Avala was part of my upbringing. I would visit at least once a year, mostly with my family – we had vast numbers of relations who’d visit us in the city, and we’d run out of ideas where to take them and always end up doing a day trip to Avala, sometimes with a picnic in one of the many hidden spots on the mountain, sometimes having lunch in the restaurant in Avala Tower. At school there were day trips to Avala for every pupil to learn about the Monument to the Unknown Hero and as a university student I had some field work there, learning everything about the geomorphology of Avala and orienteering in the forest.
The reason for the huge number of visitors last weekend is the newly opened Avala Tower, one of Belgrade’s landmarks, which has been restored and reopened in April this year after the NATO bombing of in 1999 which wrecked it. The original construction started in 1961 and finished in 1963 and at the top was an enclosed observation deck from which you could see as far as Belgrade and it was one of the city’s main tourist attractions. Today the old glory of the Avala Tower is restored and the views are even more magnificent. The only setback is that the restaurant hasn’t been opened yet, but there is a nearby hotel, the Avala, with nice rooms and restaurant, and a small cafe at the foot of the tower itself. Food here is very good and affordable.
A village called Zmov grew up at the top of the mountain in the Middle Ages, and when the Ottomans invaded in 1442, they took it over and built a fortress which they named Havale (meaning shelter) to oppose Belgrade’s Kalamegdan fortress which could be seen in the distance. In 1934 by order of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, the village of Zmov was bulldozed to make way for the Monument to the Unknown Hero, an anonymous Serbian soldier from WWI. Marked only by the dates 1912-1918, the monument also commemorates those lost in the Balkan Wars (1912–1913). The monument was created by the well-known Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic in the form of a mausoleum with 8 female figures, each representing a woman from a different historical region of Yugoslavia.
On the way to Avala there is a Monument to the Soviet War Veterans, the members of a Russian military delegation who died in an airplane crash on their way to Belgrade for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade in WWII, October 20, 1944 – it was the Red Army who liberated Yugoslavia. And at the top of Mount Avala there is also a Memorial Park dedicated to the victims of WWII – so the whole mountain is steeped in the history of Yugoslavia and it is a very significant place to us.
If you are staying in Belgrade we would definitely recommend a visit to Mount Avala or even an overnight stay there as there are plenty of opportunities for walking, trekking, cycling or simply enjoying the stunning views.