Ada Ciganlija (Serbian Cyrillic: Ада Циганлија, pronounced [ˈǎːda tsiˈɡǎnlija]), colloquially shortened to Ada, is a river island that has artificially been turned into a peninsula, located in the Sava River’s course through central Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. The name can also refer to the adjoining artificial Lake Sava and its beach. To take advantage of its central location, over the past few decades, it was turned into an immensely popular recreational zone, most notable for its beaches and sports facilities, which, during summer seasons, can have over 100,000 visitors daily and up to 300,000 visitors over the weekend. Due to this popularity, Ada Ciganlija has been commonly nicknamed “More Beograda” (“Belgrade’s Sea”), which was officially accepted as an advertising slogan in 2008, stylised as More BeogrADA.
Ada Ciganlija is located on the southern bank of the Sava River, 4 km away from its mouth, and entirely belongs to Belgrade’s municipality of Čukarica. Its eastern tip roughly borders the urban neighborhood of Senjak on the west (across an inlet called Čukarica Bay), and the body of the peninsula borders the neighborhoods of Čukarica and Makiš (both across Lake Sava). Across the river, Ada Ciganlija borders Novi Beograd (specifically residential bloks and the urban neighborhoods of Savski Nasip) and another artificial peninsula called Mala Ciganlija (“Little Ciganlija”). Between Ada Ciganlija and Novi Beograd lies Ada Međica, a wholly insulated river island.
Formerly an island, Ada Ciganlija is now an elongated peninsula, stretching for 6 km from west to east and 700 m from north to south at its widest, and covering an area of 2.7 km2. The entire Ada Ciganlija ecological complex, which stretches into the municipality of Novi Beograd, covers an area of 8 km2, including the islands of Ada Ciganlija and Ada Međica, waterways between the two Adas and Lake Sava, and some of Makiš itself. Lake Sava, formerly a branch of the Sava, was turned into a lake with two dams, while the remaining section on the northeast was turned into Čukarica Bay. There is another small lake on Ada Ciganlija itself, known as Ada Safari.
Thanks to the combination of factors, Ada Ciganlija is privileged with a microclimate. Situated between a river, an artificial flowing lake, various islands, and a heavily wooded area, air humidity is heightened compared to the rest of the city, helping to nullify Belgrade’s high temperatures during summer.
Ada Ciganlija has a unique ecosystem, creating an oasis in the urban area. Most of the peninsula is forested. The original, thick deciduous forest mainly consists of oaks, elms,birches and willows. In the mid 20th century, further planned forestation of Ada Ciganlija included the planting of American poplars and green ash. This characteristic of Ada gives its visitors an illusion of being in complete wilderness, aided by the fact that city ambient noise is completely muted by the thick forest. Most of the forest on the island is protected, including the entire central, northern and western sections. These parts of the peninsula are entirely wild with uncultivated vegetation and very little or no human presence, making it unique compared to other European city islands and peninsulas.
In terms of fauna, besides having numerous amphibians and insects, Ada Ciganlija contains several mammal species, considered special due to the setting of the peninsula in an urban area. Foxes, hares and roe deer inhabit the peninsula. However, with environmentalists warning that the island’s biocoenosis has been overly affected, a new population of 60 hares and 100 pheasants was introduced into the ecosystem in 2006.
Bird species include more common lapwings, mallards, quails and pheasants, but also some threatened migratory birds, most notably the pygmy cormorant which winters in Belgrade in large numbers (over 3,000, as ongoing research by the League for Ornithological Action shows). That represents 5% of the European wintering population of that species. Common woodland and parkland birds during the nesting season include great tit, blue tit, long-tailed tit, Eurasian nuthatch, European green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, golden oriole, nightingale, blackcap, common chaffinch, hooded crow, European magpie, common wood pigeon, feral pigeon, white wagtail and barn swallow.
The only settlement on Ada Ciganlija is located in its northern section, located behind another dam. It is called Partizan, because of the nearby Partizan rowing club. City authorities plan to relocate the settlement alongside its 1,000 inhabitants, who generally oppose the move. During the 2006 European floods, city authorities urged them to move to the mainland from the settlement, which was located almost 8 m below the dam, as the Sava reached a record height of 723 cm. The wall of the dam, on the brink of collapse, was hastily strengthened and elevated in an effort to prevent catastrophe, but even in these conditions, the populace refused to relocate, claiming the city to just be using the situation to relocate them.
Lake Sava (Serbian: Савско језеро, Savsko jezero), often also referred to as Ada, was created from the right arm of the Sava with the building of two dams near the northern and southern tips of the island in 1967.
The lake is 4.2 km long, has an average width of 200 m and is 4 to 6 m deep. It covers and area of 0.8 km2 and is 78 m above sea level, one of the lowest areas of Belgrade. 7 km of its shores on both sides have been transformed into a gravel beach. The water regularly reaches 24 °C during summer.
Both dams allow water to flow through tubes and pumps. This way, the main body of the lake is connected to the smaller body of water on the southwest, which is itself separated from the river by the third dam. This mini “buffer” lake called Taložnik (“depository”) is used as a purifier for the waters of both Lake Sava and city waterworks, which also use this water. Filtered water is constantly being pumped into the lake while on the northeast, the water is pumped out by electrically powered pumps through another dam into Čukarica Bay.
In this way, an artificial flow of water through the lake is created. Because the water is also used for drinking, sanitation and environmental protection of the lake are imperative and the lake is under rigorous environmental protection. Weeds are groomed on the lake’s bottom to purify the water by bonding phosphorus, nitrogen and dirt. Use of motorboats is strictly prohibited in the lake and dogs are also not allowed on the beach.
Wildlife in the lake mostly consists of introduced fish species. The most common fish in the lake are silver carp and grass carp but large catfish can also be found, causing concern and an issued statement that they are harmless.
The freshwater jellyfish Craspedacusta sowerbyi was discovered in 2008, garnering much attention for the lake.
Ada Safari is a small, irregularly shaped lake on the northern tip of Ada Ciganlija, primarily used for fishing. It was the last remaining marshy area during the transformation of the peninsula, infested by undergrowth and reeds, until its conversion into a lake in 1994, with an area of 6 ha. Rare species of fish were introduced in order to create a fishing resort, which now consists of 300 numbered fishing seats around the lake with an obligatory special permit for fishing in Ada Safari. Fish species include common carp, grass carp, crucian carp and tench, which is rare in Serbia. A small zoo has been built next to the lake, chiefly containing swamp birds like ducks and swans, as well as more exotic animals such as peacocks and pygmy goats.