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Although it vanished into the mists of time centuries ago, the Roman Empire continues to fascinate numerous researchers, archaeologists and lovers of history and culture of classical antiquity. Situated at the eastern border of the former empire, modern-day Serbia was once the site of ferocious battles, both against foreign enemies and among different factions and figures fighting for domination within the empire.From Sirmium in the north to Justiniana Prima in Southern Serbia, the country boasts as many as seven extraordinary sites which tell the tale of the mightiest country of its era and the sixteen Roman emperors born on Serbia’s soil.
Once a mighty Roman city and trading hub, Sirmium is the birthplace of as many as five Roman emperors: Trajan Decius, Aurelian, Probus, Maximianus Herculius and Gratian. The remains of the imperial palace, the aqueduct, urban villas and fortresses give visitors a unique opportunity to experience the atmosphere of one of four capitals of the Roman Empire during the period of tetrarchy, which flourished from the 1st to the 4th century on the site of modern-day Sremska Mitrovica.
On a strategic spot at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube lie the remains of Singidunum, one of the main settlements in the province of Moesia. When Romans conquered the area, which until that point had been inhabited by Celts, Singidunum was repurposed as a military camp which reached the peak of its power with the arrival of Flavian IV Legion in 86 CE. The intertwining of ancient Roman buildings with 21st century architecture will remind you that, long before modern buildings, asphalt roads and cars, this part of the world was inhabited by peoples so similar to us, and yet so different.
Viminacium, a former military camp, still has its aqueduct and sarcophagi, which tell the tale of Romans’ bravery and the special status enjoyed by the city in those times. The status of a colony, which was granted to it in the 3rd century, enabled the city to mint its own coins. Modern-day tourists who visit its remains can discover the essentials of this unique Roman minting technique.
To prepare for the war against the Dacians, Roman Emperor Trajan carved a steep road along the bank of the Danube in the early 2nd century. To mark the completion of works, the Emperor placed a stone tablet with Latin inscription, now known as Tabula Traiana, by the side of the road. Today, the same road is trodden by those who read about that war in books, stopping occasionally by the remains of Diana and Pontes fortresses, erected as a defence against barbarians. Next to Pontes fortress are the remains of Trajan’s Bridge, which once linked the left and the right banks of the Danube.
Emperor Galerius Valerius Maximianus demonstrated that a son’s love for his mother has no limits by building the lavish palace Felix Romuliana, which he dedicated to his mother Romula. Standing face to face with the tall classical columns built in the 3rd and 4th centuries, you will understand why the remains of this palace have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On your way back from the site in Gamzigrad, be sure to visit the nearby city of Zaječar, where the most beautiful frescoes and mosaics from Felix Romuliana are kept at the National Museum.
Info: Felix Romuliana
Mediana, once a luxury suburb of the ancient city of Naissus, was built during the reign of Constantine the Great, as a residence for kings during their stay in this city. Walk down the corridors where Roman emperors once walked. Enjoy the vivid mosaics and see the remains of Roman thermae and granaries, which will give you a taste of the splendour of this unique imperial residence built in the 4th century.
The remains of basilicas, an aqueduct and streets with colonnades make the Roman city Justiniana Prima one of the most interesting archaeological sites from classical antiquity in the Balkans. This city, which boasts a rich heritage of classical and Christian architecture, was built by emperor Justinian I in the 6th century. A visit to the capital of the province of Illirycum, on the site of the present-day Empress’ Town near Leskovac, is a perfect way to end the story of Roman emperors, because it is both the southernmost and the last built landmark from the times when the Romans ruled these parts.
Info: Empress’ town
Ancient Romans were the first to discover the Danube river valley as one of the best regions for winemaking. Today, the Danube connects three wine regions of Serbia: Belgrade, Srem and Negotin, each with its own wine varieties and many specific features.
Belgrade is one of the few capital cities to boast vineyards in its area. The vines grown on the slopes of the nearby mountains Avala and Kosmaj produce wines which owe their strong, extract-like flavour to the diffuse light of the Danube and the Sava.
Not far from Belgrade lies Smederevo, a city in whose area vine has been grown and wines have been made since the ancient Romans. The ancient tradition was picked up by Serbian rulers in the 15th Century, and in 1909, Godomin wine cellar produced a white wine easy on the palate from an autochthonous grape variety known as Smederevka, which has since become synonymous with this region. Smederevka is a white wine with a high acidic content and a pleasant bouquet, with a hint of vanilla in its flavour in the best years.
The wine region of Fruška gora, in Srem, produces mainly fresh and harmonious white wines. Here you can also sample two wines specific to this area. One is bermet, an aromatised wine with protected designation of origin. The other is ausbruch, a late-harvest dessert wine made from assorted grapes.