Knez Mihailova Street - A guide to Belgrade downtown
Knez Mihailova Street (often referred to as Knez Mihajlova) is a heart and soul of Belgrade and if not the most, for sure one of the most beautiful streets in Belgrade. This favourite pedestrian and shopping zone is for Belgrade what Kärntner Straße is for Vienna, La Rambla for Barcelona, Váci street for Budapest, Strøget for Copenhagen and Arbat Street for Moscow.
Although Knez Mihailova Street is surrounded with a wealth of history and interesting facts, we the locals tend to ignore such knowledge and mainly use Knez Mihailova Street as a shortcut to get to Kalemegdan fortress, a place ideal to take first-time visitors to Belgrade, or as a street where we can buy clothes or shoes. We won't even look up and remind ourselves of the beauty of Knez Mihailova Street and the air of past times until a foreigner points to a fascinating facade we've just passed by. Such atmosphere of past times is something that we seldom notice, but it is patiently waiting for a curious look to reveal it and bring it back to life.
The history of Knez Mihailova Street
We will tell you now some things about Knez Mihailova Street and its immediate neighbourhood - the things you may not know, but you may remind yourself of them next time you stroll along this street.
So, let's start. Knez Mihailova Street, as already known, was named after the prince Mihailo Obrenović, assassinated in the area of Košutnjak in 1868, and his monument is located on the plateau in the Republic Square.
After the implementation of the 1867 city of Belgrade regulation plan by the first Serbian urbanist Emilijan Josimović, the street soon gained its current look and architecture (the monument of Emilijan Josimović is located in the beginning of Knez Mihailova Street). Josimović developed the Belgrade regulation plan in which the streets were typically intersected in right angle, unlike the endlessly winding Turkish roads at the time. When implemented, the plan provided that the group of central streets of the time (including Kalemegdanska street, Vojvodina street, etc.) should become Knez Mihailova Street. Soon after, wealthy traders and other prominent figures of the time started inhabiting the street. It may be interesting to note that in Roman times, the main street of the Singidunum area was at the location of Knez Mihailova Street.
Knez Mihailova Street has not changed significantly since the time when it experienced the construction of its most representative buildings (late 19th and early 20th century), which we can see today. Actually, the most important change this street has seen was in 1987, when it was entirely transformed into a pedestrian zone.
The first important building in Knez Mihailova Street is in its very beginning. The building is called Palace Albania, and at the time of construction (1938-1939), with 13 floors and 53m in height, it was the highest building in Belgrade and the Balkans. This building was named after the tavern Albania, which used to be there and was frequently visited by a Serbian writer Branislav Nušić. It may be interesting to note that mammoth bones were found when digging the ground for the palace foundations. Solid steel structure made it possible for the building to survive through the World War II, although being hit by a bomb of several tons.
Tavern "Ruski Car (Russian Tzar)" is also an important building in Knez Mihailova Street. This building was designed following the project developed by, among others, the architect Dragiša Brašovan (also credited with BIGZ, Nikola Tesla Museum buildings), and was built between 1922-1926. It may be interesting to note that on this very place was located the Turkish fortification with cannons about hundred years earlier. At the time of liberating Belgrade, during the First Serbian Uprising, one of prince Karadjordje's soldiers, Milosav Čamdžija, swore to be one of the first to enter Belgrade. When he succeeded, he rode a cannon at the place where Russian Tzar would be built and started singing aloud a Serbian traditional song: "Hej braćo Srbi, krila sokolova; k meni, k meni, ja sam na endeku! " This song encouraged the soldiers to advance and Belgrade was soon liberated.
Geca Kon bookstore in Knez Mihailova Street 12 is over 100 years old and is considered as Belgrade cultural heritage. This bookstore was opened in 1901 and named after its founder, publisher, lexicographer and philanthropist Geca Kon, who was the most productive publisher in former Yugoslavia, with around 200 book titles a year. He generated so much wealth through his business and there is even the story that he occasionally rented his luxury car to the Yugoslav government, and his book store offered over 15000 titles. He died in the war camp in 1941, and after the World War II, the publishing company "Prosveta" moved into former Geca Kon's book store. Geca Kon was also the initiator of the edition of books for children "Plava ptica".
Nikola Spasić Passage is located in Knez Mihailova Street 19 and seems forgotten. This used to be a grand, unlike today's dilapidated, passage for entering the Shopping Mall Millennium, and at the same time connects the Knez Mihailova Street and Obilicev venac and is a part of a bigger complex constructed following the design of the architect Nikola Nestorović (credited with Geozavod, Hotel Bristol), and ordered by Nikola Spasić, one of our most prominent endowers.
Nikola Spasić was a wealthy Belgrade trader and prominent benefactor. He started his career as a leather maker and used to make "opanci", a traditional Serbian footware, first in Vasina street, and afterwards in Knez Mihailova Street, and he also sold leather and fabric. He gained wealth through hard work, honesty and dedication. Some of his wealth was used for building hospitals, churches and alike. According to the sources, at the time of his death, his property was as vast as Nobel's. In Knez Mihailova Street, there are four buildings as a part of his legacy.
The building of Prometna Banka in Knez Mihailova Street 26 is one of the building of the engineer Miloš Savčić, who used to be a mayor of Belgrade, and one of the wealthiest people in Europe. He is also credited with the development of Dedinje area, as he was one of the first to start dividing the land into parcels and building houses in this prestigious part of the city.
Gallery Progres is right across the Prometna Banka and was built in 1996, while in a diagonal direction, one may see a modern five-story angular building of the French insurance company L'Union, built in 1938, and today is home to French Cultural Centre.
Leaning on this building (Knez Mihailova Street 33) there is another building which is the legacy of Nikola Spasić - Nikola Spasić Endowment. This lengthy building was built in 1889. The ground floors were used for trade, and the upper ones as residential space. Nikola Spasić used to live there with his wife. This building was categorised as the cultural heritage of great importance for Serbia, due to a number of reasons: this is one of the first examples of monumental two-storey buildings in Belgrade, and also one of the most successful examples of the academic architecture from the 19th century. Also, some of the most prominent Belgrade artists participated in its building and design - architect Konstantin Jovanović (credited with the National Bank building in Kralja Petra Street) and sculptor Dragomir Arambašić (the fountain "Awakening" in front of the pavilion "Cvijeta Zuzorić).
Palace "Zora" is placed across the street and today is home to the Servantes Institute. Long ago, the building used to belong to (yet) another French insurance company. In front of this building is a plateau with a white marble fountain, where thousands of people drink water during the day. The formal name of this fountain is "Delijska česma", and it may be interesting to note that this fountain is the third in a line of similar fountains which used to exist in Knez Mihailova Street. The first fountain was built around 1843, and destroyed in 1889. The second one was built nearby, but had to be torn down twenty years later for the construction of the SANU building.
One of the most beautiful buildings in Knez Mihailova Street and in Belgrade in general is the building of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and is a typical example of secession in architecture. It was built in 1924 according to the project by Andra Stevanović (Geozavod building) and Dragutin Đorđević (University library "Svetozar Marković"), for the then Royal Serbian Academy, whose president was Jovan Cvijić. The sculptures on the facade, including Nike, the Greek goddess of victory and protector of trade, were created by a company Sunko and Jungman from Zagreb, and the stained glass decorations are relatively new (2005), and were created following the design of the academic painter Mladen Srbinović. The building has the library inside with around one million and three hundred thousand books.
Right across the SANU building, in Knez Mihailova Street 34, you can see a gorgeous building of Ljubica Avakumović, daughter of Jovan Avakumović, twice prime minister during the reign of both Obrenović and Karadjordjević families.
At the corner of Knez Mihailova and Vuka Karadžića street, right across the SANU gallery, you can see another gallery - the ULUS Gallery. This gallery is located inside the house of Jovan Pandjela. He was a prominent meat trader in the late 19th century, and had a number of butcher stores in Belgrade. This used to be a single-story building, but the second floor was built in 1889. This, however, was not the end. Nikola Spasić bought the building in 1901 from Pandjel's heirs and added another two floors. After some time, instead of a bronze bovine head, which used to be a symbol of Pandjel's business, the bust of Nikola Spasić was set and remains in this building even today.
At the right hand side, next to the Rudnap building and the building of the Faculty of Philology, at the corner of Knez Mihailova Street and 1300 Corporals street, you can see a building of the former First Croatian Savings Bank, which is home to the Zepter museum today. This building is important as the first radio programme in Yugoslavia was broadcast from one of its rooms on 19 September 1924, thus marking the start of Radio Belgrade. Again, the company Sunko and Jungman was in charge of building the sculptures and facade.
Here are some more interesting buildings in this part of Knez Mihailova Street. At Knez Mihailova Street 47, you can see the last legacy of Nikola Spasić - a four-storey palace build after his death. Right across this building, you can see a number of buildings with the similar architecture. Here are two of them: At Knez Mihailova Street 48, you can see Krstina mehana (Krsta's tavern), which used to be a hotel, tavern and the town court building at the same time. At Knez Mihailova Street 50, you can see a house of Hristina Kumanudi, obviously predetermined to host foreign offices. This building was once the French-Serbian bank, Belgian and English consular office and today is home to Goethe Institute. This building was also used to be the seat of the National Bank of Serbia, before moving it to a separate building.
The tavern Grčka kraljica (Greek Queen) is unfortunately in a very poor condition nowadays, but in the past, it used to be a Turkish inn and today, it is one of the oldest preserved buildings in Knez Mihailova Street, and in city downtown in general (it was built around 1835). This famous and beloved Belgrade tavern was for a long time owned by the Kumanudi family, and after the World War II it was renamed into Blue Adria. For a number of years, it has been shut down and neglected.
Next to Greek Queen is a house of Marko Stojanović, built in 1885. Today, this building is home to the Faculty of Arts and its gallery.
At the very end of Knez Mihailova Street, you can see the Belgrade City Library. The library is set in the building long known as the tavern and hotel Srpska kruna (Serbian Crown). This hotel was built in 1869 and was the most respectable and modern hotel at the time. It may be interesting to note that the owner, a Belgrade trader Milija Pavlović, was allowed to place a signpost with a name Srpska kruna on this building, after the tavern of this name was closed in Uzun Mirkova street. He took a signpost from the original tavern and just placed it on his building. In the library basement, called the Roman basement, lie the remnants of the Roman fortification and other structures from the time of Singidunum, discovered after the library reconstruction works.
The building and persons in this text are only a small part of what you can experience in Knez Mihailova Street. If you would like to experience this street by yourself, or perhaps discover something you didn't know, we suggest that you stay in some of our apartments nearby.
Knez Mihailova - Apartments for renting
In Knez Mihailova Street, you can find the apartments Bingo and Ruski car, and the apartments Zmaj, Trg, Sunshine, Kosančić and Kolarčeva and in immediate vicinity.
In Maršala Birjuzova street, which runs parallel to Knez Mihailova Street, you can find the apartments Birjuzov, Cubo, Grand and Palas.
Five minute walk from there, you can find the apartments Belgradenook, Belvedere, Lux, Royal, Višnja, Six and Splendid.
We wish you a nice and enjoyable walk down the Knez Mihailova Street.