Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Sofia around 1900 [Sources for City and Art in SEE, 1850-1950, No. II]

posted by istanbul on 2009/03/01 11:56

[ Sources for City and Art in SEE, 1850-1950 ]

Sources for City and Art in SEE, 1850-1950 continues: As I have noted in my article in the Ethnologia Balkanica of 2006 (access via CEEOL), there have been few relatively efforts to view the development of Southeast Europe’s cities around 1900 in a comparative perspective rather than in isolation. This, I argued,...
...had the transformations cities like Belgrade, Sarajevo, or Sofia underwent in this period erroneously portrayed as unique. Not only were there strong parallels in the way the cities were to be redesigned; even in the new architecture intended as locally specific were there surprising parallels. Travels and politics in the Near East (1898) by the British journalist-historian William Miller, sections of which reproduced below in condensed form, is one of the few travelogues of the period in which an effort is made to compare (change in) these cities around 1900:

“Modern Sarajevo differs not a little from the Bosna Saraj of the Turkish times. In the first place, the population has largely increased, and the Bosnian capital bids fair to leave Sofia and Belgrade soon behind it in this, as in several other respects … In order to accommodate [the] increased population, which had risen by 43.57 per cent [to 41,173], in the brief space of ten years, there has been a large amount of building in the town, and new quarters have sprung up which did not exist in the Turkish days. Hence the cost of house-rent, which was high in the early years of the Occupation, has now considerably fallen. The large plain, which extends westward and would have been preferred by some as the site of the new city at the time of the Occupation, affords ample scope for expansion, and the principal railway station has been placed at a great distance from the centre of the town, because it is considered that one day the capital will completely surround it. In point of situation, indeed, Sarajevo is the most favoured of all Balkan capitals … Unlike Athens and Belgrade, it possesses a considerable amount of vegetation. No doubt the modern part of the town has greatly grown at the expense of the Oriental, but Sarajevo is still the most Oriental city of the Balkan Peninsula. In Belgrade and Sofia you have nothing but brand-new edifices, while in Athens there is no alternative between the venerable ruins of antiquity and the modern German town constructed under King Otho. But at Saraj the West and the East meet, and the Oriental houses with their courtyards and gardens have not been improved out of existence as at Sofia. You may take a walk through the bazar or carsija, and imagine yourself in a purely Eastern town, while at a few minutes' distance the shops of the Franje Josipa Ulica transport you back to an Austrian city … Sofia, [by contrast] has, indeed, very few traces of its Turkish past nowadays. Although only twenty years have elapsed since the “collective wisdom” of Europe created free and autonomous Bulgaria, and Sofia became the capital of the new state, the town has completely shaken off the slough of its previous existence. Few cities, even in the hurtling West of America, have grown with the rapidity of the Bulgarian metropolis. In 1878, the year in which Bulgaria was finally emancipated, Sofia was a squalid Turkish town of 11,000 inhabitants; to-day it possesses fine streets, and “European” buildings, a delightfully cool public garden, a large palace, and a population of nearly 60,000 souls. [Also in Belgrade] streets are clean and its houses well-built, but an air of dullness pervades the place. In the early afternoon you might fancy your- self in a city of the dead. It is only in the evening that Belgrade wakes up.”

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