Novi Sad (pop. 278.000, metro area pop. 342.000) is the second largest city of Serbia (after the capital Belgrade) and the capital of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina. In its modern form it was founded as Ratzen Stadt in 1694 under the rule of the Habsburg Empire (although some form of settlement existed here permanently from the Stone Age), while its present name Novi Sad (in Latin: Neoplanta) was granted by the Empress Maria Theresia (acting in the capacity of the Queen of Hungary) on February 1, 1748, along with the status of a free royal city (in Hungarian: szabad királyi város).
As a result of numerous layers of history that influenced the city and the whole Vojvodina, Novi Sad is today renowned for its unique mixture of ethnic groups (over 20 of them), cultural and religious diversity. It has no less than five official languages: Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak, Rusyn and Romanian. In the 19th century, Novi Sad was practically the capital of Serbian culture (not only in Austria-Hungary, but as a whole), thus earning the city’s nickname Serbian Athens. Today, Novi Sad is a significant industrial, financial, educational and scientific centre of the region, and a home to the University of Novi Sad, founded in 1960. More recently, Novi Sad is well-known for the EXIT music festival, which has grown to one of Europe’s largest events of that kind. Recently, the city of Novi Sad won two prestigious titles – it will be the European Youth Capital in 2019 and one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2021.
Novi Sad is situated on the Danube river, the most of its part being on the north bank, while the city is dominated by the famous Petrovaradin fortress from the south bank. It is located 80 km (50 miles) to the north-northwest from Belgrade and just under 300 km (cca 185 miles) to the south from Budapest. Since it lies on both the Belgrade-Budapest highway and railway it is fairly easily accessible from both of these cities.
Lying south from Danube, in the close proximity of Novi Sad, is the Fruška Gora mountain (a national park) which is one of the most important centers of biodiversity in whole of the Europe. Also, it comprises one of the most authentic wine regions in Serbia. There is evidence of vine cultivation in the area at least from the Roman times: Emperor Marcus Aurelius planted vast vineyards on its mild, warm southern slopes. Fruška Gora has a nickname too, Little Mount Athos, because it is a home of over a dozen of Orthodox monasteries dating back to the Middle Ages.