Since its formation in the mid-19th century, the intersection of five streets in the Savamala neighbourhood has been called Mali pijac (“Small Marketplace”). As its name suggests, it was a lively commercial space, mostly used by tradesmen who brought their goods on the river Sava—only a hundred metres away. It rose in importance as the focal point for the neighbourhood in the late 19th century when a number of important buildings, such as Hotel Bosna, were built there. Mali pijac got its present-day look at the start of the 20th century when the imposing buildings of Luka Ćelović Trebinjac (1903), the new building of the Belgrade Cooperative (1907) and Hotel Bristol (1911) were built there, which had the effect of elevating the location to one of the nicest in the city.
The neighbourhood surrounding Mali pijac developed steadily until World War II and, following the destruction it suffered in the 1941 and, much more so, 1944 bombings, continued to develop. In 1961, the port of Belgrade was relocated to a site on the Danube river, after which most of the large scale commercial activity at Mali pijac withered away. In the following decades, Mali pijac was just a busy intersection close to the main railway and bus stations. In the early 2000s, however, gradual gentrification of the area started attracting many cafés and nightclubs. Although many of these remain, most have moved because of the gradual demolition of old buildings in the area due to the huge Belgrade Waterfront redevelopment project located next to Mali pijac. The old building of Beogradska Zadruga (better known to all by the name of its last occupant, Geozavod) is now the nerve centre of the Belgrade Waterfront project.
Due to this project, the façades of this and other buildings in Mali pijac have been revamped but little has been done to address deeper problems confronting its residents. A few of its buildings are listed as heritage sites. All of the buildings have recently been repainted but their state, behind new façades, is rather poor.
Text by Vladimir Dulović
1895Open public space, residential neighbourhood (originally built 1895-1910)
2018 Open public space, residential neighbourhood
Form of government
Spatial Planning Agency
2018 Urbanistički zavod Beograd
Type of heritage and protection
2018 Local monument
Interview with Bojan Kovačević
BD: I think that will… I’ve been writing something on that topic these days, or rather on the broader topic, and then I wrote this: Had they removed the wreckage and what the city authorities talk about rats, snakes and, I don’t know, they just haven’t mentioned (invented) crocodiles… But what do we have before us? We have the following option: if the Belgrade Waterfront isn’t completed as it was conceived then this historical part of the city will become wreckage. Simply, those are two structures next to one another that cannot communicate at all, not even in someone’s wildest dreams. And if it isn’t completed fully but is interrupted, then it will be wreckage. So, one story began on a large expanse but aborted. My opinion, for which I’m ready to go to court in Serbia, is that it should be blown up and simply removed because space is an irreplaceable resource and it simply cannot be fixed later. You have a painting in a museum or at home, you don’t like it anymore or it doesn’t have the same historical significance it once did – you take it down and put it in storage. You don’t like the music that’s playing, you turn off the gramophone. Here there’s no fixing it. So a huge question mark hangs over the future of everything. Also, there’s another very important aspect. In our heritage policy, because we’re talking about “cultural monuments”, I prefer much more than what’s written in the law, which is “cultural goods”. A cultural good is one kind of public good. A stream or the air are also public goods but aren’t cultural – although we could interpret it so that everything is culture. Here in Serbia protection of cultural goods from an urban environment and smaller producers simply don’t do as well as buildings themselves because people see them as “emptiness”. Here it’s very often empty space, space that’s yet to be built on but what the qualities of emptiness are is seen one way in Japan and a completely crazy way in Serbia.
Interview with Lana Gunjić
LG: I don’t know. I hope it won’t go in the direction where they’ll get to the construction of the final, but I think it’s pretty devastated right now. Braće Krsmanovića, that area is totally different, like part of it has been cut off. It was somehow closed in, sure, it was run down with some old buildings, as they say, “shacks” but now it’s more like a building site. On the other hand, that tower… Now when I go along Kamenička towards the railway station – that’s also a disaster, it blocks the whole view. If I wasn’t from Belgrade I wouldn’t know which way to go! And these poles that were put up with banners every couple of metres… also, there’s no way to walk along the pavement because of those flags. They’re so eye-catching and it makes the facades ugly, even those that have been fixed up – I mean, why when you’re covering them up like that?
Interview with Nataša Čolić
NČ: There are two aspects to it that are very important but the technical aspect is also very important. When there was a public consultation for the adoption of the Belgrade Waterfront plan but before that, the general urban plan had to be changed as it foresaw something completely different for that space, 2,000 people showed up. Two thousand people submitted complaints. For example, for any other plan at the level of the whole city, where the whole of Belgrade is affected, maybe 200 people show up to those public consultations. Two hundred people file complaints because, for example, a road crosses their land and so on. We’re talking about informal settlements on the edges of the city where we still have a million and a half informal units. And imagine that for one small plan in the centre of town there are 2,000 complaints against it. There were lots of old residents, Belgraders who’ve lived there, whose shops were expropriated because the project was declared to be of national interest to give some legitimacy to the process and, of course, lots of people came from the Secretariat for Traffic and Infrastructure who came to oppose certain technical solutions. So, you have this study on high-rise buildings when in 2009 any construction of high-rise buildings in that area was explicitly forbidden, not only because of the skyline, the amount of sunshine, the air circulation when you get to the river but also because of the technical aspects because you have a huge amount of underground water and so on. What effect that will have on the old buildings still remaining there – I can’t assume but I don’t believe it will be positive. Much more money will have to be invested in specialised machinery to pump out all that underground water but much of that will remain on the level of that technical aspect that will require much more additional investment to make it all sustainable. Not to mention the traffic. On the other hand, looking at the architecture, the skyline – there’s a complete disbalance. The Belgrade Waterfront seems like a Dubaisation of Belgrade. So, we have a kind of architecture that came from one architect who’s from the East and who has his own way of thinking, who I don’t think has any insight into our, local, Serbian context. That is generally a big problem. I think that physically that large structure will eat up what Mali Pijac is and what is in the interests of local people. That whole area – yes it did have the train station and coach station – has an important cultural aspect. Young people frequently go out there, it’s a gathering place, with galleries, a nightlife, etc. Exactly how that will be eaten up, how will people who lived there manage to cope with a new cultural type, a new cultural class that will begin to take over this part of town – that isn’t something the area’s seen before. So that’s who will be able to afford 3,000 euros per square metre of those luxury apartments. With our ordinary wages of 400 euros per month wonder who those people are and how the segregation will unfold.