They are a dying breed, Yugoslav hotels. And I use the word ‘Yugoslav’ advisedly as, although the buildings shown here are in what is now Serbia, all were erected during the period when that country was still part of Yugoslavia. At worst, these hotels, largely built in the 1960s and ’70s, are concrete monoliths: multi-storey overnight people-parks, the sort of structures that might make Prince Charles go bug-eyed with apoplectic rage. Indeed, some are so brutally concrete and cubic that they bring to mind Rachel Whiteread’s House – a three-dimensional concrete representation of the internal space of an earlier dwelling.
At best though, they are imaginative, ironic, faux-futurist; canny enough to display an architectural sense of humour (although never quite as precocious as the Titanic Hotel in Nagorno-Karabakh). I’m thinking here of the skyrocket-like edifice that casts its long shadow over Partisan Square in Užice, western Serbia. I have stayed here a couple of times and all I can say is that what the hotel lacks in working light bulbs and reliable lifts it makes up with excellent views over the city from its upper floor windows.
If the Hotel Zlatibor in Užice is a skyrocket then the Hotel Vrbak in Novi Pazar is a space station, albeit a very 1970s space station with neo-Oriental touches. And a semi-deserted, slightly disturbing space station too: on both occasions that I stayed here I was one of less than half a dozen guests. Perhaps it should be renamed Solaris?
While some of these government-owned hotels manage to keep going, most of their trade coming from large wedding parties and occasional school-trip groups, many have closed for business and languish unloved in provincial town centres awaiting investors that never come. They remain as ghostly real estate of the recent Yugoslav past, an embarrassment of concrete and glass that is too big and decrepit to profitably invest in, and too massive to easily demolish.
The hotels shown here are in Novi Pazar, Užice, Niš, Pančevo, Pirot, Knjaževac and Belgrade. The first three are still working; the remainder are not.