Historic theatre in Subotica demolished

posted by istanbul on 2007/11/16 00:02

[ Varia ]

As previously reported on this weblog, a group of architects from Subotica (Vojvodina/Serbia) had protested the demolition of a mid-19th century theatre building - listed as a historic monument - by the town authorities. Although a compromise seemed to have been reached with the mayor about the preservation of the structure’s oldest part, the battle has now been lost. Please find below a statement in reaction to these developments sent to me by Viktorija Aladzic.

Demolition of the Old Theatre in Subotica by Viktorija Aladžić 

The first monumental public building in Subotica, a tavern and a theatre, was built in 1854, during the so-called Bach’s absolutism, a period of the intense Habsburg political opression in Hungary. Building of a theatre was a major event for Subotica at that time. In its more than150 year history, the theatre underwent several reconstructions.  The most extensive was in 1927, to renovate the auditorium badly damaged in a 1915 fire. Having survived world wars and major political and social changes the theatre became unique symbol of civic consciousness and municipal pride in Subotica, a major urban center in Serbia, located in the north of the country, near its border with Hungary. 

The building was listed as a historic monument under state protection in 1983, and in 1991 it was added to the National Register as a monument of an extraordinary cultural value. Despite such a classification, among some involved in the process of planning for the current major reconstruction of the Subotica theatre there has been a growing attempt to prove that the building has no historic and cultural value and that it should be torn down completely. A compromise was reached eventually. One third of the existing building was to be saved, including the main hall, main staircases and the ball room on the second floor, as well as the front facade, with six tall neo-Corinthian columns, which symbolized a theatre building. The remaining two thirds of the complex were to be torn down and replaced by a new structure.

Early in 2007, the demolition contract was finally signed, virtually in secrecy, with very little information released to the public. It was only after the signing of the contract that a public presentation of the construction plans for the new theatre buiding was held . However, only the structural blue prints were displayed. As for the exterior of the new theater the presenters merely stated that the drawings for the facades will have been completed by the end of the construction, planned for 2012.

The public reaction was passionate and stormy. A major campaign was organized both in Serbia and in Hungary to save the historic building. The international public opinion was aslo rallied via Internet. The Hungarian office of ICOMOS appealed to the mayor of Subotica to save the theatre. Michael Petzet, the ICOMOS president, sent a letter to Voja Brajović, Serbian Culture Minister, appealing to do everything to prevent the demolition of the old Subotica theatre. The members of the ICOMOS office in Serbia were not permitted even to inspect the building. In June of 2007 the demolition began, despite all efforts to save the building.

The mayor of Subotica firmly promised citizens that the oldest part of the building will be saved and restored. However, during demolition a part of the central staircase was torn down by mistake, the front facade was completely pilled off, the roof and ceiling were destroyed and only some smaller parts of front columns and walls were preserved. The old theatre – a historical monument of extraordinary importance and one of the most important symbols of Subotica is gone forever. The historic town center, also listed in Serbia’s National Registry of monuments, was severly damaged. Despite these facts  the authorities have been constantly reiterating that everything was done legally and by the book and that the historic part of the building will be dutifully restored.


Pictures: 1) before demolition, 2) and 3) as of November 2007.

This statement for download in English and Serbian.

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