From the mid-nineteenth century until the late 1930s the dominant architectural mode in Serbia was a local historicist style termed Serbo-Byzantine. At first it was used only for churches but was soon extended to schools and then to all types of buildings. Although mostly based on academic revivalist forms, this idiom, which purportedly drew its inspiration from Balkan medieval architecture, did, on occasion, display distinctly local characteristics. Although part of a pan-European trend. Serbian historicism was detached from architectural developments elsewhere. Unlike other Romantic-era revivalist movements. Serbo-Byzantine architecture was not sponsored for its picturesque or romantic qualities but above all for its symbolism. It was widely believed that forms derived from the national monuments of the Middle Ages symbolized Serbian statehood and contained ethnic and religious attributes representative of the Serbian nation. Architecture in Serbia was thus primarily a means for articulating national policy and a powerful instrument for maintaining the national and religious unity of a widely separated group of people. Ideologists of the national program even believed that the definition of a style particular to the Serbs was a matter of national survival. Such political bias was conditioned by ethnic and territorial disputes among the various ethnic groups in the Balkan dominions of the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. After 1945 the new Communist authorities proscribed historicism as nationalistic and promoted a utilitarian brand of nonornamental architecture which contained no national overtones. Serbian historicism, however, demonstrated unusual vitality; resurgence of nationalism in the 1980s was accompanied by a spate of church building in the Serbo-Byzantine style, which reasserted its position as the canonical style of the Orthodox church.
- Copyright 1997 The Society of Architectural Historians