December 29, 2012

Kilim Rugs from Pirot

In the past years I worked on the renovation of our cottage in the Jablanica region of Serbia, and now what I'd like to hang on a wall of its living room is a traditional Kilim rug of Pirot (Пиротски Ћилим).

The Kilims of Pirot were usually used for covering floors, walls and for to be used as curtains, for bedspreds and for covering parts of furniture.
As part of the Serbian Heritage and Culture, those rugs are now often used for ethno style interiors and people who look at this picturesque folk art still gets inspired by its colors, ornaments, pattern and quality.

Kilim weawing was (and still is) a strenuous and laborious work, so it's often seen like a writing, a story and a diary of the person who made it. For centuries, women have been weaving their pain, joy, messages and symbols into the rugs.

Originally, these rugs were only an object of use, but slowly they became a symbol for heritage and were an inextricable part of the region in which they were created. Kilims were given as a gift only on special occasions – they decorated the salons of the Serbian dynasties of the Karadjordjevic and Obrenovic and rulers used to offer them to foreign diplomats, as a valuable gift and a unique souvenir from Serbia.

The most important ingredient for a good quality kilim is the wool (obtained from the sheep from the Stara Planina). Only a good quality wool is a guarantee for a long duration, a nice appearance and a high quality weaving.
The sheared wool gets classified by fiber length and then washed in boiling water, rinsed out, dried, bleached and dyed. By spinning the precious wool is transformed to yarn.

Pirot, situated on a caravan road between the Middle East (Among the most famous kilims are the ones from Persia, Afganistan, China and the Caucsus) and Europe, became a famous center for this ancient weawing technique.
In the 16th century, when rugs were made exclusively for domestic needs, the kilims were simple and mostly uncolored. However also multicolored rugs (called “ŝarenice”) were made.
In the 17th and 18th century the kilim making was improved and weaving was done on a vertical loom known under the name of “Pirot loom”. The Pirot vertical loom is a simple device leaned against a wall.

 In the 19th century, the Pirot kilim reached the highest technical and art values with its real wealth of ornaments, colors and motifs. The kilims were earlier dyed by natural plant dyes later artificial (industrial) ones were used allowing more nuances of one color.
From century to century the kilim is crafted less and less in private houses and more and more in manufactures like the ones in Pirot during the 18th and 19th century. At the end of the 19th century Pirot had 250 looms and between two world wars a half of the whole women inhabitants of Pirot were involved in kilim making.
In 1886 the Kilim society of Pirot was founded and in international exhibitions and fairs Pirot kilims started to win gold-medals.
In 2002 Pirot Kilim became a Serbian Brand with protected geographical indication with 122 ornaments and 96 types of rugs registered.

Patterns and Motifs
The ornaments are always geometrical and the the same pattern appears repeated in different colors. Across the time they have always been transformed and enriched continually.
The most common pattern are:
rhombs, stylized “mirab” (kind of pattern), little dining-tables, amulets, German boxes and bombs, French candies, chests (“kuveri”)
then there are figurines like lizards, flames, small birds, scorpions, branches, doves in several variants, roses in several forms, pomegranates, wreaths, cross section of flowers braided into a wreath, flowers (carnations, pansies, tulips, roses).

А bold red color in several nuances – from light red to the color of rotten sour cherries prevails on Pirot kilims. The blue color is often used (gained of natural indigo) with little of yellow and white color (since mid of the 19th century, before the color beige made of onion leaves was used as white).

More information abоut Kilims:
The website of the Guild of the Kilimmakers in Pirot : Damsko Srce (

On Wikipedia the best Information about Pirot Kilims is in German (relying on the book about Kilims from Peter Bausback, 1983: Kelim. antike orientalische Flachgewebe. Klinkhardt & Biermann, München. ISBN. 3-7814-0206-1)

A good document about the sheeps of Stara Planina is a little information brochure from Sergej Ivanov (from which I used the pictures for this post)

A good website with lots of infromation about Pirot kilims:

Very beautiful picture of old Kilims on Tanjica's Flickr site:

And here my post about the Serbian Pavillon at the Shanghai-Expo with a facade inspired by Pirot Kilims

December 17, 2012

From Russia to Serbia

This weekend the Serbian Broadcast Company RTS aired a rerun of the great show "Sasvim Prirodno" (All about Nature)  and this time author John Memedović ended up in Russia from where he brought a very unusual story.

Together with 20 Russians and cinematographer Soni Darijević he sailed on three ancient Russian sea boats – the Vityaz, the Khrabr and the Slavyana all the (water)way from Russia’s Samara Region to Belgrade. 

The idea to travel 5'000 km like this came from Russian monk Father Feoktist and author John Memedović, for a good story, could not turn down this proposal…he accepted the anything but confortable way to travel, and even if he had really to struggle he jumped in and documented this trip.

"In today's time we live fast and constantly look for new things and values change all the time, so we are prone to forget the origins and we move away from the traditions ... " says Memedović.
Because of that, this intrepid crew did something completely opposite: they turned the clock 1'000 years back and slowed down the time. With great respect for history and heritage they went through this journey and made a very interesting doc.

I really enjoyed the beautiful landscapes….and listen to the beautiful song "Serbia" of Otac Feoktist (song in russian language, serbian translation underneath)

To see the documentary in Serbian her are the links: Part 1 unad Part 2

Од давнина гарде непријатеља су твоју душу тугом палиле.
Али разапети твој дух, да би угасили ватру, цео свет није могао.
Царство Христа не силази с крста, бићемо заједно са тобом!
Црни зли ветрови неће угасити ватру -- близак је наш последњи бој!
Сутра је наш последњи бој.


Србијо, Србијо, ти си љубав моја, ти си сестра моја, Србијо, Србијо!

Лепотом чудесна, светла земља, острво православља.
Господу верна, Светог Духа пуна, Божја Југославија.
Мили Радивоје, златни витеже, стаћемо, брате, раме уз раме.
Богатир је с тобом, исукаће свој мач, упалићемо свећу пријатељства.

Долине и гребени, куполе, крстови, звоњава звона позива.
Дечицу да роде, у Христу да расту, ред је на српске мајке.
Много година, живела заувек, буди снажна сама у себи.
Од сестре рођене, од свете Русије, Србијо, поклон теби.

Od davnina garde neprijatelja su tvoju dušu tugom palile,
Ali razapeti tvoj duh da bi ugasili vatru, ceo svet nije mogao.
Carstvo Hrista ne silazi sa krsta, bićemo zajedno sa tobom!
Crni, zli vetrovi neće ugasiti vatru -- blizak je naš poslednji boj!
Sutra je naš poslednji boj.


Srbijo, Srbijo, ti si ljubav moj, ti si sestra moja, Srbijo, Srbijo!

Lepotom čudesna, svetla zemlja, ostrvo pravoslavlja.
Gospodu verna, Svetog Duha puna, Božija Jugoslavija.
Mili Radivoje, zlatni viteže, staćemo, brate, rame uz rame.
Bogatir je s' tobom, isukaće svoj mač, upalićemo sveću prijateljstva.

Doline i grebeni, kupole, krstovi, zvonjava zvona poziva.
Dečicu da rode, u Hristu da rastu, red je na Srpske majke.
Mnogo godina, živela zauvek, budi snažna sama u sebi,
Od sestre rođene, od Svete Rusije, Srbijo poklon tebi!

November 14, 2012

Zaha Hadid for Belgrade?

The project of residential and business complex in the place of former industrial plant "Beko" is making next stage towards realization. Recently the investor presented a preliminary design of the project for the public review. The design of future multifunctional complex at the foot of the Kalemegdan fortress is an artwork of the renowned Zaha Hadid architectural studio from London.

The Greek company "Lamda development", known in Serbia as part of a holding company with EFG Bank and EKI Petrol, bought the bankrupt company "Beko" that owned a remarkable piece of the most exclusive land in the heart of Belgrade.
The very large plot (more than 38’000m2) is situated between the Kalemegdan fortress and the Dorcol riverfront near the "MilanGale Muskatirovic" sportcenter (former 25 may sportcenter).
The zone is of course protected as a monument of culture, however urban development plans allowed the construction under strict conditions with a maximum of 115,000m2 of floor space and also increased architectural standards are requested.

 So the Greek Holding engaged one of the big names in world architecture, studio Zaha Hadid from London to obtain an outstanding project. And yes, the project is a stunning solution: what, at the first glance, looks like photoshop distortion at the second sight shows a subtle composition that surprises the observer! 
From the architect's site:
"Sitting in the heart of Belgrade’s cultural axis the project explores the idea of introducing a habitable landscape whose undulating topography opens up the BEKO site to a variety of possibilities and views, whether into the confluence of Belgrade’s two rivers, the subtle monumentality of the Kalemegdan Castle and internally between constituent volumes of the design.  Developed as a contemporary Mixed-Use Masterplan it includes Residential, Retail and Commercial areas along with a large scale Convention facility and a 5* boutique Hotel."

Hadid's proposition will hold 94,000m2 of surface (a little less than the prescribed maximum) but is fully in accordance with the terms of protection from the Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments of Serbia.
The Masterplan for the Beko site allows for many green spaces throught the complex with no fences and barriers for public transition that link the riverfront with the fortress. Through height control, building shape and size the complex allows interesting angles of view and surprising situations.

The city's wish is to avoid that the Beko site becomes an exclusive, but dead island in the center of the city. So it will be interesting to see what the project will provide to counter act.
If the project goes ahead after public review, the investor enters into the process of obtaining location and building permits. (to be kept updated visit:

October 3, 2012

Architecture in Zajecar, Eastern Serbia

Zajecar is best known for culture, music and sports and its best value is probably the nearby Gamzigrad archeological site. So I wasn't expecting much from the city's architecture. However I was pleased to find some interesting modern buildings from the 60's and 70's in the very town center. Only a few roads away the city looks picturesque with older houses with two to three stories in warm earthy colors and a simple neoclassical style.

I took pictures of the modern buildings in the center, like this highrise building in beige, olive and brown ....
.... with its decorative fire escape stairs

 70's buildings on the way to the center

 60's architecture for the E.D. Jugoistok(electro public supply of south-east Serbia)

80's/90's buildings with asymmetrical terraces and bulging decorations

The typical "Beograd" Chain-Store in the center (I wrote about this retail-chain here)

The new facade .....and below how it looked in the past
previously this facade was in a bronzed color

This building is not an architectural highlight: ugly proportions, random postmodern details and an off-key roof make it an unattractive landmark near the main square. This building is home to Hotel "Srbija Tiš" and although it's not a pleasure from the outside, to do justice I should mention, that the interiors are spacious and renovated and they look quiet sophisticated. Thanks to the position there is also a great view from the hotel rooms.

Some impressions of the main square: the police station ...
... the national museum on the right ....
...the monument to its famous citizen: Nikola Pasic 

More posts about Eastern Serbia: 

September 21, 2012

Interesting Architecture in Majdanpek

The first time I wrote about Majdanpek I had never been there. But when I found out about this town made from scratch I was so fascinated that I made it a stop during my last travel through Eastern Serbia. Here my entire collection of pictures of Majdanpek:

Majdanpek boomed because of the the copper mine. This is the administration building.

Majdanpek is really a big surprise when arriving from the Djerdap National Park: after a 20 minutes ride through a lush forrest in a hilly surrounding you enter the town from the top where a bunch of highrise buildings are revealed. Townplanning on a big scale!

interesting facade compositions

the youth club
very urban architecture in the middle of the mountains

The main square with the hotel and and youth club

Former Hotel Kasina (now Golden Inn)
Swanky Interiors
A consistently color scheme
Wide empty roads in the city center

The first reserves of copper ore in in the South district of  the Majdanpek mine, were found at the end of the 1953 and at that time amounted to 85 million tonnes of ore with an average copper content of 0.83 percent. Based on that, and assuming further research, the Federal Executive Council of the then Yugoslavia made on 16 April, 1954 a decision on the establishment of the "Copper Mine Majdanpek“.
The 70's style concrete constructions are present in the entire city
Mix of modern architecture with mountain pines

After founding the coppermines the numer of inhabitants increased constantly and went from 2'000 in 1948 up to 12'000 in 1991. When United Nations imposed sanctions against FR Yugoslavia in 1992 the economic situation became difficult. Since then the population is in constant diminuition.

Colored house row in the city center
Majdanpek Tourist Map
The Hospital
The Post office

September 17, 2012

"Gastarbajterske Kuce" in Eastern Serbia

Long time ago I wrote about this phenomenon on Balkan Crew: it was a post about the "Gastarbeiter"-Houses built by migrant workers (Gastarbeiter is the German word for guest-worker and referred specially to migrant worker from the Balkans who went to work in Former West Germany in the 1960's and 70's).

A row of a modest version of the Gastarbajterske Kuce

It didn't change much since then, what concerns the building of prestigious Villas and enormous Houses in the Home Country: the effort to make money in the West (under arduous circumstances) has to be showed off back home as a reward for the hassle! It's easy to impress the local people with a house that blasts in size and decorations.
Flamboyant details
 I made a tour through Eastern Serbia and collected pictures of all pure traditional and modern socialist architecture. But as ridiculous and grotesque this "Gastarbejterske Kuce" (Migrant Worker Houses) look, I thought it's worth to make a little collection also of those!
Crazy details: a Eiffel Tower in the garden
To understand this phenomenon there are a few facts that needs to be explained: Eastern Serbia is the most economically challenged region of Serbia and has one of the biggest amount of migrants. Almost all migrants have a modest school background and work as unskilled workers in West European Countries (mostly Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria). Rearly one of them has a understanding of Serbian vernacular architecture or bothers about it. Main goal of the house is to impress the surrounding. The functional aspect is much less important, not rarely the house doesn't correspont to the needs of the families at all.
enormous size and many exaggerated details
 Almost all those houses are in little villages far from urban vicinity, for some of them there is not even a paved road to reach them. The houses itself are made with expensive materials and fittings, the land where they stay is usually worth just a couple of dinars. The biggest part of them are occupied only for a month during the summer.
Hollywood Style in Eastern Serbia
 I don't want to mention in which villages I took the pictures to respect the privacy of the owners. For me those houses are a bit of an attraction even if they're far away to fit into the surrounding and look a little bit helpless with its mix of random styles.
no limit architecture
Almost like in a fairy tale