During Catholic Easter in April, we were all in a collective quarantine. Andrea Bocelli’s performance on the occasion of Easter, the most joyous Christian holiday, in Milan cathedral was announced. He is going to sing church songs in a style of a spectacle – prayer, a remarkable event, spiritual purification of Italian nation which endured the sharpest blows of corona virus. Millions of people watched his live stream performance. It was dead silent. The silence could be heard in your own home but also, instinctively, in the whole world. There has been a pandemic of corona virus. The moment when this blind artist of incredible voice stepped out of empty Duomo to again empty, vast and magnificent square and sang, “I was bling but now I see”, seemed surreal. Then one could see footages from the most visited tourist location of world metropolises. I have visited some of those places and I remember massive crowds, smiling faces, beaming with happiness because they found themselves there while taking pictures. I was one of them. Andrea’s singing provoke the deepest emotions even during the happiest times. I sincerely believe that the footage of horribly empty city and streets made everyone feel crushed – this is really happening! For days I was thinking about busy and empty streets, then and now, in remote past and fanaticized about even more distant future. I was preoccupied with a street as a phenomenon. I have thought about their destinies. Some of them, despite many transformations, have been bearing the title of the main street for centuries while others do not need to be considered as such because they, in fact, are the main ones. Why do they keep that spirit and attractiveness even when cities and their centers change? Do all streets have souls regardless of their changeable nature? This is why I accepted, without much thinking, to participate in this project when I was invited by my mentor, PhD professor Maja Đuric! My laic philosophical thinking took a new direction – along Njegoševa Street in Podgorica.
Podgorica has been building on the place where two rivers meet. Rivers were not the only ones that met, but cultures and people as well. In fact, this bland of cultures have made contemporary Podgorica. However, in order to understand the spirit of Njegoševa Street, we need to go back to the end of Ottoman rule. Mirkova Varoš has then been built on the right bank of river Ribnica. Its plan was done by a Russian engineer Vladimir Vormar while engineers Andrija Radović and Marko Đukanović were employed by king Nikola to implement it. It consisted of a web of wide streets that intersect at right angles. The main street runs from north to south while others are parallel to it or intersect at right angles. Stara Varoš, was on the contrary, full of winding, narrow streets built in typical oriental architecture. All houses in Mirkova Varoš were single-storied. Different styles of Eastern and Western cultures could easily be traced in Markova Varoš and Stara Varoš. Houses in the new part of the city were built according to plans, with wide windows facing the street and gardens in the back while houses in Stara Varoš, with a different architectural style, protected the privacy of its citizens. Messy and somewhat hectic life in Stara Varoš mirrored unplanned construction, dead-end streets, irregular, winding and narrow roads and it looked like everything had been built by chance. Mirkova Varoš supposed to look up to planned and neatly organized cities. Varoš was built according to Western cultures and it showed the tendency to make Podgorica, as well as the rest of Montenegro, more modern. This implied the separation from excessively traditional style of foreign Eastern culture which had manifested through Ottoman rule. Podgorica was gradually becoming the administrative center of Montenegro.
Ulica Slobode (Street of Freedom), formerly known as Ulica Knjaza Nikole (King Nikola Street), is the main street. However, Njegoševa Street is the most beautiful one. This street, from its formation until the World War II, mirrored European and modern spirit more than other streets. Pavle Rovinski wrote, “Old town with its cobblestone streets remained intact. However, a new wide street that leads to newer part of the city intersected its middle part. This street goes around the wide square with monumental pillars on its top which now consists of more than a hundred shops and houses, built according to plans. Trees were planted around the square and along the streets. Every house had a space for backyard and garden. This new town was called Mirkova Varoš”.
Hotels which offered accommodation to foreigners and tired visitors were located in Njegoševa Street. Their names, Beograd, Moskva, Jadran (at the corner of Karađorđeva Street) and Imperijal (which was considered the most beautiful one), showed their aspiration to be similar to Europe as much as possible. Imperijal hotel was open on April 18th, 1926. Rich, baroquely furnished façade, big, framed and decorated windows and balconies facing the street helped this hotel look in accordance with its name – imperial. Pejanović brothers were its owners and the hotel had the largest capacity. “It was a meeting place of wealthy citizens, merchants, professors and officers who spent their time in one of its halls: a cafe hall and a restoration hall. They could also relax in shades of its garden located behind the hotel. It was the biggest and the most beautiful hotel in the city, with thirty furnished rooms and two bathrooms which was an exquisite luxury bearing in mind that back then the entire city used washing bawls when taking a bath. Events for officers as well as women’s charity organization events, costume parties and famous entertainers’ nights were organized. A famous illusionist Svengali was hosted as well. He showed audience in Podgorica his magic tricks and skills. Music was played in the evenings. Hotel dancers danced and everyone else danced and sang often until late in the night” (Miodrag Tripković, Kapija Podgorice). Tables were placed in front of the hotel as well where passers-by could sit and relax. Films were projected in one of hotel’s halls and it, thus, was one of the first cinemas in the city. Films could be watched in hotel Evropa (today’s Hilton hotel) and in Apolo cinema located next to Mostar hotel in Njegoševa Street as well. This hotel was transformed into a military hospital during military occupation. Nowadays, apartment building is located there.
The entire street was full of restaurants and shops which were visited by Varoš citizens. Njegoševa street, Ulica slobode and Nemanjina obala were among few privileged paved streets. The first bus station, post office and gas station were all located in Njegoševa Street. The first car arrived in Montenegro in 1902. Its owner was a bourbon prince. In comparison, the first car arrived in Belgrade one year after that while in Zagreb it happened a year before. The Cetinje-Podgorica road was open in 1886. It was the first intercity line in Europe. Its starting point in Cetinje was in front of Lokanda hotel, where hotel Grand is located today, and its stop was next to Grand garage in Njegoševa Street in Podgorica. The road ran from Njegoševa Street in one city (although its name was at that time different) to Njegoševa Street in another one. Grand garage was located at the corner of Njegoševa and Bokeška Street on the small square in front of Municipality building. Begović and Šćepovic families were the owners of Grand garage while Pokrkić and Pejanović familie owned the buss.
Municipality building and a small square in front of it divide Njegoševa Street in two parts. This building design was made in 1912. However, its building was delayed due to Balkan wars as well as World War I. Its construction was followed by financial difficulties caused by the wars. Financial directorate of Zeta banovina took part in its construction and then, together with its workers, moved into the building in 1930. This building suffered severe damage during World War II. It has been renovated with an additional story, without former roof clock and bell. The postwar citizens did not need the clock and bell anymore. Thus, these features were left out.
Trade and crafts started to develop at the beginning of the 20th century. The first monetary institutions, such as Podgorica bank, were established. Montenegro economy gained new institutions that dealt with economic development. Post office building was located at the corner of Njegoševa and Karađorđeva Street. Crnogorska bank was located at the corner of Njegoševa and Vučedolska street. Podgorička bank was located instead of today’s Wedding venue (at the corner of Njegoševa and Bokeška street). Trade academy was located at the place of today’s Supreme Court of Montenegro. This street was busy due to all these institutions. That is why Tripković wrote that Njegoševa Street was a meeting place of “wealthy citizens, merchants, professors and officers”. Many relevant institutions as well as bus and gas stop were clearly reason for this.
Podgorica was in rapid development until World War I. Its development ceased between the wars. Podgorica was completely destroyed during World War II. Podgorica had 13 000 citizens before World War II. City was bombarded about 80 times by the Anglo-American allies whose reasons have remained unclear with an imposing question – why? Around 1000 civilians died on May 5th, 1944. It was a market day. Many of them came from other places. They came to Mirko’s market, the largest market at the time, which was located at today’s Independence Square. Almost the entire city has been destroyed. Only several buildings survived such as: Gymnasium, Sokolana (Kino Kultura), Sastanci bridge, Sahat kula, King Nikola’s Palace, and Prva podgoricka bank in Njegoševa Street. Some religious buildings survived as well. However, the city disappeared. Luxurious Imperijal hotel, as well as other hotels in Njegoševa street disappeared. Some estimates state that the damaged of that day amounted up to around 15 billion dollars. 166 planes threw 270 tons of bombs on Podgorica that day.
Considerable rebuilding of the city started after the war, in 1945. Montenegro became one id 6 equal constituent republics of Yugoslavia. The new city with a new name – Titograd rose from the ashes thanks to massive work actions in which everyone took part. Podgorica had lost its previous looks and it was built according to utopian philosophy of communist architecture. New parts of the city, such as Blok 5 and area across Morača river, were built. However, Mirkova Varoš, has kept its central position. Some of houses’ foundations survived but those houses look completely different today. They used to be private homes. Today they are cafes and shops. Multi-story buildings were built right next to single-storied houses. The new city architecture expressed aspiration for world and skyscrapers, conquering not only the earth but the sky as well. Njegoševa Street has also been rebuilt. It does not look the same but it has the same spirit. When you go from the direction of Nemanjina obala, Gallery Centar is at the beginning of the street. This is one of the galleries of Centre of Contemporary Arts in Montenegro which inherited inventory of Titova Galerija Nesvrstanih. It exhibits country’s and world’s contemporary art. Before its intersection with Karađorđeva Street, Njegoševa Street separates the Parliament building from the High Court of Montenegro. The section between Karađorđeva and Vučedolska Street is furnished with many cafes and shops. There is a small square which separates Radosav Ljumović Library from Municipality building between Vučedolska and Bokeška streets. The well-known Grand Garage was once located there, representing the first intercity bus stop in Europe. Pedestrian zone spans from Bokeška Street, where the Wedding venue, former Podgorica bank, is located to Ivan Crnojević Boulevard. While I was sitting in one of cafes in Njegoševa Street, with professional material which I had borrowed from Radosav Ljumović Library for this small research, I was thinking about how everything is different now. As an art historian, I am prone to thinking to believe that the past was a little bit better and more beautiful. Just then, a group of guys went by and said hello to another group sitting at the table next to me. They exchanged short jokes. If they wore festive Sunday suits and hats, everything would be the same like it was at the beginning of the 20th century. Njegoševa Street is still a meeting place of all generations. Although building façades look differently today and they are populated by new people, and even though shops and restaurants carry different names, the spirit of Njegoševa Street remained unchanged. Municipality and bank workers, judges and prosecutors meet here on their breaks at work. Some new tourists take a walk along the street. People still greet each other in passing and this place is still busy with many happenings. It is true that Imperijal, Beograd and Evropa do not exist anymore, but Minhen, Berlin and Greenwich do. Njegoševa Street still strives for Europe.