Why you should visit Dorćol in Belgrade
Minus the skyscrapers, large crowds, and constant beeping taxi drivers, Dorćol (pronounced “dor – chol”) has been called Serbia’s version of “Manhattan” and I would agree to some extent, especially when compared to more hip areas, such as Soho. But think of it on a smaller scale and with a large dose of Eastern European urban cool.
Dorćol is part of the Old City or Stari Grad andwas once well known as a thriving trade centre with a melting pot of nationalities working and living with each other side by side. For me, it makes it an interesting and eclectic place. Dorćol is pretty much in between the Belgrade city centre, Kalemegdan Park and the Danube river. It comprises two areas : Gornji Dorćol (upper Dorćol) and Donji Dorćol (lower Dorćol ).
Gornji Dorćol (city centre side) is the primarily the residential side of the area and Donji Dorćol (near the Danube river side) is industrialised. So, this combination makes for an interesting, bustling district. There are plans to modernise the marina on the Danube side, ie Donji Dorćol which should revitalise this industrial part of the district.
Dorćol is part of the Stari Grad (Old City) area of Belgrade, which was formerly occupied by the Ottoman Empire, unlike Novi Beograd (New Belgrade) which is on the other side of the Danube, and was formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian rule. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that the name “Dorćol” comes from two Turkish words “dört” (four) and “yol” (road), literally meaning “four roads” or “crossroads”. And no wonder..it is historically a truly cosmopolitan district, where Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together side by side.
Family stroll on a Sunday afternoon
If you are familiar with Sydney, then think Surry Hills or Paddington. Dorćol is a place for creative minds, such as fashion designers and artists, great cafes, restaurants and bars. It’s been dubbed by some as “Silicone Valley” because it’s also a place where Belgrade’s nouveau riche hang out…with their…ahem…”cosmetic enhancements”.
But for me, it’s the old vs new, creative vs practical and family friendly, urban combination which makes Dorćol feels like home for me. It has everything that you need for an urban lifestyle – grocery store, cafes, shopping, pharmacy, restaurants/bars, schools, theatres & museum nearby not to mention Skadarlija (the bohemian end of town).
The way that I would describe Dorćol is European chic with hip, urban cool… and this is the reason that I love it so much! I have read that Dorćol is one of those places that many Belgraders have wanted to call home at one time in their lives. There have been some well known Serbian artists and writers who once lived in Dorćol.
Dorćol was known as the Jewish centre of Belgrade, yet in the infamous and beautiful Ulica Krajla Petra (King Petar Street), there is something quite unique – a Christian Orthodox church, a synagogue and mosque stand as a testament to the mutli-ethnic nature of this area. Where in the world is there such a cosmopolitan street?
Why should you visit Belgrade? Because it is Belgrade, of course!
Belgrade is unique in that this city isn’t out to try and impress you with it’s superficial beauty, though it has beauty in abundance. It doesn’t push itself on tourists like the conventional European tourist hot spots such as Paris, Rome, London etc. Belgrade just is what it is and it’s good at it! You need to take in Belgrade with all senses. Take the advice of a great Serbian writer, Momo Kapor, who famously wrote about his love for Belgrade:
Nothing describes Belgrade like the three words ‘Belgrade is Belgrade’….Belgrade abounds in love, warmth and wonderment; we feel safe here and we’re happy to live in this city…Belgrade doesn’t like having its picture taken. It hates to pose. It will not keep still. It does not do well in photographs – it always looks like some place else. It is not Paris, which likes to cuddle with artists. It is not Rome, which bedecks itself with souvenirs…It is not Berlin, the golden bear, which can be turned into a beautiful key ring… There are few things in Belgrade that I have not seen elsewhere. Perhaps only three : its rivers, its sky and its people. Of these three ancient elements the unique spirit of Belgrade is born.” A Guide to the Serbian Mentality, Dereta Press
I would definitely agree! Belgrade is just one of those places where once you scratch the surface, you’ll find it’s unique beauty. Sure, it has some scars from invasions and occupiers over the course of it’s history. And while some of the historic buildings in the city are in desperate need of a facelift, Belgrade is like a grand Dame who ages gracefully and with pride. Despite being rebuilt over 40 times during her history, this city refuses to lie down. She has so much life in her, and rises up from the ashes to enjoy every moment, as though it were her last.
Belgrade’s residents are definitely one of her biggest assets. Belgrade wants to be a good host and for you to feel at home while you visit, so you will inevitably find many people speak English and major signs are in both Serbian and English. You’ll find that Belgrade wants more from you than simply your tourist dollars, like the conventional touristy places. No, Belgrade wants more than a quick affair…she wants your heart! That you will promise to return one day and love her all over again.
Volunteer tours of Belgrade
Don’t know anyone in Belgrade? No problem! Call on the Belgrade Greeters. The Belgrade Greeters are part of an global network of volunteer tour guides. It’s simple : Belgraders volunteer their time to show you around their city and it’s free! The Belgrade Greeters will show you why they love Belgrade as their home and are fluent in a variety of languages. You can even request your Belgrade Greeter online on their website!
Now…what are you waiting for?!
Credits: Thank you to my dear Sasha V. for his persistence in following my directions and taking such great photos for me!