I’ve been in Belgrade for just over two weeks now. This is the first time in 30 years that I’m staying here for a longer time. In the past, I would stay for a week or two, but never longer than that. I had a work to go back to and I had to shape my visits around my holidays. I love that I can spend more time here and that I can reconnect with the city. After all, I’m from Belgrade, it’s my city, despite the fact that I haven’t lived here for a long time. In these two weeks I walked a lot everywhere, because I wanted to see what’s happening in Belgrade?
SO, WHAT IS HAPPENING IN BELGRADE?
My previous visit to Belgrade was in May 2019. I published two posts, “Work in Progress” and “Decadent Belgrade”, where I wrote about major restoration works that were happening at the time, but also about the city’s darker, grimmer side.
In addition to its turbulent history and destruction throughout past centuries, Belgrade was rather neglected after the Second World War, when it became the capital city of communist Yugoslavia. To be fair, perhaps the communist government didn’t pay attention to aesthetics and embellishment of the city, the way it was done before the war. But, they built New Belgrade, infrastructure, factories, hospitals, schools, sport centres and so on. Almost everything built during communist times is still in use.
Belgrade wasn’t just the capital city of communist Yugoslavia, it also looked like a communist capital city. All buildings in the city centre were either black or grey, projecting a typical image of what you would imagine a communist city to look like.
It’s a pity because, despite the destruction in the Second World War, the real beauty of the city has been hidden … until now.
So, let’s have a look at the last year’s projects and also at some new ones, that should be completed a bit later this year, hopefully while I’m still in Belgrade.
When I was in Belgrade, both in November 2018 and May 2019, they were still working on this square. It is now finished.
Many years ago, it was a car park. Then, it was restored in the 80’s, but it ended up looking very bad. This really is the main and the most important space in the city and it has to look perfect. It contains two important cultural institutions, the National Museum and the National Theatre.
There are some other buildings around the square. A new opera building has been in the pipeline for a long time, we will see if and when it will be built. With it, Republic Square will get its proper and final shape.
The square looks much better than before and it certainly looks like a proper square. The same as you can see, for example, in Italy or Spain, a big open space in the middle of the city.
The monument to Prince Mihailo, that you can see in these photos, has been also very recently restored and it looks glamorous now.
BELGRADE’S PEDESTRIAN ZONE
Last year, there were also extensive works on the enlargement of the pedestrian zone. Undoubtedly, Prince Mihailo Street is the focal point of this area, with its magnificent buildings, shops and restaurants.
But, the area both left and right to this elegant street is also only for pedestrians. It looks amazing, especially now in the summer, with its many restaurants, bars and coffee shops lined up literally one after the other.
In the two photos below, you can see Vojvoda Vuk Park and the adjacent area.
If you check my post “Work in Progress”, from last year, you will see these same photos, showing the ongoing works. It’s interesting to compare and to see the end result.
Undoubtedly, this part of the city looks very good now. But, there are still some buildings that need to be restored, to bring the pedestrian zone to its full glory.
One more place that I mentioned last year is Karadjordjeva Street. It’s a part of the city directly below Kalemegdan Park, by the Sava river. It is the prime area of the city. But, it was completely neglected for many decades. There was nothing there when I lived in Belgrade. There used to be a rail track that effectively cut the rest of the city from the river bank.
That has changed. Buildings have been restored and there are many restaurants and bars there now, right by the Sava river. It’s a part of the city that you wouldn’t want to miss, primarily because of its spectacular location.
They are still doing some works, as you can see in the photo below. Once completed, it will form a unique space with the nearby Belgrade Waterfront project, that I will mention later.
BELGRADE’S NEW FACADES
In all honesty, it doesn’t make much sense to take and post pictures of random buildings. However, for this post, I’ve taken photos of recently renovated buildings, that I’ve only ever known as completely dilapidated and black. These are the buildings that have never been touched in the past, but now they stand as precious gems in whatever street in the city they are.
In other words, these buildings now look the same as when they were constructed many years ago.
BUILDINGS IN THE PEDESTRIAN ZONE
A building in the photo below is in Prince Mihailo street. It was black before. Now, it shines, although it seems that it’s not finished. There are no shops yet, but I think that the retail space will be occupied very soon.
There are many beautifully restored buildings in this part of the city. So, if you are new in Belgrade, they may not appear special to you, because you see them for the first time. But, I see them in their full glory for the first time ever.
A building in the photo below is from the end of the 18th century. It represents transition from Ottoman to mid-European architecture and the way of living.
A building below was the house of Platon Papakosopulos. He was the first paediatrician in Serbia. For decades, this building was also completely black.
A building below is just outside the pedestrian zone. It was also completely neglected for decades. I’ve passed by so many times in the past, without noticing it. You wouldn’t miss it now, it’s beautiful.
BUILDINGS AROUND TERAZIJE
Buildings that you can see in the next three photos are all in streets that lead to the Belgrade’s square Terazije. A building below is in Prizrenska Street. You can see a scaffolding to the right, that’s Hotel Balkan, currently under restoration.
Three buildings in the photo below were all in a horrible state. They are in Zeleni Venac Street. All buildings on that side of the road have been restored. Apparently, the other side will be done soon. Perhaps, you can imagine the state of the buildings that await restoration.
Finally, a building below is right at the beginning of Balkanska Street. It was the same as the building that you can see to the right. Balkanska Street is a historical street with many such buildings and shops. But, it is still in a very bad state, so I hope that soon the whole street will also be restored.
Upper Dorćol is also the most central part of the city. It’s a very popular area, with numerous restaurants, bars and coffee shops. It’s a part of the city that you would want to see, if you are in Belgrade. Although it contains many beautiful buildings, the whole area is rather neglected. However, they’ve now started the renovations.
The restored buildings stand out and if and when the whole area is redone, it will be magical. Perhaps, I would compare it with Madrid’s Chueca, it’s similar, but with Belgrade’s charm.
A building below is in King Peter street. I like the colours, surely that’s how it used to be when it was first constructed.
Two restored building in the photo below are in the same street. Interestingly, I took a photo of these buildings last year, which you can see in my post “Decadent Belgrade”. Go and check how they looked before the restoration. You wouldn’t recognise them.
Unfortunately, many other buildings in that same street are in a terrible state, as you can see in the photo below. The good thing is that they’ve started to do something about it. It’s a shame for buildings with such beautiful facades to look like this.
I took a photo of the building below, in Dobračina Street, because of its tender colours. This is a new hotel, in the heart of Belgrade.
There are many houses like the one that you can see below in this area. Most of them are in a terrible condition. However, this particular one, in Simina Street, looks very good now.
Nemanjina Street runs between Slavia Square and the Railway Station. It contains some of Belgrade’s most monumental buildings, such as the one that you can see in the photo below. This is the side view of the building, the front is covered in scaffolding.
I assume that they are restoring this beautiful building because of Sava Square. It’s close by and with it majestic beauty, it adds to an overall impression that you get when you in this part of the city.
This is also the very first time that I see it in its full glory. Prior to restoration, this building was black.
THE RAILWAY STATION
A bit further down the street, you arrive to Sava Square. It’s a very large square, in front of the old Railway Station. As part of the wider Belgrade Waterfront project, this historical station was closed and moved to another part of the city.
The station building has been completely restored and it will have a different function in the future. Perhaps, it will be a museum of some sort. I understand that they are now deciding what to with it.
A building next to the station, that you can see in the photo below, will be also restored. Apparently, it was one of the most beautiful structures in Belgrade, but it was badly damaged in the Second World War. The idea is to return its original facade.
There will be a huge new monument in the middle of the square, dedicated to one of the founders of the medieval Serbian state – Stefan Nemanja. This project should’ve been already completed, but the coronavirus epidemic delayed everything.
When I passed by recently, I saw people working, the new deadline for completion is September this year. It means that I will be able to see this square once it’s finished.
THE REST OF KARADJORDJEVA STREET
While all effort is invested in the square and the former Railway Station building, the adjacent area remains the same as before. Buildings that you can see below are directly opposite to the side the Railway Station that you can see in the photo above.
Let’s see if they will restore facades of these buildings? Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are left as they are. But, that wouldn’t be because there is a lack of refinement among Serbs, far from that.
It would be because of disinterest by the people in charge and their lack of the sense of aesthetics. Just because some people are politicians, it doesn’t mean that they are clever and that they know things.
I’ve already written about the Belgrade Waterfront project in my previous posts. It’s an ongoing project, that will run for some more years. Compared with the last time when I was in Belgrade, they completed two additional buildings and they started working on several more. I took the photo below from the opposite side of the Sava river.
Honestly, I don’t like these buildings. In my opinion, they are very ordinary, they would’ve been perfect in New Belgrade or in some of the Belgrade’s suburbs.
Although, I also have to admit that this is much better than what was there before. In fact, there was nothing before, it was a completely derelict area, right in the heart of the city.
So, let’s wait to see the end result, before we judge.
“LES GRANDS BOULEVARDS”
Similar to what you can find in Paris, there is a string of four boulevards running from the Vuk’s Monument until Kalemegdan Park. Of course, these streets are not as grandiose as in Paris. They started the renovations last year and are doing the last stretch now. These were also major and complex works, that caused a lot of disruption in the city.
Once everything has been completed, hopefully very soon, I’ll go for a walk there. These streets also contain some of Belgrade’s most beautiful buildings, but from what I’ve seen, they are also mostly in a terrible state, with crumbling, dark facades.
Regardless, you will find a lot of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, bakeries and even a green market there. I don’t think that many visitors to Belgrade see these boulevards. Hopefully, that will change in the future, once these four important streets have been revitalised.
There is something else that I’d like to say. The way Belgrade looks points out that, essentially, Serbia is still a relatively poor country and that there isn’t much money for decorative works. There are also other things that need to be done, as part of the city’s daily functioning.
It also means that, compared with western European countries, Serbia is much cheaper and the value for money goes much further. In Belgrade, you can afford to do things that you would most likely have to think twice in Paris or London.
That’s why Belgrade is an ideal destination, especially if you want to spend a bit more time there. You get all benefits of an improving big city, at a very affordable cost.
As you can see, a lot is happening in Belgrade!
So, I look forward to seeing the completed works and I will write about my impressions, with new photos!