There are many streets named after Croatian cities throughout Serbia. Belgrade alone contains Zagrebačka, Istarska, Dalmatinska, Matoševa, Splitska, Dubrovačka, and many other streets with Croatian names, what makes about 60 000 Croatians in Serbia very proud.


Splitska ulica Bgd

Belgrade, Splitska Street and Dubrovačka Street below


Dubrovačka ulica Bgd 

The symbol of Belgrade, the famous Pobjednik (Victor) statue, is the work of Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, which was built in 1928. It was originally located in Terazije in the middle of the fountain pool; a monument to the victory of the Serbian army in the Balkan wars. This was a project Meštrović completed back in 1912, however, it was abandoned with the arrival of World War I. After the war, there was much heated discussion regarding the location of the statue. Namely, Belgrade’s ladies were horrified with the idea of a sculpture of a naked man being placed in the center of the city, so they went into the streets to protest. It was ultimately decided that the statue should be moved to Kalemegdan, where it was installed in 1929.


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Terazije, the location where the Pobjednik statue was originally supposed to be erected


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Pobjednik, by Ivan Meštrović in Kalemegdan


The second great work of Ivan Meštrović in the vicinity of Belgrade is the Spomenik neznanom junaku (Monument to the unknown hero) in Avala. It was built in cooperation with the architect Harold Bilinić, from 1934 until 1938, in honor of those who had died in World War I, and was commissioned by king Alexander the 1st. The monument, shaped like a sarcophagus, was built out of black granite from Jablanica. It is surrounded by caryatids, which represented all of the kingdoms that made up Yugoslavia. In 1987, it was declared a historical monument, and is under the protection of the Republic of Serbia.


Spomenika neznanom junaku Avala copy


The sculptor, Ivan Meštrović, was born in 1883 in Vrpolje, and died in 1962, in South Bend, USA. He is the most famous Croatian sculptor from the 20th century. He was buried in the church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Otavice, which also served as a family mausoleum.

Even as a child, he would carve figures into marl and wood, until a group of Split’s professors heard of him, one of whom was Ante Bezić. He was brought to Petar Bilinić’s workshop in Split, and he had acquired financial support from Drniš. Bilinić approached Bezić after a while, and begged him to offer Meštrović some form of theoretical education, as Ivan was quickly becoming a master of the craft. In teaching him, Bezić saw that Meštrović had earned the highest form of education for such an artist. He sent him to his son, Zvonimir (born in Split, in 1884), who was living in Vienna at the time, and who ended up playing a key role in the education of the brilliant young sculptor. Through his father’s and his own stubbornness, Zvonimir enrolled Meštrović into college, where the latter stunned with his brilliance. In Pučki List, its editor, Juraj Kapić, had written that he ‘knows that Meštrović was taken away from sheep, and that he had done his best to send him to Vienna for an education’.[1] One of Meštrović’s first works was a portrait of Zvonimir Bezić, made in Split during his holidays away from school, which is currently kept in the Meštrović Gallery in Meje. The two of them stayed in touch, and when Meštrović married his first wife Ruža Klein, Zvonimir was his best man.[2]

Upon completing his education, Meštrović moved to Paris, where he came into contact with A. Rodin. His works were displayed at the World exhibit in Rome, in 1911. During World War I, living in emigration, he became a member of the Yugoslavian committee. After the war ended, he returned to his homeland, and remained there until World War II. He was incarcerated, but then managed to emigrate to Italy and then Switzerland, and in 1947 he went to the USA, where he taught sculpting at Syracuse University, in Syracuse, NY, and then at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. From 1902, he had been holding exhibits at art centers across Europe and America. Meštrović had a broad field of interests. Even though he was primarily a sculptor, he tried his hand at architecture, painting, writing, teaching, and politics. A large portion of his property from his homeland was donated to the Croatian people in 1952.

In front of the National Assembly building of Serbia, there are two sculptures known as ‘The Black Horses played’, by Split’s sculptor Toma Rosandić (Split, 1878 – 1958). Rosandić was a professor and the first rector of the Art Academy of Belgrade, as well as one of its founders. There is an anecdote surrounding the sculptures in front of the assembly building; it is said that they do not represent man’s struggle with nature, and rather that one represents a man leading a horse (a representative) into the building without resistance, and the other a horse (a representative) struggling to not be removed from the building.


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Toma Rosandić and his Black Horses


[1] Pučki list, 1903, no. 15, pg. 179.

[2] Bezić, Živan. Architect Ante Bezić, Baština article, Grohote 2004, pg. 55. Šolta municipality. (a family story from the book’s author, corroborated in documents)