Belgrade has always been Europe’s gateway between East and West and is defined by diverse history and influence of cultures. So what have I been doing lately? Well…getting lost in all it’s charms of course, and this time I explored one of Belgrade’s oldest neighborhoods: Savamala.
Located south of the Kalemegdan fortress and stretching along the Sava river, the first impression of the neighborhood seems quite “forgotten” with deteriorating buildings, graffiti-ed walls, and damaged infrastructure. It is connected to the central bus and train stations and has attracted every type of traveller over time. As a child, I have always been told stories of gypsies who live in this part of town and steal children – thus avoiding it like I avoid the dentist! However now as an adult, I decided to explore a little bit more of this hidden gem.
The neighborhood among Belgradians is known as the “hip” part of town and has inspired an avalanche of ideas among artists, poets, musicians and designers to create a contemporary haven. A few notable places worth visiting include Mikser House and KC Grad (old warehouses turned design spaces where lectures and events are held) , and Beton Hala (a group of warehouses turned upmarket restaurants and currently the trendiest hotspot for dining and nightlife).
In the midst of the old warehouses and creative spaces, I was intrigued to discover beautiful white baroque buildings resembling the architecture of 20th century Europe. The most distinctive are Belgrade Cooperative Building and Bristol Hotel (once a luxurious hotel which welcomed world renowned celebrities). This entire area is currently part of a large renovation project called “Belgrade Waterfront” which aims to uplift the cityscape located along the Sava river and provide modern centres of excellence while protecting the historical elements. The project will also provide Belgrade with luxurious new residential and commercials districts.
Savamala’s interesting history dates back to the early 1800’s when Prince Milos Obrenovic ordered the construction of the first settlement outside the Kalemegdan fortress and away from Turkish settlement. The area, then called Ciganska Bara (Gypsy Puddle), – was more of a swamp, however after completely draining the area, the neighborhood started to develop.
It’s direct proximity to the Sava river gives Savamala an even more added beauty and can be admired from the newly open Sava Promenade (or corniche as my fellow Abu Dhabians will relate to). And for my international gourmands – apart from the cafes, adorable food trucks have started to operate here, serving diverse cuisines such as Chinese, Lebanese, Burgers, Palacinke (crepes), and Italian – can anyone think of a more perfect lunch spot to admire the beautiful riverside views and calm the soul?
Just as Skadarlija was the Bohemian capital of the city, today Savamala is the creative capital with its own special glow. There is beauty in merging the old with the new, and in combining the classic with the contemporary of which, Savamala is a true testimony.