Around the Town

History of Čukarica
It started with a summer house on Golo Brdo and a tavern under the hill. Later came merchants and artisans, a railroad and a sugar factory, a hippodrome and a mint, Pionirski Grad and Filmski Grad... Life flourished according to its own laws. After the first ”population influx” in the 19th century, there were 150 people there. Today there are 176,000 of them, making it the fourth largest Belgrade municipality. It has everything, even the world champions, even the Orthodox Celts. And the decisive spices were added by poets and chroniclers, in spite of transience, in spite of oblivion

By: Miloš Lazić
Photo: Jovan Đorđević, Rade Krstinić, Archives of the
Municipality of Čukarica and Primary School ”Josif Pančić”

The settlement of Čukarica, the former wasteland of the Žarkovac region, outside the borders of Belgrade, began only in the 1870s. And today, according to the 2022 census, it is the fourth Belgrade municipality in terms of population, with around 176,000 inhabitants. For better comparison, it should be recalled that according to the 1834 census, 678,192 inhabitants lived in Serbia, of which 38,075 lived in the Belgrade district, and in the town itself, the most populous in the principality 7,033.
Among the first ”colonists” of that wasteland was Matija Ban, a diplomat and writer, a member of the Serbian Learned Society and the Serbian Royal Academy, teacher of the daughter of Prince Aleksandar Karađorđević, a Serb of the Catholic faith originally from Konavlje, who lived in Gospodska, today’s Brankova street. In 1850, he was given a plot of land on Golo Brdo by the Ministry, where he built a summer house, and a little later planted vineyards next to it. That is why at the end of the century, namely during the lifetime of that learned man, the entire hill with the established surroundings was named after him: Banovo Brdo. Today’s residents of Čukarica finally repaid him with a bronze monument erected in 2022 on the plateau in front of the municipality building.
For decades, until his inexorable passing into the world of memory in 1903, Matija Ban’s summer house was a meeting place for friendly guests from the world of politics, science and culture, and even Prince Mihailo visited with the Belgrade guard.
By the way, Golo Brdo (Bare Hill) was not entirely bare. On its slope, in 1850, Topčider Cemetery emerged, the last refuge of the inhabitants of Čukarica and the neighboring Velika Dedija, today Dedinje.
And it all started when, in 1820, the ”Gospodarska Mehana” tavern appeared at the intersection of the Šabac and Topčider roads, near the mouth of the Topčider stream, a resting place for ferrymen and customs officials, a reliable guide for travelers. It was the last breath of Belgrade and a hint of where the city will expand. To the next resting place, at the fork of the Lazarevac road, the ox cart (and there were no other ones because the Turks forbade the Serbs to keep horses) needed at least an hour of bumpy ride.
That second, nameless tavern, opened in 1842, belonged to the municipality of Žarkovac, which leased it out. One of the first tenants inadvertently named this part of the bank, although that name appeared for the first time only in August 1874 in Srpske novine, in a small ad by Dimitrije Kostić. In it, he stated that he owns a tavern in Čukarica, behind Topčider, and accidentally explained that the most deserving person for its name is a certain Stojko Janković, a butcher and mechanic from Belgrade, who had been its tenant for years. This Stojko was better known by the nickname Čukar than by his baptismal name, so the tavern was first named after him, and later the area around it was called Čukarica.
Several craft shops and commercial shops have sprung up around the tavern. Mass settlement of that region began with industrialization in 1884 and the construction of several factories, first of all a tannery. The result was a rapid population influx, so according to the 1895 census, 150 people lived in Čukarica, and only five years later their number tripled to 447.


Then the ”economic boom” happened: the first Serbian sugar factory was built (prior to that sugar was imported). The new sugar factory changed the blood of Čukarica, because the owners of the factory employed more experienced workers from Austria, mainly from Slavonia, Zagorje, Istria, and so along the banks of the Topčider stream and today’s hippodrome, a settlement emerged that the people called the Croatian Village, probably because of the religion of its inhabitants.
And then Čukarica ”turned red”.
Although the sugar factory owners promised to build buildings for the accommodation of workers in the vicinity of the factory, the apartments were occupied by officials, while the unfortunate day laborers were left to fend for themselves and lined up their huts along the banks of the Sava backwaters opposite the sugar factory. Their wages were miserable because most of the profits went to the state budget (there were whispers about the ”allowance” of King Aleksandar Obrenović). In addition, in the ”Royal Serbian Sugar Factory” working hours stretched to 12 hours, both day and night, without days off, religious holidays or vacations, so at the beginning of the last century, the trade union, then still in its infancy, arrived to Čukar’s tavern to reach its most brilliant moments with the great strike of 1907.
The rebellion was suppressed by the army and the gendarmerie, and the result was four dead and an unknown number of wounded, and because of the spilled blood, the designation red was added to the name Čukarica to remind and warn, which gained importance in the historiography of the so-called other Yugoslavia, i.e. its ideology. Because, the strikers were once visited unannounced by several social democrats, among them Dimitrije Tucović, which was a good reason to name the factory after him immediately after the World War Two.
The sugar factory in Čukarica operated until 1983, when it was moved to Padinska Skela. The factory buildings would certainly have been demolished if they had not caught the eye of someone from BITEF, so in 1995, according to the festival’s program, the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream was performed there, after which the KPGT (Kazalište, Pozorište, Gledališče, Teatar) of Ljubiša Ristić and Rade Šerbedžija moved into those already decommissioned buildings. The theater is there even today...
In the meantime, the ”Serbian Royal Shipyard” started working in the Sava backwater, employing excellent craftsmen, so they also contributed to the progress.
The first railway in 1884 gave momentum to the revival of the area, but more passengers were brought by the narrow-gauge railway that connected the capital with the Drina Basin, Bosnia and the Littoral in 1925 and existed until 1968.
That same year, 1925, in Košutnjak below the cemetery, at the suggestion of the governor of the National Bank, Đorđe Vajfert, the construction of the Mint began. Until then, coins had been produced abroad, a little at the State Printing Office, but with clichés and on imported paper.


Due to their religion, the inhabitants of Croatian Village made their way to Belgrade and the Church of Christ the King in Krunska Street, although sometimes they performed rituals in private homes, and the Orthodox were directed to the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the endowment of Prince Miloš in Topčider. Papal Nuncio Hermengildo Palengrineti pressed the Slovenian Lazarists to take over one of the Belgrade parishes, offering them Karaburma or Čukarica. They accepted, so at the end of 1929, the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius was built on the former Golo Brdo, near the ”Mihajlovac” restaurant, which welcomed its first guests a decade earlier, and a little later, it was followed by a convent, officially – the Institute of Sisters of the Order of St. Vincent de Paul.
It should not be forgotten that this was the time when the Vatican Curia considered that the ”Europeanization” of the territory of the former Turkish Empire also meant the Catholicization, or at least the unification of the Orthodox, who were the most numerous, and since 1918, they also intended the same for the Kingdom of SHS and its capital.
Older generations may remember that nuns dressed in black chasubles and with snow-white starched canopies on their heads, which resembled flocks of white albatrosses, paraded through the city streets. Some wondered where they came from to repay the hospitality of the residents of the capital with charity and to help the needy in hospitals. Few knew that they arrived in the city from Čukarica, from the home next to the now-defunct ”Mihajlovac”. That cheerful inn never bothered the monastery, nor did the monastery interfere with the entertainment of the tavern guests. It was a forced but harmonious coexistence.
A little later, in the 1930s, an industrialist donated a plot of land to the Čukarica Orthodox Church. With the contribution of King Aleksandar the Unifier, the Church of St. George sprang up on that plot of land, near the top of Visoka. That industrialist’s generous gift was a memorial to his prematurely deceased daughter, but their names, unfortunately, floated away into oblivion. Later, several more Orthodox churches appeared in Čukarica, but this one, along with the Žarkovac Church of the Ascension, is the oldest. That is why some are protesting that Čukarica, instead of St. George, declared the Spirits, the Holy Trinity, to be its patron saint day!


The first athletes arrived in Čukarica in 1905. They actually landed on Ada Ciganlija. It was the ”Grafičar” rowing club founded by Belgrade graphic workers, but the sport, the name, and the premises of the club were hijacked by local boys and some girls.
The decision to move the Racecourse to a new location contributed to the revival of Čukarica, because the state intended to move the space on the corner of Kralja Aleksandra Boulevard and Grobljanska Street, where it was located until then, to a new university center by building a palace and laboratories of the technical faculties. Thus, under ”Matijin Zabran” in Čukarica, a new hippodrome sprung up, a meeting place of successful gentlemen and enterprising ladies, with ”Mihajlovac” as the centerpiece.

Photo: Jovan Đorđević

Six years later, in the tavern ”Majdan” (and where else) ČSK (Čukarica Sports Club) was founded, the forerunner of today’s FK ”Čukarica”, and already in 1929, Serbian emigrants from Kvarner and Istria founded the Sokol Society, i.e. Prednjački zbor IV, a pan-Slavic and patriotic, not only sports organization, with King Aleksandar Karađorđević at the helm.
Sport offered them an opportunity to escape from the hopelessness caused by the great economic crisis that did not pass us by, as academician Aleksandar Deroko, who was a successful swimmer crowned with many medals in his youth, reminded us in his memories.
The sports conquest of this area was crowned with the construction of the Sports Center complex in 1962, and then the new building of the Faculty of Sports and Physical Culture, which until then used the old Sokolana on the corner of Deligradska and Tiršova streets (some still call that building the Old DIF).


And new life came to Čukarica – by railway. It happened in 1912, when the first tram line was established from Theater Square to Topčider, so it was not necessary to walk the whole way. Two decades after that, tram line number 13 reached the tavern ”Velika Čukarica”.
The settlement stretched along Trgovačka, today’s Radnička Street, until the fork leading to Makiš, where two four-year elementary schools were opened, about the further fate of which little is known, except that one of them was later occupied by homeless people and was kept ”under occupation” for decades.
But Čukarica grew incessantly, spreading from Matijin Zabran towards Žarkovo along Knez-Mihailov venac, as the part of today’s Požeška Street with the unofficial title of the main street was called. The number of "new colonists" could be guessed from the fact that in 1936, the modern building of the ”Matija Ban" State National School, later renamed ”Josif Pančić” Primary School (with Pančić’s spruce tree in front of the entrance), appeared in that street. The later addition of another floor of the school building testifies not only to the state’s concern for the comfort of children, but also to the expansion of the municipality.
Then the following ensued: elementary schools, kindergartens, Filmski Grad (Film City, or our ”Cinecittà”), High School of Chemistry, Thirteenth Belgrade High School, Faculty of Forestry, College of Hospitality, New DIF, Cultural Center, museums, galleries, cinema, theater, libraries, then boutiques and shopping centers... as well as branches of most banks that operated in Serbia, which is why Požeška Street is nicknamed in the local jargon – Belgrade  Wall Street.
The tram line to Old Čukarica was renumbered with a new number 4, but it was irrevocably canceled in 1999, when the tavern ”Velika Čukarica” was also deleted from the city map. However, a tram has also started running along Požeška Street. Maybe a younger chronicler will arrive in it to continue this story, and they can look for inspiration in one of the countless new cafes and cafeterias, the number of which is probably unknown today.


Matija Ban’s summer house was demolished during the war in 1915, and the estate was sold by the heirs. In the 1960s, homeless people from Čukarica changed their address, left the building of the old elementary school in Radnička Street and occupied the former Camp of Youth Work Brigades ”Belgrade” on Ada Ciganlija. They are still there today. With the beginning of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, those ”albatrosses” from Čukarica disappeared: the Institute is in the same place, behind the Church of Cyril and Methodius, the nuns are still there, but the white canopies have not been seen on the streets for decades. When in 1920 the racetrack was moved to Čukarica, behind the Sugar Factory, the Croatian Village was also erased from the map.


No More
Tavern ”Velika Čukarica” was demolished at the end of the last century to make way for a gas station. There is no sign in that consecrated place that would remind the Čukarica residents of the history of that part of the city.


Unmarked Graves
One of the ”sights” of Čukarica was the prison on Ada Ciganlija, where Draža Mihailović, the commander of the Yugoslav Army in the homeland, spent his last days. According to one of the versions, he was executed on 17 July 1946, at the execution ground of the casemate, and his remains were thrown into the limestone near the fence. From there, it is unknown when, they were transferred to an unmarked grave at the Belgrade Central Cemetery, where they rest alongside numerous ”enemies of the people” and ”kulaks” who were overtaken by ”revolutionary justice” in those years.


Pioneer City
Back in the 19th century, there was a sanatorium for the recovery of children and improving their ”blood count” on the wooded slopes of Košutnjak. Many wealthy citizens built summer houses at the foot of Košutnjak, and during the reign of Prince Miloš, that area was arranged and declared a court hunting ground. During the Second World War, the sanatorium was occupied by the German military headquarters for Southeast Europe, and after the war, in 1947, it was transformed into a Pioneer City by a youth work brigade. The pioneer railway ran from the foot of Košutnjak and extended past the camp to the hamlet of Kijevo.


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