Belgrade is Europe, but if you wish to see a real Serbian town, you should pay a visit to Kragujevac –Konstantin Jireček, a Czech writer, the author of HISTORY OF THE SERBS, wrote towards the end of the 19th century. Kragujevac used to be known for the ZASTAVA car manufacturer, which now houses a FIAT factory. This region is attractive for tourists due to developed rural tourism and the fact that the geographic centre of Serbia is located in the close vicinity of Kragujevac.
In the area of Jabucje, on the outskirts of Kragujevac, on the geographic latitude of 44 degrees, zero minutes and 23 seconds and the geographic longitude of 20 degrees, 59 minutes and 48 seconds, Serbia’s geographic centre is located and this site, an interesting tourist landmark, will be marked this year.
The town of Kragujevac is situated on the Lepenica River, between Gledicke Mountains, Rudnik and Crni Vrh. It is very well connected with almost all the places in Serbia and further, as the main arteries flow into the town from five directions.
Kragujevac was the first capital of modern Serbia and it was in this town that industrialization began. Today, with a population of 200,000, it represents the economic, health, cultural and educational centre of the Sumadija region and the Morava river basin (Pomoravlje). It is the fourth largest town in Serbia, but the first in many historical and cultural respects. It was first mentioned under today’s name in Ottoman documents dating from 1476. It would have been named after the kraguj bird, a bird of prey similar to an eagle or a falcon, which inhabited the woods of the region until the 20th century and can also be seen on the town’s coat-of-arms. The town flourished, as the Serbian capital, during the reign of Prince Milos Obrenovic, in the period from 1818 to 1841.
In those years, Kragujevac saw the foundation of the first major institutions in Serbia. It housed the first court, the first pharmacy, the first art school, the first gallery and museum, the first grammar school, the first music ensemble, the first theatre in Serbia. The first newspaper in Serbia was published in Kragujevac. The first trade agreement in Serbia, with Great Britain, was signed in that town and the first generation of law students in Serbia graduated from the Law Department of the Kragujevac Lyceum. The town also boasted the first Serbian football club, called Sumadija, while the Lepenica River was bridged by the first reinforced concrete bridges in Serbia.
On the right bank of the Lepenica River, one can see the Old Church, dating from 1818, and built by Prince Milos. It was in that church that, in 1835, the Sretenje Assembly was held and the first Serbian constitution was enacted. The Assembly sat in the churchyard for 25 years and then a new Assembly edifice was built. It was in that new Assembly building that, in 1878, the resolutions of the Berlin Congress, granting final independence to Serbia, were read out.
Kragujevac was the capital of Serbia until 1841, when, by decree of Prince Mihailo, Belgrade again became the Serbian capital, for the first time after 15th century. At the same time, industry developed in Kragujevac where, upon the establishment of the Cannon Foundry, the future military industry, the first cannons were cast in 1853. The industrial tradition continues a century later, when the car industry started its development in the Zastava car factory. On the basis of a license of the Italian FIAT car company, the first car, FIAT 750, to be widely known by its nickname FICA, was produced in 1955. The following three decades saw the production of some one million of these cars and nearly four million passenger cars, which were exported to 74 countries worldwide. Exports also included hunting and sports weapons, tools and machines.
A National Museum gem, housed in Prince Mihailo’s mansion, which dates from 1860, is the so-called Amidzin konak, the only preserved building of the original court complex from the early 19th century. One of the most beautiful edifices in Kragujevac is the Market building from 1928, which was one of the first covered specialized markets in Europe at the time. It is both an Art Nouveau and academic building and its architect was Đorđe Kovaljevski, who, by the way, was also in charge of the General Regulation Plan of Belgrade. The old city centre in Kragujevac, called Milosev Venac (Milos’ wreath), was protected in the late 20th century as a significant cultural asset.
Kragujevac saw one of the most tragic episodes in Serbian history, when, in the Second World War, some 300 pupils and 18 teachers were shot by a Nazi German firing squad in retaliation. A monument symbolizing a bird with broken wings was built on the site, called Sumarice, and every year an event called the Great School Hour is held there.
Kragujevac is called by many a town of youth, as pupils and students constitute one fourth of the population. It is a city of culture and good entertainment alike and its verdant areas and the wonderful Sumadija landscapes provide guests with an opportunity of enjoying the peace and serenity of the countryside, good food and water, hiking and visits to numerous Serbian medieval monasteries nearby.