Two cities - two empires


The territory on which Belgrade and Zemun are located had important strategic, geographic and economic significance since the very beginning. On the crossroads between the West and the East and on the border of middle Europe and the Balkans, both cities had tumultuous histories in which destiny continually joined them together. The Byzantine writer John Kinam wrote that the destinies of Belgrade and Zemun are connected and that they were demolished in turns as though following a certain wheel of fortune so that the stones of one city could be used to build the walls of the other. In the Middle Ages, this territory was the location of the Byzantine and Hungarian battlefields, in which the devastation and turmoil of the Austro-Turkish wars in the 17th and 18th centuries were concluded by the Treaty of Svishtevo in 1791. The armed conflicts of the two great powers on this territory predetermined the destiny of these two cities. The cities changed masters numerous times. These uncertain times were dramatic for the population, which migrated from one city to the other and even further up north with each new treaty.

During the Turkish reign, Zemun stood in Belgrade’s shadow as a small provincial town with an insignificantly developed economy. Following a change of rule (1718 it fell into Austrian hands), crafts and trade suddenly flourished and the greatest contribution to this new development was the separation of Zemun from the Military Border into a free city in 1749. In 1751 the first city hall magistrate was established. These conditions enabled the greater development of crafts and trade.

Following the Treaty of Svishtevo, numerous families from Belgrade received permission from the Austrian authorities to cross over to Zemun. These migrations had a significant impact on the economic and political circumstances in Zemun, which took over the role of Belgrade, especially as far as trade was concerned.

The development of crafts and trade from the mid 18th century created a powerful financial foundation, which made traveling writers regard Zemun as the richest town of the Military Border. Economic development and a lengthy period of peace influenced cultural developments. The second half of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries left a powerful mark on the economic and cultural history of Zemun. The city’s population gradually increased and changed its appearance. A prosperous economic and cultural life was a precondition for the creation of educational and cultural institutions in the city.


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