Around the Town

Troparion for the Former Periphery
Yes, today the ”strict center”, it is the oldest periphery of Belgrade. The old inhabitants of this neighborhood are mostly in exile, in the New Belgrade blocks, in the settlements on the left bank of the Danube, along the Ibar highway, under Avala, or somewhere in a world that grows darker by minute. And the farther they are from Dorćol, the more Dorćol they are. Because for them it was never a matter of the address where they were registered, but of spirit and style. The breed, so to speak. When they pass the fortress, the old residents of Dorćol inevitably stop by Ružica Church even now. Light a candle for all the former neighbors, if there are any, and for the spirit of old Dorćol, if there still is one

By: Miloš Lazić
Photo: Želјko Sinobad

The family house of the late Lale Nikolajević was located on the corner of Gospodar-Jovanova and Višnjićeva streets. It was demolished in order to build a huge multi-story building, which to the old Dorćol residents at first looked more like a monstrous growth, a diseased tissue that eats away at the body, threatening to conquer it completely and inevitably destroy it. At the same cost, Jovanova Market was also deleted from the city’s geography, a faint memory of the Great Market above, in the shadow of Kapetan-Mišina Building. When they demolished the majestic villa, the tenants were displaced, and Lale got a small apartment somewhere near the Danube Station, at the back of beyond. He came to his end there about thirty years ago.
The Nikolajevićs were one of the more respectable and wealthy families in the capital: according to rumors, half of Knez-Mihailova Street belonged to them. That was before the war. Afterwards, they were left with a reputation, memories and an occasional photo...
Lale never worked. When, immediately after the war, he was generously offered a job by the People’s Front of the First Region, he told them with aristocratic serenity: ”Gentlemen, I believe you know that I was brought up not to lift anything heavier in my life than a spoon and a fountain pen?”. He was almost sentenced to three months in a correctional facility, but he had it his own way after all.
In ascetic leisure, he became the greatest chronicler of Dorćol, a living encyclopedia of data on people and events that were decisive for the oldest periphery of the capital. Along the way, he wrote and published a curious collection of stories about Dorćol and the people of Dorćol: he entitled it The Last Three Friends. Zoran Perić, a Dorćol resident and a professor of history, also carefully recorded his memories, all in the hope that one day he would compile and publish a monograph on this part of the city.
In his search for forgotten truths, this curious person relied on the stories of Ilija Kesić, nicknamed Iko Kes, a ”Dorćolian” originally from Dalmatia, from Golubić near Knin, a colleague with memories of Rige od Fere Street and the building number 1. He is already retired, and is spending his second youth in Kotež. I see him less and less.


Writing a lament about Dorćol a while ago, with poetic enthusiasm I began describing the roofs covered with red tiles. But, when I arrived at the top of the ”Politika” building with a photographer and saw the panorama from a bird’s eye view, I was disappointed to see only gray multi-story buildings: only from there could I see how much Dorćol had changed its appearance.
And to what extent it has changed its soul could be seen out on a worn-out barge hopelessly anchored near the chained shore, just below the Water Tower, now the Nebojša Tower, where the Non-Commissioned Officer’s Bathroom used to be. The most persistent residents of this neighborhood and those who would like to become one gathered less and less often on the barge, because they believe that ”Dorćolian” is a title acquired by a residential address, and not realizing that it is, in fact, a state of mind.
That the oldest part of Belgrade irrevocably loses its inhabitants and old smells was evident in the late 1970s, when it someone got an idea to gather all the people of Dorćol scattered around the world. The letters were sent around the globe, and the delegation knocked on the doors of the people’s militias, then in charge of everything, with the intention to report the gathering.
According to one of the survivors, a comrade chief listened to the delegation, then jumped with eyes wide open and frantically gave them a lecture: ”No way, you rascals! I’ll arrest you all if you get together somewhere! Shame on you, you bastards from Dorćol!” When they thought that the plan had failed, someone came up with a solution, probably Pera Zakonović, a colonel by rank and Dorćolian by birth and conviction. A new delegation of middle-aged neighbors appeared before that chief with a request to allow a gathering – of members the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia of the First Region!
– That was not a lie – Đoka Lazić, one of the creators of this ploy, later justified himself. – Most Dorćol residents had been in the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia, which for them was a poor people’s refugee, not an ideological movement.
On 20 October 1979, fishermen, academics, conductors, opera singers, university professors, carpenters, cafe owners, teachers, animal feeders in the zoo, actors, idlers, priests of probably all denominations, officers, some politicians, ladies of the night and tough guys, tailors, alcoholics, nurses, housewives, those who demonstrated in the city when word spread that Patriarch Barnabas had been poisoned, commissioners and reactionaries gathered in the tavern ”Danube Flower”. About five hundred of them. It was the largest family gathering ever held under the sun.
They met regularly after that, until about thirty years ago. On the last of October 20th, about twenty survivors gathered for a modest celebration in the House of the Serbian Army, the former House of the Yugoslav National Army. The invitations were copied from the old address book, and there had been no one living in Dorćol for a long time.
According to the testimony of Ika Kesa, barely five percent of old Dorćolians live in Dorćol today. And because of the new ones, the billiard club on the corner of Jevrejska and Dušanova streets was turned into an expensive cafe arrogantly called ”Dorćol”, while the cafe ”Donji grad” on the other side of the street was turned into a casino, then a grocery store, and then who knows what. Instead of picturesque houses, impersonal buildings sprang up, designed in a manner that had just escaped social realism, while people loyal to that artistic (and also ideological) movement moved in there. That new blood began to flow through the arteries of Dorćol, and the decimated natives have been since locking their front door.


Brana Petrović from the village of Slatina, former municipality of Ježevica, near Čačak, wrote a poem for a prize competition of the literary section of the People’s Youth, as a student of literature. He was already a poet, only many did not understand that: it was easy for him with the poem itself, but he could not think of a title that would amaze, or at least tickle the jury. He pushed and pulled... but in vain.
– We lived in a rented room in Rige od Fere Street – remembered Moma Antonović, a professor and painter born in the imperial city of Kruševac and Brana’s roommate from his student days. – I remember how much he suffered. He reluctantly wrote the title. And what else but to name the poem after its first verse, after the street (”Cursed be you, Rige od Fere Street, and cursed be the hour of our sudden love ...”). Who would have thought that with that title, with Rige od Fere Street, he would enter hearts and entrenched himself in memories?
Afterwards, Brana Petrović got an apartment right around the corner, in Strahinjića Bana Street, and thus became a Dorćolian. He was one of the few who really deserved it.
Apart from becoming a Dorćolian, he almost became an academic later! Even today, no one knows what has prevented it. Miladin Kovačević, better known in pub and literary circles as Jakov Grobarov, came up with an explanation that Brana met all the strict requirements, only was not tall enough.


The center of Dorćol is the intersection of Dušanova and Dubrovačka streets, or King Petar Street. There, nearby, on the property of Neša Novaković, at the place where the remains of old buildings had just been discovered, as early as 1887, a strange stone lined with rotten sheet metal with a lead plate cast over one side was excavated, with a mysterious text written in round letters and in Latin: ”D.O.M. et SSimo JESU Nimini Divaeliue Virgini in Coleum Assumpate MARIAE Ejus Sponso D. JOSEPHO Universauliue Angelorum curiae Tutelarium Ignatij et Francisci Haverij Indigentum Honori Regnate Clemente XII...
Neša ordered the workers to stop the works. In order to interpret the text, they first invited Haji Karim, the mufti from the Colorful Mosque, and then the priest from the Cathedral, but in vain. Finally, they invited Mrs. Milica Janković, who had studied in schools abroad. With an excuse that there is no Latin-French dictionary, she immediately translated:
”To the God Almighty and most holy name of Jesus and the blessed Virgin Mary ascended to heaven, her fiancé the gentle Joseph and the whole council of guardian angels, Ignatius and Francis Xavier in honor, during the reign of Pope Clement XII, forever glorious Emperor Charles VI, Bishop of Anton of Turin, a knight Holy Roman Empire, while the most holy Prince Aleksandar of Württemberg was the governor of all of Serbia, honorable Mr. Francis Xavier the commander of the city was the, and Bali Maruli in the capacity of Marshal of Belgrade, in the Church of the Society of Jesus, the first stone was laid by deputy commander Mr. Marko Bote, 1732.”
It will be found later that there had been the oldest known church built outside the city. Jesuit, Roman Catholic. It is known that the oldest church in Belgrade is the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God, the Ružica Church on Kalemegdan, whose founder is believed to have been Despot Stefan Lazarević. It was demolished and rebuilt countless times, and got its present appearance in the 1920s with the efforts of King Aleksandar Karađorđević. The baptized Dorćolians still light a candle in it, when they go there with their great-grandchildren. For the souls of former neighbors, if there are any, and the spirit of old Dorćol, if it still exists.


On Four Winds
The name Dorćol is from the Turkish ”dort jol”, four winds, and means a crossroads of streets or roads. Dorćol is a place that separated or connected two neighborhoods: Zerek, above Vidinska Street, and Jalija below. Zerek started at the Great Market, today the Student Park, and Jalija ended at the bank of the Danube. Both neighborhoods stretched from the Lower Town of the Belgrade Fortress to the Vidin Gate, which was located on a moat stretched from above, from the Stambol Gate, where the building of the National Theater is today.


What young people today call Cinema ”Rex”, and the middle-aged Cultural Center ”Baruh Brothers”, is actually the Oneg Sabat and Gemilut Hasadim Society Building. For Dorćolians following the Law of Moses, that house, after the demolition of the old synagogue in Moses Alley in 1954, is the most important place on Dorćol. It was built on the plot in Jevrejska 16, and opened on 4 March 1923. The ceremony was held by the Rabbi Isaac Alkalaj. The ceremony was attended by Mr. Ljuba Jovanović, the then Minister of Religion, as the king’s emissary.


The Oldest
The half-ruined building in Jevrejska 14 was known to date from the beginning of the 18th century. During the occupation, it was a refuge for dozens of new tenants, mostly victims from demolished Dorćol houses. But then it did not survive. Dule Rudar and Pera Lala finished it off, with their own hands, and for a miserable wage. Thus, the building in Dušanova 10, a little less than two and a half centuries old, which is mistakenly believed to have been the ”Castle of Eugene of Savoy”, was declared the oldest house in Belgrade. And it wasn’t: an old rice barn used to be there.


Dorćol Mother
Few people have heard of Dr. Đorđe Siber, but if a surviving Dorćolc were asked about him, he would bow deeply, out of respect. A medical general by rank, a court doctor as needed, who knows what by political ideology, is remembered by his neighbors as – ”Dorćol’s mother”. He responded to calls even in the middle of the night, and he never charged anyone for examination, but would leave the patient as much money as he would estimate that medicine, therapy and a bare survival would cost him during his illness. Just like Dr. Jovan Jovanović Zmaj.
Originally from Austria, Đorđe was born in Ub, and grew up and lived the rest of his life in Ljubićska, today Rige od Fere Street. From there, in 1968, then still numerous and grateful Dorćol residents sent him to his final resting place. Because of his family house, modest, sturdy and harmonious, he was almost declared an enemy of the people and a servant of the occupier after the war by some ”verified staff”. But members of the SKOJ of the First Region rushed into the committee in Braće Jugovića Street, and demanded that the party let go of Dr.  Siber, with an honest explanation that made even the most stubborn ones hesitate.


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