Rivers and History
After catching my breath, I’m exploring Belgrade. An impressive city, it’s been influenced by many empires – Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Serbian, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian. Belgrade is one of Europe’s oldest cities, and the only capital strategically located at the confluence of two major rivers – Danube and Sava.
Its complex history and language difference make writing about Belgrade a formidable task. Memories are short, so the purpose of my blog is developing an understanding of Belgrade.
I’ve taken guided walking tours and explored Belgrade on my own. The city’s complicated history is a bit overwhelming. One tour guide Aleksandar – the owner of my flat – is “strongly connected with the history of Belgrade and Serbia”.
His family has lived in Belgrade for four generations. He knows its history, traditions, and heritage and enjoys sharing with visitors. The goal is providing tourists with a “perspective on modern life, culture, and Belgrade’s complex history”. The fast-paced central city tour is fun and educational. Aleksandar is developing more tours, including inner and outlying areas.
Central Belgrade is near my apartment. It’s a short walk to iconic buildings like the Central Post Office, Old Telephone Exchange, Church of St. Mark, Parliament Building, Presidential Palaces, and other landmarks. Many of the buildings were damaged during WWI and II and rebuilt.
Old Telephone Exchange
The Old Telephone Exchange is around the corner from my flat. Completed in 1908, architect Branko Tanazević designed the building in Serbo-Byzantine style. The beautiful building is an important part of Belgrade’s cultural heritage. I’ve admired it from cafés on Kosovska Street.
Belgrade Central Post Office
A cultural monument, Central Post Office architecture reflects the “complexity of social and political circumstances during the interwar period – 1919 to 1939”. It represents modernist and functional architecture. Serbian architect Aleksandar Đorđević designed the building in the “spirit of the French school of academic style”. Originally, the building was a branch of Serbia’s National Mortgage Bank.
Orthodox Church of St. Mark
The Church of St. Mark is spectacular inside and out! Dedicated to Apostle and Evangelist Mark it’s in Tasmajdan Park near the National Assembly. Spring is in the air and trees in the lovely park are beginning to bud. Walks in the park and stopping for coffee at nearby cafés is always on my itinerary.
The original church was destroyed during the war and rebuilt amid the interwar period. There are several tombs inside the church, including Mlan Obrenovic, King Alexander Obrenovic and his wife Queen Draga Mašin, and King Stefan Dušan the Great.
Belgrade National Assembly – Parliament Building
Completed in 1936 and designed by Russian architect and painter Nikolay Petrovich Krasnov, the National Assembly is Serbia’s “supreme representative body holding constitutional and legislative power”. The Assembly has 250 elected members. The power and scope of the National Assembly is “given by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia”.
I haven’t been inside the National Assembly, but its exterior is beautiful, and the sculpture at the entrance – Black Horses at Play – is magnificent. It’s the work of Croatian sculptor Toma Rosandića. Born as Tomazo Vincenzo, Rosandića was from Split but settled in Belgrade.
The theme of the statues is the struggle between man and nature. There are other more “political stories” about the meaning. Belgrade has major sculptures throughout the city honoring leaders and historical events. Some are by exceptional Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, a favorite artist.
Old and New Palaces
Belgrade’s palaces are across from the National Assembly on Andrićev Venac Street. Each palace has unique, complicated history. There are many dramatic and interesting stories of Serbia’s two royal dynasties – Karađorđević and Obrenović – including an assassination.
New Palace, Novi Dvor, was the royal residence of Serbia’s Karađorđević dynasty and later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Today, it’s the seat of Serbia’s disputed President Aleksandar Vučić.
Built when Serbia became a Kingdom, Old Palace – Stari Dvor was the Royal Palace of Serbia’s Obrenović Dynasty. The beautiful palace was restored after damage from WWI and II. Today it houses Belgrade’s City Assembly.
Nikola Pašić Square
Serbian and Yugoslav politician Nikola Pašić is an “important statesmen and diplomat”. He’s credited with protecting Serbia from Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian influences.
Pašić founded the People’s Radical Party and held several prominent government positions, including president of the Serbian National Assembly, Prime Minister of Yugoslavia and Serbia, Mayor of Belgrade, and Serbian Envoy to Russia. He was one of the authors of the St. Vitus Day Constitution of 1921 giving Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes a unitary monarchy.
A square in Central Belgrade is named after Nikola Pašić. In 1998, a monument created by Serbian Sculptor Zoran Ivanović was erected in his honor.
Terazije Square and Fountain
Terazije Fountain began as a water source for Belgrade, when towers were built throughout Belgrade to bring water from wetlands into the city. Consequently, the Turks called the water towers “terrazioni,” so the square was named Terazije.
Located close to Belgrade’s famous hotels, taverns, and shops, Terazije Square became “the center of social life”. It’s also near the location where German Fascists hanged five Serbian patriots in 1941. Moved and reconstructed many times, the Terazije is now in front of famous Moscow Hotel, where the popular café serves excellent tea and coffee.
Republic Square is undergoing renovation. It features a monument to Prince Mihailo Obrenovic (1823-1868), son of Prince Miloš and Princess Ljubica. He came into power following the death of his elder brother Milan in 1839.
Italian sculptor Enrico Pazzi created the monument in 1882 honoring Prince Mihailo’s “expulsion of the Turks from Serbia after five centuries of governance”.
Mihailo Obrenovic was an elected, rather than hereditary, prince. In 1842, an uprising forced him into exile and brought Alexander Karageorgevich to the throne. Obrenovic left the country and spent six years outside Serbia collaborating with writers and poets including Vuk Karadžić, Đura Daničić, and Branko Radičević. When Prince Miloš returned to Serbia in 1858, Mihailo accompanied him and took command of the Serbian army.
After the death of Prince Miloš, Mihailo regained the throne in 1860 and established an army to “rid Serbia of the Turks”. “Expecting war with Turkey, Mihailo allied himself with other Balkan states – Montenegro, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania.” In 1868, he was assassinated in the Belgrade suburb of Košutnjak.
Built in Republic Square in 1939, Albania Palace is one of the tallest buildings in the Balkans. It replaced the beloved 19th century Albania Tavern. Cramped and neglected, in spite of its shabby condition, the old Turkish-style building was a favorite spot for local socializing.
Albania Tavern’s loyal patrons were “reluctant to abandon their favorite gathering place”. On the day it was demolished, they gathered at the tavern. Guests were served “until firemen started taking tiles off the roof”.
Albania Palace was the main headquarters of the Nazi work organization Todt. In a 1944 WWII Allied bombing, the well-constructed building was hit by a half-ton bomb but only suffered minor damage. In 1983, the Palace became a Belgrade Monument of Cultural Importance.
Belgrade National Theater
As directed by Prince Mihailo Obrenović, Aleksandar Bugarski, the “most productive Belgrade architect in the 19th century”, designed the National Theatre. The architecture is based on the design of La Scala Theater in Milan. It’s built on the location of former Stambol Gate – one of four gates placed at each way out of Belgrade.
Built in 1869, it’s a symbol of Serbian culture, tradition, and spirituality. The popular theatre hosts opera, drama, and ballet performances. The amazing performing art venue has daily performances. Most are sold out. National Theatre was declared a Monument of Culture and Importance in 1983.
Bombings during 1941 and 1944 damaged the theatre’s exterior, interior, and façade. Reconstruction, upgrades, annexes, and expansions occurred between 1870 and 2018.
The design is a blend of Vienna Secession and Baroque architecture. Even with auditorium and stage expansions, there’s limited seating.
Belgrade National Museum
Established in 1844, Serbia’s National Museum is the largest and oldest museum in Belgrade. The “museum’s collection has grown to 400,000 objects, including foreign masterpieces”. It was declared a protected Cultural Monument of Great Importance in 1979. Since 1950, it’s been in Republic Square.
The National Museum is built in Neo-Renaissance style. Neo-Baroque elements on the domes were destroyed during WWII bombings. Like the National Theatre, the museum experienced bouts of redesign and renovation involving various architects and builders, including Andra Stevanović and Nikola Nestorović.