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The present capital of Serbia, Belgrade lies at the juncture of two of Europe's most important waterways, the Danube and Sava rivers, and has served as a major crossroad between Europe and Asia for centuries. Belgrade is one of the oldest cities in Europe, with settlements dating as far back as 6,000 BC, and may have been the home of the largest known prehistoric European culture, the Vincas. The first recorded fort and permanent settlement on this location was built by the Celts in the 3rd century BC, who named it Singidun, or Singidunum, "White Fortress".
Singidunum was ravaged and occupied by a large succession of peoples over the next couple of hundred years, including the Romans, Huns, Sarmatians, Ostrogoths, and Avars, before falling under Byzantium rule in the 9th century AD. This is when the city was given its Slavic name, Beligrad, which means "White Fortress." In the following centuries the city hosted the armies of both the First and Second Crusade and remained a contested battleground between Bulgaria, Hungary, and Byzantium.
In 1456, the Ottomans launched the famous Siege of Belgrade in an attempt to subjugate Hungary - the fall of the fortress at Belgrade would have opened a clear path for Sultan Mehmed II to take the heart of Central Europe. However, an army led by Hungarian John Hunyadi destroyed the Ottoman's forces and is credited not only with saving the city but also with preserving Christianity in Europe. To this day, Catholic churches still ring the church bells at noon in commemoration of the victory. Unfortunately, plague killed many of the victorious soldiers - including Hunyadi - in the weeks following their triumph. In 1521, nearly 70 years later, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent finally captured the city, and it was made the seat of the Ottomans' Sanjak district and quickly became the second largest city in the Empire, eclipsed only by Constantinople.
The Second Serbian Uprising of 1815 (following a brief failed attempt in 1807) granted the Serbian region semi-independence, with full independence not achieved until 1878; the capital of this new kingdom was moved to Belgrade and the city once again prospered and grew rapidly. The city's growth was halted however with the advent of World War I in 1914, when Belgrade was decimated from repeated attacks. After the war, Belgrade became the capital of newly formed Yugoslavia and experienced a period of unforeseen growth and modernization.
Despite the Serbian government's attempt to stay out of World War II, Belgrade was heavily bombed and its people massacred by the Luftwaffe in 1941, and was quickly occupied by the Germans. In 1944, the Allies bombed the city and finally liberated it a few months later. At war's end Serbia was under the Soviet Union's control, and a year later the People's Republic of Yugoslavia was created, with Belgrade again housing the government's seat. Communist Belgrade rapidly developed into a major industrial center.
In 1996, massive demonstrations were held in Belgrade against the Communist-led government, and in 1997 the first mayor of Belgrade was elected who did not belong to the Communist or Socialist party. Unrest continued however, with major bombings during the Kosovo War of 1999 causing substantial damage and leading to hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets. However, in spite of these military and economic troubles of the 1990s, Belgrade has been growing strongly ever since as a center for history, culture, and tourism.