The Princess Ljubica’s Residence is one of the most important historical buildings in Belgrade. Built in 1830, it had all characteristics of the Serbian-Balkan style houses. It is among the most preserved examples of civil architecture from the first half of the 19th century Belgrade. It was a luxurious court of the Serbian ruling Obrenović dynasty.
After the expulsion of the Obrenović dynasty from Serbia in 1842, over the next 130 years, the building housed various state institutions. In the 1970s, the Belgrade city authorities decided to transform it into a museum, in accordance with its historical, artistic and heritage value. After restoration and reconstruction in 1980, the Princess Ljubica’s Residence became a part of the Belgrade City Museums. The permanent exhibition “The Interiors of the 19th-Century Homes in Belgrade” was set up in September 1980.
The permanent exhibition illustrates the emergence and development of high bourgeois culture. It also portrays the way of life and the habitation style in the 19th-century Belgrade.
A room below is a reconstruction of an interior from the first half of the 19th century, i.e. from a period when Princess Ljubica lived in the residence. Although the room’s original appearance is not known, it certainly met one of the basic requirements that a room in the residence had to fulfil – multi-functionality.
During the day, the room was used for daily activities: socialising, coffee drinking, dining and conversation. This is indicated by oriental pieces of furniture – peškuni – low octagonal tables that also served as backless chairs. They surrounded – sinija – a low, round table with a shallow frame. Food was served on it and it was used as a dining table. Sećija, a raised wooden bank was placed against the wall. It usually ran along a single wall, but it could also run along three walls. According to the custom of the time, the floor was covered with a kilim. An authentic dolap, an inbuilt shelved cupboard, used to store bedding, has been preserved in this room. This also shows that the room had another purpose during the night – for sleeping.
A room below was supposedly used by the Princess. It was the only room to have hamamcik – a small bathroom adjacent to the bedroom and a subsequently built hamam – an oriental steam bath. At that time bathrooms were a luxury, not available to anyone. The most luxurious chamber must have belonged to the Princess.
It is impossible to reconstruct the original appearance of the princess’s room. Thus, like the previous room this one has been furnished in the Ottoman Balkan style. It was carpeted with kilims and furnished with typical pieces of furniture – sećija and sinija. Minderluk – a bank covered by minder, a cushion filled with straw or wool and placed on the bank to make it softer and more comfortable for sitting can be also seen in the room. In the middle of the room there is also mangal, a metal container for fire used for additional heating.
A hamam is a type of a steam bath that originates from the Near East. Its design is based on Hellenistic and Roman thermae. Hamams were mostly public facilities, while private steam baths could only be found in homes of very rich families.
In 1836, Prince Miloš ordered a large hamam to be built on the south exterior side of the residence. It was accompanied by sanitary rooms. A private hamam was a sign of luxury, personal wealth and prestige. Those were attributes of power and dignity in the Ottoman society. The highest quality materials were used for its construction: stone, brick and glass. The ruler’s quest for magnificence was reflected in the use of marble, previously used only in religious buildings. The floor and the marble bench are the only preserved elements of the bath’s interior.
Divanhane was a valued feature in the Ottoman architecture. Owing to its design and windows lined along the wall, it acts as a link between the inner space and nature. It also has a practical purpose – to ensure airflow and light in the central hall.
In the Ottoman culture of living, divanhane was a gathering place and the central part of a home. Sofas (minderluci), covered with kilims, were placed in front of the windows, along the semicircular wall. Due to its shape, it was a place for conversation. Family members would sit there after lunch, drinking coffee and smoking tobacco in chibouks. There are three divanhanes in the residence. Their purpose was determined by the fact that the building was used as a ruler’s palace, but also by the division of its inner spaces into public and private.
The furniture in a room below once belonged to the family of Pavle Denić, a Belgrade engineer, professor and diplomat. It was made of walnut wood in the late 19th century, in the Ottoman Baroque style.
Owing to the efforts of the Serbs from the Austrian Empire, intellectuals, merchants and artisans, who were settling in Serbia in increasingly large numbers during the 1830s, the oriental tradition was gradually fading. At the same time an accelerated transformation was taking place in all spheres of life. Vast political, economic and cultural changes, as well as the process of industrialisation and urbanisation brought about the formation of a new social class – the bourgeois class. With their growing economic and social power prominent and wealthy Belgrade families were abandoning the Ottoman legacy. They sought new models for the way and style of life in Vienna, Buda and Paris.
This also brought about a change in the culture of habitation. The architectural features and organisation of living spaces underwent change. Rooms serving functions that had been unknown before, appeared in the homes of wealthy families. Special importance was given to the drawing room, used for family gatherings, guest reception and socialising. It was because of its public function that the drawing room was furnished more lavishly than other rooms. Owing to this, in the 19th century it became a clear sign of a social status and social class affiliation of a bourgeois family. Oriental furniture was replaced by comfortable European style drawing sets, armchairs ,vitrines, small tables and other pieces of furniture adopted with the Biedermeier culture.
A drawing room below belonged to the family of Mihailo Barlovac. He was the Belgrade City Mayor between 1861 and 1868 and also the President of the Council, court administrator and an adjutant at the court of Prince Miloš Obrenović.
The padded set was made of wood in the early Biedermeier style. At the time, it was popular among the bourgeois class in Central Europe.
The rise of the bourgeois culture in Central Europe was also reflected in Serbia. Prominent and wealthy citizens dedicated special attention to the design and furnishing of their homes. They placed vitrines filled with family treasures meant to show the social status of the family in dining and drawing rooms, which were primarily used for public reception and social representation. As a symbol of power and success, silverware occupied an important place.
For a wealthy urban family, keeping a salon was an access to high society. The adornment of a drawing room was primarily a concern of a woman, a wife or a mother, who managed the household and strove to make it comfortable and pleasant for everyday life. Great attention was paid to the decoration of drawing rooms achieved by linking the economic value with an ideal of beauty. Walls were adorned with special status symbols, portraits and large mirrors with sumptuously carved frames.
Prince Miloš Obrenović paid great attention to and invested large financial resources in construction activities, realising that the appearance of Belgrade could be most noticeably transformed through architectural endeavours. Vigorous construction work was also pursued by his successors. At that time, Belgrade still did not offer possibilities for the education of professionals and foreign architects and builders soon began to arrive. The architecture of the capital city followed the development and succession of styles from other European cities. Thus, by the last quarter of the 19th century Belgrade’s appearance entirely changed. The city was transformed from an Ottoman town to the genuine European city.
A divanhane in a below photo, on the upper floor of the residence, is placed right above the one on the ground floor. It is smaller, with the more intimate atmosphere. In the Ottoman culture, a home was divided into the men’s – public and women’s – private sections. The public area was mostly used by men, for receptions and discussing business. Private rooms, designated for the family and women were located on the upper floors, a separate part of a house. Accordingly, it is supposed that this divanhane was used by Princess Ljubica.
The changed lifestyle of the urban population in the second half of the 19th century was accompanied by a change in the structure of the living space. Special attention was paid to the study. It became almost mandatory in homes of wealthy citizens. The furniture of a study usually included a secretaire with numerous drawers, which could also be locked to secure the owner’s privacy. Since the correspondence played an important role in everyday life, a writing desks with a lamp and an ink pot could also be found there. A study below is in the Rococo Revival style, one in a series of the eclectic design styles of the second half of the 19th century.
For the bourgeois and the merchant class, whose power was increasingly rising, the interior design and furnishings of homes became a matter of status. Towards the end of the 19th century families became increasingly open to the public and a representative character of their homes was increasingly highlighted. The comfortable character of Biedermeier gave way to pompous revival styles. Furniture became massive, monumental and durable, reflecting the family’s ideals of success, continuity and stability.
The Second Empire drawing room below belonged to the Belgrade family Petković. It was made of solid wood, painted and varnished, with the padding coated in yellow brocade. The mirror which at the time occupied a prominent place in the home, was also a symbol of the social status.
The dark red drawing room in a photo below was done in the Alt Deutsch style, one of the eclectic styles of the 19th century. It was a part of furnishings of the Obrenović’s summer house in Takovo.
The Second Empire furniture below once stood in the drawing room of Queen Natalija Obrenović, the spouse of King Milan. It was a part of the furnishings of a new royal palace, presently known as the Old Palace, a building that now houses the Belgrade City Assembly. Queen Natalija had a sophisticated taste. After the marriage to King Milan, she furnished the Serbian court with expensive furniture and accessories manufactured in famous European workshops. She was also famous for surrounding herself with renowned and prominent people, who frequented court balls and dinners and passed time with her.
If you go to Belgrade, I strongly encourage you to visit this small, but very precious museum. It will give you an invaluable insight into the Serbian life and culture in the 19th century. In my opinion, the most interesting exhibits are from the Ottoman era, but everything else is also very interesting.
Additionally, the Princess Ljubica’s Residence is only a short walk from the main pedestrian area. The entrance is only 200 dinars and you can see everything in an hour or so. Visiting this interesting museum is an ideal way to spend an hour. Afterwards, you can carry on with the sightseeing and other activities that you planned during your stay in the exciting Serbian capital!