Belgrade, Serbia's capital city, lies at the convergence of two rivers - the Sava and the Danube - and this alone makes the city unique. Belgrade has always served as a crossroads of some sort, including trade routes and history. In some ways, the banks of the two rivers are like two distinct worlds. Locals sometimes joke that the Danube even smells different than the Sava.
On the banks of the Sava is the "new" Belgrade. Formerly a port warehouse, Beton Hala has transformed into the epicentre of the hedonistic lifestyle and now features design showrooms, restaurants and exclusive fitness clubs. But on the banks of the Danube, Zemun is the Austro-Hungarian zone that existed as an autonomous territory, becoming an official part of Belgrade only in 1929.
A feeling of local patriotism still prevails in Zemun, especially if you walk the kilometre-long promenade along the Danube, where countless restaurants stand next to each other, and barges are home to cafés.
Definitely have lunch or dinner at Šaran - the city's most legendary and the locals' favourite fish restaurant, where in the evenings you can always listen to an authentic performance of traditional music. Since most of the diners are locals, the musicians tend to wander from table to table, enquiring as to which songs they should play to make the guests happy.
Belgrade is not one of those cities that unfolds at once. The deep lines of sullenness, conflict and war are still sensed in its streets. It is somewhat like a diamond in the rough - one that continually is being polished. And that is precisely why it is so interesting to be here, to witness with one's own eyes and almost literally feel how the city is changing.
One of Belgrade's symbols is the Contemporary Art Museum, whose location alone is noteworthy - the Sava and Danube river delta.
The museum, which opened its doors in 1953, is one of the most glaring examples of socialist architecture and its project author is the then-famous Yugoslavian architect Ivan Antič. The museum building - geometrically perfect like a polished crystal, is considered his masterpiece. Another accomplishment by this architect is the Sports Complex on the banks of the Danube. Built in the Modernist style, this building was constructed to host the world championship in swimming. Yugoslavian president Josip Broz Tito took part in the opening of the building in 1973.
The signs of the times of secession can also be seen in Belgrade's streets. One of the brightest examples of this is a now-defunct department store, built in 1907, on Kralja Petra Street. Then there's the Hotel Moscow, where, by the way, Ernest Hemingway once stayed. In its turn, Dositej's Lyceum on Gospodar Jevermova Street still maintains signs of the Ottoman period. Nearby, in Student Square, basks the most poignant example of the new Belgrade - the Hotel Square Nine, which opened its doors just this past spring. Its designer is one of the most well-known contemporary Brazilian architects, Isay Weinfeld.
If everything goes as planned, then the Danube riverbank territory will receive a face-lift in 2020. The area's modernisation plan has been developed by the well-known American architect Daniel Liebeskind.
There are at least three reasons why it's worth going to Belgrade right now:
- Belgrade is a city with an unbelievable concentration of bars and restaurants. Moreover, since it is traditional for Belgradians to have their meals away from home and also to complete all business transactions in restaurants, the quality standards of these places are held high. Additionally, Belgrade's restaurants are known for their gigantic portion sizes, so when you get home you'll have to diet for at least a week.
- Belgrade is famous for its nightlife (for almost any age, say, from 15 to 65) and all-night eateries, where clubbers arrive around dawn. The most legendary is Loki on the corner of Kralja Petra 1 and Gospodar Jovanova streets.
- Belgrade is currently enjoying an explosive period of design and creative ideas. The formerly industrial territories are experiencing change on a wide scale. Former port warehouses, along with bankrupt supermarkets from socialist times and the early capitalism period are now becoming art galleries, design shops, performance spaces, bars and restaurants. It's not for nothing that Belgrade's annual Design Week, which recently took place for the 6th year in a row, was deemed one of the "the best creative conferences in the world" by The Financial Times. Furthermore, having suffered through the cult of global brands, Belgrade is also one of those cities where local design is especially respected and valued.
Keywords: essence, Belgrade, Serbia