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Novi Sad: Nest of the Serbian nation

Copyrigth by Alan Grant
City hall

Anne Kindersley lived in Belgrade, the wife of a British diplomat between 1964 and 1967. She travelled extensively and ten years later wrote a book about her experiences in Serbia and Kosovo. It is part history and part reportage about life in Serbia at the time. Here she writes about Novi Sad in the eighteenth century.

Novi Sad had already become a "royal free borough" in 1747, so that it had its own Law Court presided over by its own citizens and the right to send two Senators to the Hungarian diet. By the early 19th century it had a Grammar School, where the celebrated Slavist, Safarik, a Slovak, taught, wearing a green coat, white cashmere trousers and a stovepipe hat. He spent his spare time looking at the private libraries of Novi Sad:

[T]he nest of the Serbian nation is here and many of the townsfolk possess a copy of every ancient book. I've made a catalogue of Serbian books, with a great effort, by going from house to house and turning everything upside-down.

In the bookshops you could buy, in English and German, the works of Richardson, Fielding, Rousseau and Cervantes.

For a long time, though, Novi Sad preserved an oriental air. Its traders included Greeks in caftans, bearded Jews and swarthy Armenians, as well as southern Serbs in Turkish dress. In the early 19th century its citizens more or less westernized their daily life: they bought horsehair mattresses for their beds, filled their cupboards with glass, and some households had clavichords, though if you went into the kitchens you would still find the old cooking-pots, suspended on chains over an open fire.

Foreign visitors were amazed by the showy dress of the women; it was easy, wrote the Austrian apothecary at Petrovaradin, to mistake a craftsman's wife for a general's. Novi Sad, with its bands and cafes and promenades, was the pride of the whole region.

The Mountains of Serbia: Travels through Inland Yugoslavia. Anne Kindersley. 1977.
[pp. 207-08 / Readers Union]

January 2007
Tim Judah

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