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  • On the Architecture of the Konaks in Serbia (1804-1830s)*
  • Jelena Bogdanović

To my mother Selena


The First National Uprising of the Serbs against the Ottoman Turks in the Belgrade paşalik (Smederevo Sandjak, also known as the Morava administrative division of the Ottoman Empire) in 1804 was the major event in the political history of the Balkans.1 Led by Đorđe Petrović—Karađorđe (Black George) (1762-1817), the Uprising (1804-13) was the first autonomous attempt of the subjugated to set themselves free from Ottoman rule. Initially local in scope and aims, the Uprising ultimately enabled the development of modern Serbia as well as the national development of other countries in the Balkans. Judging by the scope and quality of the building activities [End Page 161] of the Serbs, it would be unfair to state that the year 1804 simultaneously marked the beginning of a new Serbian cultural history as the Serbs eventually achieved internal self-government and established state and educational institutions only after 1830 under Prince (Knjaz) Miloš Obrenović (1780-1860).2 It is true, however, that around 1800 some historical events announced important architectural changes in Serbia. The most important of these events were: 1) in 1793 the Ottoman Sublime Porte in Belgrade issued a decree permitting building and rebuilding of churches, and 2) in 1794 Sultan Selim III (r. 1789-1807) issued a firman, an imperial edict, which explicitly granted the building of new churches in the Belgrade paşalik for the first time after the Ottoman conquest of Serbia in 1459.3 Suffering centuries of cultural isolation under the Ottoman rule (1459-1830) with several episodes of the Austro-Habsburg reign (1688-91, 1718-39, 1788-91), in the early nineteenth century the insurgent Serbs included in their negotiations a provision for building and re-building of the monasteries and churches.4 Semi-educated Serbs rebuilt or built a significant number of churches and monasteries in this short period despite the difficulties in obtaining necessary material and qualified workers.5

Another building activity, that of residential architecture, existed simultaneously with the building of churches. Western travelers frequently described residential architecture in Serbia as "poor" and "miserable."6 Until the Second Serbian Uprising in 1815 building activities both by the Serbs and the Ottomans were generally insignificant and the local inhabitants continued to build their houses in the vernacular manner using half-timbered construction.7 A [End Page 162] number of older, larger, and more luxurious houses originally owned by the Ottoman Turks frequently exchanged occupants between higher officials of the First Uprising and the Ottoman regime.8 Despite obvious cultural and social differences in the standards of living of Christians and Muslims, even after Serbia gained its semi-independence in 1830, Serbs continued to live in the so-called "Balkan-style" houses, also known as "Oriental," "Turko-Oriental," "Turkish," or "Ottoman" houses because they are associated with Ottoman times and "non-Western" architecture.9 The more prosperous Serbs often chose to live in konaks, large palatial houses, which the Ottoman Turks originally used for both residential and official purposes.10

Serbian leaders encouraged building and rebuilding of churches in recognizable historical architectural styles as well as constructing public architecture [End Page 163] in contemporary European styles. In the 1830s, after not being able to obtain qualified architects, Prince Miloś appointed civil engineers—Slovak Franz Janke and Franz Baron Kordon from Austria, as well as architect Franz Dobi from Pančevo—to serve as state architects for big public projects done in the Neo-Classical style.11 These builders also erected a number of private residences in the Neo-Classical style, exemplified by the residence of Cvetko Rajović in Belgrade designed by Franz Janke in 1837, today the Pedagogical Museum of Serbia. Residential architecture built in Western European historical styles existed in Serbia prior to the nineteenth-century Uprisings as well. For example, Nikola Doksat de Mores built the oldest surviving house in Belgrade on the Cara Dušana Street in the baroque style (1724-27) during the urban reconstruction of Belgrade under Austro-Habsburg rule.12 The local inhabitants, regardless of their religion and ethnicity, however, considered not...


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