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FRENCH EMBASSY

WHERE IS IT?

The Embassy of the French Republic is located at 11 Pariska Street, across from Kalemegdan Park. It is close to the Belgrade Cathedral, the Patriarchate, and the Austrian Embassy.

THE HISTORY

After Serbia gained autonomy within the Ottoman Empire, France established its first consulate in Belgrade in 1839, with François Duclos serving as the first consul. Over time, the buildings housing the French diplomatic mission changed as the needs of the embassy outgrew the capacities of those structures.

For many years, the building at the corner of Dositejeva and Braće Jugovića Streets served as an embassy and residence for French envoys. The George Eastman Museum in Rochester has a photograph in its collection, taken between 1900 and 1920 by Charles Chusseau-Flaviens, which it has lent for use in our project.

Digital positive from the original gelatin silver negative in the George Eastman Museum’s collection

 

Although plans to acquire a building for the embassy were made in the early 20th century, the land across from Kalemegdan was not purchased until 1923. The embassy was officially opened on December 21, 1935.

During the Second World War, the building of the French embassy was occupied by the German authorities in 1943, but in 1945 the building was returned to France. For a short period in 1999, when diplomatic relations were severed due to the NATO bombing of Serbia, the building did not serve as the French embassy.

THE EXTERIOR

The building of the French embassy was designed by architect Roger-Henri Expert in the Art Deco style. After numerous delays, the cornerstone was finally laid in 1929, and the building was opened in 1935. Expert skillfully adapted the magnificent Art Deco palace to the sloping, uneven terrain oriented towards Kalemegdan Park. The external façade of the building runs parallel to Pariska Street, with two wings extending at a 45-degree angle to the west and north. Utilizing the uneven terrain, Expert directed the building upwards, resulting in the main section having five floors. The side wings gradually descend, forming terraces that offer beautiful views in various directions. This created a striking structure made of white limestone, featuring a central semicircular part adorned with sculptural relief decorations and rhythmically placed windows. The garden on the south and west sides further enhanced the overall elegant appearance of the exterior.

Alongside Expert, Belgrade architect Josif Najman contributed to the construction of the embassy, while sculptor Carlo Sarrabezolles played a significant role in achieving the building's harmonious appearance. At the very top of the building, his composition of three female figures represents the allegories of Liberty with an olive branch, Equality in the middle, and Fraternity on the right. These statues were cast in bronze, and due to complaints about the nudity of the central figure, a tunic was added. The marble relief decorations in the central semicircular section were crafted by sculptors led by Giuseppe Grassi, a Swiss-born sculptor who continued his career in Belgrade, where he lived and worked until his death.

The rectangular panels on the two wings of the building, above the windows, symbolically depict key historical figures of France: Vercingetorix, Joan of Arc on the left, and Louis XIV on the right, along with Marianne as a representation of the Republic. Above the side entrance from Gračanička Street is a bronze shield featuring the figure of Marianne.

The façade facing the garden was decorated with relief compositions by Petar Palavičini, a renowned Yugoslav sculptor. These compositions, placed symmetrically above the windows on two levels, are allegorical representations of hunting, youth, and dance.

The large garden covering the southeast side and the area towards Sime Markovića Street, featuring a swimming pool and carefully maintained vegetation, also contributes to the building's beautiful appearance.

THE INTERIOR

The interior of the French embassy exudes elegance in the Art Deco style. Numerous windows and a wealth of sculptural ornaments create an open and bright space complemented by streamlined furniture. The monumental entrance hall from Gračanička Street leads to the main and largest room, which is connected to the circular hall dominated by high rectangular and round windows. A large fireplace with a mirror graces the semicircular wall, around which rich relief compositions are displayed. The vaulted ceiling, standing 10 meters high, is accentuated by a particularly luxurious chandelier made in the Bagues workshop. The large space is divided by tall double marble pillars that emphasize the height and monumentality of the room.

The section that opens to the garden was decorated by sculptor Sarrabezolles with relief medallions representing great French rivers. The furniture in this and other rooms of the embassy was commissioned from the renowned Leleu family workshop, known for their high-end furniture. All furniture and relief decorations were designed by architect Expert. The central part of the main room features a large concert piano.

From the grand hall, one enters a series of smaller salons, equipped with luxurious furniture and tapestries. Initially, tapestries from the Gobelins manufactory, based on templates by the famous Baroque painter Rubens, adorned the walls. Due to their significant museum value, these tapestries were withdrawn from the embassy and replaced by works from modern French artists. From the ceremonial salon, one enters the Small Salon, which was originally intended for women's receptions. This room has a more intimate character, featuring a fireplace and Art Deco furniture from the workshop of Andrea Deves.

In the right wing of the building, there is a large, long dining room that can accommodate 36 people. The marble cladding of the walls, featuring simple geometric decorations, was covered with a new layer of lime during World War II, but a restoration at the end of the 20th century returned the dining room to its original appearance.

Of particular note is the office of the French Ambassador, a room lined with oak paneling and furnished with valuable pieces designed by Expert. The Art Deco furniture was crafted in the Gilles Lele workshop. The upper floor is reserved for private rooms, furnished with equally carefully selected pieces and works of art. The small dining room was personally outfitted by Ambassador Robert de Dampier, featuring Art Deco furniture and an Empire-style dining table (Biedermeier).

 

DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS

The establishment of diplomatic relations between France and Serbia began soon after the formation of the Principality of Serbia, with the arrival of the first French consul in Belgrade in 1839. Since then, Serbia and France have maintained stable and friendly diplomatic ties, with only short interruptions during World War II and in 1999. Relations between the two countries were especially close during World War I, when France provided significant financial and material assistance to its ally, Serbia. Numerous Serbian soldiers and civilians stayed at the French base in Bizerte, North Africa (present-day Tunisia), from 1915 until the end of the war.

Improvised school for Serbian students in Bizerte, on the board you can see the inscription Vive le Serbie and Živila Francuska, private archive

In Bizerte, France provided protection and support to Serbian soldiers and civilians, with the then governor of Bizerte, Admiral Emile Guepratte, playing a prominent role. During Admiral Guepratte's visit to Belgrade in 1930, the citizens of Belgrade carried him in their arms from the railway station to Slavija. In honor of this event, the street they passed through was named Admiral Guepratte Street, a name it retains to this day.

Bizerte, Admiral Geprat visits Serbian volunteers, private archive

Support continued at the end of the Great War, when France received 3,000 young Serbs, providing scholarships for their education at French schools and universities.

As a sign of gratitude for France's support, a monument created by sculptor Ivan Meštrović was erected in Kalemegdan Park in 1930. The monument depicts a female figure holding a sword, symbolizing France, as an allegory of the assistance provided to Serbia during the conflict.

Ivan Meštrović, Monument of Gratitude to France, 1930. Kalemgdan, Belgrade 

In the interwar period, the French school of Saint Joseph was established in Belgrade by the nuns of the Order of the Assumption of Mary in 1926, located at 4 Rankeova Street (today the Faculty of Dentistry). Due to the onset of World War II, the institution ceased operations in 1941. Classes were conducted in both Serbian and French, with all lecturers being French. The French school still operates in Belgrade today.

Following the turbulent events of World War II, during which diplomatic relations were severed, cooperation resumed within Yugoslavia. After the democratic changes in Serbia, relations between the two countries strengthened, fostering collaboration at all levels.

Participants of the BELGRADE ADVENTURE project had the opportunity to visit the Embassy of the Republic of France on June 15, 2021. During their visit, they toured the embassy building with expert guidance from embassy officials and had the chance to view and photograph all the rooms and artistic elements within. The project participants were warmly greeted and hosted by the French Ambassador, Jean-Louis Falconi.

Written by  Sofija Jovanović, Ognjen Nerandžić, Darija Njego i Jovana Dimitrijević