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  • Writer's pictureMatthias

Belgrade’s belly button

Built in 1953 Nikola Pašić square (Trg Nikole Pašića) is the Serbian capital's youngest town square, realized with extensive construction work to flatten the hilly terrain and featuring a fountain, in which young Belgraders nowadays splash around to celebrate their high school graduation. (According to alleged eyewitnesses even inebriated German Belgraders-by-choice have been sighted in it...) Originally named after communist theorists Marx and Engels the 1992 renaming after a former mayor of Belgrade and Prime Minister of Serbia (who had signed the Corfu Declaration in 1917, laying down the basic provisions of the later Yugoslav state) was a pretty clear statement at the end of socialist Yugoslavia, considering the vicinity to the national parliament building. However, it's the massive figure of a cultural structure that really dominates this spot.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

The Dom Sindikata (trade union hall) – sponsoring-related officially Kombank Dvorana since its reopening in 2018 – is the monumental building that's towering over the square. After its grand opening in 1957 the epic example of socialist realism became one of the most important multipurpose entertainment halls in Belgrade. Especially in the 1970s and 1980s the "Belgrade Olympia" (inspired by the Paris music hall of the same name) was a real benchmark venue, also thanks to the city's largest concert hall, that conductor Mladen Jagušt once named one of the five with the best acoustics in all of Europe. As part of the major renovation in 2017/18 the original interior design was completely restored using old photographies as a reference.

Hidden behind the Kombank Dvorana's facade is a cute little passage named Bezistan (after the oriental market halls) that connects Nikola Pašić square with Terazije square and boulevard. From the 1950s on this courtyard, once lovingly nicknamed "Belgrade's belly button" by its architects, used to offer a haven of peace and quiet in the middle of the busy city, with a little fountain featuring the bronze sculpture of a "Girl with the seashell" as well as a small garden and some cafés. Unfortunately this life is long over and as with so many formerly vibrant places in Belgrade a prosperous future for Bezistan is possible, but uncertain – plans for a renovation have been getting louder and quieter every now and then. At least a small street art gallery is still creating some cultural appeal.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

Back at the square it's now time to turn away from the prominent Pašić sculpture and take a good look at the even more prominent House of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia (Dom Narodne skupštine Republike Srbije), the Serbian Parliament which moved back here following the reestablished Serbian independence in 2006, pretty much 100 years after the first stone had been laid. Following its construction of impressive 30 years the building went on to house the National Council of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the administration of the German occupation force, the Yugoslav Assembly as well as the Federal Council of Serbia-Montenegro. To this day it features a lavish library with various precious books and original furniture as well as numerous sculptures, including four made of white marble symbolizing the founders of Serbia's royal dynasties. Every first Saturday of the month there is a guided tour (in Serbian) for which you can register by mail in advance (also in English):

Photo by Sanja Kostić

Opposite the National Assembly's dome is quite nice Pionirski Park, once surrounded by a fence and closed for the public, since within it stands the Old Palace (Stari dvor), royal residence of the Obrenović dynasty. The representative building designed by Aleksandar Bugarski was supposed to surpass everything that Serbian mansions had to offer back in the 1880s. Over the course of its lifetime it was the setting for several significant moments in Serbian history. It's where in 1889 King Milan Obrenović I abdicated in favor of his son Aleksandar and it's also where in May 1903 that very same successor and his scandal-ridden wife Draga were thrown out of one of the windows and killed following a military conspiracy. Since 1961 the Old Palace has been home to the city assembly.

On the east side of the park you can find a little mystery that has actually puzzled and divided historians for quite some time now. On the one hand, the so-called Observation Post of the Serbian Army High Command on Kajmakčalan (Osmatračnica srpske vrhovne komande na Kajmakčalanu) could be an original observation post that was moved here from the Salonica front ten years after the breakthrough there (Kajmakčalan is the mountain on the Greek-North-Macedonian border). But according to other opinions it might just as well be an actual lookout point that has stood here since the end of World War I. Or just a replica of a grotto cave that Milan I had have built for decoration. Feel free to juggle your own guesses, I am happy to receive further suggestions (and so certainly is the city of Belgrade).

Photo by Sanja Kostić

It might hardly still count as area of Nikola Pašić square, but behind the imposing building of the General post office (Palata Glavne pošte) you should still pop by the Serbo-Byzantine St. Mark's Church (Crkva Svetog Marka), with a base of ​​1,150 m² and enough space for 2,000 believers Belgrade‘s and Serbia's second largest church, after the Church of Saint Sava (Hram Svetog Save). And just like its bigger sister St. Mark's Church hadn't been completed due to World War II and quite a few decorative parts are still in the works. It houses the relics of King and Tsar Stefan Uroš IV Dušan (initiator of Dušan's Code, one of the first legal constitutions in Europe) and the above-mentioned Aleksandar Obrenović (basically a stone's throw away from the palace) as well as one of the most magnificent collections of icons from 18th and 19th century Serbia.

As usual I am gonna close with a quick recommendation for a near snack, coffee or sundowner – and in this case possibly even a live gig. On the roof of Dom Sindikata jazz club Sinnerman is quite a hidden institution, offering food, music and a terrace overlooking a lot of what I've just told you about. Maybe I should have lead with that...? Just find the Dom's inconspicuous main entrance (nope, not the one to the cinema), take one of the elevators and go up to the 7th floor.

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