I remember my early explorations of Belgrade’s ‘sights’.
Kalemegdan was one of the first, and even now one of my favourites, given that the path one takes within its depths determines whether you pass beneath ancient boughs, or alongside players of chess, or upon battlements, through flowered gardens, across open grass or more.
I was first taken to another ‘sight to see’, Republic Square, on a snowy winter morning. As snowflakes drifted down around me, I saw a great bronze statue of a man, mounted upon a horse, pointing fiercely into the distance. This it transpired, was Duke Mihailo, who during the mid 19th Century completed the expulsion of the Turks from Serbia and liberated the remaining 7 cities that lay still under the spice and silk heel of Turkish rule.
From the Duke Milhailo statue we’d strolled along the street named after him, Knez Mihailova, Old Belgrade’s vehicle-free chic main shopping destination. We ambled in and out of the clothing stores and bookshops passing beside buildings whose pleasing architectural styles ranged from romanticism to renaissance, partaking of coffee halfway to warm our shivering bodies.
It was summer when I first went to Ada. Bronzed bodies shimmered under a punishing sun, and youths splashed at the water’s edge. We hopped from café parasol to café parasol drinking coke and seeking islands of shade. Melting into comfortable divans, we watched the world flip-flop by, before hiring bikes and free-wheeling along the lanes of the park at a speed that evaporated the sweat from our faces and cooled us down.
My first gaze from the heights of Avala came during an autumn day of bright sun but chill air, when hiking along the wooded paths was marked by faint clouds of mist from our breaths. I took the elevator ride to the top of the tower thinking I’d arrive in a large room – only to walk past the elevator doors and find myself standing beside a wall of glass and a very visible drop of many hundreds of meters to the ground below. Great view – but knee trembling for those uncomfortable with heights.
Given that the title of this article is the ‘Royal Palace Belgrade’, you may wonder why I have not mentioned the place as yet?
Well, this narrative follows chronologically my explorations of the ‘sights’ of Belgrade and the Royal Palace never interested me during my early days in the city..
Visits to the Royal Palace are often included in tours to the Royal Grounds, and labelled as tours of the ‘White Palace’ (the other palace on these grounds). Photos of the White Palace aren’t inspiring, and having seen many stately homes in the UK, those photos were enough to put me off taking the tour for a long time during my time in Belgrade.
Which is a shame, because its a must-see tourist destination which I did eventually make my way to.
Situated on the hills above Belgrade, I adored the wooded grounds upon my first glimpse of them. As our minibus approached the palace, shafts of light from a spring sun penetrated the boughs of the trees and marked our way.
We saw the White Palace that day, a severe neo-Palladian structure, built in the 1930’s and used by both Tito and Slobodan Milosevic when in power. Sporting a vast ‘chequered floor’ stateroom (known as the black and white salon), a royal dining room and a golden salon furnished with rococo furniture, this whilte columned building impressed me.
It was the Royal Palace that awed me, however.
Sporting a façade made of white marble mined from the Adriatic island of Brac (which was also used for the White House in Washington DC), the Royal Palace is small but gorgeous. My jaw dropped as I wandered around. Carpets, tapestries, Serbian folk motifs and frescoes competed to ensure every space pleased the eye.
Decorated in (what I learned was) the Renaissance and Baroque style, authentic furniture and paintings greeted me at every step and reinforced the message of splendour and wealth.
The billiard room and cinema in the basement, had me daydreaming just how I would spend my time if I lived (as does still the Serbian Royal Family) within these walls.
If you visit Belgrade, there are many places you should visit – but make sure the Royal palace is not be the last!