Hidden Belgrade (65): Three forgotten townhouses

Belgrade’s democratic and indomitable spirit is probably to credit (or blame, depending on who you ask, and what you think) for frequent turnovers of its elites.

For example, in just one neighbourhood, playful Ottoman townhouses of Zerek – currently referred to as Dorćol – in which the Muslim merchants languored on divans – gave way to mostly sober neoclassical houses of late 19th and early 20th century Serbian and Jewish early industrialist entertained their guests in salons, to be themselves either torn down for either socialist housing blocks, or, more recently, new ”luxury” developments for Belgrade’s new elites. 

The frequent turmoils left many a formerly grand family completely uprooted and more often than not, heading to seek shelter elsewhere with the little that they can bring with them, which in turn meant that their residences, made to project opulence and prestige, were, if not destroyed, left as strange relics in new circumstances, often as the most visible remnants of their long forgotten owner’s influence. While many, especially in Kneza Miloša and in the suburbs of Dedinje and Senjak, ended up being used by the public – as kindergartens, embassies or for other government purposes – many of them were left to deteriorate, never finding their place in the new society that surrounded them.

Some, however have been lucky – the town houses of Jevrem Grujić and Pavlović family, returned to previous owners, became private museums and cultural venues, while some others, like the house at the corner of Smiljenićeva and Krunska completely deteriorated into ruins. Here is a story about three remarkable townhouses which have been unfairly placed outside of the public view.

Prince Pavle’s Residence, Šafarikova 7

Tucked away in Šafarikova in the beautiful neighbourhood of Kopitareva gradina this neo-baroque beauty was allegedly one of the residences of Prince Pavle (Paul) Karađorđević of Serbia. It was a built in 1927, was built by Aleksandar Acović, a famous pre-war real estate developer  and himself a proprietor of an important piece of Belgrade’s elite real estate – the villa Užička 15 – which housed Tito and Slobodan Milošević.

Although I did not manage to find anything linking it to Prince Pavle, who was a prominent figure in Yugoslavia, after the assignation of his cousin King Alexander in 1934, it was most certainly nationalised after WWII. It served as the headquarters of the Serbian Scientific Society (formerly known as the Serbian Association of University Professors and Scientists), but is more well known as a spot for large private parties.

After his return to Yugoslavia in 1924 and especially as a Regent, Prince Pavle, however, most certainly lived in the Dedinje court complex, more precisely, in the White Palace. In 1941, he fled to Kenya and then spent his time between Paris and Villa di Pratolino/Villa Demidoff which he inherited from the wealthy maternal cousins.

The “Appennine Colossus” by Giambologna inside Villa Demidoff’s park

Vlada Ilić’s Villa, Venizelosova 21

Vlada Ilić was an industrialist from a family which owned significant properties and businesses in Vlasotince and Leskovac, former “Manchester of Serbia”, so called as it was the center of the country’s textile industry. Ilić’s wealth was also complemented with political ties, which eventually led to him becoming a mayor of Belgrade during a particularly good period before WWII. During his mayorship, Belgrade not only got its first zoo , but also its unlucky modern fairground, and the foundation of the St Sava church was also laid. He was also pivotal in creating the railway line which by Belgrade’s major industrial areas by the banks of the Sava and the Danube, including, of course, his textile factory.

Novi Dorćol – former Belgrade textile factory, owned by Ilić

It was by its sprawling grounds that he – known for being thrifty – decided to build a palatial, neoclassical villa, albeit in a unfashionable neighbourhood. The architect was Aleksandar Đorđević, a versatile and influential figure who was not only behind the royal commissions for Novi dvor and Beli dvor, but also designed Belgrade’s Stock Exchange (present day Ethographic museum) and Aeroklub in Art Deco style.

Vlada Ilić resigned as a Mayor’s position in September 1939, and spent the war quietly. After 1945 he was charged with helping the occupying forces as his factories resumed working during the war. He was imprisoned and all of his property was nationalised: the textile factory by his villa started producing “David Pajić Daka“ elevators (which are found in almost all pre-1990 Belgrade high-rises) while the house itself was preserved and used by Generaleksport (GENEX). After being released from prison, Ilić was penniless and the legend had it that every day he would sit in the park in front of his villa, until his death in 1951.

In the late 1990s, Ilić villa served as the headquarters of JUL, a political party led by Mira Marković, the wife of Slobodan Milošević, until it was turned into a hotel, which stopped working a few years ago. The old textile factory next to it, was just redeveloped into „Donji Dorćol“ residential complex, but retains some of the old industrial buildings.

Petar Milanović’s palace, Kralja Milutina 6

Petar Milanović was a pre-war Belgrade banker and lawyer who was so taken with the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Rome that he decided to have its facade recreated in Belgrade.

He hired Josif Najman, a famous and versatile Serbian Jewish architect who managed to create a beautiful palace with a few alterations, amongst which the most obvious one is the inclusion of a medallion with St George, Milanović’s patron saint, above the palatial entrance. The building was nationalised in 1947. and served at one point as the Chinese Embassy and was later used as the consular section of the Greek embassy.

It was almost sold to the Greek state in 2000s, a process which was stopped by Milanović’s descendants who entered the palace and protected their rights. It is currently closed, but it re-entered public consciousness in 2021 as it was finally listed by Belgrade’s Heritage protection agency. The press reports about its interior state that it is as opulent as the façade, with many marble elements, however one can only imagine what it looks like.

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