The Belgrade City Library is the largest lending library in Serbia. It includes 13 municipal libraries from the territory of the City of Belgrade. Its holdings consist of almost 2,000,000 items kept in 74 facilities with a total area of 13,000 square meters.
The city’s library is located within a beautiful 19th Century building that started off life as an up-market hotel. The building is significant because it marks the beginning of the Europeanization of Belgrade following several centuries of Ottoman rule. It contains an eclectic mix of architectural styles, with Renaissance featuring most prominently.
Since October 1986, the Belgrade City Library has been located at 56 Knez Mihailova Street, in the former building of the hotel Srpska kruna. The hotel was constructed around 1867 and at that time was the most modern, elegant and best equipped hotel in Belgrade. It was most probably constructed by the Krsmanović family – a family of rich merchants.
In the history of Belgrade architecture, the building of the Srpska kruna hotel marked the beginning of a period of intense Europeanization of Belgrade during the second half of the 19th century. The architecture of the building is eclectic, containing elements of renaissance and other styles. In professional literature, characteristics of the style of the building have been interpreted in two different manners. Architect Bogdan Nestorovic believes that the building is done in a calm eclectic renaissance style, while Gordana Gordić is of the opinion that the building was constructed in the spirit of Romanticism. The architect who designed the building is not known.
The building has a rectangular base with three street facades. The composition of the building was designed around its central rectangular courtyard, which now may be seen in the Atrium Gallery. The construction of the building was manifested as a renaissance model. The characteristic windows, which end in arches richly decorated in plastic art, present the building’s basic element of style. The first floor is also decorated by two balconies with iron railings, the shape of which suggests Romanticism. The building has a rich roof ridge and a segmental arch above the front entrance. The forefront of the hotel was decorated in decorative plastic art in the neostylic form, which was very popular in the 19th century. The building was reconstructed in 1986 for the purposes of Belgrade City Library according to the design of Svetislav Vučenović.
The Srpska kruna hotel had spacious, arched halls for its cafe, restaurant and beer-hall, rooms on the upper floor and store rooms in the basement. The ground floor of the hotel was composed of the cafe, the pool room, the reading-room for daily newspapers and the dining lounge, where windows and doors led to the veranda overlooking the park. Due to its view of the park, this balcony especially attracted guests, so much so that in summer months it was difficult to find a seat there. The 1908 Guidebook to Belgrade noted that the Srpska kruna hotel had as many as 17 rooms and that it was a first-class hotel intended for foreigners and local rich people. Concerts took place in the hotel three times a week. It was also used to host secret freemason conferences.
The building has maintained its original appearance. Apart from its undisputable beauty, it is additionally valuable for its exceptional location on the very end of the most beautiful city street – promenade, which leads to the most attractive and best-known park of Belgrade – Kalemegdan.
The gallery has been present on Belgrade’s cultural scene for more than 20 years. In this time it has infiltrated Belgrade’s artistic life and has become a part of its general cultural atmosphere. It is used as a place for art exhibitions (both group and individual) of renowned artists, both domestic and foreign, who also include professional reviews of arts critics. While most Belgrade galleries emphasize multimedia art, the Atrium Gallery focuses on contemporary painting, drawing, printing and sculpting. The Gallery is also used to organize literary and other annual exhibitions. As many as 20 to 24 exhibitions are organized a year.