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Ethnographic Museum, Belgrade – Lesser Known History Of The Balkans

Zoran
Published Feb 16, 2016

The Belgrade Ethnographic Museum is an extensive display of the Serbian culture, which brings you into everyday lives of the Serbs, and how they preserved their national identity throughout centuries of foreign rule (Turkish, Austrian, Hungarian…) in various regions. Among the Ethnographic Museum’s extensive collections you can find examples of traditional clothing, personal items, house interiors and exteriors, information about celebrating customs and much more.

Display of Serbian social life

Outfit

On the ground floor, you are introduced to the regions inhabited by the Serbs and customs and characteristics that marked each of them. Although constantly pressured by the authorities of the time to renounce their religion (the regions ruled by the Turks) and customs of their parents and grandparents (all others), the Serbs resisted, to a smaller or larger extent, such attempts. Annual fairs, which took place around existing Orthodox religious structures, proved to be generators of national consciousness, political decisions and entertainment. In such gatherings, large scale uprisings against the authorities were started, for example.

For such occasions, people wore specifically preserved garments, which are on display here. Despite living in poverty and hardship, you’ll notice the special attention that was dedicated to the design and embellishment of such outfits, which indicated social, marriage or any other status. Mostly living in enclosed circles, people married among themselves and such fairs were places where future spouses met each other.

Aside from making the decisions that concerned the community, the fairs were places where outside news was shared and where people entertained themselves with traditional dances and the exchange of goods took place, etc. The collection is complemented with musical instruments, cradles and other frequently used and exchanged objects (barrels, bags, etc.).

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Display of handicrafts and decorative objects

The mezzanine level is a magnificent display of traditional craftsmanship, which encompasses traditional clothes, intricate embroidery, simple yet extraordinary jewellery and traditional carpet (kilim) samples.

As you take the stairs between the ground and mezzanine levels, a series of kilims in various (mostly large) sizes introduces national symbols, intricate patterns and unusual colour combinations. Pay attention to a crowned two-headed eagle, which is a Serbian national symbol, with four letter Cs on its chest. Those Cs are Cyrillic S letters, meaning “Only (samo) concord (sloga) saves (spasava) the Serbs (Srbina)”.

Zmijanje embroidery (refer to the photo) is a characteristic embroidery of the Balkan region, which differs from other embroidery styles by its dark blue patterns on a white background. Other such works of art usually combine a multitude of colours. Zmijanje embroidery is the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, which remained utterly the same throughout history despite side influences and alterations of base materials (fabrics, linens and more).

Other highlights on this level are traditional aprons called “libade”. These fashionable clothes were worn in towns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by women. Highly elegant, libade were an interesting outcome of the Oriental and Viennese influences in the regions inhabited by the Serbs. Being an important legacy of each family, libade were passed between generations for quite a long time.

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Display of everyday life

The upper level of the Ethnographic Museum takes you to everyday life led in homes, in the fields, in various workshops, etc. This exhibition leads you through simple households of village homes and town households, featuring vanishing Ottoman and emerging European styles throughout the 19th century. Period vehicles and those that appeared in the 20th century are also displayed.

The largest part of this exhibition relates to agronomy, livestock breeding, hunting and various craftsmanship activities. Through various working and hunting tools and storage equipment, you’ll gain an insight into how people secured and preserved fruits of their work without the aid of electric appliances. Take a look into a blacksmith’s workshop, ale and wine cellar, stable, and other facilities.

As traditional garments varied depending on the region, so did the architecture. You’ll easily notice the differences by means of related models. Houses made of stone are characteristic for the mountainous regions, where the wood was scarce, while wooden houses from the lower regions feature a multitude of styles.

Finally, don’t miss how the patron saint celebrations (traditional Serbian celebration called “slava”) were performed. Slavas are passed from one generation to another, and although the celebration practices changed to a certain extent, the essence remained the same. Main features of the slava are boiled wheat, red wine (symbolizing Christ’s blood) and a cake. During this holy day, people remember their beloved deceased and hope for good health and good fortune. Main slavas in Serbia are St. Nicholas’ Day, St. John’s (Jovan’s) Day, St. George’s Day, St. Archangel Michael’s Day and St. Demetrius’s Day.

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Ethnographic Museum service info

For a detailed visit to the Ethnographic Museum, you should plan three hours at least, while two hours would suffice too, if your schedule is tight. Related information is provided in English and Serbian. Operating hours are from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (Tuesday – Saturday) and 09:00 am to 02:00 pm (Sunday). The full admission fee is 1.20 EUR (1.30 USD), while on Sunday you can visit this extraordinary museum for free.

Temporary exhibitions are also held in the museum premises.

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In my writing career, I’ve been researching and writing about various world destinations and travel companies, including cities, regions, specific countries and cruising companies. Besides writing...Read more

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