Living with Live Water
There are 141 public water taps and 38 fountains in Belgrade today. Six public water taps are not connected to waterworks but have their own springs: Miloševa, Hajdučka, Kraljeva, Vračarska, Miljakovačka and Lovačka. There used to be many more of them, but the merciless and unintelligent ”modernization” swallowed many things even then. In the tradition and city legends, they all still exist and murmur continuously, like crowd chatter in the disappeared Belgrade taverns

By: Miloš Lazić
Photo: Želјko Sinobad and Archives of NR

Between the second to the last and the last century, the Serbian capital was the town with most taverns in the world. With the highest number of taverns per capita per capita. At the same time, the citizens had at their disposal water from numerous wells and drinking fountains. Unfortunately, only a few have survived, and several new ones, out of respect toward tradition and the needs of the metropolis, were built later.
Belgraders today can quench their thirst at 141 public water taps, and if they are really under pressure and skilled enough, they can also quench their thirst at one of the 38 fountains, about which they are informed by the City Waterworks, which also takes care of them. They also provide data that six public water taps are not connected to the waterworks, but are supplied with equally good water from natural springs; these are Miloševa and Hajdučka Fountain in Topčider, King Aleksandar’s Fountain in Lisičji potok, Vračar Fountain in Bulevar vojvode Putnika (Vračar: a Turkism meaning an elevation), Miljakovac Spring in the park near the local heating plant, Lovačka Fountain near the hunting lodge in Beli Potok.
We have not mentioned the fountains that have been meanwhile disappeared from the city geography, and there were many more than today, although Belgrade was much smaller! This is confirmed by the recently defended doctoral dissertation Belgrade as a European city in the 19th Century: The Transformation of the Urban Landscape of the Architect, Dragana T. Ćorović, MA. Among other things, it describes in more detail all three old city waterworks (Roman, Austrian, Turkish) which partially remained in use until 1907, along with many of the forgotten fountains of that time.


It will remain unknown why the modernization of Belgrade, along with the demolition of some valuable buildings and asphalting the cobblestone roads, involved the removal of old public fountains and wells. For, if there had been more wisdom, they would have remained preserved ”under a glass bell”, as artifacts of history and tourist attraction, why not?
The most sorrowful cry was published by Politika on 25 December 1937, as a story on the last Belgrade water seller and his memories. So we learned that the forgotten Saka-Fountain was located on the corner of Gospodar-Jovanova and Kralja Petra Street, and that the water from it, like the one from both fountains in Topčider, was up to six times more expensive than the ordinary river water. The modernization of the city, or better the waterworks, ruined his business and disbanded guild, but he did not complain too much, probably realizing that it was a contribution that had to be paid, one way or the other.
Perhaps we can also learn from the story of the late Uncle Mile Miladinović, born at the beginning of the last century in a house on the corner of Makedonska and Skoplјanska streets (today Nušićeva), at the site where Stari Grad Municipality is located now. He witnessed the introduction of waterworks to this part of the city, and he remembered his joy because he replaced often multiple daily walks to the street to fetch water from the well with the ease of simply opening the brass faucet on the house sink. Because waterworks first demolished most of the yard wells, then water sellers, and finally public drinking fountains.
Besides, the grandfather of the signatory of this article claimed that the well in the backyard of his mother’s house in Visokog Stevana Street survived the occupation, but that it shared the fate with the other ones on the Danube slope in Dorćol, when they were backfilled by the communists of the First Region at the end of the 1940s, in some kind of campaign of glorifying the progress of the socialist society, and that because of this they were forced to beg for water around the neighborhood for weeks. The consequence of such an action was also demolition of hidden courtyards that, during the war and occupation, satisfied the hunger of Belgraders.
From this time distance and in this climate, it could be said that this was a continuation of the misinterpreted ”road to Europe”. Like today, after all.


Data on old public fountains in Belgrade cannot be found in one place, even in the Historical Archive, unlike the taverns, many of which were recorded and described with a special enthusiasm, which placed them on the deserved pedestal of the social life of the capital. The only exceptions are Pasha’s Fountain in Mali Mokri Lug and Čukur Fountain in Dobračina Street, but they also only because of the historical events that occurred near them. Therefore, we can learn more about the old fountains from the tradition, urban legends and sporadic notes in some more joyous literary works. Thanks to that, the names and locations of at least some of them have been preserved.
Stojanče’s Fountain was in today’s Vanizelosova Street, Little Fountain near Lyceum, while the Lady’s, or the Fountain of Pricness Ljubica was in Sarajevska Street, behind the building number 8. Entire neighborhoods were named after their fountains; for example, Viline Vode near the Danube station, or Bele vode in Žarkovo. But it remains unknown that Čubura got its name after its spring in the upper part of Južni Bulevar called the Čud Bure (or a hollow barrel – which mounted over the spring by someone so that the water would not be muddied). There are also many unnamed fountains, or named after other landmarks in the neighborhood, such as the one that was located next to the ”Black Eagle” and ”Grgeč” taberns in Skender-begova Street, a fountain in Strahinjića Bana Street near the building number 13 (behind the tavern ”Kir Janja”), fountain at the Old Palace, then at the building of the Russian Mission, or in Fišegdžijska Alley, right at the corner of Bulevar kralјa Aleksandra and Desanka Maksimović Street...
It is known that Belgrade lies on twenty-two hills (and is thus more hilly than Rome), that sixteen rivers and creeks flow through its urban part or underneath it, that it has forty-two famous parks that would make everyone jealous, but not how much public fountains and wells it had during its turbulent history.
We should also disclose to our readers the dark fact of the newer local communal politics, which says it is practically impossible today to donate to the citizens a fountain as an endowment. The regulations are so complicated that they discourage even the most persistent, and the benefactor could not himself choose a place where the gift will be mounted but – they would choose it for him!
Otherwise, several of the most famous Belgrade drinking water taps, which survived the purgatory of ”modernization” or ”Europeanization”, have remained part of urban history and geography.


Sokolovića Fountain
The oldest preserved public spring in Belgrade is not the Roman Well, as it is believed because of its name, but the Sokoli-Pasha Fountain, in Serbia better known as the Fountain of Mehmed-Pasha Sokolović, located in the neighborhood, near the Defterdareva Gate of the Upper Town of the Belgrade Fortress. In all likelihood, it is an endowment of pasha born as Bajo Nenadić, near Rudo. This fountain has everything that is needed for a cultural and historical monument, only it has no water. The rebelled dahias secretly entered the city in 1801 through a vaulted tunnel of the Roman aqueduct, which supplied water to the city from the Šareni Spring in Mali Mokri Lug, but they soon demolished that passage for security reasons. No one later remembered to rebuild it or at least lay down plumbing new water pipes in shallow ground.


A Wheel in a Hole
The Čukur-Fountain is more popularly known as the ”Wheel in a Hole”, because it was buried deep in the ground until the construction of this new one, which holds the monument to Sava Petković, the work by academician Simeon Rosandić, according to the will of noble founder Vanđel Toma. In 2010, this exceptional bronze figure was pulled out of from its base under the cover of the night and taken away. A few months later, it was found on some private landfill near the Zrenjanin Road, broken into pieces (22 pieces) in order to be more easily packed in a jute sack. The complex task of reconstruction was entrusted to the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Belgrade and the Central Institute for Conservation.


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