Most people incorrectly think that Kafana “?” is the oldest house in the city. Find out which houses are older.
Belgrade is a very old town. It has been an urban settlement at least from the beginning of the Roman rule during the first decades of the New Era. However, Belgrade is also a town with a very turbulent history that in many cases meant war and destruction. Such eventful history has led to very little being left behind from the previous eras.
One of the defining moments of Belgrade’s history came in the year 1717. After Eugene of Savoy dealt a crushing defeat to the Ottoman army in front of the city gates, Belgrade surrendered and the following year it fell into Habsburg hands through the Passarowitz (today Po×arevac) peace treaty. After two centuries in the Islamic world for Belgrade this meant not just a change of states but also of civilizations.
The Habsburgs decided to eradicate all things which could remind them of the city’s previous masters, including its entire oriental urban legacy. As a result, almost all houses as well as majority of mosques and caravanserais were either demolished or earmarked for destruction. Instead, new edifices inspired by baroque style were constructed.
One of these was the house of Elias Fleischmann, a strap-maker and a member of the city council. Like the majority of Germans who flooded into Belgrade during those years he settled in the new “German Town”, the area today known as Dorćol. In 1724 Fleischmann built a one storied house at the beginning of Lange Gasse, the German Town’s high street. The street is still there and is equally long but is now called Cara Dušana. Fleischmann’s house – now at number 10 – is the sole remainder of this era, standing as the oldest residential building in central Belgrade. You could, however, never tell this from its appearance. Excluding its derelict stature and unpainted façade there is no hint of its antiquity, let alone of its importance. Although the enthusiasts created an interesting little website about it , the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments has not done anything for it despite them including it many years ago on its list of protected monuments .
The main reason why there aren’t any more houses left from this era is that after only twenty years of their rule, the Habsburgs had to turn Belgrade, their most valued possession on the southern border, back to the Sultan. The Turks came with vengeance and the same hostility towards all things European bringing just as much destruction as the Habsburgs did unto Muslim heritage. However, the Ottoman power was waning and a growing respect for the technological superiority of Europe was creeping into Turkish minds. This awe infiltrated a number of arts, not least architecture, and the Turkish builders were now carefully incorporating minor details of baroque style into their designs. A monument from this era and the second oldest house in Belgrade lies again in Dorćol, at the corner of Višnjićeva and Gospodar Jevremova streets and today hosts the Vuk and Dositej Museum.
The house, built in mid 18th c. for an unknown Turkish dignitary - the defterdar (treasurer) or perhaps even the commander of the fortress - retains the usual elements of Ottoman architecture but is more geometrical and calculated. This was a courtesy of its builder who was accustomed to the style developing on the other side of the border.
The wheel of fortune on the field of war turned once more to the benefit of Vienna when in 1789 marshal Laudon took Belgrade under the wings of the Habsburg black eagle for the third time in just over a century. The town was to be handed back to the Turks only two years later but luckily a valuable monument from this era has survived almost intact. The house in 10 Gračanička St, just around the corner from Saborna crkva Church, was built with such robustness that none of its owners ever though of changing anything in its appearance. A fortunate situation was that by the time the Turks returned in 1791 their rule over Belgrade was so unstable that nobody considered changing the appearance of European looking edifices. This was especially true of this sturdy house with its plain whitewashed façade, punctuated with two rows of windows, which reveal the thickness of its walls.
When it comes to antiquities, old Belgrade is often surpassed by its smaller twin Zemun. This is the case also with the oldest houses. The story of these we shall leave for our next meeting.
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