Eastern Europe Trip – Day 6 – Belgrade, Serbia

Today is my third day in Serbia, and my second day exploring Belgrade. For breakfast I went back to Red Bread and had a smoked salmon omelette, and some French press coffee. After breakfast it was time to start my adventures.

First stop was the now abandoned Sava Center. The Sava Center is a multi-use cultural and business center. Designed by Stojan Maksimović, it was built between 1976 and 1979 in a brutalism style architecture. It was recognized globally for the speed that it was built. The style of the building also led to some interesting nicknames such as “spaceship”, “glass garden”, and “concrete ship of peace”. The conference center has a theatre hall with over 4000 seats, 15 conference halls, and an exhibition area. The center has completely fallen into ruin since COVID-19 hit, and many people have stolen things from the interior. Despite all this, the facility is still used today for events. I managed to get inside for a few minutes, but was quickly kicked out by a security guard. To be fair one of the sliding glass doors still worked, and I can’t understand Cyrillic.

Across the street is Blok 21 and Blok 22, some of the longest apartment buildings in the entire world.

Next up was Genex Tower. The Genex Tower, also known as Western City Gate, is a 36 storey skyscraper that spans 154 metres (505 feet) tall. It was designed by architect Mihajlo Mitrović in the brutalist architecture style, which is one of my favourites. It is formed by two towers connected with a two storey bridge, and has a revolving restaurant at the top. It is the second tallest building in Belgrade after Ušće Tower. The building is designed to resemble a high-rise gate greeting people arriving in the city from the West. The tower received its name because one of the initial tenants was the Genex Group, a state-owned company. The office building, the shorter of the two buildings continues to remain unoccupied to this day, but the residential tower is still occupied. The revolving restaurant no longer operates either. Again I tried to get into this building; the revolving door to the office side still worked, but I was quickly escorted out again. The residential side was locked and I didn’t want to sneak in after people. Here’s a link to someone’s blog who showcases what the interior of the building looks like.

A short walk away was SIV 3. The SIV 3 (Belgrade Stock Exchange) building was built in 1975. It was built in a brutalism architecture style and designed by architect Ljupko Ćurčić.

Right next door is Opština Novi Beograd, however I couldn’t find much information on this mid-century modern building. I thought it was neat non the less.

I then caught a 15 minute bus ride to The Air Force Command Building. The Air Force Command Building (Komanda Vazduhoplovstva), designed by architect Dragiša Brašovan, was constructed in 1935, on the site of the former Military Command. The brutalism style building is four stories tall and is overlooked by a seven-storey tower that is centrally located within the building. It was completed in 1935. Sadly, it was bombed in the April 5th 1999 NATO attack, and hasn’t been used since.

It was time to get some lunch so I stopped by at The Old Customs House restaurant, and had some Serbian Salad, and a Serbian hamburger called Gurmanska Pljeskavica.

After lunch it was a steep walk up a cobblestone road to Gardos Tower, also known as the Millennium Tower. It was built in 1896 to celebrate 1000 years of Hungarian settlement in the Pannonian plain. I went to the top of the tower for $2.45 CDN, and was presented with spectacular view of New Belgrade.

I then started the long walk back to my hotel, with a few stops along the way. First stop was the Amusement Park overlooking the Danube river. It was fairly old, but some parts were still operational.

Close by was Hotel Jugoslavija. Hotel Jugoslavija is one of the oldest luxurious Serbian hotels in existence. The brutalism style hotel was opened in 1969 but has been closed to visitors since 2006 when it was purchased by “Danube Riverside” for €31.3 million in hopes of revitalizing the building. The plan was to make the area that the building sits on a mixed use residential and commercial area with new twin towers, dubbed as “Project Riverside” but as of October 2019 nothing has changed. It’s still stuck in the late 1960’s.

Next up was The Palace of Serbia, which was built between 1947 and 1959 in Block 13 of “New Belgrade” as a purpose-built government building. It was designed by Mihailo Janković. The soviet style building resembles an “H” when viewed from above.

While I thought I was done for the day, I decided I had a bit more energy left in my body so I took a 45 minute bus ride to Eastern City Gate. Eastern City Gate is a complex of three large residential buildings that is very prominent along the Belgrade skyline. The complex, which was officially named Rudo, was finished in 1976 was considered one of the symbols of the city, and of Yugoslav Socialism in general. Eastern Gate was constructed from 1973 to 1976. The brutalism style buildings were designed by architect Vera Ćirković and civil engineer Milutin Jerotijević. Each building is 28 stories (85 metres; 279 feet) tall and contains 190 apartments. Sadly, today, the buildings are in very rough shape. In 2013 concrete chunks up to 60 kg (130 pounds) started to fall off the buildings. Engineers estimated that the building needed about €4 million to repair the building. The tenants and city started to collect money for the repairs, but fell extremely short at only €110000. While I was taking photos of the building I met a wonderful lady named Aneta, and her cute dog Peggy. We chatted for a bit about what life was like in Yugoslavia, a bit about the building, and I got to pet her cute puppy.

I took the bus back towards the city center and got off outside of the BIGZ building. The building was built between 1936 and 1941 in Modernish architectural style, although I feel it has some Art-Deco vibes to it. It was designed by Dragiša Brašovan. It was originally used as a printing press, and at its peak employed over 3000 workers. After the social and economic crisis of the early 1990’s, there was a lack of funding and the building became unused and neglected. By 2000 a few small businesses began to occupy the building. In 1992 it was declared a cultural monument, and placed under the state protection in 1992. In 2018 it housed printing offices, warehouses, music and art studios, night clubs, radio-stations, a cultural center, and even a circus. Numerous promises were made to repair the building, and was even involved with some scandals. In February 2021 Marera Properties and Aleksander Gradnja took over the building, started to clean the building and kicked out the existing tenants. It’s estimated the building will be fully restored by the end of 2023, but many have their doubts.

The last and final stop of the day was the Museum of Yugoslavia, which is a history museum dedicated to the period of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the life of Josip Broz Tito. Josip Tito’s grave is even located in the House of Flowers, one of the three buildings on site. The museum was opened in 1962, and was a present from the City of Belgrade to Josip Broz Tito, the President of Yugoslavia at the time, for his 70th birthday. When you walk up to the museum complex you see the May 25 Museum, the one built in 1962. It’s a beautiful example of mid-century modern. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take any photos inside the museum, however I highly recommend going, as there’s a ton of things to learn.

After visiting the museum I took the bus to Angry Monk to have some ramen and a Sapporo beer, before heading back to my hotel for the evening.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 5 – Novi Sad, TV Towers, and Smederevo Fortress

Today was my second day in Serbia. I woke up around 7am and chatted with the receptionist on my way out, and headed Boutique #1 for breakfast, where I had an espresso and another prosciutto omelette for breakfast, but it wasn’t as good as the previous day’s restaurant. After breakfast I walked across the street to the Marriott, where I picked up my rental car that I had rented online last night. I usually use SIXT when I rent in Europe, and this was no exception. I was given a Renault Clio 3-cylinder, which was comically slow.

First stop on today’s adventure was was Iriški Venac Tower, about an hours away. Iriški Venac Tower, a 170 metre tall TV tower built of concrete, near Novi Sad, Serbia. The tower was built in 1975, and was used until 1999 when it was bombed during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

Next up was the abandoned Spicer Castle, about 30 minutes away, which was built by the Spicer family from 1890 to 1892. The castle interior was decorated in secession style. The building was featured in many horror movies that were filmed in Serbia. Sadly the building was recently fenced off due to vandalism occurring, so I was unable to see the inside. I’ve attached some pictures of the inside, and given credit to the sources. The road to the castle was absolutely stunning with fall colours!

Photo Credit: Teodora Zivanovic
Photo Credit: Rejko Keravica

Close by is the city of Novi Sad, where I parked my car, and walked around, as well as ate some lunch. Parking was a bit of a strange scenario, which I eventually figured out. It’s not clear that you need to go to a tobacco kiosk, purchase a scratch ticket for $0.65 CDN, scratch off the hour you want to park, and then display on your dash. Since I was parking for a minimum of two hours I had to buy two tickets. This is an extremely inefficient system in my opinion, but hey it works!

My first stop on my walk around Novi Sad was Petrovaradin Fortress. Construction of the fortress started in 1692 and was completed in 1780.

My second stop was Saint George’s Cathedral. The Serbian orthodox church was completed in 1905 on the same grounds that the ruins of a church that was built in 1734, but was destroyed by a bombing in 1849. The cathedral was closed on the inside, so I was unable to enter, however the exterior is quite beautiful.

Looking Southwest you’re presented with the beautiful street of Smaj Jovina.

I was getting hungry so I stopped in at Dobri Dim Gastro Pub, and had a Cubano sandwich, and an IPA beer. The owner and I chatted for a bit, and she gave me a few other recommendation to see around town.

After lunch a few minutes away is the Roman Catholic Church of the Name of Mary. The Gothic Revival style church was completed between 1892 and 1894, and is 72 metres (236 feet) tall. It replaces a church that once stood the very same ground, and was also destroyed by a bombing in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

Next stop was Menrat’s Palace. This beautiful Art-Nouveau style building was completed between 1908-1909, and was designed by Lipot Baumhorn.

Close by is the Serbian National Theatre. The current theatre was opened in 1981, however the theatre was founded in 1861 during a conference of the Serbian National Theatre Society. It’s hard to pin-point a style for this building however I’d say it somewhat resembles mid-century modern, despite being in the wrong decade for that style.

The final building I wanted to see in Novi Sad was the Provincial Secretariat for Education, Regulations, Administration and National Minorities & National Communities. Wow, what a tongue twister of a name! The building is also called Banovina. This building houses the Government of Vojvodina, which is an autonomous province of Serbia. This Art-Deco style building was designed by Dragisa Brasovan, and was built between 1936 and 1940.

It was then time to do some more driving. About 1.5 hours away (back towards Belgrade) was Avala Tower. Avala Tower is a 205 metre (672 feet) tall telecommunications tower located on Mount Avala. The original tower was constructed between 1961 and 1965, but was destroyed in 1999 during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. It was reconstructed between 2006 and 2010. The original tower was designed by architects Uglješa Bogunović and Slobodan Janjić, and engineer Milan Krstić. The tower had an observation deck, and was the only tower in the world to have an equilateral triangle as its cross section, and one of very few towers not perched directly into the ground, but more so standing on its legs. The legs form a tripod. The rebuilt tower looks essentially the same but is 2 metres (6.5 feet) taller than the original. Today was an extremely foggy day so I could barely see the building, however it made for some really neat photos!

Another hour away is Smederevo Fortress. Construction started on the fortress in 1428, with the inner city being completed by 1430. It was further fortified in 1459 after the Ottoman Empire overtook the city. Restoration started in the late 2000’s, and is currently being considered as a possible nomination to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I drove back to Belgrade airport, dropped off the car, got a PCR test for my travel on Tuesday to Budapest, and then took the bus back into Belgrade. It was about 8pm and I was getting hungry so I stopped at a restaurant called Guli, which my dad and sister ate at a few years ago and had recommended to me.

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