Although Belgrade’s oldest existing religious building is in fact Bajrakli mosque (built in 1575), it is the Orthodox Cathedral, Temple of St Sava and St Mark’s church that came to define iconic city views. In the recent boom in church building there are few new interesting places of worship, as most of the new temples are built according to conservative tastes of churchgoers. Nevertheless, there are three fantastic rule-breaking churches, built by some of the region’s best architects that show how imagination can enhance the sacred space and make it both striking and serene.
St Anthony of Padua (Jože Plečnik)
St Anthony of Padua is most famous for its leaning tower, whose cylindrical shape somewhat resembles the tower of Pisa. This Roman Catholic church however is remarkable because it is the only work of Jože Plečnik in Belgrade. Although born in Ljubljana, Plečnik spread his unique vision developed under tutorship of Otto Wagner across Central and Eastern Europe, most famously in Prague where he was a University Professor. His only Belgrade work is this beautifully serene brick rotunda. The pared down interior is also very striking, with a majestic sculpture of St Anthony and infant christ by Ivan Meštrović.
St Basil of Ostrog, Bežanija (Mihajlo Mitrovic)
Mihajlo Mitrovic is responsible for one of Belgrade’s most famous landmarks: the Genex Tower, aka the Western Gate. The brutalist hulk of a building, which greets anyone travelling to the city by place, cannot be stylistically further apart from this delicate smallish rotunda. St Basil of Ostrog (Sv Vasilije Ostroški) has also the claim of being the first church built in New Belgrade after WWII (finished in 2001). In contrast with the concrete modernity of Ne Belgrade, the church is inspired by old christian churches and blends well with the low-rise houses, some of which house Serbia’s most famous pop-stars (Lepa Brena amongst others).
Sts Cyril and Methodius, Jajinci (Boris Podrecca and Branislav Mitovic)
Partially designed by another (ethnic) Slovene who studied in Vienna, this church close to Jajinci memorial has unfortunately not yet been finished, but would have been a remarkable addition to Belgrade’s architectural heritage. The rumour has it that the parishioners were not happy with its atypical shape (roughly resembling a treasure chest) and have not been willing to donate for its construction which started in 2004. Even in its unfinished state, surrounded by woods and debris, Sts Cyril and Methodius is very atmospheric. The eerie coolness of concrete and irregular shapes lend it an apocalyptic feel while a huge circular opening in the roof bestows dignity to its nave.
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