Republic Square (Belgrade)
Republic Square with the statue of Prince Mihailo
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Republic Square or Square of the Republic (Serbian: Трг републике / Trg republike) is one of the central town squares and an urban neighborhood of Belgrade, located in the Stari Grad municipality. It is the site of some of Belgrade's most recognizable public buildings, including the National Museum, the National Theatre and the statue of Prince Michael.
The square is located less than 100 meters away from Terazije, designated center of Belgrade, to which it is connected by the streets of Kolarčeva (traffic) and Knez Mihailova (pedestrian zone). Many people erroneously consider Square of the Republic to be the center of the city. Through Vasina street it is connected to the fortress and park of Kalemegdan to the west and through Sremska street it is connected to the neighborhood of Zeleni Venac and further to Novi Beograd. It also borders the neighborhoods of Stari Grad and Dorćol, to the north. Today, it makes one of the local communities within Belgrade with a population of 2,360 in 2002.
The name of the square has been the subject of much debate in the city. Vuk Drašković of the Serbian Renewal Movement suggested the square be renamed to Freedom Square (Трг Слободе / Trg Slobode) after pro-democracy demonstrations were held in the square to oust Slobodan Milosević on 9 March 1991, during the 1991 protests in Belgrade. Most recently, a group of theater academics suggested the square's original name Theater Square (Позоришни Трг / Pozorišni trg) be returned.
The Celtic and Roman predecessor of Belgrade was Singidunum. Castrum occupied part of today's Belgrade Fortress but the civilian zone spread from the Kralja Petra Street, over the both Sava and Danube slopes, till Kosančićev Venac, extending in a series of necropolises from Republic Square, along the Bulevar kralja Aleksandra all the way to the Mali Mokri Lug. Necropolis at Republic Square contained a well-shaped graves from the 1st century AD. In general, the largest section of the civilian settlement was situated between the modern Simina (Dorćol) and Brankova streets (Zeleni Venac, Kosančićev Venac), and the Republic Square.
During the digging of the foundations for the Monument to Prince Michael in 1882, tombs from different periods of Roman rule were discovered. One tomb was made from bricks, and there were 13 circular and 2 rectangle grave pits. Some of them are "well-tombs", named so because they are more than 10 m (33 ft) deep. The "well-tombs" are rare in these areas and it is believed that the custom arrived from Gaul. The brick tomb, which contained rushlight, was discovered close to the Čika Ljubina Street, while the other pits were where the monument is today. The materials found in the tombs include pottery fragments and vessels, pieces of terracotta and stone statues, fan-shaped floor tiles, bronze and bone needles, bricks, rushlights, etc. The pits were filled with ashes and contained animal bones. Coins and bronze rings, parts of the armor, have also been discovered. These "well-tombs" are considered to be the oldest part of the vast Singidunum necropolis, originating from c.100 AD, while the brick tomb is dated to c.400 and some of its bricks have a stamp of the Legio IV Flavia Felix. The entire square area belongs to the Archaeological Site of Singidunum, which was declared a protected zone on 30 June 1964. During the 2018-2019 renovation, two additional, though devastated tombs were discovered.
The Württemberg Gate was built in 1725 by the Austrians, during their occupation of northern Serbia from 1717 to 1739. It predated the construction of the protective trench built on the orders by the Generalissimo Ernst Gideon von Laudon. It was one of the four gates which lead outside of the fortress and was part of the fortification's outer walls. The gate was a typical baroque gate of its day. It was designed by Nicolas Doxat, who renovated the entire fortress during the Austrian period. His task was to project the new walls and ramparts system around the city, to develop a completely new grid of streets and the transform Belgrade into the typical baroque town. The final completed section of the inner fortified system was the Württemberg Gate. Other three gates were located in the modern Cara Dušana Street (Imperial Gate), Pop-Lukina Street and along the Sava river.
The basic layout of the entire fortified system was finished by 1737. That year, another Austro-Turkish war broke out and the works on further fortification were stopped. After being defeated in the Battle of Grocka in July 1739, Austria agreed to sign a truce. As stipulated by the Treaty of Belgrade in 1739, Austrians had to withdraw and they insisted to demolish all objects and fortifications within the Belgrade Fortress, built in the period of their rule. In June 1740, on a boat in the middle of the Sava river, which now became border between Austria and Ottoman Empire again, an agreement was signed and the fortress, including the gates was demolished. The remains of the gate were found during the 1958 digging of the foundations for the "Press House". The remains of the walls and foundations were re-discovered during the 2018 reconstruction and showed no evidence of additional works and reconstructions after it was built.
The gate was named after Charles Alexander, Duke of Württemberg, who was Austrian governor of occupied Serbia from 1720 to 1733. His court and military barrack were located right behind the gate, at the very entrance into the fort. The National Theatre is today located on that spot. From descriptions, it is known that it was much larger and more monumental than the latter Stambol Gate, but there are no surviving illustrations so the exact appearance of the gate is unknown.
After entering Belgrade in 1740, the Ottomans found completely destroyed ramparts. They walled the remaining earthen defensive mounds with palisades. The Ottomans decided to build only one gate, while on the other access points they set čardaks. They didn't use the foundations of the demolished Württemberg Gate, but built their gate a bit to the right, where the modern Vasina Street is, so the gate occupied the area between the modern National Theatre and the Monument to Prince Michael.
During the Austrian occupation, generalissimo Laudon ordered a vast effort to fortify the city, which included the defensive trench which encircled a wider Belgrade area. The trench became known as the Laudan's Trench (Laudanov šanac) and passed in front of the gate which was accessed over a small bridge over it. Though smaller than the previous Württemberg Gate, it was still the largest of all city gates at the time, but was also considered the most beautiful.
The gate got its name as it was the starting point of the Tsarigrad Road, which linked Belgrade with Constantinople. Hence the name of both the road (Carigrad was Serbian name for Constantinople) and the gate (after shortened Serbian version of the Ottoman name for Constantinople, "Istanbul Gate"). The gate was made of dressed stone and bricks, on a rectangular base. It had rooms for housing the sentry units and three entry points: large, central one, for the carts and two smaller ones on the sides for the pedestrians. Above the main entrance there was tughra, a medallion with the signature of the Ottoman sultan. Doors were made of thick oak beams, nailed down with the strong iron plating. In time, the plating became full of obvious bullet holes.
The Stambol Gate became notorious as the place in front of which the Turks executed the rayah, their non-Muslim subjects, by impaling them on stakes. It was also the place where during the attack on Belgrade in 1806 in the First Serbian Uprising, one of the leading Serbian military commanders, Vasa Čarapić, was fatally wounded. In his memory, a street near the square (Vasina Street) and a monument in the vicinity were named after him. The gate continued to have certain strategic role in the 18th and the 19th century. After 1815, when Serbia was granted autonomy, Ottoman guards were placed at the gate to control the entering into the fortress. Already notorious, it became a symbol of the hated Ottoman rule after the Čukur Fountain incident in 1862. After the armed clash and rioting which followed, the gate lost its importance as the Ottoman garrison withdrew into the Belgrade Fortress itself, abandoning the gate.
The gate was demolished in 1866, on the orders of Prince Michael, as the plans for the National Theatre were already in the works. The prince ordered it to be completely demolished to the ground and the Ottomans left Belgrade in 1867. The stones from the gate were re-used for the construction of the surrounding houses and for the building of the theatre itself. When the square was renovated in 1928-1929, the remains of the Stambol Gate's foundations were discovered beneath the pavement, but it was not recorded whether the remains were dug up again or were removed. Additional remains were found in 1949, during another rearrangement of the square.
Formation of the square
After the demolition of the gate and establishment of Serbian rule in all of Belgrade in 1867, the site of the present square was not laid out for a long time. The National Theatre, built in 1869, was the only building as the square didn't develop as an urban area until the monument to Prince Mihailo was erected in 1882 when the square gradually started to acquire more buildings.
The second ice rink in Belgrade, after one in Savamala, was built in 1909 near the modern Army House. The National Theatre remained the only large building standing here for more than thirty years and, until Communist rule after 1945, the square was named Pozorišni Trg ("Theatre square"). The place where now the National Museum is, was the location of long single-storied building which housed, among other edificies, the famous "Dardaneli" restaurant. It was the most popular kafana in Belgrade at that time, especially after the 1896 reconstruction, when it became the meeting-place of actors and writers, and the central point of city's urban spirit and bohemianism. The building was pulled down to make way in 1903 for the Treasury (now the building of the National Museum). In a small park next to the National Theatre, there were the well-known "Kolarac" kafana and cinema (owned by Ilija Milosavljević-Kolarac, a merchant and benefactor). The "Kolarac" was a regular meeting place of young officers and here, headed by Dragutin Dimitrijević Apis, they plotted the 1903 May Coup, which ended with the deaths of king Alexander Obrenović and queen Draga and termination of the Obrenović dynasty. As the building was also location of the Association of Writers of Serbia, the first book fair in the city was held here.
The square was damaged during World War I, in the bombardment by the Austro-Hungarian and German armies. Especially damaged was the building of the National Theatre. It was fully reconstructed by 1922.
The "Riunione" Palace, in which "Jadran" cinema used to be located, was built from 1929 to 1931. It was built by the Adriatic Insurance Company "Riunione" from Trieste, Italy. The palace had apartments, offices, cinema "Uranija" and "Milanović" bistro. It was adapted into the pastry shop later (Kod kneževog spomenika) and is café-pastry shop even today. Part of the building was rented to German Transportation Bureau (Deutsches Verkehrs Buro). It was a public secret that it is actually a hotspot for German spies, but the state didn't react. Few days before the 27 March 1941 anti-German protests, including the coup d'état, Germans hastily left the building, so the protesters smashed it. Boško Buha Theatre is today located in that section of the building.
"Uranija" was later renamed "Jadran", and the cinema was popular for its repertoire, mostly made of dramas and romantic movies. When it was sold to the privately owned company in 2007, they resold it the a company from Cyprus which closed the cinema and opened a café and a pastry shop instead.
World War II and later
Most of the buildings were destroyed during the German bombing on 6 April 1941. In the summer of 1942 a failed assassination on Dušan Letica by a group of six Yugoslav Partisans happened here. German occupational forces reconstructed the building of the theatre in 1942. After World War II, the tram tracks were removed as, until then, a tram terminus was located in the square.
During the Belgrade Offensive in 1944, in which the Partisans and the Red Army expelled occupying Germans from Belgrade, 24 Red Army tank crewmen were killed. On 23 October 1944, three days after the liberation, a funeral procession consisting of 24 tanks moved from the Slavija Square to the Republic Square, where the crewmen were buried. Few years later, the crypt and the monument were moved to the Cemetery of the Liberators of Belgrade.
Later, the biggest building on this square, the "Press House" was constructed in 1960, so as the "City Restaurant" and the International Press Center. For the construction of the Press House, a series of old, ground-floor houses was demolished.
The area of the present 'Plateau of Dr Zoran Đinđić', right across the National Theatre was seen as the site of the future Belgrade Opera from the 1960s. However, this became highly controversial issue, both academic and public, in the 2003, when city government decided to tear down the Staklenac mall (saying it has done its purpose, even though it was built in 1989) and to construct City Gallery, while the Opera is supposed to be built in the swampy and uninhabited area of Ušće in Novi Beograd. Despite opposition from the citizens, ensemble of the opera and prominent architects and artists, the city government, most prominently the official city architect Đorđe Bobić, insisted that regardless of everything, they already made a decision that the Opera will not be built on the Square. Architect Milan Pališaški proposed in 2003 a project "Opera on the Square". It included construction of the national opera and ballet house (up to 1,200 seats) and a large underground garage (1,400 parking spots). The project would rule out the need for smaller underground garages in the vicinity (like to one planned on Studentski Trg or, as it is the case with La Scala and Covent Garden, a separate building for the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra which could also use it. The project, which also included the underground passage which would connect the new building with the building of the National Theatre across the Francuska Street, was supported by the "Opera at the Square" movement, headed by the opera singer Živan Saramandić. As of 2018 nothing has been either demolished or built.
In 2015 city announced that the Staklenac mall (Serbian for glassy) will be demolished. The mall, with 4,000 m2 (43,000 sq ft) of floor area, was built in 1989 on a temporary permit from 1988, which expired after 10 years. Hence, the object can't be officially legalized. It was built concurrently with the reconstruction of the National Theatre, in the scopes of the city beautification for the IX Non-Aligned Movement summit which was held in Belgrade. New project is a cultural venue, covering 15,000 m2 (160,000 sq ft) and comprising galleries, bookstores, conference halls and an underground garage for 500 vehicles. In August 2017, city architect Milutin Folić said that the plan will include opera, ballet and a gallery, or a combination of those, though that was not in the project accepted in 2015 and even announced a possibility of yet another architectural design competition.
In January 2018 it was again announced by the city that the mall will be demolished to make room for an opera and ballet house. It was disclosed that the demolition will start in the summer of 2018, but there is a possibility of postponing it, as the city will only then organize an architectural design competition so there is no economic point in demolishing the well established mall so early. In August 2018 it was announced by the city officials that the Staklenac will be demolished and the building of the Opera and ballet house will be built, "in the next several years". Some architects consider opera house on the square as a bad solution.
After 2013, new city government announced the closing of the entire downtown for traffic, including the square, and turning the central city area in the pedestrian zone. The square and the entire section till the Kalamegdan will be paved in granite or concrete slabs, almost without any trees. The idea met with the universal opposition from the professionals (architects, urbanists, traffic experts) but also from the public.
In 2017 city announced plans for the details of the major reconstruction of the square. The flower beds will be removed, the square will be paved with granite slabs and the traffic calming zone will be formed. The works started in August 2018 and the deadline is 14 months. The works will be organized in two phases. Phase I is dealing with the square plateau itself and should be finished on 1 March 2019. In the phase II, the streets will be closed for adaptation and renovation, rerouting the traffic in the sole center of the city. It is planned that the granite slabs in different color will mark the locations of some former landmarks, like the Stambol Gate and the temporary graveyard from 1944. During the process, the Prince Michael Monument will be renovated, too.
In September 2018, during the excavations, original wooden cobble laid in the second half of the 19th century was discovered. Once, the entire square, up to the Terazije, was covered with it. The cobbles were removed for cleaning. One part will be returned and form the protected patch so that pedestrians can see what the cobble looked like. Another part will be kept in the National Museum while the third will be used for other pedestrian areas in the city. Also, it was originally thought that remains of the former Stambol Gate were discovered, though it was believed that nothing survived. The remains were to be preserved and shielded by glass so that they will remain visible to passersby. The works were then stopped again for a while after the remains of the Roman tombs were discovered. It was later announced that the remains are actually of the Württemberg Gate, not the Stambol Gate. It was decided to scrap the idea of a glass cover which would leave the remains visible, and to continue with the original plan which included reburying of the remains and differently colored slabs which will mark its former position.
The deputy mayor Goran Vesić said that the works will be done "24 hours a day" and that cameras will be installed so that everyone can watch the progress. Asked why it takes 420 days for such a reconstruction, under such a rigorous working hours, Vesić replied that its a question for the authors of the project. Soon, reporters and public figures noted that the working site is still without workers from time to time or that it took less to build the entire Empire State Building, back in 1930-1931. In April 2019, administration of the Stari Grad municipality began intermittent physical blockades of the construction site and removal of the construction fencing, hence "liberating the square". Employees, local residents and sympathizers of the opposition would either physically prevent machines from working and escort workers from the site or would organize sport activities or sitting sessions on the square thus stopping works.
The square is one of the busiest places in Belgrade, as one of the central business areas in the city, with over 20 bus and trolleybus lines of the city public transportation passing through the square.
On one side, the square extends to the Knez Mihailova street, the pedestrian zone and one of the main commercial sections of Belgrade. On the opposite side, the square is occupied by the Staklenac, the Belgrade's first modern glass and steel constructed shopping mall. The small flat area in front of Staklenac has been officially named 'Plateau of Dr Zoran Đinđić', after the Serbian prime minister was assassinated in 2003.
Prince Michael monument
The bronze statue of Prince Michael on a horse, by the Italian sculptor Enrico Pazzi was erected in 1882. It was erected in honor of the Prince's most important political achievement, complete expulsion of the Turks from Serbia and liberation of the remaining 7 cities within (then) Serbian territory, still under the Turkish rule (1867). The names of the cities are carved on a plates on the monument itself, on the statue's pedestal and prince is sculptured with his hand allegedly pointing to Constantinople, showing the Turks to leave. During recent years, the role and honor of prince somewhat fell into the oblivion and the statue became simply known as kod konja (Serbian for 'at the horse'). Even the nearby restaurant is named that way, Kod konja.
In 2000, a modern public clock, named the Millennium clock and funded by Delta Holding, was installed in the square. The clock is placed on a tall stand, and it also displays current weather conditions. Two main, digital clocks face the less busy sides of the square (near Čika Ljubina and Kolarčeva streets), while two small, analog clocks face the two busier sides (near Knez Mihailova street and the National Theatre). The clock and its stand are made of chromed steel and glass and the stands are 4 and 6 m (13 and 20 ft) tall.
The clock was described as the "nice and modern architectural detail" of Belgrade and that it has been designed and built in the accordance with the surrounding objects. Due to its appearance and construction, it looks almost transparent. With the addition of the clock, as the square is one of the most popular meeting points in the city, for a while Belgraders also used 'let's meet at the clock' as a meeting catchphrase, but by 2018 the clock was out of order for a long time.
Lushly decorated building at the entry section into the square from the Terazije direction was built in 1923. Located in the Kolarčeva Street, the building has a total floor area of 5,505 m2 (59,260 sq ft) and is protected within the Spatial Cultural-Historical Complex of Old Belgrade. The building is projected by the architect Matija Bleh, but it is better known for its façade ornamentation, which can be divided into the façade plastics and sculptures. Ornamental plastic was done by the Czech sculptor Karel Pavlík while Serbian scultpor of Italian origin Giuseppe Pino Grassi carved the sculptures in artificial stone. Decorative elements include figures of Atlases with Earth on their shoulders, male heads with šajkača caps, female heades with bandanas, half-figures of lions, etc.
After World War II, the building was occupied by the state-owned trade company Jugoexport. Jugoexport went bankrupt in 2001 and state tried to sell the building since 2006, but it was unsuccessful in the next 10 years. Main flaws of the building included non-funcionality, high maintenance costs and lack of parking places. Serbian industrialist Petar Matijević, nicknamed the "meat king" purchased the object in 2016 for €7,3 million, with an intention to turn it into hotel. It was announced that actually his sons purchased the building to him for his birthday, in the memory of Matijević's father, who worked in the building as a bellboy.
Adaptation into the hotel began in November 2017. As the building is protected, the exterior must be preserved. The investment is €6 million and it is expected to return in the next 12 years. Matijević also purchased a lot of 500 m2 (5,400 sq ft) in Simina Street, below the square, for the future parking lot. The four star hotel with 68 tooms, which should be named "Centar", is expected to open in summer of 2018.
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- Dejan Aleksić (18 August 2018). "Преобликовање Трга републике" [Depo has been sold]. Politika (in Serbian). p. 12.
- "Ispod asfalta na Trgu republike drvene kocke iz 19. veka" [Wooden cobble from the 19th century beneath the asphalt concrete on the Republic Square]. Politika (in Serbian). 11 September 2018. p. 15.
- Milan Janković (8 October 2018). "Од један до пет - Стамбол капија" [From 1 to 5 - Stambol Gate]. Politika (in Serbian). p. 13.
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- Roboljub Šabić [@RodoljubSabic] (23 August 2018). "Da rekonstrukcija Trga Republike traje 420 dana..." [For the reconstruction of the Republic Square to last for 420 days...] (Tweet) (in Serbian) – via Twitter.
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- Beta, Fonet, N1 (24 April 2019). "Bastać 12 sati blokirao radove na Trgu, rasprava s onima kojima se to ne sviđa" [Bastać blocked works on the Square for 12 hours, argument with the citizens who don't like it] (in Serbian). N1.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
- Vladimir Šandorović, architect (23 November 2018). "Сат на Тргу републике препуштен пропадању" [Clock on the Republic Square left to dilapidation]. Politika (in Serbian).
- Ana Vuković (3 November 2017), "Kralj mesa sređuje hotel "Centar"" [Meat king is adapting the hotel "Center"], Politika (in Serbian)
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