Despite the city’s long periods under Roman and Ottoman rule, Belgrade currently does not have a single open public bath probably for the first time in the past 19th centuries. Although neither of them were opulent marble-clad pleasure palaces that can still be enjoyed in Budapest or Istanbul, they would certainly come in handy as atmospheric places to warm up in long winter months and as places to socialise.
Apart from the public baths I listed below, there are two famous private baths which survived to this day: Miloš’s hammam which is currently part of Monument restaurant, but is actually the only surviving part of the old princely palace built in 1838, and the hammam in Princess Ljubica’s palace, which can still be admired today.
Roman Baths around Studentski Trg
Traces of Belgrade’s first, Roman, public baths were found under Studentski Trg during excavations in 1968 and they date from 2nd or 3rd Century AD. The baths were located on one of the main streets of Singidunum, which stood where present-day Vasina and many think that the city forum, the heart of Roman Belgrade was actually at Studentski Trg. Although their brick foundations were exposed for some time in the corner of the park, they soon became derelict and were re-buried. Given that there is a plan to construct an underground garage below Studentski Trg, they may yet resurface (or be obliterated)
However, there was another complex of Roman Baths that were found in the vicinity, on the small square between Faculty of Philosophy and Kapetan Miša’s, next to the monument to Njegoš. Their semi-circular apses are still preserved and are now favoured by students as a place to unwind with a beer in the summer.
Hammam in Lower Kalemegdan
Situated in the Lower Town of the Belgrade Fortress, the Hammam still has the tell-tale dome indicating its former function, although it is now used as the Planetarium of the Belgrade Observatory, after it was restored from destruction it suffered in WWII when a nearby ammunition store exploded.
It is not known when it was constructed: some suggest it was built in 18th century, but other sources indicate it is more recent, hailing from 1860s when the Ottomans finally withdrew from Belgrade. It was apparently still in use before WWI, when Serbian soldiers used it for bathing.
Some sources then say it was used a canteen for the Fortress garrison, while it was also located next to one of the first airfileds in the city which was in operation before opening of the Bežanija airfield.
Vračar baths in Mišarska
Tucked away in Mišarska, is a large art-nouveau building with “Javno Kupatilo” (public baths) written on its façade. This suggests that it was constructed at some point before 1930s, although there isn’t much available about their history or interior, apart from a few indications that they were simple baths catering to the to the urban poor.
Recently the building they were in was renovated and it is rumoured that it will be a hotel or a hostel.
The historic Dunav public baths at Dušanova 45 closed their doors in 2004. The history of bathing at this spot probably dates all the way back to the 18th Century, when it housed an Ottoman hammam (steam bath) next to Belgrade’s ancient Jewish quarter, Jalija . The complex was demolished in the wave of modernisation that overtook Belgrade in the late 19th Century, however the wealthy Krsmanović brothers decided to open modern baths at the same spot. This was a smart business move, as back then most Belgraders lacked modern sanitation in their homes.
In its heyday, the Dunav baths were used by the poor and wealthy alike for hygiene and socialising. Patrons could take showers, lounge around in its steam baths and get massages. In the 1920s, a large swimming pool was added and the baths were renovated again in the 1930s.
The Dunav baths remained popular even after World War II. However, as living conditions in Belgrade improved, it drew in fewer and fewer visitors. By the end of the last century, every other public baths in Belgrade had been shut or re-purposed. The hammam in Kalemegdan became the Belgrade planetarium, the baths constructed for Prince Miloš in Admirala Gerpata became a restaurant, while others, such as the one in Mišarska street, were left unused.
When the Dunav baths closed due to financial difficulties, they were used by homeless Belgraders only for the showers. Most of the building was in a very bad state and out of bounds to visitors, with little remaining of its former glitz. The swimming pools were used as storage for a nearby automobile repair shop, while the dilapidated domed Turkish bath section served as a set for the Serbian horror film TT sindrom.
After emergency repair works in 2007 to stop the roof from collapsing, the baths were used as an exhibition space for several editions of October Salon, Belgrade’s most reputable contemporary art exhibitors. Otherwise, it remained shut.
Despite plans to turn the Dunav baths into an art space, there were no concrete plans or works done. As part of Turkey’s charm offensive during the state visit of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in October 2017, there was an agreement between the Serbian and Turkish governments to restore the baths. Although it is still unknown when they will be reopened and what their purpose will be, this agreement will hopefully not only return them to their former glory, but also to their Ottoman roots.
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My dad used public baths in Dusanova street when he was a little boy along with my grandparents!