HISTORY OF OLD FAIRGROUND
In 1936, the Belgrade City Council donated 363,000 m2 of land on the previously uninhabited left bank of the River Sava to a group of businessmen, entrepreneurs and investors affiliated to the Association for Organising Trade Fairs and Exhibitions. The Association, established in the 1920s, undertook to transform the marshy site next to the newly built King Alexander Bridge into Belgrade's first exhibition grounds (Beogradsko sajmište). This was the first construction project on the left bank of the Sava, heralding the westward expansion of the capital of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
In the spring of 1937, after draining the first 126,000m2 of marshlands, developers began the first phase of construction, comprising five large pavilions (the so called 'Yugoslav pavilions' 1-5), the central tower, and four 'foreign pavilions': Italian, Hungarian, Rumanian and Czechoslovakian. Also constructed as part of the first phase was the Spasić pavilion (funded by a foundation established by the wealthy Serbian entrepreneur Nikola Spasić, 1838 - 1916) as well as a number of smaller structures sponsored by private companies, including the Dutch electronics manufacturer Philips. Most of the building work was completed in time for the first Belgrade Fair which opened on 11 September 1937. The second phase of development, which was completed in 1938, involved the construction of the Turkish pavilion and a large German pavilion. In 1940, work began on a new, 6th Yugoslav pavilion, but construction was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War.
Importantly however, the Belgrade Exhibition Grounds was not just about entertainment, technological innovation and industrial enterprise. It was also about politics. German and Italian governments used their national pavilions to promote the values of the Nazi and Fascist regimes, respectively. Nazi flags flew prominently in front of the German pavilion, whose interior was similarly adorned with swastikas and other National Socialist insignia. What's more, Germany's expansion in Europe directly affected the look of the Belgrade Exhibition Grounds: in 1939, after the Nazi attack on Czechoslovakia, the name of the Czech pavilion was officially changed into Pavilion of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Similarly, in the same year Italy acquired permission to build another, larger pavilion, whose size would reflect its growing military and political influence in the region, including on the Yugoslav government.
Nevertheless, few could anticipate at that time that within five years of the opening of the first Belgrade Autumn Fair in 1942, its pavilions would become a place of The Holocaust, and the site of the largest German-run concentration camp in South Eastern Europe.
The site of the Exhibition Grounds - separated from downtown Belgrade by the River Sava - survived the Nazi bombing on 6 April 1941 relatively unscathed. On 23 October 1941, the Nazi authorities decided that instead of building a new camp, they would convert the Belgrade Exhibition Grounds into a suitable detention facility.
On 8 December 1941, all Jews who registered with the authorities in Belgrade were ordered to report to the offices of the 'Jewish Police' (Judenreferat) in George Washington Street. After handing over the keys to their properties, the were taken through Belgrade and across the recently constructed pontoon bridge over the Sava to the newly established Judenlager Semlin. By 12 December, there were already over 5,000 interns at the camp, with the figure eventually rising to 7,000.
Almost half of the total number of Jews from the territory of Nazi occupied Serbia perished there in less than two months in the spring of 1942, making Serbia the first Nazi occupied territory to be declared 'cleansed of Jews'.
OLD FAIRGROUND TODAY
When war was finished, priorities for reconstruction of destroyed city were infrastructure and houses. Roads, railway, bridges, water supply, industry, public administrative and cultural capacities, and most of housing were completely ruined. Total renewal had to be done, and human resources were seriously damaged: thousands of killed people, refuges and orphans, people without homes and families burdened with war traumas. It was obvious that problem of monumental complex wasn't first on the list. There was a lot of work to do before: build infrastructure, start industry, rebuild economy.
However, almost nothing was done to conserve the area and today Staro Sajmište is in a very bad shape. Few remaining old artists have no resources to renovate the complex themselves and the area became the gathering site for vagrants and criminals, so the ateliers are often looted. The population of the neighborhood was 2,250 in 2002.
The old Central tower
Renovated Central tower
The idea was to make a big exibiton area on all levels. Open area only cut with glass transparent cubords, where documents, pictures and other pieces from this period will be shown. On the ground floor there is also a littlle souvenier shop and restaurant with refreshments. Roof on the second floor is turned into a open balcony, with a view of the entire Old Fairground.