(re)Quest for the cultural landscape of Belgrade, Serbia

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Name (re)Quest for the cultural landscape
Place Belgrade
Country Serbia
Author(s) Jovana Kovacevic, Mirjana Jovanovic, Nada Jadzic
Project start April 2010.
Completion July 2010.
World Heritage not listed
Client /
Project costs enter the costs (if known)

Squer Terazije 1935. and 2005., Belgrade.jpg

<googlemap lat="44.797400" lon="20.506668" zoom="11" width="400" height="300" controls="small"> </googlemap>

Rationale: Why is the case study interesting?

  • Please summarise:- e.g. Design Innovation? Planning Exemplar? Theoretical Insights? Lessons from its failure?

Belgrade, capital city of Serbia, is one of the oldest cities in Europe, was founded by Celts in the 3rd century BC and named Singidunum. Since then begins its long and turbulent history. Archaeological remainings of the first settlements are dating from prehistoric Vincha in the 4800th BC. In the 9th century AD it gets Slavic name Belgrade that was held until today. Throughout its history, Belgrade has been in the government of the various nations, in different countries and had different functions during that period (fortress, Roman limes, capital city). Belgrade conserved prints of all nations and cultures who have lived in it and therefore it deserves this [re]quest for its cultural landscape.

Author's perspective

  • What theoretical or professional perspective do you bring to the case study? Please make a short note on your personal background

Under the influence of globalization the city changes its distinctive cityscape, a characteristic human prints are disappearing. We believe it is a critical time to identify and preserve them before they are irretrievably gone. Since in Serbia, the term cultural landscape is not legally defined, this case study opens the possibility to determine whether the cultural landscape of Belgrade exist. If it is recognized as such it could be identified and preserved. That would open perspective for legal regulation of term cultural landscape in Serbia.

Cultural landscape context

  • Biogeography, cultural features, overall landscape character, history and dynamics

Belgrade is the capital and largest city of Serbia, the city has an urban area of 360 square kilometers, while together with its metropolitan area it covers 3,223 km2. The historical core of Belgrade, today's Kalemegdan, is on the right bank of the rivers. Since the 19th century, the city has been expanding to the south and east, after World War II, New Belgrade was built on the Sava's left bank, merging Belgrade with Zemun.

The specific position of Belgrade, at the confluence of two rivers, at the meeting of the plains and hillside conditioned that it was inhabited from the earliest period (since the Paleolithic). Proximity to water and facilities for fishing, hunting and protected positions on the river banks attracted the first inhabitants of this area. Belgrade’s position may partly explain why the Slavs just settled in that place, as the title Slavs itself means people who live next to the river’’.

Later in history, the position of Belgrade was important in another sense, it meant strategic defense of the borders or the difficult conquest. Dominant position at the confluence of two rivers meant that one that governs the city is the one who controls waterway transport, trade, defense of the city etc. Thus, an important strategic position is the reason that, during its long history, Belgrade was many times conquered by different nations and thereby often destroyed and rebuilt, so that many historical traces disappeared irretrievably. Strategically most important point was the Kalemegdan fortress, located on the hill above the confluence of the Sava and Danube. It is believed that the first fortification on this spot was built by the Celts. Later, Romans built a military fortification there in the first century AD, after which the fort became part of the Roman defensive border (limes). At the same time, it is the oldest part of the city, the core around which the city has later grown.

Most turbulent period of the city and period of its most intense and most frequent destruction and re-building is certainly a period of early 15th century to the mid-19th century. During these 4 centuries, from the moment when Belgrade first became capital of the Serbian state (1403.) to the moment when it became that again, it was conquered several times by the Turks, Serbs and Austria - Hungarians. During this period the city was in constant wavering between Christianity and Islam, on the border between East and West, on the border between the Ottoman and Austria - Hungarian Empire influenced by both of the worlds. This duality is still reflected in its architecture and cultural monuments, and in citizens themselves. However, the modern way of living and the processes of globalization are slowly but surely erasing the prints of cities unique history and character, so that many of them are already gone.

Illustration: Map; sketches; short descriptive analyses

Socio-political context

  • Brief explanation of political economy, legal framework

Sociological, economic and political relations have greatly influenced the image of the city. Often happened in the history that the new government and a new ruler destroyed what remained from the previous government by building a new insignia, regardless whether the cultural values was destroyed. For example, in the early 20th century, after Serbia achieved independence from Ottoman Empire, the Serbian rulers destroyed everything associated with the period of Turkish government, so today there are very few remaining of Ottoman period of Belgrade, unfortunately.

This was particularly expressed after the World War II, when communists came to govern the country; they wanted to erase all traces of previous kingdom governance, so they tear down many important historic and cultural landmarks (such as the very first tram line in Belgrade that was connecting city centre and the former king’s residence, to name only one of many examples). That was period of intensive after-war reconstruction and construction throughout entire country of former Yugoslavia, and Belgrade, as the capitol city, endured profound changes.

Next important changes of Belgrade’s cityscape came during the civil war in former Yugoslavia from 91-95, when the Belgrade was governed by the power of money (corruption among city officials was common thing), which was enhanced by huge economic crises of entire country, accompanied by cultural and social crisis of the whole society. That was the time when the power and political influence were in the hands of rich businessmen with suspicious origin of their money. On the outskirts of the city was developed a large suburbs with no adequate infrastructure. At the same time in the area of historic centre there was uncontrolled illegal construction, old valuable buildings (even entire quarts) were demolished and new ones erected, without any plan; some old buildings have been upgraded with new materials, and so, even today, one can see in the city ugly and “unnatural” hybrids of beautiful old buildings which were added elements of glass and steel. At that time irretrievably disappeared some city attributes that kept Belgrade’s genius loci. ( such as traditional restaurants, art galleries, etc...), But some of them, fortunately, managed to resist the pressure and they still exist and give us hope that one day Belgrade’s cultural landscape could be found.

Lack of specific, adequate and applicable laws and disrespect of existing ones contributed in a large scale to this situation. Unresolved property relations have also had a negative impact. Owners of objects that could have cultural values have not been required to wager in the restoration and preservation, when the state was not able. The result is what we have today - remains of the historic center is scattered among modern and stylish inconsistent buildings, ambient parts of the old town only reminiscent of what they once were, and cultural and historical heritage are slowly disappearing.

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Spatial analysis of area/project

  • What are the main structural features?

Belgrade is a city that has often changed its face during its turbulent history has. Frequent changes have caused following: areas in the inner city center have been planned developed while part of the periphery developed uncontrolled; later, as the city spread to the peripheral areas, they have been incorporated in the city, either through restructuring or, if it was not possible in their original form, which has created a problems in the further expansion of the city regarding organization and urbanization. This caused the appearance of a different urban zones - zones that are arranged and organized (properly developed city fabric matrix) and areas with no visible organization (twisting streets, blocks of different sizes ...) The phases of this historical development of Belgrade can be observed at overall urban city structure

Figure 1:

Urban plan of Belgrade from the 1912. It can be observe regular and unregular built urban tissue.

Belgrade 1912..jpg

Zone 1: Fortress is the oldest part of the city; it have been inhabited from the foundation of the city. Main function was military fortification. Inside the walls there was militery and rich Turkish people, out side the poor one. Organization of space inside the fort is more or less correct, according to the functions that the city had.

Zone 2: As the city was developing , it expanded outside the fortress, surrounded by a moat along which there were four gates, which represented a new outer fortification. The area between the fortress and moat is characterized by regular street network that was developed according to plans when the city expanded to the area. This area have changed a lot after the liberation from the Ottoman Empire; after achieving independence the Serbian government did not want to keep anything that defined Turkish government, and so now, for example, from twenty of the former mosque in Belgrade, unfortunately, only one remained. This part of Belgrade has always been a center of culture and commerce. This part of town has the most potential to develop a unique cultural landscape, as it is the old city core which includes some of the oldest and most valuable buildings and environmental entities in Belgrade.

Zone 3: The area outside the moats and fortifications is area outside where have had lived the Serbian people. During the 19th century, this area developed as the city periphery, with no plan, so it is apparent irregular street network, due to unplanned development and the topography of the terrain.

  • How has it been shaped? Were there any critical decisions?

The development of Belgrade

Critical decisions, were certainly made, Belgrade in its history has been changing every time with changing of the government. In the past and now, in the present, each regency, is trying to leave their mark. A number of years of war that struck Belgrade, have influenced the decline society and their social status, what can today be seen as a cultural landscape of Belgrade released a decline, due to penury and property issues, the State recognizes the case as private property and do not want to invest in their survival or if they invest with little involvement. Important is also, the fact that there isn’t a law that defines the cultural landscape. Illustration: Map/diagram/sketches photos and background notes

Analysis of idea/program/function ("Planning Objective")

  • What are the main functional characteristics?
  • How have they been expressed or incorporated?

Illustration: Map/diagram/sketches photos and background notes

It is notable the policy of demolition of the old structures and new construction (buildings, commercial complexes, open space) regardless of whether it is really necessary or not. We are not paying much attention to whether the newly built fit into the existing picture of the city and the landscape. Functional features are specific townscape that is a combination of different styles of construction and the various elements. Some parts of the townscape are preserved and have kept their original urban functions (residential areas, business, culture, etc.), while others, unfortunately, irretrievably changed their appearance and lost some very characteristic and valuable cultural attributes. By protection of certain structures and even entire streets, it is possible to prevent the disappearance of the cultural identity of the city which once existed in this region.

At the same time during last years there is a shift in the understanding of the importance of cultural heritage, history and tradition, and therefore arise and the various initiatives that are related to this topic. However, this comes down to the individual and unrelated cases that, by themselves, cannot significantly change the state of affairs. On the other hand, the main decision-makers - the city and state officials responsible for culture are expressing interest in this issue, but for now it remains in area of plans, without concrete realization. The interest of experts and interest (though for the time being insufficient) of politicians on this subject implies that the described problems in will be seriously addressed the (hopefully near) future.

Analysis of design/planning process ("Process Biography")

  • How was the area/project formulated and implemented?
  • Who initiated the project and why?
  • Which stakeholders have been involved?
  • Who made the major decisions and when?
  • Were there any important consultations/collaborations?

Illustration: Map/diagram/sketches photos and background notes

In case of Belgrade, there is no concrete plan or project related to the cultural landscape that is being implemented, so that this case study is formulated as our own research and quest for the historical elements of cultural landscape and opportunities for its implementation.

Disappearance of specific character of the city, some historical elements and irreversibly lost genius loci in some parts of the city is obvious, and any initiative for plans, strategies and projects in this area would be of great importance. The professional community is interested to preserve and restore part of the city that can be considered a historical core of Belgrade, but there is no adequate legal framework or institutions through which it could be realized. Potential drivers of regeneration project of the historical city center could be experts in various relevant areas, municipal authorities, NGOs, and city authorities or individuals - city officials.

Main stakeholders in the implementation of future plans would be

  • State institutions
  • private sector / investors
  • public (public participation)
  • NGOs
  • citizens and so on.

For realization of future plans and strategies certainly is necessary professional basis. This requires training of professionals from different fields (art history, architecture, landscape architecture, construction, politics ...) and the formation of multidisciplinary teams. It is also advisable to consult experts from European cities that have in the past faced similar problems.

Initiation and implementation of plans in this area would contribute to a tourist offer of the city, but would have significant educational aspects also. Potential users would be tourists, citizens of Belgrade and all the others.

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Analysis of use/users

  • How is the area/project used and by whom?
  • Is the use changing? Are there any issues?

Illustration: Map/diagram/sketches photos and background notes

No data available

Future development directions

  • How is the area/project evolving?
  • Are there any future goals?

Illustration: Map/diagram/sketches photos and background notes

Future development directions would be:

  • adoption of goal oriented strategies for city development and their implementation
  • adoption of plans for the regeneration / reconstruction of the historical city center
  • adoption of adequate legal framework
  • development of partnership between the private and public sector
  • restructuring of institutions dealing with the protection of monuments of culture
  • training of professionals and development of interdisciplinary research
  • monitoring and implementation experience of European countries

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Peer reviews or critique

  • Has the area/project been reviewed by academic or professional reviewers?
  • What were their main evaluations?

No data available

Successes and limitations

  • What do you see as the main successes and limitations of the area/project?

Illustration: Summary table

No data available

What can be generalized from this case study?

  • Are there any important theoretical insights?

Elements of cultural landscapes do exist in the form of residues in the central zones of the city (individual buildings, streets and parts of the environmental entities).This is the result of the neglect of cultural values in the past, during various periods in the development of the city.

The usual manner that led to the degradation of the cultural heritage of the city: the old building is a very famous old café in Belgrade, one of the oldest built in 1829th. Now it has the status of protected cultural monument. Next to this building once were the first Serbian post office (built 1840.) and the first Serbian pharmacy (built 1830.); these were torn down during period of communist governance and constructed a new, currently existing, which led to irretrievable lost a unique cultural and historical streetscape.

There is a real possibility of regeneration of the historic core of the city and the establishment of cultural landscape. Problems in achieving objectives:

  • absence of a clear strategic policy for development of cultural landscape,
  • lack of adequate institutions to deal with this topic,
  • unresolved ownership relations,
  • lack of legal framework (currently law in force does not recognize the term "cultural landscape")
  • disinterest of the private sector for investment (investors do not see the economic viability of investments)
  • lack of financial resources

The problem that Belgrade faces is not new, many European cities were in similar situation in the past, and we should use their experience and adopt an appropriate model of urban regeneration.

What research questions does it generate?

During research work for this case study we came to conclusion that it is possible to stop this kind of degradation and, by applying specific models ( known from the experiences of other European cities) restore the historic city core, its genius loci and to establish a cultural landscape of Belgrade.

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