Tuesday, February 28, 2017

223. Two Towers - Two Centuries - Two Regimes



Continuing on with my fascination of Belgrade, I visited two very important landmarks in the city. One in the old city and the other in the not-so-old city – both sites are towers representing two different centuries and two different "empires" that once occupied and controlled Belgrade … Getting to the first site nearly killed me – in fact I needed a couple of days rest afterwards to get over the hike …

And so the story goes … I knew what bus to get, but to get that particular bus, I had to walk about two kms to the bus stop ( with a coffee break en route … ) - I didn’t have a bus ticket, so I asked a couple of teenaged school boys waiting if they spoke English ( as you do … ) and could they tell me about ticketing – one wasn’t very English-speaking confident but the other spoke very well – but alas the poor kid had a bad stutter – anyway they said not to worry about tickets as there weren’t any inspectors on the weekends ( oh yeah … ) – so as we waited for the bus, they wanted to know where I was from and why I was in Belgrade etc – the bus came and on we got – now I knew how many stops we had before I needed to get off the bus – but – the brighter lad ( who didn’t speak very good English ) decided to give me a history lesson on Serbia – from the beginning to present day – he spoke to the interpreter who then relayed the story to me in his stuttered English …

Now I have to say that this was a wonderfully friendly thing for these two kids to do – but the lesson went on and on – you must understand that Serbia has long history - and my bus stop came and went – but I didn’t have the heart to interrupt him half way through and jump off the bus – so I had to sit there and learn … finally he finished and I thanked them both for a most interesting conversation, wished them well with their studies and left the bus ( much better informed I might add … ) – but alas, I was at least 3 kms from my destination … education comes at a high cost – so my poor aching feet keep telling me … !!! …  
 

So ... #1 is the GardoŇ° Tower or Millennium Tower. This is a grand memorial tower located in the old part of the city in Zemun - on the banks of the Danube. It was built in 1896 to celebrate a thousand years of Hungarian settlement in the Pannonian Plain. 



The Tower was once part of a massive construction effort which included buildings in Budapest as well as four millennium towers on four directions of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Belgrade was the southernmost city in the Empire, and the Tower was built on the ruins of a medieval fortress - none of which remains today …





Being a natural lookout, it was used by Zemun's firemen for decades, and today, the tower is favourite tourist stop – by climbing the 65 spiral steps to the observation level ( half way up … ), one gets a grand view of the Danube and the surrounding suburb of Zemun all the way along the River to the city centre …

 
 Looking SE back towards the city ...

 ... then SW over the Old City ...

 ... and N up the Danube ...









 ... and E over the Danube ...

 

After that bit of excitement and effort, it was another hike through the Old Town to catch the bus back into the city centre ( no being distracted this time … ) - then home to recover … that was at least a 10km day …



The next tower that I was keen to check out while in Belgrade ( and this one was a lot easier to get to ... ) is one of the first major features you see when driving in to the city from the airport - the 20th Century GENEX Tower or Western City Gate. This 115m high skyscraper consists of two tower-buildings connected at the top by a two-storied bridge and, what was once, a revolving restaurant ( the restaurant is now closed and sadly there is no public access to the top of the building ).



The structure - designed by Mihajlo Mitrovic and completed in 1980 - is the second tallest building in Belgrade. It was designed to resemble a high-rise gate greeting people arriving in the city from the West. One of the towers is an Office tower and is 26 storey high and the other is a residential tower and is 30 storey high.  




An interesting aspect of this structure is how they use this building as a canvas for advertising. Currently a huge banner hangs on both sides of the office tower promoting Gazprom; a large Russian company, in the business of extraction, production, transport, and sale of natural gas throughout most of Eastern Europe.





The GENEX tower is buildt in the Brutalist-style, a popular world-style in architecture around the mid 20th century - the name comes from the french “beton brut” ( raw concrete ) as concrete is openly featured in his raw state in the facades of the structures.

 









Construction of the building was financed by a Serbian state-owned company - Genex – who, in the 1980s was a corporate empire, with an annual $6 billion in sales from its dealings in hotels, travel, electronics, aviation and pharmaceuticals, as well as other businesses. In 1989, President Milosevic fired Genex’s popular director, Milorad Savicevic, and placed political allies in top company posts ( sound familiar in the 2017s ). ( Milosevic ended his days in prison for his crimes against humanity – he died of a heart attack in 2006 – days before going on trial ).



International sanctions against Yugoslavia began to take a heavy toll on Genex in the mid to late 1990s. Bozovic, a former Serbian prime minister and speaker of federal parliament who was appointed by Milosevic in March 1999, began selling key company assets and ordered hundreds of lay-offs.

I’m not sure what’s in the office tower now and the surrounding area is pretty run down and I got very icey glares from people around the base of the building as I wandered around snapping pics – needless to say, I didn’t linger there for long - but I did find the structure fascinating up close and an important chapter in the life of Belgrade.