Hidden Belgrade (59): Yugoslavia’s Crib

Due to many destructions brought upon Serbia, there are a few houses that have been standing long enough and have been important enough to tell the story of the country’s history (and various incarnations). Thankfully however, one of them is located bang in the heart of Belgrade, at Terazije.

One of the first works by one of Serbia’s first starchitects, Jovan Ilkić, this Neo-baroque house was built to covey the growth of Belgrade’s merchant bourgeoisie: both by its (relatively) opulent design as well as its prime location, at the heart of Kingdom of Serbia’s booming capital.

Terazije square, which got its name from a Turkish term for watertowers which used to be located there, was first developed by Prince Miloš Obrenović in 1830s as he started populating the area with smiths and coppersmiths from the city.

Later, after the moat and city walls were torn down in late 1860s by Miloš’s son Mihailo, Terazije was becoming the showy main square of Belgrade: it got its famous fountain and started amassing key buildings of rapidly changing Serbia, built by Serbian architects trained in the West and eager to europeanise the city. In 1883 Terazije got its first major the eclectic Neo-renaissance building housing Serbia’s Ministry of Justice, and then, a year later, a massive new Royal Palace was built to showcase the power of Obrenović dynasty. A year later, merchant Marko O. Marković, decided to settle right among these seats of power, with his fancy new house.

In 1898, Marković’s house was auctioned off to Krsmanović brothers, a trio of wealthy merchants and entrepreneurs who hailed from Bosnia and made their wealth selling plums and livestock. Krsmanović’s, among other things, owned Belgrade’s premier public baths of the era, as well as another exquisite piece of 19th century Belgrade real estate: the house across the road from Belgrade’s Saborna crkva, which now houses the Austrian embassy.

One of the brothers, Aleksa, made the Terazije town house his home until his death in 1914 and then bequeathed it to the state. Aleksa’s widow lived there during the war, but after her death, the house soon started serving a new purpose. As soon as Belgrade was freed on 1 November 1918, it became a temporary Royal residence while the main Royal palace, damaged and looted by Austro-Hungarians, was being restored.

A month after it became the residence or Prince Regent Aleksandar, the house was the stage for its most important moment: one of its rooms was the site where the proclamation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes took place on 1 December 1918. Representatives from all around what was to become Yugoslavia were gathered in the temporary palace after staying in Hotel Grand (which used to stand in Čika Ljubina street), and then proceeded to feast and then Alexander gave a speech to jubilant Belgraders.

After the old Palace was restored to former glory in 1922, Aleksa Krsmanović’s house was returned to his charitable foundation, and was rented out for various purposes. Its opulence drew in Belgrade’s elite to the fancy Claridge’s restaurant and various theatre productions and cinema projection which took place in its rooms.

The fact that the birthplace of the Yugoslav nation was used for enterntaintment started irking many, and in 1934 the patriotic Yugoslav Sokol society moved in.

Thanks to these tenants, Krsmanović house was the location of some of the first anti-Nazi protests in Yugoslavia as it was in front of this house that Sokols organised their riot in support of Czechoslovakia around the time of the Munich agreement.

Not long after that, on 14. august 1941 during the Nazi occupation of Belgrade, the massive decorative lampposts in front of Krsmanović house and throughout Terazije served as sites of macabre punishments by the Nazis against the rebellious Belgraders. The house itself was used as a club for the Nazi officers.

After WWII, until 1979, it served as “the House of the Protocol”, housing socialist bureaucrats organising all of the protocolary duties in the SFR Yugoslavia, and was also a club for Belgrade’s diplomats.

After many changes of tenants and purpose, and noticeable decline in looks, in teh past four decades, Krsmanović house is now split between a faux-medieval traditional restaurant in its basement and a private college.

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