58 | Beograd » Belgrade R I TAM GRADA / RHYTHM OF THE CI TY Elektronski katalog Biblioteke sadrži oko dva i po miliona zapisa / The Library's electronic catalogue contains about two and a half million entries The book continues shining in this darkness The public library is the most important cultural institution of our language. It is, or can be, both a gallery and a theatre, or a concert hall and a cultural centre. It is the embassy of our culture In recognition of his standing, talent, enthusiasm and creativity, Serbia has entrusted the key to the National Library of Serbia to writer and professor Vladimir Pištalo, who became the acting administrator of this institution this February. It was actually founded in February, although way back in 1832, after publicist, journalist, constitutional writer, diplomat and politician Dimitrije Davidović sent a letter to Prince Miloš Obrenović suggesting the establishing of a library. “This is the most important cultural institution of our language. It procures, catalogues, protects and restores books. It is, or can be, both a gallery and a theatre, or a concert hall and a cultural centre. It is the embassy of our culture.” V L AD I M I R P I ŠTA LO, NEW GUARD I AN OF T HE NAT I ONA L L I BR ARY What has the Library meant, and what does it mean today, to Serbia, the Balkans and the world? “The National Library of Serbia isn't just a beautiful building inVračar. It is also the umbrella institution of the system of Serbian libraries. There are places in Serbia that don't have a bookshop, but they all have a library. In some places there are also library-buses that visit the villages.The pandemic has shown how important the library is. When theatres fell silent and galleries went dark, the book continued to shine. It provided company for increasingly lonely people. In Niš the library opened a branch in an improvised COVID hospital. The book is there, in both normal times and times of crisis, for the healthy and the sick.” Why was it built in Vračar specifically? “I remember - and that says something about my age - when only foundations existed on the site of today's Church of Saint Sava. And the site of the library was occupied by running tracks of the Faculty of Physical Education, DIF, where young athletes trained their bodies like students today train their minds. It was there that the mortal remains of Saint Sava were allegedly burned, with the wind carrying the ashes towards beggars. And ten blind people gained the power of sight. Erected there is a sculpture of Saint Sava, who was the founder of the Serbian school and church. The Vračar plateau symbolically spreads intellectual enlightenment and spirituality.” How many precious books does it have and what are the oldest manuscripts? “Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí said: creation continues incessantly through themedia of man. But man does not create...he discovers. Every book is precious if it helps us in that process of discovery. The list of the library's well-known precious works is long. There are Miroslav's Gospel from the 12th century, manuscripts from the Peć Patriarchate, Mercator's Atlas from 1631 and books by Vuk Karadžić, Dositej Obradović, Milutin Milanković, issues of Politika newspaper from 1903 to 1941, avant-garde magazine Zenit, the photographs of Branibor Debeljković, the legacy of Miloš Crnjanski etc.” But priceless treasures were still lost during the bombing of 1941… “Itwas at dawnon6th April that the library was hit by incendiary bombs. Among the itemsdestroyedwereabook fund of 500,000 volumes, a collection