Serbia is a landlocked country situated at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, covering the far southern edges of the Pannonian Plain and the central Balkans. It shares borders with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Albania.
Serbia covers a total area of 88,361 km2, which places it 111th in the world. Arable land covers 19,194 km2 (24.8%), and forests cover 19,499 km2 (25.2%) of its territory.
North: 46°11’N (near Hajdukovo)
South: 41°86’ N (near Rastelica)
East: 23°01’E (Senokos near Dimitrovgrad)
West: 18°51’E (near Bezdan in Vojvodina)
The Pannonian Plain covers the northern third of the country (Vojvodina and Macva) while the easternmost tip of Serbia extends into the Wallachian Plain. The terrain of the central part of the country, with the region of Sumadija at its heart, consists chiefly of hills traversed by rivers. Mountains dominate the southern third of Serbia. Dinaric Alps stretch in the west and the southwest, following the flow of the rivers Drina and Ibar. The Carpathian Mountains and Balkan Mountains stretch in a north–south direction in eastern Serbia.
Ancient mountains in the southeast corner of the country belong to the Rilo-Rhodope Mountain system. Elevation ranges from the Midzor peak of the Balkan Mountains at 2,169 metres to the lowest point of just 17 metres near the Danube River at Prahovo.
Serbia’s terrain ranges from fertile plains of northern Vojvodina to limestone ranges and basins in the east and ancient mountains and hills in the southeast.
The terrain of central Serbia consists chiefly of hills and low to medium-high mountains, interspersed with numerous rivers and creeks. The main communication and development line stretches southeast of Belgrade towards Nis and Skopje (in North Macedonia), along the valley formed by the Great and South Morava rivers. Most major cities, as well as the main railroad and highway, are located on or around this line. To the east of this line, in an area that is relatively sparsely populated, the terrain rises to the limestone ranges of Stara Planina and the Serbian Carpathians. To the west, mountains slowly rise towards the southwest, but do not form real ridges. Zlatibor and Kopaonik are the highest mountains of this area.
Mountains cover the largest parts of the country. Four mountain systems meet in Serbia: the Dinaric Alps in the west cover the greatest territory, stretching from northwest to southeast. The Carpathian and Balkan Mountains stretch in a north-south direction in eastern Serbia, east of the Morava valley. Ancient mountains along the South Morava, the highest one being Besna Kobila, belong to the Rila-Rhodope mountain system.
The most significant mountains in Serbia are Kopaonik, Tara, Zlatibor, Stara Planina and Golija. The highest peak in Serbia is Djeravica on Prokletije (2,656 m).
Practically the entire territory (92%) of Serbia belongs to the Danube (Black Sea) drainage basin. Part of Kosovo (5%) belongs to the Adriatic drainage basin, chiefly via the White Drin River. The rest (3%) in Kosovo and southern Serbia belongs to Aegean basin, chiefly via the Vardar River.
The Danube flows 588 km through Serbia or as a border river (with Croatia in the northwest and Romania in the southeast). Other chief rivers in Serbia are tributaries of the Danube including the Sava (flowing from the west), Tisa (flowing from the north), Drina (flowing from the south, forming a natural border with Bosnia and Herzegovina), and Morava. Only the Morava flows nearly entirely through Serbia. Their tributaries form a dense network of smaller rivers and creeks that cover most of the country.
Due to its terrain, natural lakes in Serbia are sparse and small and most are located in Vojvodina, such as the glacial lake Palic and numerous oxbow lakes along rivers. There are, however, several artificial lakes, mostly due to the construction of hydroelectric dams, the biggest being Djerdap on the Danube, Perucac on the Drina, and Vlasina Lake.
The abundance of relatively unpolluted surface water and numerous underground water sources of high quality might present opportunities for exportation and economic improvement. Extensive exploitation and production of bottled water has begun only recently. Despite the country’s access to these water resources, water supply to many Serbian cities is poor due to mismanagement and a lack of adequate investment in infrastructure. This is complicated by water pollution (e.g., pollution in the Ibar River from Trepca zinc-lead compounds affecting Kraljevo and the presence of natural arsenic in underground waters in Zrenjanin).
The theoretical hydroenergetic potential in Serbia is estimated to be around 17,000 GWh. Roughly 10,000 GWh or 60% of Serbia’s hydroenergetic potential is generated by large power plants. The remainder could be generated in small and medium power plants (<25 MW), whose construction by the private sector may improve Serbia’s economy and energy reliability.
Serbia also has a huge geothermal potential, but it is only partially and sporadically accessed. Geothermal water is primarily used for balneological purposes: there are around 60 spas in Serbia, which are seen as an opportunity to improve tourism in the country.
Climate of Serbia is moderate continental with a diversity on local level, caused by geographic location, relief, terrain exposition, presence of river and lake systems, vegetation, urbanization etc. Proximity of the mountain ranges of Alps, Carpathians, Rhodopes, as well as Adriatic Sea and Pannonian plain affect the climate. Location of river ravines and plains in the northern area of the country enable occasional deep southward protrusion of polar air masses on winters, while hot Saharan air often intrudes over the Mediterranean Sea on summers.
Average annual air temperature for the period 1961-1990 for the area with the altitude of up to 300 m amounts to 11 °C. The areas with the altitudes of 300 to 500 m have average annual temperature of around 10.5 °C, and over 1,000 m of altitude around 6 °C.
Annual precipitation, generally, rises with altitude. In lower regions, it ranges in the interval from 540 to 820 mm, areas on altitude over 1,000 m receive in average 700 to 1,000 mm, and some mountainous summits in southwestern Serbia up to 1,500 mm. Major part of Serbia has continental precipitation regimen, with peak in the earlier summer period, except for southwest, which receives highest precipitation autumn. May-June is the rainiest month, with the average of 12 to 13% of total annual amount. February and October have the least precipitation. Snow cover can occurs from late November to early March, and majority of days with snow cover is in January.
Annual sums of solar radiation are in the interval from 1500 to 2200 hours annually.
Surface air circulation is largely influenced by orographic lift. In warmer part of the year, winds from northwest and west prevail. In Vojvodina and Sumadija, east-southeast wind, Kosava, dominates over autumn and winter. Southwestern winds prevail in mountainous part of southwestern Serbia.
Serbia is one of few European countries with very high risk exposure to natural hazards (earthquakes, storms, floods, droughts). It is estimated that potential floods, particularly in areas of Central Serbia, threaten over 500 larger settlements and an area of 16,000 square kilometres. The most disastrous were the floods in May 2014, when 57 people died and a damage of over a 1.5 billion euro was inflicted.
With 29.1% of its territory covered by forest, Serbia is considered to be a middle-forested country, compared on a global scale to world forest coverage at 30%, and European average of 35%. The total forest area in Serbia is 2,252,000 ha (1,194,000 ha or 53% are state-owned, and 1,058,387 ha or 47% are privately owned) or 0.3 ha per inhabitant.
The most common trees are oak, beech, pines and firs. Serbia is a country of rich ecosystem and species diversity – covering only 1.9% of the whole European territory Serbia is home to 39% of European vascular flora, 51% of European fish fauna, 40% of
European reptile and amphibian fauna, 74% of European bird fauna, 67% European mammal fauna. Its abundance of mountains and rivers make it an ideal environment for a variety of animals, many of which are protected including wolves, lynx, bears, foxes and stags. There are 17 snake species living all over the country, 8 of them are venomous.
Mountain of Tara in western Serbia is one of the last regions in Europe where bears can still live in absolute freedom. Serbia is home to about 380 species of bird. In Carska Bara, there are over 300 bird species on just a few square kilometres. Uvac Gorge is considered one of the last habitats of the Griffon vulture in Europe. In area around the city of Kikinda, in the northernmost part of the country, some 145 endangered long-eared owls are noted, making it the world’s biggest settlement of these species. The country is considerably rich with threatened species of bats and butterflies as well.
There are 377 protected areas of Serbia, encompassing 4,947 square kilometres or 6.4% of the country. The “Spatial plan of the Republic of Serbia” states that the total protected area should be increased to 12% by 2021. Those protected areas include 5 national parks (Đerdap, Tara, Kopaonik, Fruska Gora and Sar Mountain), 15 nature parks, 15 “landscapes of outstanding features”, 61 nature reserves, and 281 natural monuments.
Air pollution is a significant problem in Bor area, due to work of large copper mining and smelting complex, and Pancevo where oil and petrochemical industry is based. Some cities suffer from water supply problems, due to mismanagement and low investments in the past, as well as water pollution (like the pollution of the Ibar River from the Trepca zinc-lead combinate, affecting the city of Kraljevo, or the presence of natural arsenic in underground waters in Zrenjanin).
Poor waste management has been identified as one of the most important environmental problems in Serbia and the recycling is a fledgling activity, with only 15% of its waste being turned back for reuse. The 1999 NATO bombing caused serious damage to the environment, with several thousand tonnes of toxic chemicals stored in targeted factories and refineries released into the soil and water basins.