I’ve wandered through the streets of Belgrade over the past two weeks and the splendid Neo-Byzantine orthodox churches have captivated me with fascination. A perfect demonstration of the rich clash of culture and architectural design, I couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of these churches. Much like the Hagia Sophia, these churches sought to recapture the grandiose and pompous themes of Byzantine Imperial architecture. Such buildings exist all over Belgrade in different shapes and sizes, and one such building is the church of Saint Mark, one of the largest churches in Serbia built in the interwar period to accommodate a growing population.
As we walked into the majestic church of Saint Mark, we heard a deep reverberating voice throughout the church. The voice was full of resonance and vibration, teleporting my mind to a scene full of imagery and a fantastic sense of holiness. Snapping out of this trance, we realized that we had walked straight into a wedding ceremony taking place in the church. We decided to quietly stroll in further and observe the process taking place as the priest blessed the wedding couple. The ceremony completed with pictures, music, and a parade of cars driving off into the city.
Growing up in a protestant family, it has always been interesting to me how Christianity had been split into various denominations and sects over the course of history. The various differences, both physically such as architectural style, and procedurally such as interpretations of the holy trinity, shed light into the histories of the development of each denomination. Serbia is at the crossroads of such influences and developments. While the country is predominantly Orthodox, Catholicism and Islam have both left their marks here as well.
This blend comes from Serbia’s rich history in its people. Since the Slav migrations into southeastern Europe, Serbia has existed as a powerful medieval kingdom, as well as under the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. It was figuratively and literally the front line in the clash between European and Oriental culture and influence. Belgrade was the strategic location to which this border revolved around for nearly 200 years after the Ottomans were pushed back by the Austro-Hungarians. As a result, the city is full of remnants of Ottoman influence, seen in the prevalence of goods such as Turkish coffee, Kebabs, and Baklava.
In addition to religion and culinary tastes, this melting pot of diverse customs has yielded a unique and distinct culture to which Serbians take much pride in. This is reflected in Serbian people’s wide array of appearances, music, and their duality in scripts. I believe that human civilization has always thrived on the interchange of culture, scholarship, and even conflict. In the coming weeks, I hope to take away as much as I could from this rich culture and people. Serbia has welcomed me with open embrace and hospitality and I hope that I will also be a source of fresh perspective for the Serbian People!