The Princess Ljubica’s Residence is one of the most important historical buildings in Belgrade. Built in 1830, it certainly had all characteristics of the Serbian-Balkan style houses. It is also among the most preserved examples of the 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. But, the Belgrade city authorities decided to transform it into a museum in the 1970s, in accordance with its historical and artistic values. Thus, after the restoration and reconstruction in 1980, the Princess Ljubica’s Residence became part of the Belgrade City Museums.
The permanent exhibition “The Interiors of the 19th-Century Homes in Belgrade” was set up in September 1980. It illustrates the emergence and development of the high bourgeois culture. It also portrays the way of life and the habitation style in the 19th-century Belgrade.
OTTOMAN BALKAN STYLE ROOM
The room below is a reconstruction of an interior from the first half of the 19th century, when Princess Ljubica lived in the residence. Although its original appearance is unknown, it was certainly a multi-functional room.
During the day, it 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 one wall, but it could also run along three walls. According to the custom of the time, the floor was covered with kilims. An authentic dolap – an inbuilt shelved cupboard used to store the bedding, has been preserved in this room. This also shows that the room had another purpose during the night – for sleeping.
PRINCESS LJUBICA’S ROOM
Supposedly, the Princess used this room. It had 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. Certainly, the most luxurious chamber must have belonged to the Princess.
Princess Ljubica used hammamcik as a dressing bathroom. Originally, it was the only bath in this residence. It also had a small ventilation window in what used to be an outer wall and it was adorned with murals, preserved to the present day. But, the window was closed during the construction of hammam.
However, it is impossible to reconstruct the original appearance of the princess’s room. Like the previous room, this one has also been furnished in the Ottoman Balkan style. It contains kilims and 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. Moreover, mangal – a metal fire container used for additional heating, is in the middle of the room.
Hammam is a type of the steam bath that originates from the Near East. Its design is based on Hellenistic and Roman thermae and they were mostly public facilities. However, only very rich families had hammams in their homes.
In 1836, Prince Miloš ordered building of a large hammam in the south exterior side of the residence, together with sanitary rooms. A private hammam was a sign of luxury, personal wealth and prestige – 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 only used in religious buildings. The floor and the marble bench are the only preserved elements of the original bath’s interior.
Divanhane was undoubtedly a valued feature in the Ottoman architecture. Owing to its design and the windows lined along the wall, it acted as a link between the inner space and the nature. Practically, it provided the airflow and the light for the central hall.
In the Ottoman culture of living, divanhane was the gathering place and central part of the home. Sofas (minderluci), covered with kilims, stood 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 the ruler’s palace, but also by division of its inner spaces into public and private.
OTTOMAN BAROQUE STYLE ROOM
This Ottoman Baroque style furniture, made of walnut in the late 19th century, belonged to the family of Pavle Denić, a Belgrade engineer, professor and diplomat.
FORMATION OF THE SERBIAN BOURGEOIS CLASS
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 started to fade. At the same time, an accelerated transformation took 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 started to abandon the Ottoman legacy. They sought new models for the way and the style of life in Vienna, Buda and Paris.
Consequently, the architectural features and the organisation of living spaces started to change. For example, rooms with previously unknown functions appeared in homes of wealthy families. Especially, the 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, it became a clear sign of the social status and the social class affiliation of the bourgeois family in the 19th century. Additionally, they replaced oriental furniture with European style drawing sets, armchairs, vitrines, small tables and other pieces, adopted with the Biedermeier culture.
BIEDERMEIER STYLE ROOM
The drawing room below belonged to the family of Mihailo Barlovac. He was the Belgrade City Mayor between 1861 and 1868. He was also the President of the Council, a 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.
LATE BIEDERMEIER STYLE ROOM
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. Thus, they placed vitrines, filled with family treasures showing the social status of the family, in dining and drawing rooms which they used for public reception and social representation. As the symbol of power and success, silverware occupied an important place.
BAROQUE REVIVAL DRAWING ROOM
For a wealthy urban family, keeping a salon was an access to the high society. The adornment of the drawing room was primarily concern of a woman, a wife or a mother, who managed the household and strove to make it comfortable and pleasant for everyday life. She certainly paid great attention to the decoration of the drawing rooms, by linking the economic value with the beauty ideal. Walls carried special status symbols, portraits and large mirrors with sumptuously carved frames.
EARLY BIEDERMEIER STUDY
Prince Miloš Obrenović paid great attention and invested large financial resources in construction activities. He realised that the appearance of Belgrade could be most noticeably transformed through architectural endeavours. His successors also pursued vigorous construction works. At that time, Belgrade did not offer possibilities for the education of professionals, thus foreign architects and builders soon started to arrive. The architecture of the capital city followed development and succession of styles of other European cities. Thus, by the last quarter of the 19th century, the city’s appearance entirely changed. From the Ottoman town, Belgrade became a genuine European city.
Divanhane, on the upper floor of the residence, is directly above the one on the ground floor. It is smaller, with a more intimate atmosphere. In Ottoman culture, a home was divided into the men’s – public and the women’s – private sections. The public area, used by men, served for receptions and for business discussions. However, the private rooms, designated for the family and women, were usually located on upper floors, in a separate part of the house. Accordingly, Princess Ljubica most certainly used this divanhane.
ROCOCO REVIVAL STUDY
The changed lifestyle of the urban population in the second half of the 19th century was accompanied by the change in the structure of the living space. Thus, special attention was paid to the study. It became almost mandatory in homes of wealthy citizens. The furniture usually included a secretaire with numerous drawers, which could also be locked to secure the owner’s privacy. The correspondence played an important role in the everyday life, so the writing desk with the lamp and the ink pot was there too. The study below is in the Rococo Revival style, one in the series of eclectic design styles of the second half of the 19th century.
SECOND EMPIRE DRAWING ROOM
For the bourgeois and the merchant class, with increasingly rising power, 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 the representative character of their homes was increasingly highlighted. The comfortable character of Biedermeier gave way to pompous revival styles. Thus, the 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.
ALT DEUTSCH STYLE ROOM
The dark red drawing room was done in the Alt Deutsch style, one of the eclectic styles of the 19th century. It was part of the furnishings in the Obrenović’s summer house in Takovo.
QUEEN NATALIJA’S FURNITURE
This Second Empire furniture once stood in the drawing room of Queen Natalija Obrenović, the wife of King Milan. It was part of the furnishings of the new royal palace, presently known as the Old Palace.
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 famously surrounded herself with renowned and prominent people, who frequented court balls and dinners, and also passed the time with her.
The small divanhane on the first floor is directly opposite the big divanhane, also on the same floor. It’s in the front part of the building and it was most likely used by the women of the house.
WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT THIS MUSEUM?
If you go to Belgrade, I strongly encourage you to visit this small, but very precious museum. Undoubtedly, it will give you an invaluable insight in the Serbian 19th century life and culture. In my opinion, the most interesting are the Ottoman era exhibits, but everything else is also very interesting.
You will also find an excellent collection of the Serbian 19th century paintings, by some of the most prominent Serbian artists of that era. It’s a collection that rivals the collection that you can see in the National Museum, although here paintings are mainly portraits of various important Serbian people.
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 some of your time.
Afterwards, you can carry on with the sightseeing tour and other activities that you planned for your stay in the exciting Serbian capital!