Saturday, 5 October 2013

Novi Sad - another Serbian surprise

Serbia's second city, Novi Sad, is just one hour's drive away from Belgrade. With a population of about 260,000 this is not a large city, but it boasts three cracking art galleries, some architectural treasures and a growing number of niche shops and boutiques that means it punches above its weight.

Synagogue, Jevrejska Street, 1909, designed by Lipot Baumhorn
The city centre is quite small and is centred around Trg (square) Slobode and its surrounding streets. My short stay in Novi Sad began with a visit to the synagogue on Jevrejska Street. Thinking I would only be able to see the exterior of the building since it was Friday afternoon I was lucky enough to coincide with a pre-arranged group tour and managed to gain entry. Built in 1909, it is the work of Hungarian architect Lipot Baumhorn. A three-naved basilica it has numerous beautiful stained glass windows and a large rose window facing the street. 

As with Serbian Jewry generally, the community was decimated in the Second World War, with 75% of the city's Jews being murdered by the occupying Germans and their allies. After the war many Jews left for Israel and today's community is estimated at 4-500. The synagogue, which was used as a collection centre for Jews scheduled for deportation during the war,  is no longer regularly used for religious purposes. Having been handed to the City in 1991 it is a concert venue for classical music and jazz but is still used for services whenever it is needed. The community still maintains one building adjacent to the synagogue for various welfare purposes.

Stained glass windows from the synagogue interior
Menrath Palace on Kralja Aleksandra, 1909, designed by Lipot Baumhorn.
Lipot Baumhorn was also responsible for another outstanding building in Novi Sad, the art nouveau style Menrath House in Kralja Aleksandra. Built in the same year as the synagogue, 1909, for wealthy merchant Josef Menrath, it's green facade and art nouveau details would not be out of place in Budapest or Vienna. Baumhorn, who was Jewish, designed at least 25 synagogues in Hungary and is buried in the Kozma Utca cemetery in Budapest. Of course, Novi Sad was part of Hungary until after the First World War when the new Kingdom that became known as Yugoslavia was established. 

Just around the corner from the Menrath House, at Pozorisni (theatre) Trg, is the Serbian National Theatre which is extremely large, with a ground area of 20,000 square metres and boasts three stages, the largest of which seats 700 people. Built in 1981, it reminds me a little of the complex of cultural buildings in Tel Aviv that includes the Opera House and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Serbia has a vibrant theatre scene and there is an extensive programme of drama and musicals here Novi Sad. 

Serbian National Theatre, Pozorisni Square, 1981.
As well as art nouveau and more recent architecture, Novi Sad has a couple of excellent examples of modernism from the 1930's in the Tanurdzic Palace at 1-3 Modena Street which dates from 1933-34 and the monumental Palace of the Danube Regional Government built from 1936-39. Designed by Serbian architects Dorde Tabakovic and Dragisa Brasovan respectively, you can read more about these buildings here.

Novi Sad has many churches. The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Trg Slobode dates from 1893-95 and is on the site of a previous church. It has three naves, a 76 metres high tower and roof tiles reminiscent of the St. Matthias Church in Budapest and the Stephansdom in Vienna, again emphasising the Hungarian and Austro-Hungarian link. Actually, it is not a cathedral but the parish church of St. Mary. The bishop's seat is in Subotica, but over the years its impressive size has led it to be referred to as "the cathedral". The surrounding square is the hub of the city's social life and is packed with locals day and night, going about their business, enjoying a drink or taking part in the evening passagiata.

Roman Catholic Cathedral, Novi Sad
As well as having an outstanding built heritage, Novi Sad is also rich in art. The city has three important art museums, adjacent to each other in aptly named Trg Galerija, or Gallery Square. The star of the show has to be the Pavle Beljanski Memorial Collection housed in a purpose built pavilion constructed and opened in 1961. Beljanski was a collector of painting, sculpture and tapestry which he donated to the state in 1957, continuing to add to the collection afterwards. The collection has many highlights including paintings by Petar Dobrovic, Ignat Job and Ivan Radovic (one of whom's works from the 1930's is pictured below) and sculpture by Risto Stijovic and Sreten Stojanovic. The collection includes a range of modern styles from impressionism to expressionism, cubism and works with fauvist references. The gallery also has a good shop with books, cards, pottery and other items reflecting the collection. The Beljanski Collection is a real treasure in a city of this size.

Ivan Radović

Just across the square stands the Gallery of Matica Srpska, a collection that was began in Budapest in 1826 and transferred to Novi Sad in 1864, coming to the current building in 1958. Spread over 19 rooms, the collection contains a wide range of Serbian art from the 18th century to more recent times. At the moment, a number of the galleries are closed for renovation but there is still a programme of temporary exhibitions on the ground floor. The third art museum in Trg Galerija is the Collection of Rajko Mamuzic, another collector. The Mamuzic collection focuses on Serbian and Yugoslavian artists post Second World War as well as temporary shows.  

OK, so that's art and architecture which must mean its time for shopping and eating. The city's main streets are home to countless clothes shops, shoe shops, cafes and restaurants, book shops and more but the narrower back lanes offer some more interesting choices. Quite by chance I came across Eugen, a chocolatier, established in 2007, producing high quality chocolates and selling them at 13 Pasicevoj ulici. This little shop offers milk, dark and white chocolate often with interesting ingredients including almond, ginger, lemon, honey and poppy. The packaging is also of high quality with boxes featuring reproductions of vintage postcards from Serbian cities and quotations from Serb writers including Bora Stankovic, Miroslav Mika Antic and of course Ivo Andric. The staff are very knowledgeable about the products as well as being very friendly. Eugen is a must for any future visit I make to Novi Sad!

Still on the subject of food, I had dinner at a restaurant called Fish and Zelenis at Skerliceva 2. My friends know that I do not eat fish, but this restaurant also offers chicken and vegetarian dishes, salads and pastas. I was attracted to the restaurant by its Mediterranean style decor and the great jazz music being played in the background. Skerliceva is a narrow street and the restaurant has premises on both sides of the road, with one side seemingly used for cooking and the other for eating. I don't know how they cope when it rains! I enjoyed my very fresh mozarella, tomato and basil starter followed by chicken with polenta and would definitely return. 

Just a few streets away from the restaurant, I discovered a small but interesting home design shop called  Zanart at 25 Svetozara Miletica. Recently established by architect Marko Runjic and his designer partner (whose name I noted and lost - please let me know if you read this!), it is filled with quirky and cool items for the design conscious. I especially liked the cardboard chair and the tableware. There is no website yet, but you can see their facebook page here. It was great to see small independent businesses such as this, stimulating the city's economy and offering something a little different for both locals and visitors.

Zanart design shop in Svetozara Miletica
My final shopping experience was at the book shop Serendipiti at Ulica Zmaj Jovina 15, back on the main drag. It is packed with books, cards, films and music as well as having a small cafe/ bar. This is probably the best place in Novi Sad to find books in English. They have a good collection of guide books including a great little book, packed with photographs called The Novi Sad I Love, of which I am now the proud owner. They also have larger, more expensive photographic books including Subotica, Then And Now which is a fantastic photographic record of the passing of time in that city. Sadly, it was too large for me to carry back this time - but I've made a note of it. Serendipti has a website and a facebook page too.

I had just twenty four hours in Novi Sad on my way from Belgrade to Subotica further north. It was twenty four hours that I thoroughly enjoyed...and yes, I did bring back chocolates from Eugen...might finish them off now with a nice coffee...

Street scene, Novi Sad
You might also like Belgrade - secret star of the Balkans and Serbian modernism - a forgotten heritage which includes more on Novi Sad

For more pictures of Novi Sad click here


  1. Hi Adrian. I'm glad you enjoyed your short stay in Novi Sad which is my hometown (I live in Cambridge now). Don't miss visiting Petrovaradin fortress and strolling along Danube quayside next time you come to NS. Cheers :)

    1. Hi Bojan. Thanks for your comments - I managed a very short visit to the fortress just before leaving for Subotica - one day wasn't quite enough time in the city!