bridge crosses the mighty Sava river and provides another point of access to New Belgrade. The bridge had been stuck in planning for three quarters of a century before the construction began, but it now stands tall as one of the city’s most spectacular bridges and undoubtedly its most beautiful.
It might be more of a tourist attraction than a true piece of civil construction, but the Šargan Eight railway line in Mokra Gora is undoubtedly one of the most delightful attractions in Serbia. The name is more than just a happy coincidence, as the tracks cover a figure of eight shape in the middle of the route. It might just be the most adorable railway line in Europe.
The Iron Gate I Hydroelectric Power Station (to give it its full name) is another colossal feat of civil engineering within Serbia. One of the largest hydro power plants in Europe, the governments of Yugoslavia and Romania came together in the 1960s to harness the incredible energy of the Danube river, opening the station in 1972. Its reliability has dwindled over the years, but it remains mightily impressive.
Belgrade has many bridges that mean different things to different people, but Branko’s Bridge (Brankov Most) arguably takes home the trophy for being ‘Belgrade’s Bridge’. It connects New Belgrade with the city centre, offering splendid views towards Kalemegdan or the controversial construction site that is the Belgrade Waterfront. It isn’t pretty in the classical sense, but it doesn’t need to be — this is a functional bridge, not an ornament.
Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport doesn’t exactly get rave reviews, so the aerodrome in Niš takes home the plaudits as the country’s best. A much smaller affair than the one in the capital, the airport is named after the greatest Roman emperor to be born on the lands of modern Serbia — Constantine the Great. It isn’t the busiest airport in the world, but the modern renovations give it no small amount of charm.
It might not stand out amongst the many high-rise buildings that line Belgrade’s Knez Mihailova today, but once upon a time the Palace Albanija was the only one of its type. The first skyscraper in Southeast Europe, the building was completed in 1940 — just in time for it to be heavily bombed by the Allies four years later. The only aerial attacks it experiences now are from Alpine swifts, coming to nest over the summer months.
The 1990s weren’t exactly the best decade for the Serbs but the nation has dusted itself off and is moving forward. The bridges of Novi Sad were heavily bombed during the NATO aggression in 1999, but the iconic arches connecting Bačka and Srem are now back with a vengeance. The original design of the bridge was mimicked as closely as possible, adding a little bit of modern spice.
The Danube is a vast and mighty river. Taming the beast is no walk in the park, and the Danube–Tisa—Danube Canal system needed all the ingenuity of Serbian engineers to come to fruition. The canal covers much of Vojvodina and is full of gates, locks, bridges and more, making an exploration of it a major attraction in itself. A late 19th century construction, the canal was the most advanced of its kind at the time.
Belgrade’s public transport leaves a lot to be desired, but a lap on the number two tram is one of the most fascinating things to do in the Serbian capital. Known as the Krug Dvojke, the route is one of the most iconic in the city and passes many of Belgrade’s finest attractions but has no terminus, so be sure to pay attention or risk being stuck on the line for all eternity.