Savamala – a salmagundi of extremes

How it all began?

The city quarter of Savamala, nested on the right bank of the Sava river, represents the dawn of European architecture in Belgrade. After the Turks finally fled from Belgrade in 1867 (after a five-century rule, hence the name Savamala: mala, Turkish mahale – neighbourhood), it was here, below the Kalemegdan Fortress, where the first monumental buildings modeled on their European forerunners were raised.

The Sad Story

Since then, the quarter has suffered a disparate fate. Due to its enviable location at the river port, Savamala bloomed in the late 19th century, and was soon populated by respectable, well-off families of the time, who all widely contributed to the area’s artisan and bohemian flair. Nevertheless, the 20th century brought about a turn for the worse – in the world wars, Savamala’s physique was heavily damaged, and its zealous spirit equally impaired. In years to follow, the quarter slowly but surely deteriorated. Disparaging the area on a basis of it being the remnant of capitalism, the socialist Yugoslavia government turned its back on Savamala, and steered the focus to the land on the opposite river bank, thus leaving the once splendid, high-end city quarter to wistfully witness the rise of New Belgrade just across the Sava. To cap it all, the city bypass for road freight transport was ridiculously directed exactly through this area, allowing heavy trailer trucks to rumble and ride roughshod among Art Nouveau and Secession mansions. In the video below, created by 11 Belgrade students, you can see some of the Savamala highlights:

Rising from Ashes

Nevertheless, despite the utter negligence from the authorities, the cosmopolitan spirit of Savamala has been revived in the recent years, and the district has become the creative hub of the city. A whole panoply of cultural institutions, galleries, design studios, community centres, and business incubators are set behind the crumbling facades of derelict edifices, testifying that Belgrade is brimming with young creative entrepreneurs bouncing off the ideas. The initiator of the new alternative culture wave in Savamala was KC Grad, the first independent cultural centre in Belgrade, hosting an array of events ranging from performance arts to culinary evenings. Soon followed Mikser House, an outstanding design and performance venue residing in a colossal warehouse. Mixer Festival, the greatest festival of creativity, is held every year in June, turning lonely, abandoned premises, stores and workshops, into buzzing festival venues abounding in liveliness, productivity and craftsmanship .
Moreover, Savamala boasts a comedy club Ben Akiba, Berliner Beer Garden (which we recently reviewed in our Guide), ostentatious restaurants along the riverside, as well as traditional kafanas, and is highly prolific in terms of night clubs. The heavy industrial look of vast warehouses, and the vintage, intimate appeal of apartments in dilapidated buildings are both alluring in their respectful way, though sometimes it might be difficult to find your way to a club – you could hear the thud-thud-thud of bass, but where it came from would remain a conundrum. The clubs can be literally anywhere – in basements, attics, backyards, depos, and with such diversity, there is bound to be something for even the most discriminating of tastes.

Now what?

And just when you think Savamala is finally back on its upward track, once again its oscillating fate kicks in. Namely, a project has been introduced that will turn the greatest part of Savamala into Dubai-like district, i.e. tremendous cultural wealth will be razed to ground, and luxury apartment buildings, hotels, shopping malls, and business centres will be erected in its place. Therefore, make sure you visit Belgrade and see the curious juxtapositions of the refined and the decayed in Savamala, before it’s all gone. Maybe Muchies in Savamala are the way to go.

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