Hidden Belgrade (40): National Assembly’s Grand Interior

Built in 1936, on the spot of the former Batal mosque, and just across the road from the royal place complex, the National Assembly building, was built to impress the power and ambitions of the ill-fated Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

The outdated, Belle Epoque grandeur of its exterior was based on a design by Konstantin Jovanović in 1892, (later modified by Jovan and Petar Ilkić in 1901) was imagined with domes and medallions referencing ancient statesmen to show the new nation’s connection with ancient history. The most notable feature of the exterior however are the two huge statues by Toma Rosandić depicting men fighting wild horses, an allegory of the constant struggle between men and the forces of nature and history.

However, the somewhat stodgy pompousness of the exterior was outdone by the interior designed by the former Russian imperial court architect, Nikolai Krasnov, which was only completed in 1936. Krasnov did not pull any stops  in the use of the best materials and artworks from across the newly-formed country. 

The opulence is evident starting from the domed entrance hall, where the visitors are greeted into this neo-renaissance fantasy by huge marble statues of major historic figures from each of the three constituent nations: King Tomislav (Croatia), Prince Kocelj (Slovenia), Emperor Dušan and Karađorđe (both representing Serbia).

However, the most impressive is the original Hall of the Senate of Yugoslavia, where the senators were looked over by the angry-looking couples in national dress from the six regions of Yugoslavia, painted by Mirko Rački. There is also the humongous modernist allegorical wall-painting representing all the different trades (and religions) of Yugoslavia, painted by Mate Menegalo Rodić in 1937.

The main assembly room is a bit more demure affair, especially as its former centre-piece, a portrait of King Petar II, is now just an empty frame. One notable relict however, if the copy of the Serbian constitution from 1837, one of the most progressive in Europe at the time, but which was in power for less than a two months, as it faced opposition from Ottoman, Habsburg and Russian empires, three feudal powers which were back then deciding on Serbia’s fate.

Up one of the two impressive marble stairways are the very photogenic, oak-panelled library, and the opulent Diplomats’ salon, where the Speaker of the Parliament holds meetings with most important guests. The Salon suffered the most during 5 October 2000 riots, when a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the window, as the anti-Milošević protesters stormed the building, also taking several valuable artworks with them. 

That was just the latest of the many dramatic events which happened in and around the National Assembly. The building was also where the Non-Aligned movement was formed in 1961 and which served as the headquarters of the Nazi occupation government headed by Milan Nedić.

The National Assembly can be visited every first Saturday of the month. Visits need to be arranged with the Tourist Board of Belgrade on +381 (0)11 2635 622.

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