Library » Biblioteka | 67 90 Y EARS OF T HE B E LGR ADE C I T Y L I BR ARY The heart of culture beats at 56KnezMihailovaStreet If a roomwithout books is like a body without a soul, as Cicero contended, then libraries are temples of nobility. And the older they are, the richer they are with knowledge, experience and beautiful, wise words. That's why the recent celebration of the 90th birthday of the Belgrade City Library was a magnificent holiday shared by all Belgraders At Serbia’s largest library institution everyone can find “desired reading, information, or just use all its spaces,” we’re told by Jasmina Ninkov, director of the City Library. And when they’ve fed their souls with the words of thousands of writers, they can stroll Knez Mihailova Street, where the headquarters of the Library are situated today, or the neighbouring Kalemegdan Fortress Park, walk to the Cathedral Church and Kosančić’s Wreath, or head down to the Sava or Danube rivers... The City Library has changed both addresses and names. It was opened on 11th January 1931 and Belgrade gained a modern city library. In 1986 the library came to the Belgrade promenade, moving to the building of the former Srpska Kruna [Serbian Crown] Hotel in Knez Mihailova Street. This building, a gem of eclecticism, was built around 1867 as the then most modern, most representative and best decorated hotel in Belgrade. In the development of Belgrade’s architecture, the building of the Srpska Kruna Hotel stands at the beginning of the intensive Europeanisation process of the Serbian capital in the second half of the 19th century. The building’s architecture is eclectic and includes elements of Renaissance and other styles, while it is presumed to have been built by the Krsmanovićs, a wealthy merchant family. The Library was opened by great poet Desanka Maksimović, who gave her honorary speech, stating: “If we’d spent three centuries looking for a place to house it, we wouldn’t have found a more beautiful venue, which in its facade is watched by Milan Rakić, and nearby on Kalemegdan are also Branko Radičević, Vojislav Ilić, Bora Stanković... ”. With this Maksimović was referring to the monuments celebrating the greats of Serbian literature whose works are included in the library’s fund, among many other famous names. During works on the adaptation of the library building, implemented in the period from 1983 to 1986, the lowering of the floor in the basement area led to the discovery of parts of the foundations of the ramparts and one tower of the main gate of the Roman fortification that was once located in the Upper Town of the Belgrade Fortress. This important discovery prompted a change to the project plan, so instead of a book depot the Library gained a Roman hall intended for public gatherings. The Belgrade City Library is also called the “cultural heart” of the capital, because its network includes 14 municipal libraries with more than 70 branches. “This is a large system with about two million units, 150,000 regular members, almost two million lent books and a million visits annually,” says director Ninkov. This “heart of the city” also pulsates through cultural programmes, many of which unfold in the Roman Hall, which is itself an exceptional tourist attraction. Apart from the presenting of awards to the most diligent readers and librarians, the jubilee was also commemorated with the declaring of the most read book of the year written by a foreign writer – the novel Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Italian novelist Elena Ferrante. It is tough to single out the most popular work from the overall statistics, so the choice narrowed down to writers of school pupils’ textbooks, Nobel Laureates and local writers, but that depends on what’s current, explains Ninkov. However, given that the Belgrade public doesn’t differ from the public elsewhere around the world, it can be assumed that Agatha Christie is nonetheless the favourite author. “Crime novels are always attractive, and she is a master of that genre,” explains Ninkov, adding that “tastes still vary”. The Belgrade City Library is there to satisfy all of them. U svojoj mreži Biblioteka grada Beograda ima 14 opštinskih biblioteka /This library’s network includes 14 municipal libraries