FRENCH EMBASSY

WHERE IS IT?

The French Embassy is located at 11 Pariska Street, across from Kalemegdan Park. It is in the vinicity of the Cathedral, the Patriarchate, and the Austrian Embassy.

THE HISTORY

After  Serbia gained autonomy within the Ottoman Empire, France founded its first consulate in Belgrade in 1839. The first consul was Andre Duclos. The buildings of the French diplomatic mission changed, because the needs of the embassy exceeded the capacities of those buildings.

For many years, the building on the corner of Dositejeva and Braće Jugovića Streets served as an embassy and residence for French envoys. The George Eastman Museum in Rochester has a gelatin silver negative image in its collection that was taken  between 1900-1920. photographed by Charles Shusseau Flaviens. The image is provided by a courtesy of the George Eastman Museum for the project Belgrade adventure upon the Agreement 6443.

Digital positive from the original gelatin silver negative in the George Eastman Museum’s collection, Courtesy of the George
Eastman Museum

Although the plans for the purchase of the embassy building were made at the beginning of the 20th century, the land across from Kalemgdan was bought  in 1923. The embassy was officially opened on December 21, 1935.

During the Second World War, from 1943, the building of the French embassy was occupied by the German authorities, but from 1945, the building was returned to France. For a short period during 1999, when diplomatic relations were severed due to the NATO bombing of Serbia, the building did not function as a French embassy.

EXTERIOR

The building of the French embassy was designed by the architect Roger-Emile Expert in the Art Deco style. After numerous delays, the cornerstone was finally laid in 1929, and the building was opened in 1935. Architect Expert skillfully adapted the magnificent Art Deco palace to the sloping, uneven terrain oriented towards Kalemgdan Park. The outer facade of the building is parallel to Pariska Street, and the two wings protrude at an angle of 45 degrees to the west and north. Using the uneven terrain, Expert projected the building upwards, so the main part of the building has 5 floors. The side wings are gradually lowered and are adapted for terraces that provide a beautiful view in different directions. In that way, an elegant building was obtained, made of white limestone, dominated by a central semicircular part, decorated with sculptural relief decoration and rhythmically placed window openings. The garden on the south and west sides additionally contributed to the overall exterior lavish impression of the building.
Together with Expert, the Belgrade architect Josif Najman also worked on the construction of the embassy, ​​and the sculptor Carlo Sarrabezolles had special merits for the harmonious appearance. The statues consist of three female figures standing at the very top of the building and representing the allegories of Freedom with an olive branch, Equality in the middle, and Brotherhood on the right. The statues were cast in bronze, and due to complaints about the nudity of the central figure, a tunic was added to it. The marble relief decoration on the central semicircular part was made by sculptors led by Giuseppe Grassi, a sculptor of Swiss origin, who continued his professional career in Belgrade, where he lived and worked until his death.
The rectangular fields on the two wings of the building, above the window, symbolically depict key historical figures of France: Vercingetorix, Joan of Orleans on the left wing and Louis XIV on the right, and Marianne as a representation of the Republic. Above the side entrance from Gračanička Street is a bronze shield representing the figure of Mariana.
The facade on the inside towards the garden was decorated with relief compositions by Petar Palavičini, a famous Yugoslav sculptor. The relief compositions, placed symmetrically above the windows in two levels, are allegorical representations of hunting, youth and dance.
The large garden that covers the southeast side and the part towards Sime Markovića Street with the pool and carefully nurtured vegetation also contributes to the sleek design of the building.

INTERIOR

The interior of the embassy radiates with elegance in the Art Deco style. A myriad of windows and lavish sculptural ornaments created an open and bright space complemented by the refined furnitures. The monumental entrance hall from Gračanička Street leads to the main and largest room, which is connected to the circular hall, dominated by high rectangular and round windows. A large fireplace with a mirror covers  the semicircular wall, richly decorated with ornaments. The 10 meters high vaulted ceiling  is emphasized by a beautiful chandelier made in the maison Bagues.

The large space is divided by high  marble pillars that emphasize the height of the space. The room orientated towards  the garden was decorated by the sculptor Sarrabezolles'  medallions representing the French rivers. The furniture in this as well  the other rooms of the embassy  was designed in the maison of Jules Leleu family,  famous for its refined  furniture. The interior design was also created by architect  Expert. The central part of the room is occupied by a large concert piano.From the large hall you enter a series of smaller salons, equipped with refined furniture and tapestries. The previous tapestries  made in  the Gobelins manufactory, according to the templates of the famous baroque painter Rubens, were withdrawn from the embassy due to their great museum value. They have been replaced by tapestries by modern French artists.

Next is a small Salon, which was previously intended for women's receptions. The room has a more intimate character with a fireplace and Art Deco furniture from the workshop of Andre Deveche.

In the right  wing there is a large long dining room that can accommodate 36 people. The marble walls  decorated with a simple geometric decoration, during the Second World War  were covered with a new layer of lime, so it was only with the reconstruction at the end of the 20th century that the dining room was restored to its original appearance.

Especially valueable is the  Ambassador's office room lined with oak paneling and Art deco sleek furniture designed by Expert and made in the maison of Jules Leleu.

 

The floor is reserved for private rooms, which are equipped with equally carefully selected furniture and works of art. The small dining room was personally equipped by Ambassador Robert de Dampier with Art Deco furniture and an Empire-style dining table .

 

DIPLOMATSKI ODNOSI

The establishment of diplomatic relations between France and Serbia began soon after the formation of the Principality of Serbia with the arrival of the first French consul in Belgrade in 1839. Ever since Serbia and France, with miner exeptions during the Second World War and during 1999, have maintained stable and friendly diplomatic relations. Cooperation between the two countries was especially close during the First World War, when France provided significant financial and material assistance to  its ally in the war - Serbia. Numerous Serbian soldiers and civilians stayed from 1915 until the end of the war in the French base of Bizerte on the territory of North Africa (today's Tunisia).

Improvised school for Serbian students in Bizerte, on the board you can see the inscription Vive le Serbie and Živila Francuska, private archive

In Bizerte, France provided protection and support to Serbian soldiers and civilians.  Then- governor of Bizerte, Admiral Émile Guépratte, stood out in those days. During Admiral Guépratte's  visit to Belgrade in 1930, the citizens of Belgrade carried him in their arms from the train station to Slavija Square, and consequently the street they passed through, was named after Admiral  Guépratte.

Bizerte, Admiral Guépratte visits Serbian volunteers, private archive

At the end of the Great War France provided scholarships for 3,000 Serbian youth to continue their education in French schools and universities.

As a sign of gratitude for the support of Serbia, in 1930 a monument made by the sculptor Ivan Meštrović was erected in Kalemegdan Park. The monument depicts a female figure holding a sword, as an allegory of France, which provides assistance to Serbia in the assault.

After the turbulent events during the Second World War, when diplomatic relations were severed, cooperation continued within Yugoslavia. After the democratic changes in Serbia ensued, relations between the two countries strengthened and enabled cooperation at all levels.

Participants of the project BELGRADE ADVENTURE project had the opportunity to visit the Embassy of the Republic of France on June 15, 2021. They had a guided vistit to  the embassy building  opportunity to photograph  the rooms and the its cultural heritage. The participants of the project were warmly hosted by the French Ambassador Jean-Louis Falconi.

Written by Sofija Jovanović, Ognjen Nerandžić, Darija Njego and Jovana Dimitrijević