Belgrade, Serbia – St. Mark & Tasmajdan Park

12 Nov

The Saint Mark Church, dedicated to Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark, was built between the two world wars, beginning in 1931, and completed in 1940. It is located in the Tašmajdan Park, in the centre of Belgrade. The interior is still not fully completed.

A Christian place of worship has existed continuously in what is today Tašmajdan Park from at least the nineteenth century. The original St. Mark’s Church, built in the days of Belgrade Metropolitan Petar Jovanović (1833–1859) and Prince Miloš Obrenović (1835–1836), stood in almost the same location, just slightly south of the present building. At a time when Turkish troops were still quartered in the city and the present-day Orthodox Cathedral, for example, was built of wood, this was a great spiritual event for Belgrade. The patron endower of the church was Lazar Panća, a merchant originally from the village of Katranica in Southern Serbia who died in Belgrade in 1831. The church was located in a cemetery, as is often the case, and the cemetery was taken care of by the church administration. There was a quarry of rock (and saltpeter) in Tašmajdan that was also in use in the time of the Turks and later used to build many things in present-day Belgrade. According to accounts by contemporaries, before St. Mark’s Church was actually built a cross was placed on that spot and a shade tent where Holy Liturgy and religious processions in Palilula were held. Sreten Popović, a Belgrade native, wrote in the 1870s “that there were some ruins there and that they were said to be from an old church, which by all accounts was dedicated to St. Mark”. The same writer mentions the hilltop grave where the sultan’s edict (hatisherif) was readin 1830. The old St. Mark’s Church was a rectangular building whose exterior surface area was 11.5 by 21 meters and whose interior, usable space was 7.75 by 17.46 meters. At the same time Prince Miloš Obrenović built the palatial church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Topčider (completed in 1834). Work on both churches was supervised by Hadži-Nikola Živković from Vodeni (1792–1870), the first great builder in the restored Serbia, and his master builders Janja and Nikola. In about 1870 St. Mark’s Church had two parishes, that of Terazije with 312 homes and Palilula with 318 homes. During World War I the Austrian conquerors restored the church in 1917. The original church existed until the beginning of World War II. During the German bombing on Palm Sunday, April 13, 1941, the church caught fire and the damage was so extensive that its remains were completely removed in 1942.
Divine service took place in the new church during the war and after it until November 14, 1948 in the adapted narthex of the church. On that date the church was consecrated (by Patriarch Gavrilo Dožić) and the church opened for divine service. There were plans to decorate the whole interior with frescoes. In construction style, the church is a monumental edifice built in the spirit of Serbian medieval buildings, using as a model the endowment of King Milutin, Gračanica Monastery near Priština in Kosovo. Of course, the dimensions of the church are much larger and everything appears grand and powerful. The external walls are in two colors of natural materials in the Serbian-Byzantine building method. This church is a good example of how beautiful old spiritual models fashioned with new building materials can appear in an urban setting without losing anything of their authenticity and simplicity. The church bell tower is a part of the church itself on the west side.

St. Mark’s Church is 62 meters long and 45 meters wide, and the height of the main cupola to the base of the cross is 60 meters. The usable interior surface area of the church is about 1,150 square meters, and the naos (nave) of the church can accommodate over 150 singers. It has already been said that more than seventy years after the beginning of its construction, St. Mark’s Church has not been completed. This relates primarily to its interior, decorating, fresco painting, appropriate lighting, acoustics, heating and ventilation. After World War II little was done in the church itself for objective reasons. Above the entrance door to the church on the external façade is an icon in mosaic of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark, the work of Veljko Stanojevć in 1961. The floor in the church is from 1974, while the floor of the soleia (area in front of the iconostasis and the altar (sanctuary) was done in marble in 1991. The iconostasis of the church, designed by architect and professor Zoran Petrović, dates back to 1991/1992 and was done in marble, while the icons in it are done in mosaic, the work of academic painter Đuro Radulović from Belgrade from 1996-1998. The altar table is also in marble with smaller mosaics on the front side. To the right of the altar is a smaller altar dedicated to the Holy Despot Stefan Lazarević († 1427), and the altar on the north side is dedicated to the feast day of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

As one enters the church on the right side along the south wall of the church is the marble tomb of Emperor Stefan Dušan († 1355) designed by Dr. Dragomir Tadić where his holy relics rest after being transferred from his endowment, Saint Archangels Monastery near Prizren, a monastery that has lain in ruins for centuries.

On the opposite, north side the tomb of Patriarch German (Đoić, † 1991) has been built in the same style and of the same material. In the middle of the church underneath the central cupola is apolielei done in copper according to the design of Dr. Dragomir Tadić in 1969, and executed by academic sculptor Dragutin Petrović.

Below the narthex of the church is the crypt which was adapted during 2007.
Outside the church, on its right, there’s Tasmajdan Park.
Almost two millennia ago, Romans were extracting stone from the quarry located in the area for the building of Belgrade’s predecessor, Singidunum and for many surviving sarcophagi from that period.The quarry remained operational during Ottoman period, thus giving the name to the entire location (Turkish taş, stone and meydan, square), though it was also used for the extraction of saltpeter, which was used in the gunpowder production. Due to the proximity to the town, basically all stone buildings and walls in Belgrade from Ottoman period were built from the stone extracted here. Some historians believe that this is the actual place where the remains of the Serbian Saint Sava were burned at the stake in 1595 by the Ottoman grand vizier Sinan Pasha (area known as Little Vračar) and not the Vračar hill itself or Crveni Krst, another alternative site.
During the First Serbian Uprising and the subsequent Siege of Belgrade in autumn of 1806, leader of the Uprising Karađorđe set his camp in Tašmajdan and conducted the liberation of Belgrade from there. A mound in the eastern section of the area was used for public reading of decrees and laws. It was here that on November 30, 1830 the Sultan’s hattisherif (decree) was publicly announced, declaring autonomy (de facto, internal independence) of Serbia and granting hereditary ruling rights to the Obrenović dynasty.
After the successful Second Serbian Uprising when Serbian prince Miloš Obrenović ordered the building of a new town around the old Kalemegdan fortress, he also ordered that the old Serbian cemetery from Varoš-kapija (City gate) be moved to Tašmajdan, which was done in 1828. New cemetery was intended as and “international” contrary to the existing practice, so beside Serbs, it was also the burial place for Hungarians, Germans, Greeks, Italians and French. In the western section of the cemetery the Catholics and Protestants were buried, Serbs on the central promenade, while area around modern Seisomology Institute was left for the soldiers, suicides and drowned ones. In 1835 a small Palilulska church was built. Some of the most important Serbs from this period were buried in the churchyard. Belgraders protested because new cemetery, built on an inhabited fields, gardens and vineyards was away from then downtown, but already in the 1850s, the area surrounding the cemetery was completely urbanised, so the first plans for moving it again originate from 1871. City government bought the cemetery land in 1882 and gradual restriction of burials was conducted until it was closed in fully closed 1901. It was moved to the new Novo Groblje (new cemetery), several blocks to the east, beginning from 1886 and the moving was finally completed in 1927 with park being planted instead of the old cemetery.

Tašmajdan was bombed again during the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia when several objects in Tašmajdan park were badly hit: 23 April 1999 – At 2:06 NATO bombed the building of the Serbian Broadcasting Corporation (RTS) situated in Tašmajdan park. Part of the building collapsed, trapping people who were working in the building that night. Sixteen people were killed while many were trapped for days; 24 April 1999 – A children’s theatre “Duško Radović” in the heart of Tašmajdan park was badly damaged due to its close proximity to neighbouring buildings that were bombed.

30 June 1999 – A heart-like shaped monument was erected by the city of Belgrade for all the children that have died in the bombing. The monument says “We were just children” in English and Serbian.

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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Uncategorized



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