I’ve written many stellar articles about Belgrade. And rightly so. It is a dynamic and interesting city, that’s rapidly changing. It is still a refreshingly rare non-globalised European city, especially after most western European cities where you see the same shops and restaurant chains over and over again. In that respect, Belgrade is very authentic. When you walk around, you can see numerous small business, such as shops, restaurants, bars and coffee shops, rather than western outlets. But, Belgrade still has a prominent decadent side and it wouldn’t be fair not to mention it. That’s because when you go there, decadent Belgrade is very much in your face.
I am sure that when all beautiful buildings in Belgrade were built, they were meant to be looked after. Surely, no architect invested significant effort to design elegant and aesthetically pleasing buildings thinking that, one day in the future, they would actually look ugly.
The communist government, that came in power after the Second World War, did not pay much attention to the decorative side of the city. Perhaps, it was an ideological thing, an aspect that they connected with decadent capitalist societies of the west.
Or, it could be that there wasn’t money for maintenance. However, the communist government built the industry, roads, hospitals, schools and huge new residential areas. In communist times, people received flats from the government for free. Apart from factories that previously existed and which are mostly all closed now, everything else constructed during the communist times in Belgrade is still very much in use. And, people will continue to use those facilities for a long time.
But, things have changed and the new city government has invested considerable effort in the past 2 year to improve the city. As I mentioned in my previous posts, they are currently renovating central parts of Belgrade. Also, many previously completely crumbling facades have been brought back to their original splendour.
I have taken photos for this post completely randomly. It wasn’t a difficult task, because wherever you are in the city, you can see such buildings. Some of them are in the very central area, next to already restored buildings.
What matters is that they are doing the necessary work now. Of course, the task is enormous and it will take a long time to tilt the balance to the point when only some buildings would need to be renovated, as regular maintenance.
The above photo is of Balkanska Street. It’s a historical street in the heart of Belgrade, where you can still find some traditional craftsmanship shops. The street was very recently completely renovated, including the subterranean infrastructure. The idea is to bring the street back to its former glory.
But when you see this building, you understand that there is still much more that needs to be done. The same is repeated all over Belgrade. Even the main and the most important Prince Michael street contains buildings with black facades.
Certainly, there are many buildings that still look bad in the most central pedestrian area, despite the fact that they actually have magnificent facades. It’s just that you can’t see it right now. A good example is the building below, in Tzar Lazar Street.
If you go to Belgrade in this period, you will see many works everywhere and a city that is changing the way it looks.
Certainly, there is an element of attraction in this decadence, especially because you can see many improvements at the same time. The potential is huge and once the whole city has been completely restored, it will look much better.
But, there is one more important point to consider.
Right now, Serbia is still a relatively poor country. A building that you can see below almost reflects the current state of affairs in Serbia. It means that Serbia is a cheap country, especially if you compare the cost of everything with more developed western European countries.
It also means that Serbia and Belgrade are excellent value for money. You can go to the best restaurant and have an absolutely exquisite meal for unimaginably small amount of money. If you remain at the “normal” level, the cost of everything is further reduced.
In other words, you can feel like a king in Belgrade, even on a relatively small budget. You will not find that in any other European country, although to my knowledge Romania is similarly affordable.
Thus, for as long as buildings remain as you can see them in this post, Belgrade will be an affordable destination. But, that makes me think – what would I prefer? A splendid, but expensive city that shines beautifully or slightly decadent Belgrade that welcomes with its friendliness, openness and down to earth costs?
I like Belgrade as it is right now, but that’s clearly for my selfish reasons. When I am there, I can afford to do things to the extent that I can’t do in other places. In other places, I am very much aware of how much everything costs. In Belgrade, that’s almost irrelevant, because it is so cheap.
But, I need to clarify. Belgrade is cheap for people coming from the west, it is not cheap for an ordinary Serbian person, that earns an ordinary Serbian salary. In fact, Belgrade is very expensive for them.
Well, I am looking at Belgrade from my point of view and this article is more for people that intend to visit from other countries. Only in that context, you can understand what I am trying to say.
Also, it wouldn’t be fair that someone reads my previous posts and only see many restored and beautiful buildings. Belgrade’s reality is also this. Its decadent, neglected, dilapidated but rather charming side.
But, don’t worry. Right now, they are doing a lot of work all over the city, as you can see in this photo of Republic Square. I look forward to going back there, to see and document the changes. These are really exciting times for Belgrade, the city is finally recapturing its long neglected and hidden beauty.
The main photo in this post is Bezistan. It’s a pedestrian pass between Terazije and Nikola Pašić Square. Right now, this pass is in a terrible state.