A Palacial Tour| 21 June 2010 | By Laura Wolfs
Aweekend in the city and you are wondering what is there left to do? The Royal Compound in Dedinje may just be the right place to get away from the heat of the summer. Wander around its delicate interior, and enjoy the beautiful view that on a clear day enables you to see from the top of Dedinje Hill all the way to the Kosutnjak Forest, Topcider and away in the distance, Avala.
The Royal compound has been open for visitors between April and October on Saturday and Sunday from 11a.m.-2p.m. for a few years now but advance reservation is necessary. Professional tour guides lead you through the magnificent White Palace, the Royal Palace and its Chapel over the course of approximately two hours.
The compound consists of two different parts, the Royal Palace and the White Palace (Beli Dvor) which together cover an area of about 135 hectars. The Royal Palace was built between 1924 and 1929 by two architects from the Royal Academy, Zivojin Nikolic and Nikolay Krassnoff in the Serbian-Byzantine style whilst the White Palace was constructed in the late thirties.
Some may not even be aware that Serbia has a Royal Family and, to be honest it’s a bit of a complicated story. The Karadjordjevic Royal Family has in fact spent much of recent history abroad in exile and not in Serbia proper, to the extent that the Crown Prince and his family are often pilloried for their allegedly poor Serbian language skills. The current Crown Prince, Aleksander Karadjordjevic was born in suite 212 of Claridges Hotel in London but with some diplomatic sleight of hand the suite was designated as Yugoslav territory for the period, to ensure that the future Crown Prince was technically born on home soil.
The Family fled the region during the second world war when Partisans took control over the country and their property was confiscated. After forty years of communism and one decade under the Milosevic regime, and with just one trip back to Serbia during that time, one may have assumed that the Royal Family would have had a hard time ‘reclaiming’ their property, but, since Serbia is a country full of surprises, upon their return in 2001 they were able to move back into the palace which, during their forced absence had served as a home to both Tito and Milosevic.
The view from the balcony of the Royal Palace itself is breathtaking and it is hard to believe that you are only minutes away from the busy city centre when you stand here on a nice summer’s day overlooking what seems miles and miles of Kosutnjak forest. The beautiful white marble which makes up the exterior of the palace and the collonade that connects it with the Chapel was specifically shipped from the Croatian island Brac. My personal highlight of the tour is the private cinema in the palace, allegedly the first of its kind in the Balkans. The palace still shows signs of its old communist residents, pillars painted in red, spy-holes in the walls and even a bullet hole shot between the eyes of Christ in the chapel. As well as the forest and parks, swimming pools, pavilions and concert platforms surround the Royal Palace.
If you’ve never visited its US near namesake, Beli Dvor, the White Palace, does a fair job of apeing the White House, as long as you squint a little, and it has not lost any of its elegance over its 83 years of existence. The palace houses a great collection of paintings and the gallery includes works by artists such as Rembrandt, Poussin and Winterthaler as well as sculptures by Ivan Mestrovic.
At the Night of Museums in 2009, the Royal Kitchen was opened to visitors for the first time and the now permanently open exhibit consists of three rooms. The kitchen has not been in use for three decades and is hence pretty much as it was when Tito was in charge. All the equipment is still completely authentic. The porcelain collection will also stun those in the know.
The second room showcases a selection of different kitchen items which belong to the Museum of Science and Technology. The third room is perhaps the most attractive place for families with children. The table is lad for a royal banquet and you can see how the beautiful porcelain and silver was used back in the day by King Peter I and his kin.
The royal compound is a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours learning about more about Serbia’s history and in the beautiful peaceful grounds, it feels as if you’ve left the city miles behind.
Reservation is jnecessary for the tour. The Tourist Information Bureau just off Trg Republike at Makedonska 5 sells tickets.
Telephone: 011 3343460