The Beauty of Palimpsests

If I were to characterize the city of Belgrade, I would have to say that it seems to be both a pastiche of the various cultural influences on its history, and yet also a distinct entity in its own right. As a border town to various conquering nations, the city has constantly been destroyed and rebuilt; and remnants of each iteration of its history can be seen interspersed throughout the landscape. As such, it seems to be conflicted in what it wants to be. The city and its residents seem to be proud of their rich cultural heritage, and they know (perhaps all too well) how much an impact perceived distinctions have on their history and identity. However, there also seems to be an intentional effort to change the capitol into a typical western European city, typified by iconic places such as London and Paris, imitating their characteristic vistas and open-air cafes.

As we were learning about the city and its cultural heritage, the concept and idea of palimpsests was introduced to us. Palimpsests are manuscripts that have been reused and repurposed to record new text or ideas. The writing on these manuscripts have been superimposed on the text that had been previously there, and traces of its buried past can still be seen. Belgrade, with its many cycles of being destroyed and rebuilt, can be described as an archaeological palimpsest, with traces of its past present in its various different architectural structures and its constantly shifting landscape. Remnants of its past as a part of former empires, the capital of a powerful communist nation, and its tumultuous and violent transition into an independent capitalist state can all be seen by just walking along the main road for ten minutes. In addition to this, the city seems to be in another stage of rewriting its identity. It’s rich and varied past is now being buried by more overtly western and european institutions. This convergence of east and west, past and present, paint an interesting picture of a city with many wonderful secrets and hidden gems to discover.
Walking through the city, I am always excited to see what I will find. The city itself is very organic, layering and building on top its past experience; a collage of everything it has been through and what it aspires to be. The atmosphere is very dynamic. This city has life, and I can feel it breathing. It has a complex character of being ambitious, yet laid back; adopting some aspects of its “predecessors” while yet also trying to forge its own path. Meandering through the city, you could walk through what seems to be an empty alleyway, turn the corner, and unexpectedly come across a bustling marketplace. It is never boring, always changing, ever evolving. Although others may see it as a pale imitation of something greater, I see it as a beautiful mosaic with its own little quirks and ideas. Being here the past two weeks, the city has really grown on me; and i’m excited to see more of what it has in store for me in the weeks to come.