Hidden Belgrade (46): Within a Budding Grove

What is currently Belgrade’ Botanical garden was foundedin 1890 on what used to be outskirts of the city, on the estate of Jevrem Obrenović, (the grandfather of then King Milan Obrenović and the youngest brother of Prince Miloš Obrenović) after whom it is still called “Jevremovac”.

This, however, wasn’t the first nor the intended place for the botanical garden in Belgrade. The first iteration of Belgrade’s botanical garden, opened in 1855, was by Prince Ljubica’s palace, which back then served the first high school in Belgrade, educating members of Serbia’s first Europeanised elite. Then the idea, instigated by Josip Pančić, the most famous Serbian botanist, was to have a large garden by the Danube, but that was abandoned due to massive flooding in 1877.

The final location proved to be a better choice, and soon after the garden was opened it received a large glass house, produced in Dresden. However, unlike in many European cities where botanical gardens were all the rage for genteel ladies and gentlemen, Belgrade’s garden retained a niche appeal for scientists.

While botanists were working to grow its illustrated herbarium, containing drawings and samples of flora throughout the Balkans, Europe and the rest of the world, to 180,000 samples, the garden did not receive a properly decorative fence until 1930s, when it was headed by a one of Serbia’s best scientists of the era (and ardent socialist) Nedeljko Košanin.

These good days were interrupted during WWII, when the German bombing damaged the garden and the glass house, which was only restored in 1975. Although there were ambitious plans to move the Faculty of Biology fully into the garden and a new building was planned inside, this all came to a halt in 1990s.

It was then that I first visited the garden which had an air of genteel old-world decay. The glass house was slowly crumbling and leaking the concrete skeleton of the new faculty building was perfect for children to play in, while the rest of the garden seemed to be criss-crossed with underground tunnels and looked like a proper jungle. The guards were few and far between and the entrance was not ticketed so we often went to play there after school. The air of mystery was a major draw and one mischievous school friend even told us a tall tale that he explored the tunnels below the garden and ended up at Tašmajdan.

Anyhow, all of that came to an end in mid 2000s. First the Glass house was officially declared unsafe and was shut, while one of Serbia’s best landscape designers, Vera Grbić, managed to woo Japanese authorities to provide funds for construction of the first proper Japanese garden in Belgrade. The Japanese garden, although relatively small, became a major success in drawing in visitors with its wonderful koi-filled stream (filled by a natural spring below the garden), scenic pavilion and a wooden bridge.

Foreign aid followed: the EU funded a through and wonderful restoration of the glass house, and now the garden looks better than ever, with many small new features like lotus pond strategically placed wisterias. I love going there a few times every season and observe the way nature is changing and, of course, take loads of photos.

Given that today is the first day of Spring, here is a little dump of photos of my favourite Belgrade museum / park.

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