I spent much of the day yesterday exploring New Belgrade (Novi Beograd) on foot. The closest I got during my last visit was enjoying a panoramic view of the area from across the river at Belgrade Fortress in Kalemegdan Park. Novi Beograd is on the left bank of the Sava River. It’s a captivating place full of history, but decidedly different than the urban area where I’m staying in Belgrade proper.
The district was “built from scratch after World War II, and is constructed primarily of concrete”. The word “block” is used to designate its areas. I’ve heard it said that Novi Beograd residents don’t consider themselves part of Belgrade, but rather their own city. Admittedly, I find the massive concrete buildings and brutalist architecture a bit overpowering.
The bus ride to New Belgrade started near Moscow Hotel and passed over the Danube River via Branko’s Bridge. I had a “laid back” bus driver, so none of the stops were indicated inside the bus. Luckily, I found a friendly passenger who told me when to exit for a riverside walk by cafés, splavs, and raft moorings. Clearly, Saturdays are busy, especially when the weather is nice. It was a great opportunity to mingle and “people watch”. There weren’t many tourists, but hordes of locals were enjoying the warm weather. There was an abundance of joggers, cyclists, couples, children, and dogs. Very few masks were worn.
“Surrounded by water, in a bend of the Sava River where it meets the Danube, New Belgrade territory is a former swampland. For centuries it served as no-man’s land between the borders of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires.”
The oldest part of New Belgrade is Bežanija (meaning refugee camp), which became part of the Serbian capital after King Alexander I’s coup in 1929. World War II came and ended, with Josip Broz Tito gaining power as leader of a socialist Yugoslavia. Belgrade became its capital.
After the war in 1948, a huge construction project began to develop a new city and make Belgrade the “massive European capital that Tito so dearly wanted”. The project was designed according to modernist plans inspired by Le Corbusierian principles and socialist aspirations. In 1952, New Belgrade was officially designated a municipality. Today, it’s one of the most populous parts of the city.
Over “200,000 workers and engineers from all over newly liberated Yugoslavia took part in the building process”. Work brigades included youth groups brought in from rural Serbia who provided much of the manual labour. Even high school and university student volunteers took part.
“Where a harmonious relationship between open space and the buildings is achieved, the blokovi generate large squares with greenery, public services, kindergartens, and sport facilities, evidencing social interaction and appropriation.”
Building the city was “backbreaking labour that went on day and night”. There were “no notable technological tools to speak of”. The “mixing of concrete and spreading of sand were done by hand. Horse carriages were used for extremely heavy lifting”.
New Belgrade Blocks
“Numbered 1 to 72, New Belgrade blokovi (blocks) are microcosms constituting local urban identity. Abstract in their naming and form, over the course of the years, they assumed their own characters, each becoming a neighborhood with distinct traits and a sense of belonging among its inhabitants. Blokovi are designed according to varying concepts and typologies, producing from block-to-block different qualities of urban space. The ultimate result catalogues the virtues and vices of the modernist city. Where a harmonious relationship between open space and the buildings is achieved, the blokovi generate large squares with greenery, public services, kindergartens, and sport facilities, evidencing social interaction and appropriation.”
“Novi Beograd was a true source of pride for socialist Yugoslavia, as workers, students and normal people came from all over the state to help build the brand-new part of the capital.”
I spent most of my time walking along the riverside and Park of Friendship, a large, mostly flat green area along the river. New Belgrade is known for fantastic food and restaurants. Some major attractions are listed below. I’ll definitely be visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art.
- The Eternal Flame – erected in memory of civilians who died during 1999 NATO bombings
- Museum of Contemporary Art
- Hotel Yugoslavia
- Ušće Shopping Center
- Genex Tower – 30-story residential and 26-story office towers connected on top
- Sava Centre – large cultural / business center
On my return to more familiar territory, I sat in the outdoor café at Hotel Moscow contemplating my day, while enjoying a pastry and espresso. The crowd was friendly and endlessly interesting!
Late in the afternoon, a small, peaceful religious demonstration passed by the hotel and ended at the nearby National Assembly and Presidential Court Palace. The purpose of the demonstration was unclear to me. Some excited fans were gathering to celebrate Belgrade Red Stars winning the Serbian National Soccer League title.
Later this week, I’m taking a sightseeing boat tour of Belgrade neighborhoods starting at the marina in the Zemun area. It will provide an interesting city perspective from the water.
Truly understanding the history and culture of an area takes concentrated effort, time, and patience but is very rewarding. I’ve learned 100% more about Belgrade and Serbia since my first visit, but have also done a fair amount of mindless wandering… :o) All in all, Saturday was another satisfying day exploring Belgrade!