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Farewell to a Giant: Exploring the remains of Užice's famous Hotel Zlatibor

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

Once one of the most famous and architecturally stunning hotels of the Yugoslav-era, Hotel Zlatibor in Užice, Serbia sat for years in a state of neglect after the 1990s. In 2020, the process of gutting and dismantling the hotel's interior began with the aim of transforming it into apartments. Today I accessed the hotel for one last glimpse of this icon of Yugoslavia.

A view of one of the unique exterior angular protrusions of the hotel's facade

In the center of the Serbian mountain town of Užice is the towering concrete skyscraper known as Hotel Zlatibor. Sitting right on Partisan Square in the town’s center, this massive hotel complex was unveiled in 1981 by the design of famous Montenegrin female architect Svetlana Kana Radević [profile page]. Standing at 60m tall and 16 story high-rise tower, the structure is undeniably imposing, especially considering its bare-concrete facade and rocket-shaped form. Hotel Zlatibor, which is named after the nearby mountain range, existed during the Yugoslav-era as a shining example of the country’s architectural achievements and creativity in the arena of urban modernism. However, after the 1990s, the complex experienced privatization and began a slow decline into neglect. Yet, new proposals as of 2019 have instigated a movement towards redeveloping and renovating the building into a contemporary mixed-use apartment/office building. As I arrived at Hotel Zlatibor in late February, the building was already being gutted and stripped of most of its former Yugoslav-era furnishings. Before I start explaining what I found explore the hotel, let us first look at a bit of history about the site.

A view of Hotel Zlatibor from the distance, which clearly illustrates its very 'rocket' like shape and form
Here we see the primary entrance into the main lobby of Hotel Zlatibor, along with its distinct logo and font

A series of vintage images of the hotel's interior during its more formative era

The idea for a hotel at this location on Partisan Square was conceived as early as 1958, during the very early planning phases of the Partisan Square redevelopment project for Užice. However, while Partisan Square was completed by the early 1960s, the process of creating a hotel on the square was put off for many years, most likely due to budgetary constraints. By the mid 1970s, efforts began in earnest to put into motion the creation of the hotel. In order to choose the design of the hotel, the planning commission for Užice organized a closed competition between the two female architects Svetlana Kana Radević and Jovanka Jeftanović. Both were accomplished architects, with Radević distinguishing herself after building the award winning “Hotel Podgorica" in what was then Titograd, Montenegro, while Jeftanović had herself created the notable “Hotel Kragujevac” at Kragujevac, Serbia. Radević subsequently won the competition, with her striking proposal being commended for its visual strength, its choice of materials, as well as for its furthering architectural innovation in Yugoslavia.

A view of one of the restaurants in Hotel Zlatibor, which does not appear to have been used in awhile
Here is a photo of the ballroom, which appears in good shape and does seem to be used occasionally
Here is a view of the main lobby and the reception counter of the Hotel Zlatibor
Here is a view of the main elevators in the main lobby that would have taken you up to the hotel rooms

Construction on the hotel began in the spring of 1979, with the project being funded by the Užice company UTP "Sloga" at a cost of what would today be roughly 1.5 million euros. The work was completed just over two years later and was finally unveiled to the public on September 24th, 1981. The first unique character of Radević’s design is the bare concrete facade that spans the whole structure. This dynamic concrete shape erupts from the ground in sharp angular slopes which converge at the center of the mass, the shoot upwards into the sky in thin lines, tapering at its summit. The building’s thin stacked windows further contribute to the feeling of energetic upward movement. As a result, this dramatic shape lends many viewers to compare the building to a rocket ship aiming at the stars, inspiring themes and symbols of optimism and positive future outlook. Upon its unveiling, it was instantly recognized as one of a kind, going on to win several awards and recognitions from the state. It would go on to be Radević’s greatest work and the architectural creation she would be most lauded for during and after her life.

A view of some rubble left after the gutting and demolition of the hotel room levels of the building
Some former hotel beds and mattresses being stored in the angular protusion area of the hotel
Some furniture and beds still left behind in one of the hotel rooms

With its exciting shape and large size, 120 rooms and 280 beds, the hotel immediately became a landmark and status symbol for the town, with its two restaurants, ballroom and bars becoming exclusive places for a night out on the town. Even many tourists were drawn to the hotel, who came to the region to utilize the nearby ski resorts at Zlatibor. But interestingly, the hotel’s large size and ambitious scale is something that was not initially intended by its architect. Anecdotes relate that architect Svetlana Kana Radević originally only designed the hotel to be a modest four floors, but after the mayor of Užice, Petar Antonijević, met with her personally, he convinced her that she should dream bigger and create a massive skyscraper hotel. This led to the Hotel Zlatibor being sometimes referred to by people with the playful nickname “Devojački san” (Girl’s Dream).

There were dozens of old beautiful Iskra phones laying around on the ground. Such a shame.