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Military Museum, Belgrade

  
  - darkometer rating:  4 -

A museum chronicling the military history of Serbia, and Yugoslavia, mainly up to the end of WWII, although there is also a small additional section about the much more recent NATO bombings of 1999

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

  
What there is to see: Even before you get to the museum proper, entering the Kalemegdan Fortress through its main gate, you find yourself surrounded by tanks and cannons and other big military playthings that the kids are happy clambering about on. A few are lined up against the inner fortress wall to the right, but even more are stacked up to the left. These include some German WWII tanks, a set of torpedoes and mines. Round the corner towards a terrace overlooking the Sava river there's some Soviet war gear too, a tank and a Katyusha multiple rocket launcher (known as "Stalin's organ pipes" amongst German troops in WWII). UPDATE December 2015: on my last visit I found this terrace section fenced off. There was no indication as to whether this was only a temporary measure.  
  
Up on the ramp/outer fortress wall, endless rows of vintage cannons from earlier eras complement the open-air collection. The star piece from a dark tourism perspective is also to be found here. Right in front of the museum building stands a Humvee (the original type of US military vehicle that those abhorrent Hummer SUVs are based on) – this exhibit is a recent trophy: apparently this vehicle was captured from NATO troops in the 1999 war! Also interesting is a steel plate full of holes – clearly a test target that's been perforated by armour-piercing ammunition in training. Fearsome firepower clearly evidenced.
 
Inside the museum, it gets going slowly. Very slowly. And not very much at all. The museum's contents are structured chronologically, so the early parts go way back in time. I found it all very stuffy and utterly boring. Unless you really are into ancient history, archaeology even, and don't mind that the information conveyed through English translations of labels and text panels is minimal, these sections can be covered rather quickly.
  
UPDATE December 2015: on my recent return visit to the museum I found that they now make use of interactive (iPad-like) touchscreens on which you can get more info in English. Several of these are dotted around the museum, installed on sticks to which they are attached by a chain, so you can pick them up for comfortable handling (but can't run away with them). English labelling of exhibits has been improved in some parts of the museum too. 
  
One item en route briefly interrupts the tedium: a replica of a part of the famous Skull Tower in Nis (see under Serbia). Only, it's a rather cheap copy. The skulls looking out at you from the wall and through the protective glass panel aren't all that realistic on closer inspection …
 
It gets slightly more interesting with the WW1 section. Here, a panel celebrates Bosnian Serb nationalist group around Gavrilo Princip and his assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand in Sarajevo – which was the starting gun for the Great War. Flags, uniforms, scores of guns and bombs rather lamely illustrate this conflict further, before the build-up to the Second World War is reached.
 
This WWII section contains a few somewhat more remarkable artefacts besides the usual amassed guns, bombs and insignia. For instance, there are a couple of charred books – "victims" of the bombing of the National Library by the Germans in 1941 (the ruins of the building can still be seen in downtown Belgrade). Furthermore there's a German Enigma encoding machine (complete with instructions for use in German). Much is made of atrocities committed by the Germany's Nazis – including some rather gruesome photographic images. A cap from the infamous "Totenkopf"-SS units, complete with the eponymous skull symbol in the centre, is also on display.
 
Predictably, a heavy emphasis in this section of the museum is on the Yugoslav partisans' efforts for liberation, and especially the heroic Marshal Tito. Not only can the great man be seen on scores of historic photos, on display in a glass cabinet are personal belongings of Tito's, as well as one of his uniforms. And then there's a full-on Tito-glorification hall, full of banners and countless medals, but dominated by one of those statues of Tito (see also Tito museum) that has him striding forward in a long overcoat looking grim and determined.
 
With the victorious culmination of WWII in Serbia leading to the formation of the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia, the museum abruptly breaks off. There's nothing about the Cold War, the break with Stalin and the USSR, Tito's role in forming the non-alignment movement, the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Astonishing gaps.
 
The museum does have a coupe of "supplement" sections, however: one with an assortment of items related to Yugoslavia's participation in UN missions, another one simply consists of a collection of guns and uniforms from the Balkan wars of the early and mid 1990s – without any real information accompanying this. In short, there's no mention of Serbia's role in these conflicts. Nothing about Milosevic, or Sarajevo, no Srebrenica, no nothing.
 
The final section is about the 1999 war over Kosovo – or rather, from the Serbian perspective: the "NATO aggression against Yugoslavia" (Kosovo doesn't get a mention either). While no words are wasted on trying to explain how it had come to this and why, all the more emphasis is put on NATO's use of cluster bombs and a label points out that this is actually illegal according to international law. What it fails to add is that the international treaty banning such explosives was only introduced about a decade after the 1999 war, and that the principal proponent of cluster bombs' use in war, the USA, has of course never signed/ratified the convention.
 
Another accusing finger is wagged at the use of depleted uranium (DU) ammunition by the USA in the same conflict. Rightly so, in as much as this is indeed at least highly controversial. Again, though, the USA still defends its use and is not taking part in the international efforts for banning DU. There are claims that the use of the material has led to so-called Gulf-War syndrome amongst people in Serbia and Kosovo (and also Bosnia, where the stuff had been used in the mid-90s too). Italy, in particular, has raised concerns about its military personal having developed health problems attributed to DU in the Balkans. The relevant museum exhibit, however, only consists of two pieces of ammunition behind glass with a scary-looking radioactivity symbol and a document on the side of the cabinet that seems to certify that the items do indeed contain uranium.
 
Somewhat more detail is given about the artefacts in yet another display cabinet: here more "trophies" are the star exhibits, especially pieces of wreckage from a F-16 jet and a F117 stealth fighter plane of the USAF shot down by Yugoslav forces, which still seems to be a source of fierce pride for the Serbian side (more, and bigger, such pieces can be seen at the Aviation Museum too).
 
A propagandistic slant is also clearly obvious in the large map at the end of the museum circuit. It shows little Serbia with lots of arrows pointing towards it, symbolizing all those air strikes performed by NATO planes and war ships, from almost every direction. How nasty of them. Poor old Serbia. Or so the message must be if you don't know anything about the background to these air strikes.
 
I mean to say: controversial as the legality of the NATO war against Yugoslavia in 1999 may have been (and there are many claims to that effect that are not so easy to refute), it hadn't just come out of nothing. A good museum coverage of this subject should at least have mentioned this. But maybe it's still too early for Serbia to engage in a more open-minded coming to terms with its recent history, or for anything like that being reflected in a museum such as this.
 
But even though the way in which the 1999 war is presented at the Belgrade Military Museum is totally unbalanced and one-sided, it is still by far the most interesting bits from a dark tourism perspective, of course.
 
Overall, however, this is not one of the most compelling military museums in the world. Most of it is lacklustre and feels very dated in the style of exposition. The final bits on the 1999 war are the most intriguing parts, and the almost endearingly OTT cult-of-personality-heaviness of the sections featuring Tito just about save it and make it worthwhile visiting the place as a dark tourist.
 
And as an afterthought: in hindsight, I think it could have been better to ignore the given chronological order imposed by arrows leading through the exhibition halls. Rather do it in reverse: start with the 1999 war section, then work your way back in time as much as you can handle it, then skip the rest. I've actually seen locals doing just that! So why not follow their example?
 
 
Location: Right in the Kalemegdan Fortress, about two thirds of a mile (1 km) from Republic Square in Belgrade's city centre, the Museum is just inside the fortress ramparts to the left of the first main gate.
 
Google maps locator:[44.8221,20.4501]
  
 
Access and costs: quite easy to find, quite cheap.
 
Details: To get to the museum first make your way to the Kalemegdan Fortress – Belgrade's No. 1 tourist sight and impossible to miss. From the city centre simply walk all the way up the central pedestrianized tourist street Knez Mihailova to its northern end, continue straight into the park, past the Monument of Gratitude to France (commemorating that country's assistance in WW1), then right and through the first gate towards the central clock tower. But instead of passing through the next gate turn left and the museum's main building is just under a hundred yards up the stairs/ramp. The tanks and cannons lined up along the fortress walls already make it more than clear that you're getting near …
 
All those open-air exhibits can be viewed for free anytime; the exhibition inside the museum building has the following opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Mondays, as well as on certain holidays, e.g. 1 and 2 January, 15/16 February and 11 November).
   
Admission: 150 RSD (various concessions apply).
 
 
Time required: If you only concentrate on the more recent history sections and skip all the older stuff, then as little as half an hour may suffice, though a full hour or even more is probably more realistic to take in the WW I & II sections in more detail too. If you happen to be interested in the older parts of Serbian military history, then you could possible spend even longer still here (but I really can't judge how long).
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: thematically the closest relative to the Military Museum is the Aviation Museum out by Belgrade's international airport. There, the even bigger fragments of NATO planes shot down in 1999 are on display (together with all manner of other aviation-related stuff). The effects of the NATO attacks on Belgrade can still be seen for real – see NATO bombing scars. For yet more, less-related, dark sites in the city see under Belgrade in general.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: in general see Belgrade – the Military Museum is located right in the city's principal sight, the Kalemegdan Fortress, so it makes for the most obvious combination. Walking around the fortress and the park areas it kind of blends into, is indeed one of the indisputable highlights of a trip to Belgrade. The views over the Danube and Sava rivers are fantastic and the fortress itself surely impressive too. One of the best spots for enjoying the views is from the terrace around the tall column with the "Pobetnik" ('victor') statue on top, erected here in commemoration of the victories over the Ottomans and Austria-Hungary after WW1. Originally he was supposed to be in the city centre, but his stark nudity prompted a prudish relocation to this spot … although he and his offensive bits now tower even higher above the surrounding land and the rivers.
 
The fortress is also home to a couple of churches, a cultural institute, a Roman well, more statues and ancient cannons and a cluster of tennis courts ... it's an odd sight seeing people play tennis while scores of tourists watch from the fortress gate's bridge.
 
If that's not enough, there's Belgrade Zoo, at the foot of the fortress's hill to the east. And the city centre's main tourist street Kneza Mihailova begins right at the edge of Kalemegdan Park, so the rest of Belgrade is easily reached from here as well.
   
 
 
  • Military Museum 01Military Museum 01
  • Military Museum 02 - open-air exhibits outside the fortressMilitary Museum 02 - open-air exhibits outside the fortress
  • Military Museum 02b - open-air exhibitsMilitary Museum 02b - open-air exhibits
  • Military Museum 02c - big guns outsideMilitary Museum 02c - big guns outside
  • Military Museum 03 - including German WWII tanksMilitary Museum 03 - including German WWII tanks
  • Military Museum 04 - old Soviet gearMilitary Museum 04 - old Soviet gear
  • Military Museum 05 - more vintage open-air exhibitsMilitary Museum 05 - more vintage open-air exhibits
  • Military Museum 06 - guns galore open airMilitary Museum 06 - guns galore open air
  • Military Museum 07 - perforated steel plateMilitary Museum 07 - perforated steel plate
  • Military Museum 07b - steel plate perforated by gunsMilitary Museum 07b - steel plate perforated by guns
  • Military Museum 08 - US HumVee captured in 1999Military Museum 08 - US HumVee captured in 1999
  • Military Museum 08b - outsideMilitary Museum 08b - outside
  • Military Museum 09 - interior - boring ancient history partMilitary Museum 09 - interior - boring ancient history part
  • Military Museum 09b - stuffy old partMilitary Museum 09b - stuffy old part
  • Military Museum 10 - cheap replica of the Nis skull towerMilitary Museum 10 - cheap replica of the Nis skull tower
  • Military Museum 11 - Gravrilo Princip and the Sarajevo assassinationMilitary Museum 11 - Gravrilo Princip and the Sarajevo assassination
  • Military Museum 11b - new interactive tabletsMilitary Museum 11b - new interactive tablets
  • Military Museum 11c - augmented realityMilitary Museum 11c - augmented reality
  • Military Museum 11d - big shellMilitary Museum 11d - big shell
  • Military Museum 11e - field hospital gearMilitary Museum 11e - field hospital gear
  • Military Museum 11f - bloodied shirtMilitary Museum 11f - bloodied shirt
  • Military Museum 11g - empty display cabinetMilitary Museum 11g - empty display cabinet
  • Military Museum 12 - into WWIIMilitary Museum 12 - into WWII
  • Military Museum 13 - big bombMilitary Museum 13 - big bomb
  • Military Museum 14 - burnt books from National LibraryMilitary Museum 14 - burnt books from National Library
  • Military Museum 15 - scary exhibitMilitary Museum 15 - scary exhibit
  • Military Museum 16 - Nazi atrocitiesMilitary Museum 16 - Nazi atrocities
  • Military Museum 17 - Enigma machineMilitary Museum 17 - Enigma machine
  • Military Museum 18 - WWII victory daysMilitary Museum 18 - WWII victory days
  • Military Museum 18b - en route to socialismMilitary Museum 18b - en route to socialism
  • Military Museum 19 - presumably a partisanMilitary Museum 19 - presumably a partisan
  • Military Museum 19b - sabotage modelMilitary Museum 19b - sabotage model
  • Military Museum 20 - the great TitoMilitary Museum 20 - the great Tito
  • Military Museum 21 - personal belongings of TitoMilitary Museum 21 - personal belongings of Tito
  • Military Museum 22 - Tito hallMilitary Museum 22 - Tito hall
  • Military Museum 23 - Yugoslav UN involvementMilitary Museum 23 - Yugoslav UN involvement
  • Military Museum 24 - from the Balkans warsMilitary Museum 24 - from the Balkans wars
  • Military Museum 25 - that nasty NATO aggression against Serbia in 1999Military Museum 25 - that nasty NATO aggression against Serbia in 1999
  • Military Museum 26 - when NATO even used cluster bombsMilitary Museum 26 - when NATO even used cluster bombs
  • Military Museum 27 - more trophies from shot-down US planesMilitary Museum 27 - more trophies from shot-down US planes
  • Military Museum 27b - captured US pilot jacketMilitary Museum 27b - captured US pilot jacket
  • Military Museum 27c - yours truly with fighter plane helmet projectionMilitary Museum 27c - yours truly with fighter plane helmet projection
  • Military Museum 28 - the US used depleted uranium here tooMilitary Museum 28 - the US used depleted uranium here too
  • Military Museum 29 - view back from the Fortress gateMilitary Museum 29 - view back from the Fortress gate
  • Military Museum 29b - torture museum nearbyMilitary Museum 29b - torture museum nearby
  • Military Museum 30 - The VictorMilitary Museum 30 - The Victor
  • Military Museum 31 - monument of gratitude to FranceMilitary Museum 31 - monument of gratitude to France
  
  
 
 
 
 
 

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