Belgrade Main railway station
Station building and surroundings
Savski trg 2, Belgrade|
|Owned by||Serbian Railways|
|Platforms||6 bay platforms|
100 m: Belgrade Bus Station|
36, 46, 51, 78, 83, 91, 92, 511, 551, 552, 553, 601, A1, E1
2, 3, 7, 9, 12, 13
|Opened||23 August 1884|
|Closed||30 June 2018|
The Belgrade Main railway station (Serbian: Железничка станица Београд Главна / Železnička stanica Beograd Glavna) was a train station in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. It was built between 1882 and 1885 after the designs of the architect Dragutin Milutinović, and it has the status of a сultural monument of great importance. Until opening of the new Belgrade Center station (Prokop) in 2016, it was the city's main station, and the busiest train station in the country. In order to free up the space for the Belgrade Waterfront project, the station was closed on 1 July 2018, and repurposed to become a museum.
Passenger trains have been gradually relocated to the new station during 2016 and 2017. The most of the national railway traffic was moved to the new station in December 2017, thus leaving only international trains and two trains to Novi Sad in the old station. The Main station served its purpose for the last time on 30 June 2018, when the last train, international train 340 to Budapest, left the station at 21:40. International trains were relocated to Prokop and train to Bar relocated to the Topčider railway station.
At the 1878 Congress of Berlin, Principality of Serbia was de jure recognized as an independent state and the great powers of the day decided that Serbia should construct the railway. Not economically developed to begin with, Serbia was additionally pauperized after the Serbian-Ottoman wars from 1876 to 1878, so it lacked the funds. Prince Milan Obrenović and the government announced the request for tender and the bidding was won by a French company. Popular story goes that prince Milan took a bribe of 1 million francs in gold, in order to give the job to the French, but that was never proven.
The concession included the construction of the Belgrade–Niš railway, the train bridge over the Sava river and a railway which will connect Belgrade to Zemun, at the time, the border town of Austria-Hungary. As a location of the future station building, a marshy bog called Ciganska bara ("Gypsy pond"). The bog was charted for the first time in an Austrian map from 1789. It was a marsh which covered a wide area from the modern Karađorđeva street to the mouth of the Topčiderska Reka into the Sava, across the northern tip of Ada Ciganlija. The marshy area covered the today's location of the Belgrade Main railway station and parts of the Sarajevska and Hajduk-Veljkov venac streets. Ciganska bara drained two other bogs. One was located on Slavija, which drained through the creek of Vračarski potok which flew down the area of the today's Nemanjina Street. The other pond was Zeleni Venac. Gypsies who lived in the area, hence the name, used the mud from the bog to make roof tiles. They lived in small huts or caravans (called "čerge"), between the high grass and rush, with their horses and water buffaloes grazing freely in the area. As most of the huts were actually stilt houses, built on piles due to the marshy land, the area was gradually named Bara Venecija ("Venice pond").
As such, the location was absolutely inappropriate for any construction work and the marsh had to be filled first. By 1884 the bog was drained and buried under the rubble from all parts of the city but especially from Prokop. Prokop is located in the eastern section of the former neighborhood of Jatagan Mala. Previously, it was a geographical reference, as the area was located in the lower valley of the now underground stream of Mokroluški Potok. Earth and gravel were dug and used to cover and drain the swamps on the Sava's right bank, so that neighborhoods of Savamala and Bara Venecija could be constructed, along with the building of central railway station. After the works were completed, the area around Mokroluški Potok was left as a steep, elongated cut in the ground and so got its name (Serbian prokop, cut or dug through). Prince Milan personally suggested this area, which stretched above the Đorđe Vajfert's brewery and the neighborhood of Smutekovac. He cited many reasons like the quality of the earth or closeness to the construction site which would reduce the transportation costs. However, that land belonged to his wife, Princess Natalie, so the prince even earned money from the station's construction. In a historical twist, the Prokop is today location of the future central railway station in Belgrade.
Beograd glavna railway station
The foundation stone was laid by prince Milan on 15 July [O.S. 3 July] 1881. The building of the station lagged behind the construction of the railway and the bridge, so when the time came for the first train to pass through Belgrade, the object wasn't finished. It had to be ceremonially open, even though it was still covered with scaffolds. The first train from this station departed towards Zemun with courtly honours, on 1 September [O.S. 20 August] 1884, at 3 p.m. As Serbia was declard a kingdom in 1882, the first passengers were now King Milan, Queen Natalie and the Crown Prince Alexander, on the way to Vienna. More than 200 foreign guests and couple of thousands of citizens attended the opening ceremony of the station. Military orchestra played music all the way until the train crossed the bridge. Three days later the station was again decorated with flags and flowers as the railway to Niš was open and the first, promotional composition towards Niš departed. Cannons from the Belgrade Fortress marked the occasion while the military orchestras played marches. The journal Novi beogradski dnevnik wrote: "Young and old, rich and poor, pretty and ugly, they all gathered in Bara Venecija to see the start of the first Serbian railway". The first train departed at 8:45, with 100 passengers in nine cars with three classes. Just to accommodate the huge crowds of journalists and cheering citizens, another train departed just five minutes later. The first regular line to Niš started on 15 September [O.S. 3 September] 1884 at six o`clock. On the same day, the line to Pest was established, and at the beginning only two trains a day departed on these lines. Until the station was finished, a small building in front of it functioned as a temporary facility (ticket booths, administration, etc.). On that spot, today is exhibited a steam locomotive, just in front of the building.
The building was completed in September 1885 and soon became the most important railway hub in this part of Europe. In 1888 it became a stop on the Orient Express route and in 1892 a ceremonial reception for Nikola Tesla was organized. The very first car in Belgrade arrived by train, via the main station. In 1924 it was connected to Požarevac, and further with eastern Serbia, while in 1928 it was connected to Obrenovac and Sarajevo. Soon after, direct connection was established with Dubrovnik and Zelenika (Herceg Novi). The "golden age" of the station were the 1970s and 1980s, when the peak of 150 trains per day was reached.
In 1939, 23,298 trains departed from the station. In 1966, there were 60,119 trains with 6,4 million passengers. That same year, half of the international mail from Yugoslavia was shipped from the station. Following Breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, abrupt demise of railway traffic in Serbia followed, consequences of which are felt also today. Meanwhile, construction of the new Belgrade railway junction was continued, and plans for dislocating main station to "Belgrade Center", colloquially called Prokop, became realistic.
According to the city's general urban plan (GUP) in the 1960s, Cvetni Trg was envisioned as the location of the future central underground subway station of Belgrade, which would also replace the main railway station. The tunnels would conduct the traffic in the north to south direction. The railroad authorities opposed the project, so the plans were abandoned. In 1966, the Belgrade Bus Station was built, adjoining the station's complex on the north.
Gradual moving of trains to the new station began in the early 2016. In December 2017, all but two national trains were dislocated to "Belgrade Center". Problems arose immediately. The Prokop is still not finished, has no station building and a proper access road and public transportation connections with the rest of the city. Additionally, it has no facilities for loading and unloading cars from the auto trains, nor was ever planned to have one. Still, in January 2018 it was announced that the station will be completely closed for traffic on 1 July 2018, even though none of the projects needed for a complete removal of the railway traffic are finished. The Prokop is incomplete, a projected main goods station in Zemun is not being adapted at all while there is even no project on Belgrade railway beltway.
Criticism of shut down
The complete removal of the railway traffic and the total shut down of the station, planned for 1 July 2018, has been met with the opposition from the experts and public, especially the notion that it has been hastily done because of the highly problematic and controversial Belgrade Waterfront project, while some openly doubt that the investors from the United Arab Emirates really asked for this to happen and that it is all part of a "special story". Especially since, as of June 2018, it was estimated that in the best case scenario Prokop will become fully functional station, will all the necessary and supporting services, only in 2021.
Member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and a public transportation expert, Vukan Vučić described the closing of the station and its transfer to Prokop as the "most disastrous error of the Belgrade transportation". Citing numerous disadvantages of the new station, he asserted that the old, Main station is way better suited for the railway traffic and that is should be kept. Main station is interconnected by the public transportation lines with almost all parts of Belgrade, and only 6 tram lines go to 11 parts of the city. The location is much better and, as the Belgrade grew around it, practically the entire urban life unfolds around it. He disputed the claim of the city administration that the railway prevents the city to "come out on the river banks" as the removal only of the tracks which are not in use will do the trick. The station will be of major importance for the future Belgrade Metro and, since he said that Prokop, in functional terms, is not a station at all, with closing of the Main station, central Belgrade would not have any proper railway station. Vučić concluded that the interests of the investors are superior to those of the commuters. He also maintains that the isolation of the new station's location will directly bring to the further decrease in the number of railway passengers. Another member of the Academy, transportation engineer Dušan Teodorović also criticized the project.
Nenad Kecman, executive manager of the Serbian Railways stated that none of the objections or suggestions by the experts from the railway transportation branch were adopted by the city administration. New system will marginalize the railway transportation, he added, claiming that the professionals are against both closing of the station, as the entire city gravitates to it, and the planned demolition, or adaptation into the pedestrian bridge, of the Old Railway Bridge. Saying that such a luxurious complex, like the planned Belgrade Waterfront, can't function without some kind of a railway system, especially for connecting it to the airport, the experts insisted on keeping the old station in at least diminished capacity, but city refused that, claiming that the investors from the United Arab Emirates, which are partners in the Belgrade Waterfront project, rejected any idea of a railway.
Architect Bojan Kovačević, president of the Academy of Architecture of Serbia, labeled the hastiness in pushing the Belgrade Waterfront agenda - like the closing of the Main Railway Station even though the new railway facilities weren't finished - as the "raping" of Belgrade. Smaller protests against the shut down were organized in the final period, including the day of the closing.
Architecture and protection
The building is constructed after the railway stations of the big European countries and is a monumental edifice. It was built between 1882 and 1885 after the designs of the architect Dragutin Milutinović, and it has the status of the Cultural monument of great importance.
At the time of the construction, the building represented one of the most monumental buildings and the symbols of royal capital of that time. It is one of the first railway stations in Serbia, whose design included a specific architectural program and contents adapted to the European technical achievements. It is designed in the style of academism, as a representative edifice, with the dynamic floor plan. The central classicist projection of the main entrance with the triangular tympanum dominates over the architectural composition. With its specific solutions, the building stands as a proof of the technical and architectural development of Serbia in the last decades of the 19th century.
The building was damaged during World War II. It was hit during the bombing of Belgrade, part of the German attack on Yugoslavia on 6 March 1941. The station was further damaged during the heavy Easter Bombing, conducted by the Allies in 1944. The building was reconstructed after the war. Two side towers, one of the main architectural and visual marks of the station in the direction of the Karađorđeva Street, weren't rebuilt but were completely demolished instead.
From 1980, a Tito's Blue Train locomotive was put on open display next to the railway station entrance.
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- Jelena D. Petrović (17 June 2018). "Izmeštanje Glavne železničke 6 meseci pre roka - što se žuri" [Relocation of the main railway station 6 months before deadline - what's the hurry?] (in Serbian). N1.
Media related to Belgrade Main railway station at Wikimedia Commons