“Belgrade is in the idea that impregnates the world wherever its spirit is conveyed. It is in a joke, in a random gesture, in the inherent casualness with which it receives victories and defeats, there, where a unit for the measurement of style is charm”
Momo Kapor Belgrade meeting Danube Sava
From the air, the bright daylight reflected off the curves of the two rivers that come together as one, the Sava and the iconic Danube.
I landed in Belgrade for the first time on a day of very strange weather: 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and sunny in the middle of February. The “White City” at this time of the year is normally firmly in the grips of winter with cold and snow.
At nightfall the climatic strangeness gave in to the calendar, and under a torrential rain and with great emotion I crossed the Branko Bridge. A few hundred meters away, a warm room in one of the landmarks of the city, the Hotel Moskva, was waiting for me.
Its strategic position, between the western world and the eastern one, has given Belgrade the dubious honor of being a city that has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. It has risen from the ashes to be reborn more than 40 times, having been conquered and dominated by the Romans, the Turks, the Austrians, and the Nazi army. Belgrade meeting Danube Sava
In 1999, during the Kosovo War, NATO indiscriminately bombed Yugoslavia without United Nations authorization. Belgrade, the capital, bears the scars of this aggression that killed 2,500 people and left extensive damage to its buildings that is still visible today.
On June 28, 1914, the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife took place in this city, and World War I begun.
Singidunum was Belgrade’s old name, and it served as the temporary residence of Roman emperors Marco Aurelio, Tirano, and Constantino the Great. Under Roman domination, attacks by the Ostrogoths, the Huns, and the Avars were repulsed, but by 630 AD the Slavs had permanently settled it, and changed its name to Belgrade. Belgrade meeting Danube Sava
During World War II, Belgrade suffered very heavy bombardment by Nazis in 1941, and then by Allied Forces in 1944. On November 29, 1944, the Yugoslav Partisans, together with the Soviet Red Army, liberated Belgrade. Yugoslav Partisans leader Josip Broz Tito converted the city into the capital of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. Today, Belgrade is the capital of Serbia, after the dissolution in 2006 of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Belgrade meeting Danube Sava
Despite its turbulent history of conflict, Belgrade is a place of unions and encounters. The great Danube river joins with the Sava here, under the castle that gave rise to the settlement of the city, and thus physically embodies a spirit of union. Belgrade’s encounters can be seen in its markets: in Kalenic, Bajlonic, or, Zemun, in Knez Mihailova street where young people gather or under the shadows of the Cathedral of St. Michael , or the church of Saint Sava.
The spirit of encounter also permeates the nights of the “White City”. In a society accustomed by history to things being ephemeral, Belgrade has developed a cult of nighttime entertainment, satisfying perhaps a need to live the present intensely, as all else has proven to be transitory and fleeting.
“Nights of Belgrade” is also the name of a fragrance, created and named by a legendary figure of the city- Nena Jacob – who appears in these images. He named his scent as an homage to the old trading days when ladies with fragrant flowers awaited arriving sailors, who were themselves perfumed by exotic spices from the far away lands they had visited.
Night in Belgrade begins on the terrace of the Hotel Moskva, where strangers chat and listen to the music of a virtuoso pianist. It continues on the banks of the river, in the restaurant Malvasia, to enjoy a delicious perch dinner, and then disappears into the night of the Savamala district. Along the promenade in Savamala, as on a catwalk, barely illuminated by the reflections of the river Sava, one can view the beautiful and fashionable ladies of modern Belgrade. Ignoring, or perhaps challenging the past, they dazzle and remind us that, as Momo Kopor said of Belgrade: It is there where the unit of measure of style is charm. Belgrade meeting Danube Sava
Pablo Munini © Lisbon, July 2019