I am sure that when all beautiful buildings in Belgrade were built, they were meant to be looked after. Surely, no architect invested 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 to power after the Second World War, didn’t 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 in Belgrade during communist times is still very much in use. Additionally, people will continue to use those facilities for a long time.
But things have changed and, in the past two years, the new city government has invested considerable effort 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’ve taken photos for this post completely randomly. It wasn’t a difficult task, because wherever you are in the city, you can see dilapidated buildings. Some of them are in the very central area, next to already restored buildings.
What matters now is that they are doing the necessary work. 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 restored, as regular maintenance.
The photo above 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 restored, 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.
Perhaps, there is an element of attraction in this decadence especially because, at the same time, you can see many improvements. 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 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 best restaurants and have absolutely exquisite meals for a relatively 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 small budget. You won’t 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’m there, I can afford to do things to an extent that I can’t do in other places. In other places, I’m very much aware of how much everything costs. That’s almost irrelevant in Belgrade, because it’s so cheap.
But, I need to clarify. Belgrade is cheap for people coming from the west, it’s not cheap for an ordinary Serbian person, that earns an ordinary Serbian salary. In fact, for them, Belgrade is expensive.
Well, I am looking at Belgrade from my point of view and this article is really for people that intend to visit it from other countries. Only in that context, you can understand what I’m saying.
Also, it wouldn’t be fair that someone reads my previous posts and only see many beautifully restored 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 the photo above. 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, it’s in a desperate state.