CELEBRATING SERBIAN WOMEN: Jelisaveta Nacic

By Sandi Radoja

Belgrade’s beauty owes much to Jelisaveta Nacic, the first female architect in Serbia and the city’s
first chief architect. She was born there on December 31, 1878. She was also the first graduate of the school of architecture at the University of Belgrade, and the first woman to graduate from the Faculty of Engineering when she was only 22.

Following graduation, she sought employment at the Ministry of Construction but was unable to become an official as she did not meet the requirement for military service. Discouraged or not, she moved on and managed to get a job with the City of Belgrade, eventually becoming their first chief architect.

Her work can be seen throughout the city. Most of the buildings she designed have been preserved as cultural heritage, the most famous of which is one of her earliest projects, the King Peter I Elementary School.

In addition to her work in urban settings, she designed many important sites in industrial, religious and private jobs. She designed the Little Staircase in Kalemegdan Park, the Moravian-style Alexander Nevsky Church in Belgrade and a smaller church in Kosovo. She also did numerous apartment buildings and private homes in the city that are still standing today. However, a hospital she designed was destroyed during World War II. According to Ibrajtar Gazibara in “Women in Architecture, Contemporary Architecture in Serbia since 1900,” Nacic designed the first collective housing building for workers.

Her career lasted less than 16 years as it ground to halt when she was interned in a camp in Hungary during World War I. It was there she met her husband Luka Lukai. Following the war, the couple moved to Dubrovnik together where she died on June 6, 1955.

While she is remembered for her talent that changed the city’s landscape, her contribution goes far beyond architecture as she inspired women to choose professions previously reserved exclusively for men.

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