Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, is one of the largest and most populated cities in south Eastern Europe, with a population of over 1.2 million. Great War Island, Veliko Ratno Ostrvo, is an uninhabited, protected area in the centre of the city that is an oasis of peace and greenery in this busy metropolis.
There were originally two islands, Great War Island and Small War Island, but Small War Island is now just a remnant lying to the south of the main island. It lies at the point where two rivers, the Danube and the Sava, meet. Shaped like a triangle and covering an area of around 2 square kilometres, the island is low and marshy, and is the last remaining part of the vast wetlands and marshes that covered this area of the country.
Regular drainage and silt removal is necessary to prevent the island joining to the mainland due to sedimentation. The remains of a canal, the Veliki Galijas, runs through the centre of the island and forms a lake which is used by birds for feeding, mating and nesting, and is home to many different fish. The whole island is a natural fish spawning ground, with many ponds around the shoreline and inland. In 2007 the canal was dug out to reconnect the lake with the river and prevent it drying out each year.
The island can be seen from both banks of the rivers, with the old town and fortress on the eastern side, and the airport and the modern city with its many skyscrapers and large hotels, such as the 5 star Hyatt Regency Belgrade, to the west. While the island is not permanently connected to the mainland and is usually reached by ferry, in the summer a floating, pontoon bridge is set up stretching from the promenade at Zemun, five miles away, making the island easier to visit. No dogs are allowed on the island, and fishing is prohibited.
History of the island
The area around the Danube and Sava rivers has been inhabited since palaeolithic times. The surrounding city has been destroyed and rebuilt over 40 times over the centuries. Many people expect Great War Island to have a memorial to World War One, as that is often referred to as The Great War. While the island does commemorate war, it is not specifically linked to the First World War. The island got its name due to its use as a strategic location throughout history during the many wars that took place in the city.
Wildlife of the Island
Two thirds of the island has been designated a nature reserve, and it is home to over 190 species of birds, many endangered, such as the Squacco Heron and the Little Grebe. The island is heavily forested with ash, black poplar and hawthorn trees, with many different species of willow. Marshy plant life thrives, with rushes and reeds all around the island’s shores.
Attractions on the Island
While most of the island is protected, and reserved for wildlife and scientific research, there is a recreational zone. This includes a beach, the Lido, at the northern end which is popular in the summer for people wishing to swim, sunbathe and relax. There are also a few restaurants. The Lido was nearly destroyed in the severe flooding that affected most of Europe in 2006, but has been rebuilt.