All good and bad in the reconstruction of King Milan Square in Nis

The felling of trees is not in favor of anyone and only casts a shadow on this good project in the center of Nis.

The long-announced reconstruction of King Milan Square in Nis is in full swing, of course not without the inevitable problems that accompany such large projects. People complain about delays and breaking deadlines, but also about cutting down trees, which could have been avoided. The project is very interesting, and it found itself in the center of public attention due to one omission.

From krstaš to the Ambassador

The oldest record of the existence of the square appears in notes by Albert of Aachen, which described the city through which the crusaders of Peter the Hermit passed in 1096, with the aim of reaching the Holy Land and Jerusalem through the Balkans. The medieval matrix was taken over by the Ottomans, who in the 15th century occupied and arranged the city, maintaining the position of the town square, which gained additional importance when the Ottomans built a new, permanent fortress, in the period from 1719 to 1723. Since then, the Nisava River and the fortress with the access bridge have closed the northern side of the square.

After the liberation in 1878, the town square was shaped, which can still be seen on the basis of houses and shops built in the late 19th and early 20th century, which are still visible on the west side of the square. It was on the square in 1903 according to the designs Joseph Riner and the performance of a stonecutter Vicenza Kaliterne, raised Chair fountain, which got its name in 1935, when it was moved to Chair Park.

Chair fountain

The Chair Fountain got its name in 1935, when it was moved from King Milan Square to Chair Park.

This relocation was done partly for political and partly for aesthetic reasons. Political because the Krađorđević dynasty moved monuments erected during the Obrenović dynasty in all cities and towns, and aesthetic because the experts at the time concluded that the new monument would not fit well with the existing fountain in such a small area. Then the Monument to the Liberators of Nis, the work of sculptors, came to the place of the fountain Anton Augustinčić.

After the Second World War, the square was applied to Oslobodjenje Square, and it underwent major changes with the demolition of old houses and shops on the east side, where it was built. Hotel “Ambasador”, which soon became one of the most important urban motifs of the city of Nis. The Chair fountain was returned to the square in 2007, when the square got its appearance before the latest reconstruction.

New square reconstruction project

The conceptual design of the square was presented to the public in January 2018 in the Great Hall of the Assembly of the City of Nis, and the organizers were JP Institute for Urbanism, The City of Nis and the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Architecture in Nis. The solution is the author’s work prof. Ljiljana Vailevska, which was designed in collaboration with a team of fellow associates.

The project involves keeping all the existing monuments, as well as the grassy area in the very center of the square, while novelty fountain, which would be built in the area between the Chair fountain and the bridge, that is, a new approach to the river. The main motive of the project is comprehensive paving of the square space, which would extend to the bridge, but also to the area in front of the town hall, which is designed as a small circular square. The arrangement of reddish and gray-brown slabs forms several geometric motifs, the most common of which is the meander, which encompasses all elements of the square, from classical to modern, in terms of spatial and visual design.

Reconstruction of the square finally solves the so-called issue. “Bulgarian parking“, As the residents of Nis called the area in front of the town hall, but also the unobstructed passage of pedestrians and holding events in the area from Vožda Karađorđa Street to the entrance gate to the fortress. In addition to the town hall, over fifty new seedlings were planted, which additionally arranged and improved the park space between the town hall and the river promenade.

Project of a new solution of the Square

Unnecessary logging

The main problems with this project, but also with all performances, are certainly the prolongation of the completion of works. In the case of King Milan Square, this postponement of the start of works together with their completion took several years. A special problem is the reconstruction and paving of the bridge, which has been extended for a whole year for reasons delays behaton plates from a Finnish factory, as a consequence of the covid pandemic.

Of course, the biggest problem is cutting down trees and three Christmas trees, which were planted almost half a century ago on the grassy surface of the square, but also two plane trees which obstructed the entrance to the underground garage of the newly renovated interwar hotel “Park”. City planner Tanja Obradović stated that after the assessment of experts, the cutting of Christmas trees from the square was announced in November 2020, and that the reasons were the age of the trees and obscuring the view in the direction of the monument-fortress.

This view is not shared by all fellow architects, some of whom believe that Christmas trees did not have to be cut down for these reasons. As for the tree line on the promenade, as the architect Obradović emphasizes, she believes and advocates that it be preserved, except for those trees that interfere with the entrance to the underground garage. Could it have been possible without cutting, some say it wasn’t, others that it was.

The future appearance of King Milan Square in Nis; Photo: YouTube screenshot

It would be more efficient to procure modern transplanting machines in order to prevent the cutting of trees during the reconstruction of squares.

Two plane trees certainly have an older age and are more valuable than Christmas trees, but in the case of all spatial and urban changes and reconstructions, which have become more frequent in several cities in Serbia in the last few years, Is it necessary to cut down all the “superfluous” trees? Perhaps it would be more efficient for the state to procure one or two modern transplanting machines and that every time a certain reconstruction is done in a city, old trees, with large canopies, are simply transplanted to another location. Maybe not even too far from the existing one. This tradition of keeping as many trees as possible is widely practiced in many cities around the world, which are extremely careful to, in addition to planting new seedlings, preserve as many existing trees as possible. Felling trees does not benefit anyone and only casts a shadow on this, but also other, in most cases, good projects in several cities in Serbia.

Here’s how it’s done in Vienna:

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When you are already here…

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