April 13, 2010

Serbia: the Birthplace of 18 Roman Emperors

Serbia to Boast Heritage as Birthplace of 18 Roman Emperors

By Ksenija Prodanovic
Apr 3, 2010
Monsters and Critics

Belgrade - The mention of Serbia usually brings to mind the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but rarely ever the Roman Empire - despite the fact that 18 Roman rulers, one fifth of all emperors, were born on its territory.

With that in mind, archaeologist Miomir Korac has launched The Road of Roman Emperors in Serbia (Itinerarium Romanum Serbiae) - a project meant to combine dozens of antique places across the country into a 600-kilometre-long tourist itinerary.

'This is perhaps the most important project in Serbia because it is a chance to show the country's pretty face and earn money,' Korac, the head of the Viminacium archaeological site, told the German Press Agency dpa.

Emperors originating from Serbia represented the largest number of Roman monarchs born outside of Italy. Among them were Constantine the Great and Justinian I.

Remnants of imperial cities, residences, villas and forts also remain part of Serbia's Roman legacy.

Viminacium, which used to be the capital of the Roman province of Upper Moesia, is set on thousands of acres of land, some 60 kilometres east of Belgrade.

It is the best preserved and managed antique site in the country, a model for other Roman locations and two Serbian prehistoric spots - Vinca and Lepenski Vir. Both will also be included on the tourist route, because they 'are important for the world heritage,' Korac said.

The circuit will go from the north-western city of Sremska Mitrovica (Sirmium) along the Danube to Belgrade (Singidunum), Vinca and Kostolac (Viminacium), before heading to the southern city of Nis (Naissus), the birth place of emperor Constantine.

'These sites represent enormous heritage from antiquity, not only for Serbia but for the world as well,' Korac said.

The idea of the project is to combine science and culture with tourism, also generating new bicycle roads, inns and infrastructure, bringing money to the impoverished provinces, Korac said.

'We will build some 100 boarding houses - replicas of Roman villas - every 5 to 10 kilometres, so that the route can be traveled either by foot or on bike or by car or all of the above,' Korac said. 'That would initially cost around 39 million euros (52.6 million dollars), but would generate 300 million euros and 300,000 visitors each year.'

The inns, set in authentic surroundings - forests, fields and river banks - are to be family run, with elderly relatives managing the business, women cooking and youngsters helping out with modern aspects such as the internet.

'Serbia has nothing to show. A street in Florence has more beautiful houses than entire Belgrade. Our spas may have a 100-year- long tradition, but are old, outdated and devastated,' Korac said. 'We can not offer them that, but we can sell the energy of the local surroundings.'

Several Serbian ministries have recognized the potential of the project and contributed money for investments in Viminacium, Sirmium and Gamzigrad.

The construction of some inns has already begun, but the process is painfully slow, as the country struggles with the recession and the fact that many ordinary citizens do not know of Serbia's rich heritage.

'I know that Constantine was born in Nis, but I had no idea that there were so many of them,' pensioner Milka Petrovic told dpa.

The project might get a further boost next year when Nis will host a celebration to mark the anniversary of the Edict of Milan, which was signed by Constantine in 313 and proclaimed religious toleration in the Roman Empire.