Canada Slim and the Current War

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 October 2018

(Continued from Canada Slim and the Visionary)

What has gone before….

I visited Serbia this past April and spent a few wonderful days exploring the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Flag of Serbia

Of the many wonders to explore and of the many things Belgrade and Serbia have to offer, one particular attraction that stands out is the Nikola Tesla Museum.

Nikola Tesla was a great Serb physicist and inventor who almost, but not quite, became an international household name.

Photograph of Nikola Tesla, a slender, moustachioed man with a thin face and pointed chin.

Above: Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)

Many say that if it were not for occasional stubbornness and a poor sense of financial management, Tesla might have ended up as famous as Edison or Einstein.

Despite a lack of international recognition, Tesla remains a Serbian national hero.

It is his face that currently decorates the 100 dinar note.

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In the first part of three (this is the second) I briefly spoke of Hugo Gernsback that made Tesla as famous as he did become and I spoke of his life before he left for the United States.

Gernsback portrait by Fabian, date unknown

Above: Hugo Gernsback (1884 – 1967)

 

What follows is the sad story of a prisoner execution, a deadly blizzard and a very ugly battle between two business magnates with Tesla smack dab in the middle of it all….

 

But first….

Let there be light.

 

The first type of widely used electric light was the arc lamp.

These lamps had been around for most of the 19th century but by the late 1870s were beginning to be installed in cities in large scale systems powered by central generating plants.

Arc lighting systems were extremely brilliant and capable of lighting whole streets, factory yards, or the interior of large buildings.

They needed high voltages (above 3,000 volts) and some ran better on alternating current.

Alternating current had been under development for a while in Europe with contributions being made to the field by Guillaume Duchenne (1850s), the dynamo work of Zénobe Gramme, Ganz Works (1870s), Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti (1880s), Lucien Gaulard, and Galileo Ferraris.

The high voltages allowed a central generating station to supply a large area, up to 7-mile (11 km) long circuits since the capacity of a wire is proportional to the square of the current traveling on it, each doubling of the voltage allowed the same size cable to transmit the same amount of power four times the distance.

1880 saw the installation of large-scale arc lighting systems in several US cities including a central station set up by the Brush Electric Company in December 1880 to supply a 2-mile (3.2 km) length of Broadway in New York City with a 3,500–volt demonstration arc lighting system.

The disadvantages of arc lighting were:

It was maintenance intensive, buzzed, flickered, constituted a fire hazard, was really only suitable for outdoor lighting, and, at the high voltages used, was dangerous to work with.

 

In 1878 inventor Thomas Edison saw a market for a system that could bring electric lighting directly into a customer’s business or home, a niche not served by arc lighting systems.

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Above: Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931)

 

By 1882 the investor-owned utility Edison Illuminating Company was established in New York City.

Edison designed his “utility” to compete with the then established gas lighting utilities, basing it on a relatively low 110 volt direct current supply to power a high resistance incandescent lamp he had invented for the system.

Edison direct current systems would be sold to cities throughout the United States, making it a standard with Edison controlling all technical development and holding all the key patents.

 

Direct current worked well with incandescent lamps, which were the principal load of the day.

Direct-current systems could be directly used with storage batteries, providing valuable load-leveling and backup power during interruptions of generator operation.

Direct-current generators could be easily paralleled, allowing economical operation by using smaller machines during periods of light load and improving reliability.

Edison had invented a meter to allow customers to be billed for energy proportional to consumption, but this meter worked only with direct current.

Direct current also worked well with electric motors, an advantage DC held throughout the 1880s.

The primary drawback with the Edison direct current system was that it ran at 110 volts from generation to its final destination giving it a relatively short useful transmission range:

To keep the size of the expensive copper conductors down generating plants had to be situated in the middle of population centers and could only supply customers less than a mile from the plant.

 

Starting in the 1880s, alternating current gained its key advantage over direct current with the development of functional transformers that allowed the voltage to be “stepped up” to much higher transmission voltages and then dropped down to a lower end user voltage for business and residential use.

Using induction coils to transfer power between electrical circuits had been around for 40 years with Pavel Yablochkov using them in his lighting system in 1876 and Lucien Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs using the principle to create a “step down” transformer in 1882, but the design was not very efficient.

A prototype of the high efficiency, closed core shunt connection transformer was made by the Hungarian “Z.B.D.” team (composed of Károly Zipernowsky, Ottó Bláthy and Miksa Déri) at Ganz Works in 1884.

Above: (left to right) Károly Zipernowsky, Otto Bláthy, Miksa Déri

The new Z.B.D. transformers were 3.4 times more efficient than the open core bipolar devices of Gaulard and Gibbs.

Transformers in use today are designed based on principles discovered by the three engineers.

Their patents included another major related innovation:

The use of parallel connected (as opposed to series connected) power distribution.

Ottó Bláthy also invented the first AC electricity meter.

The reliability of this type of AC technology received impetus after the Ganz Works electrified Rome, a large metropolis, in 1886.

 

In North America the inventor and entrepreneur George Westinghouse entered the electric lighting business in 1884 when he started to develop a DC system and hired William Stanley, Jr. to work on it.

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Above: George Westinghouse (1846 – 1914)

Westinghouse became aware of the new European transformer based AC systems in 1885 when he read about them in the UK technical journal Engineering.

He grasped that AC combined with transformers meant greater economies of scale could be achieved with large centralized power plants transmitting stepped up voltage very long distances to be used in arc lighting as well lower voltage home and commercial incandescent lighting supplied via a “step down” transformer at the other end.

Westinghouse saw a way to build a truly competitive system instead of simply building another barely competitive DC lighting system using patents just different enough to get around the Edison patents.

The Edison DC system of centralized DC plants with their short transmission range also meant there was a patchwork of un-supplied customers between Edison’s plants that Westinghouse could easily supply with AC power.

Westinghouse purchased the US patents rights to the Gaulard-Gibbs transformer and imported several of those as well as Siemens AC generators to begin experimenting with an AC-based lighting system in Pittsburgh.

 

William Stanley used the Gaulard-Gibbs design and designs from the ZBD transformer to develop the first practical transformer.

The Westinghouse Electric Company was formed at the beginning of 1886.

In March 1886 Stanley, with Westinghouse’s backing, installed the first multiple-voltage AC power system, a demonstration incandescent lighting system, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Expanded to the point where it could light 23 businesses along main street with very little power loss over 4000 feet, the system used transformers to step 500 AC volts at the street down to 100 volts to power incandescent lamps at each location.

By fall of 1886 Westinghouse, Stanley, and Oliver B. Shallenberger had built the first commercial AC power system in the US in Buffalo, New York.

By the end of 1887 Westinghouse had 68 alternating current power stations to Edison’s 121 DC-based stations.

Above: William Stanley (1858 – 1916)

 

To make matters worse for Edison, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company of Lynn, Massachusetts (another competitor offering AC- and DC-based systems) had built 22 power stations.

Thomson-Houston was expanding their business while trying to avoid patent conflicts with Westinghouse, arranging deals such as coming to agreements over lighting company territory, paying a royalty to use the Stanley AC transformer patent, and allowing Westinghouse to use their Sawyer-Man incandescent bulb patent.

 

Besides Thomson-Houston and Brush there were other competitors at the time included the United States Illuminating Company and the Waterhouse Electric Light Company.

 

All of the companies had their own electric power systems, arc lighting systems, and even incandescent lamp designs for domestic lighting, leading to constant lawsuits and patent battles between themselves and with Edison.

 

Elihu Thomson of Thomson-Houston was concerned about AC safety and put a great deal of effort into developing a lightning arrestor for high-tension power lines as well as a magnetic blowout switch that could shut the system down in a power surge, a safety feature the Westinghouse system did not have.

Thomson also worried what would happen with the equipment after they sold it, assuming customers would follow a risky practice of installing as many lights and generators as they could get away with.

He also thought the idea of using AC lighting in residential homes was too dangerous and had the company hold back on that type of installations until a safer transformer could be developed.

 

Due to the hazards presented by high voltage electrical lines most European cities and the city of Chicago in the US required them to be buried underground.

The City of New York did not require burying and had little in the way of regulation so by the end of 1887 the mishmash of overhead wires for telephone, telegraph, fire and burglar alarm systems in Manhattan were now mixed with haphazardly strung AC lighting system wires carrying up to 6000 volts.

Insulation on power lines was rudimentary, with one electrician referring to it as having as much value “as a molasses covered rag“, and exposure to the elements was eroding it over time.

A third of the wires were simply abandoned by defunct companies and slowly deteriorating, causing damage to, and shorting out the other lines.

In June 1884, Tesla emigrated to the United States from Paris.

He arrived in America with four cents in his pocket (he had been robbed aboard ship), a book of poetry and a letter of recommendation.

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“I wish that I could put into words my first impressions of this country.

In the Arabian Tales I read how genii transported people into a land of dreams to live through delightful adventures.

My case was just the reverse.

What I had left was beautiful, artistic and fascinating in every way.

What I saw here was machined, rough and unattractive.

A burly policeman was twirling his stick which looked to me as big as a log.

I approached him politely with the request to direct me.

Six blocks down, then to the left.“, he said, with murder in his eyes.

Is this America?“, I asked myself in painful surprise.

It is a century behind Europe in civilization.

When I went abroad in 1889 – five years having elapsed since my arrival here – I became convinced that it was more than one hundred years AHEAD of Europe and nothing has happened to this day to change my opinion.”

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“The meeting with Edison was a memorable event in my life.

I was amazed at this wonderful man who, without early advantages and scientific training, had accomplished so much.

I had studied a dozen languages, delved in literature and art, and had spent my best years in libraries reading all sorts of stuff that fell into my Hands, from Newton’s Principia to the novels of Paul de Kock, and felt that most of my life had been squandered.

Portrait of man in black with shoulder-length, wavy brown hair, a large sharp nose, and a distracted gaze

Above: Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

But it did not take long before I recognized that it was the best thing I could have done.

Within a few weeks I had won Edison’s confidence and it came about this way:

The SS Oregon, the fastest passenger steamship at the time, had both of its lighting machines disabled and its sailing delayed.

Guion Oregon.gif

As the superstructure had been built after their installation it was impossible to remove them from the hold.

The predicament was a serious one and Edison was much annoyed.

In the evening I took the necessary instruments with me and went aboard the vessel where I stayed for the night.

The dynamos were in bad condition, having several short circuits and breaks, but with the assistance of the crew I succeeded in putting them in good shape.

At five o’clock in the morning, when passing along 5th Avenue on my way to the shop, I met Edison with Batchelor and a few others as they were returning home to retire.

Above: Charles Batchelor (1845 – 1910)

Here is our Parisian running around at night.“, he said.

When I told him that I was coming from the Oregon and had repaired both machines, he looked at me in silence and walked away without another word.

But when he had gone some distance I heard him remark:

Batchelor, this is a damn good man.

 

From that time on I had full freedom in directing the work.

 

For nearly a year my regular hours were from 10:30 am to 5 o’clock the next morning without a day’s exception.

 

Edison said to me:

I have had many hard-working assistants but you take the cake.

 

During this period I designed 24 different types of standard machines with short cores and of uniform pattern which replaced the old ones.”

(A few notes for those of an unscientific background:

Imagine a blanket that covers everything and stretches into infinity.

Imagine that this blanket consists of two types of energy: that which remains stationary (magnetic) and that which is constantly in motion (electrical).

Further imagine that within all matter there is, on the subatomic level, particles of a positive nature (protons) and a negative nature (electrons) and that they create fields that either attract or repel other particles towards or away from them.

This force’s presence and motions between these particles is manifested in current (how this flow varies over time) by either direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC).

Direct current means that there is a one-way flow from positive magnetic spot to negative magnetic spot.

Alternating current means that the current flow can reverse direction repeatedly.

Direct current means direct contact with a conductor, for example, a copper wire, but much energy is lost as heat due to wire resistance.

Alternating current means that the waves of electromagnetic radiation (manifested in the form of heat) rather than travelling through a wire will instead ride upon the surface of the wire.

Direct current motors sparked, needed constant replacements and servicing, and offered limited range.

But until Tesla no one had found an effective method to create an AC motor.)

 

Meanwhile, Hugo Gernsback (né Gernsbacher)(1884 – 1967) was born in Luxembourg Ville to Moritz Gernsbacher, a Jewish winemaker, and his wife Berta (née Dürlacher).

Flag of Luxembourg

Above: Flag of Luxembourg

 

Tesla began working almost immediately at the Machine Works on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in an overcrowded shop with a workforce of several hundred machinists, labourers, managing staff and 20 field engineers struggling with the task of building the largest electric utility in New York City.

As in Paris, Tesla was working on troubleshooting installations and improving generators.

Tesla met Thomas Alva Edison only a couple of times.

Edison called Tesla “the Poet of Science“, for both men had very different approaches.

Where Edison was a practical, mercantile, trial and error man, Nikola Tesla was a theoretical, well-educated business-naive visionary who never fully understood the American tendency to disbelief in science unless it was cloaked in the “show me” sensibility.

Tesla had been working at the Machine Works for a total of six months when he quit.

Tesla had made considerable improvements on DC dynamos, but when he approached Edison for the money he had been promised he was told:

Tesla, you don’t understand American humour.

head-and-shoulder shot of slender man with dark hair and moustache, dark suit and white-collar shirt

Above: Nikola Tesla

 

This caused Tesla to resign and to form his own company, Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing, but this came to nought as his investors pulled out over his plan for an alternating current motor.

Soon after leaving the Edison company, Tesla was working on patenting an arc lighting system.

Tesla worked for the rest of the year obtaining the patents that included an improved AC generator, but investors showed little interest in his ideas for new types of alternating current motors and electrical transmission equipment.

By 1886 the inventor was left penniless so he had to work at various electrical repair jobs and as a ditch digger.

 

In late 1886, Tesla met Alfred S. Brown, a Western Union superintendent, and New York attorney Charles F. Peck.

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The two men were experienced in setting up companies and promoting inventions and patents for financial gain.

Based on Tesla’s new ideas for electrical equipment, including a thermo-magnetic motor idea, they agreed to back the inventor financially and handle his patents.

Together they formed the Tesla Electric Company in April 1887, with an agreement that profits from generated patents would go 1/3 to Tesla, 1/3 to Peck and Brown, and 1/3 to fund development.

They set up a laboratory for Tesla at 89 Liberty Street in Manhattan, where he worked on improving and developing new types of electric motors, generators, and other devices.

 

In 1887, Tesla developed an induction motor that ran on AC, a power system format that was rapidly expanding in Europe and the United States because of the advantages in long-distance, high-voltage transmission.

The motor used polyphase current, which generated a rotating magnetic field to turn the motor.

This innovative electric motor had a simple self-starting design that avoided sparking and the high maintenance of constantly servicing and replacing mechanical brushes.

Along with getting Tesla’s motor patented, Peck and Brown arranged to get the motor publicized, starting with independent testing to verify that it was a functional improvement, followed by press releases sent to technical publications for articles to run concurrent with the issue of the patent.

Physicist William Arnold Anthony (who tested the motor) and Electrical World magazine editor Thomas Commerford Martin arranged for Tesla to demonstrate his AC motor on 16 May 1888 at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Engineers working for the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company reported to George Westinghouse that Tesla had a viable AC motor and related power system – something Westinghouse needed for the alternating current system he was already marketing.

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Westinghouse decided that Tesla’s patent would probably control the market.

In July 1888, Brown and Peck negotiated a licensing deal with George Westinghouse for Tesla’s polyphase induction motor and transformer designs for $60,000 in cash and stock and a royalty of $2.50 per AC horsepower produced by each motor.

Westinghouse also hired Tesla for one year for the large fee of $2,000 ($54,500 in today’s dollars) per month to be a consultant at the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company’s Pittsburgh labs.

During that year, Tesla worked in Pittsburgh, helping to create an alternating current system to power the city’s streetcars.

He found it a frustrating period because of conflicts with the other Westinghouse engineers over how best to implement AC power.

Between them, they settled on a 60-cycle AC system that Tesla proposed (to match the working frequency of Tesla’s motor), but they soon found that it would not work for streetcars, since Tesla’s induction motor could run only at a constant speed.

They ended up using a DC traction motor instead.

 

Tesla’s demonstration of his induction motor and Westinghouse’s subsequent licensing of the patent, both in 1888, came at the time of extreme competition between electric companies.

The three big firms, Westinghouse, Edison, and Thompson-Houston, were trying to grow in a capital-intensive business while financially undercutting each other.

There was even a propaganda campaign going on with Edison Electric trying to claim their direct current system was better and safer than the Westinghouse alternating current system.

Competing in this market meant Westinghouse would not have the cash or engineering resources to develop Tesla’s motor and the related polyphase system right away.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 (11 – 14 March 1888) was one of the most severe recorded blizzards in the history of the United States of America.

The storm, referred to as the Great White Hurricane, paralyzed the East Coast from Chesapeake Bay to Maine, as well as the Atlantic provinces of Canada.

Snowfalls of 10 to 58 inches (25 to 147 cm) fell in parts of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, and sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) produced snowdrifts in excess of 50 feet (15 m).

Railroads were shut down, and people were confined to their houses for up to a week.

Railway and telegraph lines were disabled, and this provided the impetus to move these pieces of infrastructure underground.

Emergency services were also affected.

 

The Great Blizzard of 1888 tore down a large number of the lines, cutting off utilities in the city.

This spurred on the idea of having these lines moved underground but it was stopped by a court injunction obtained by Western Union.

Legislation to give all the utilities 90 days to move their lines into underground conduits supplied by the city was slowly making its way through the government but that was also being fought in court by the United States Illuminating Company, who claimed their AC lines were perfectly safe.

As AC systems continued to spread into territories covered by DC systems, with the companies seeming to impinge on Edison patents including incandescent lighting, things got worse for the company.

The price of copper was rising, adding to the expense of Edison’s low voltage DC system, which required much heavier copper wires than higher voltage AC systems.

Thomas Edison’s own colleagues and engineers were trying to get him to consider AC.

Edison’s sales force was continually losing bids in municipalities that opted for cheaper AC Systems and Edison Electric Illuminating Company president Edward Hibberd Johnson pointed out that if the company stuck with an all DC system it would not be able to do business in small towns and even mid-sized cities.

Edison Electric had a patent option on the ZBD transformer, and a confidential in-house report recommended that the company go AC, but Thomas Edison was against the idea.

 

After Westinghouse installed his first large scale system Edison wrote in a November 1886 private letter to Edward Johnson:

Just as certain as death Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in a system of any size.

He has got a new thing and it will require a great deal of experimenting to get it working practically.

 

Edison seemed to hold a view that the very high voltage used in AC systems was too dangerous and that it would take many years to develop a safe and workable system.

Safety and avoiding the bad press of killing a customer had been one of the goals in designing his DC system and he worried that a death caused by a mis-installed AC system could hold back the use of electricity in general, Edison’s understanding of how AC systems worked seemed to be extensive.

He noted what he saw as inefficiencies and that, combined with the capital costs in trying to finance very large generating plants, led him to believe there would be very little cost savings in an AC venture.

Edison was also of the opinion that DC was a superior system (a fact that he was sure the public would come to recognize) and inferior AC technology was being used by other companies as a way to get around his DC patents.

 

In February 1888 Edison Electric president Edward Johnson published an 84-page pamphlet titled “A Warning from the Edison Electric Light Company” and sent it to newspapers and to companies that had purchased or were planning to purchase electrical equipment from Edison competitors, including Westinghouse and Thomson Houston, stating that the competitors were infringing on Edison’s incandescent light and other electrical patents.

It warned that purchasers could find themselves on the losing side of a court case if those patents were upheld.

The pamphlet also emphasized the safety and efficiency of direct current, with the claim DC had not caused a single death, and included newspaper stories of accidental electrocutions caused by alternating current.

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As arc lighting systems spread so did stories of how the high voltages involved were killing people, usually unwary linemen, a strange new phenomenon that seemed to instantaneously strike a victim dead.

One such story in 1881 of a drunken dock worker dying after he grabbed a large electric dynamo led Buffalo, New York, dentist Alfred P. Southwick to seek some application for the curious phenomenon.

He worked with local physician George E. Fell and the Buffalo ASPCA, electrocuting hundreds of stray dogs, to come up with a method to euthanize animals via electricity.

Southwick’s 1882 and 1883 articles on how electrocution could be a replacement for hanging, using a restraint similar to a dental chair (an electric chair) caught the attention of New York State politicians who, following a series of botched hangings, were desperately seeking an alternative.

An 1886 commission appointed by New York governor David B. Hill, which including Southwick, recommended in 1888 that executions be carried out by electricity using the electric chair.

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Above: William Kemmler (1860 – 1890), the world’s first person to be executed by electric chair (6 August 1890)

 

There were early indications that this new form of execution would become mixed up with the war of currents.

As part of their fact-finding, the commission sent out surveys to hundreds of experts on law and medicine, seeking their opinions, as well as contacting electrical experts, including Elihu Thomson and Thomas Edison.

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Above: Elihu Thomson (1853 – 1937)

 

In late 1887, when death penalty commission member Southwick contacted Edison, the inventor stated he was against capital punishment and wanted nothing to do with the matter.

After further prompting, Edison hit out at his chief electric power competitor, George Westinghouse, in what may have been the opening salvo in the war of currents, stating in a December 1887 letter to Southwick that it would be best to use current generated by “‘alternating machines,’ manufactured principally in this country by George Westinghouse“.

 

Soon after the execution by electricity bill passed in June 1888, Edison was asked by a New York government official what means would be the best way to implement the state’s new form of execution.

“Hire out your criminals as linemen to the New York electric lighting companies” was Edison’s tongue in cheek answer.

 

As the number of deaths attributed to high voltage lighting around the country continued to mount, a cluster of deaths in New York City in the spring of 1888 related to AC arc lighting set off a media frenzy against the “deadly arc-lighting currentand the seemingly callous lighting companies that used it.

These deaths included a 15-year-old boy killed on 15 April by a broken telegraph line that had energized with alternating current from a United States Illuminating Company line, a clerk killed two weeks later by an AC line, and a Brush Electric Company lineman killed in May by the AC line he was cutting.

The press in New York seemed to switch overnight from stories about electric lights vs gas lighting to “death by wire” incidents, with each new report seeming to fan public resentment against high voltage AC and the dangerously tangled overhead electrical wires in the city.

 

Tesla became a US citizen in 1889.

In 1889, Tesla moved out of the Liberty Street shop Peck and Brown had rented and for the next dozen years would work out of a series of workshop/laboratory spaces in Manhattan.

These included a lab at 175 Grand Street (1889–1892), the fourth floor of 33–35 South Fifth Avenue (1892–1895), and sixth and seventh floors of 46 & 48 East Houston Street (1895–1902).

Mark Twain in Tesla's lab, 1894

Above: Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) at Tesla’s 5th Avenue laboratory

 

Tesla and his hired staff would conduct some of his most significant work in these workshops.

 

In the summer of 1889, Tesla traveled to the Exposition Universelle in Paris and learned of Heinrich Hertz’s 1886–88 experiments that proved the existence of electromagnetic radiation, including radio waves.

Tesla found this new discovery “refreshing” and decided to explore it more fully.

In repeating, and then expanding on, these experiments, Tesla tried powering a Ruhmkorff coil with a high speed alternator he had been developing as part of an improved arc lighting system but found that the high frequency current overheated the iron core and melted the insulation between the primary and secondary windings in the coil.

To fix this problem Tesla came up with his Tesla coil with an air gap instead of insulating material between the primary and secondary windings and an iron core that could be moved to different positions in or out of the coil.

Two years after signing the Tesla contract, Westinghouse Electric was in trouble.

The near collapse of Barings Bank in London triggered the financial panic of 1890, causing investors to call in their loans to Westinghouse Electric.

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The sudden cash shortage forced the company to refinance its debts.

The new lenders demanded that Westinghouse cut back on what looked like excessive spending on acquisition of other companies, research, and patents, including the per motor royalty in the Tesla contract.

At that point, the Tesla induction motor had been unsuccessful and was stuck in development.

Westinghouse was paying a $15,000-a-year guaranteed royalty even though operating examples of the motor were rare and polyphase power systems needed to run it were even rarer.

 

After 1890, Tesla experimented with transmitting power by inductive and capacitive coupling using high AC voltages generated with his Tesla coil.

He attempted to develop a wireless lighting system based on near-field inductive and capacitive coupling and conducted a series of public demonstrations where he lit Geissler tubes and even incandescent light bulbs from across a stage.

He would spend most of the decade working on variations of this new form of lighting with the help of various investors but none of the ventures succeeded in making a commercial product out of his findings.

 

In 1891 Tesla established his own laboratory in Houston Street, where he lit up vacuum tubes as evidence for the potential of wireless power transmission.

 

In early 1891, George Westinghouse explained his financial difficulties to Tesla in stark terms, saying that, if he did not meet the demands of his lenders, he would no longer be in control of Westinghouse Electric and Tesla would have to “deal with the bankers” to try to collect future royalties.

The advantages of having Westinghouse continue to champion the motor probably seemed obvious to Tesla and he agreed to release the company from the royalty payment clause in the contract.

 

At the beginning of 1893, Westinghouse engineer Benjamin Lamme had made great progress developing an efficient version of Tesla’s induction motor and Westinghouse Electric started branding their complete polyphase AC system as the “Tesla Polyphase System“.

Westinghouse Electric asked Tesla to participate in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago where the company had a large space in a building devoted to electrical exhibits.

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Westinghouse Electric won the bid to light the Exposition with alternating current and it was a key event in the history of AC power, as the company demonstrated to the American public the safety, reliability, and efficiency of a fully integrated alternating current system.

 

Tesla showed a series of electrical effects related to alternating current as well as his wireless lighting system, using a demonstration he had previously performed throughout America and Europe.

These included using high-voltage, high-frequency alternating current to light a wireless gas-discharge lamp.

An observer noted:

“Within the room were suspended two hard-rubber plates covered with tin foil.

These were about fifteen feet apart and served as terminals of the wires leading from the transformers.

When the current was turned on, the lamps or tubes, which had no wires connected to them, but lay on a table between the suspended plates, or which might be held in the hand in almost any part of the room, were made luminous.

These were the same experiments and the same apparatus shown by Tesla in London about two years previous, where they produced so much wonder and astonishment.”

 

Tesla also explained the principles of the rotating magnetic field in an induction motor by demonstrating how to make a copper egg stand on end, using a device that he constructed known as the Egg of Columbus and introduced his new steam powered oscillator AC generator.

The Egg of Columbus

 

At St. Louis’s Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the National Electric Light Association, Tesla told his audience that he was sure a system like his could eventually conduct “intelligible signals or perhaps even power to any distance without the use of wires” by conducting it through the Earth.

 

Edward Dean Adams, who headed up the Niagara Falls Cataract Construction Company, sought Tesla’s opinion on what system would be best to transmit power generated at the falls.

The city of Niagara Falls. In the foreground are the waterfalls known as the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, respectively, from left to right.

Over several years, there had been a series of proposals and open competitions on how best to use power generated by the falls.

Among the systems proposed by several US and European companies were two-phase and three-phase AC, high-voltage DC and compressed air.

Adams pumped Tesla for information about the current state of all the competing systems.

Tesla advised Adams that a two-phased system would be the most reliable, and that there was a Westinghouse system to light incandescent bulbs using two-phase alternating current.

The company awarded a contract to Westinghouse Electric for building a two-phase AC generating system at the Niagara Falls, based on Tesla’s advice and Westinghouse’s demonstration at the Columbian Exposition that they could build a complete AC system.

At the same time, a further contract was awarded to General Electric to build the AC distribution system.

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In 1897 Westinghouse purchased Tesla’s patent for a lump sum payment of $216,000 as part of a patent-sharing agreement signed with General Electric (a company created from the 1892 merger of Edison and Thompson-Houston).

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The money Tesla made from licensing his AC patents made him independently wealthy and gave him the time and funds to pursue his own interests.

And it would be this pursuit of his own interests that would take a highly-respected engineer and, through Hugo Gernsback, make him into a legend….

Sources:  Wikipedia / Nikola Tesla, My Inventions

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Canada Slim and the Visionary

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 7 October 2018

I caution you.

Expect much!

(Hugo Gernsback, Electrical Experimenter, January 1919)

Gernsback portrait by Fabian, date unknown

Above: Hugo Grensback (1884 – 1967)

 

In my apartment we have many things.

Flag of Switzerland

These things seem so commonplace that we have taken this electrical world in which we live in for granted.

Amongst the flotsam and jetsam and choas that is a modern apartment, much is powered by electricity: the lamps and overhead lights, the computer upon which I type this blog, the TV and two radios, the toaster, the kettle, the dishwasher, the fridge, the freezer, my wife’s hairdryer and iron, the vacuum cleaner, and batteries and cables used for mobile devices.

Our apartment is by no means super-modern nor overly luxurious in terms of all the bells and whistles other flats might produce, but we are nevertheless grateful for the manner in which our lives are blessed, materialistically and otherwise.

There are names you might have heard of in regards to the history of electricity: Thales, Aristophanes, Euclid, Pliny, William Gilbert, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley, Charles Coulomb, Luigi Galvini, Alessandro Volta, Humphrey Davy, André-Marie Ampère, Georg Ohm, Michael Faraday, Samuel Morse, James Prescott Joule, Thomas Edison and Heinrich Hertz.

I have even written at great length about Alessandro Volta….

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Above: Alessandro Volta (1745 – 1827)

(See Canada Slim and the Life Electric of this blog.)

 

There are names equally important to the development of electricity that you may have never heard of: Shen Kuo, Alexander Neckham, Pierre de Maricourt, Gerolamo Cardano, Cabaeus, Sir Thomas Browne (who first coined the word “electricity“), Otto von Guericke, Robert Boyle, Francis Hauksbee, Stephan Gray and the Reverend Granville Wheler, Charles Francois de Cisternay du Fay, Pieter van Musschenbroek of Leyden, Ewald Georg von Kleist, William Watson, C.M. of Scotland (still unidentifiable to this day), Georges-Louis LeSage, William Nicholson, Anthony Carlisle,  Johann Ritter, Gian Domenico Romagnosi, Thomas Young, Étienne-Louis Malus, Hans Christian Orsted, Johann Schweigger, Thomas Seebeck, William Sturgeon, Francesco Zantedeschi, Paul Schilling, Heinrich Lenz, Jean-Charles Peltier, Joseph Henry, David Alter, Alexandre Becquerel, James Clark Maxwell, John Kerr, Oliver Heaviside, Galileo Ferraris, John Fleming, Heike Onnes, Louis de Broglie and Martin Ryte.

To name a few….

 

There is one man who we might never had heard of were it not for his greatest fan’s determination to demonstrate to the world his hero’s legacy.

A legacy remembered in Croatia, Serbia, Austria, Hungary and America.

A determined traveller can find plaques and memorials to this man in Smilijan (Croatia), Zagreb (Croatia), Niagara Falls (USA / Canada), Baku (Azerbaijan), Wardenclyffe (USA), Manhattan (USA), Palo Alto (USA), Hamilton (Canada) and Belgrade (Serbia).

This great inventor has had his name given to a ship, a song, a high school, a planetoid, a crater on the Moon, a power plant, a museum-archive, an airport, a unit of measurement, an electric vehicle rally, three holidays, a rock band, an electrotechnical conglomerate, an electric car manufacturer and a major scientific award.

His name has endured in books, films, radio, TV, music, live theater, comics and video games, and most recently a new Hollywood film (The Current War) and a Netflix documentary.

But much like Sherlock Holmes needed Dr. John Watson for his fame, so we are grateful to Hugo Gernsback (“The man who invented the future“) for the fame of a man he called “the greatest inventor of all time“: Nikola Tesla.

Photograph of Nikola Tesla, a slender, moustachioed man with a thin face and pointed chin.

Above: Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)

 

Were it not for Tesla’s eccentric personality and a poor sense of financial management, he might have ended up as famous as Edison or Einstein.

Tesla was the electrical engineer who invented the AC (alternating current) induction motor, which made the universal transmission and distribution of electricity possible.

 

This spring I spent six days, by invitation from my good friend Nesha, in Serbia, a country that everyone in the West thinks they know but hardly anyone in the West really knows.

(For a further description of Serbia, please see Canada Slim and the Holy Field of Sparrows & Canada Slim and the Land of Long Life of this blog.)

Flag of Serbia

Above: The flag of Serbia

 

Ask the average North American what little they know about Serbia and chances are strong they will mention NATO bombings, Milosevician atrocities and…. Nikola Tesla.

 

I have often believed that Americans are the world’s best marketers and there is a grain of truth to the song dedicated to the American metropolis of New York City, but applicable to America as a whole….

If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

East Side of Midtown Manhattan, showing the terraced crown of the Chrysler Building lit at twilight

In other words, until America knows you, very few others will.

 

Were it not for Tesla’s work in America and Gernsback’s American technical science monthly magazine for which Tesla wrote for and in which his autobiography appears, the world might not remember as it does the name of Tesla.

 

Were it not for my visit to the Tesla Museum in Belgrade I might never have learned of the legacy of Tesla and his greatest publicist….

Despite a lack of enduring international recognition, Tesla remains a Serbian national hero and it is his face that currently decorates the 100 dinar note.

The Museum has captions in English and guidebooks available in Serbian and English.

Regular tours in English are given by the enthusiastic and knowledgable staff.

Some of the rooms relate to Tesla’s scientific work and have a number of hands-on displays and dynamic working models that are fun for children and adults alike.

Two more rooms are dedicated to the personal life of the physicist.

The urn containing his ashes is housed here too as well as his death mask.

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Above: Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Serbia

 

Belgrade, Serbia, 5 April 2018

To say that Hugo Gernsback was a fan of Nikola Tesla is an understatement.

In Gernsback’s own words:

Nikola Tesla, in the opinion of authorities, today is conceded to be the greatest inventor of all time. 

Tesla has more original inventions to his credit than any other man in history. 

He is considered greater than Archimedes, Faraday or Edison. 

His basic, as well as revolutionary, discoveries for sheer audacity have no equal in the annals of the world. 

His master mind is easily one of the seven wonders of the intellectual world.

Tesla has secured more than 100 patents on inventions, many of which have proved revolutionary.

Science accords to him over 75 original discoveries, not mere mechanical improvements.

90% of the entire electrical industry pays tribute to his genius.

The question as to why the world at large does not know Tesla is answered best by stating that he committed the unpardonable crime of not having a permanent press agent to shout his greatness from the housetops.

Then, too, most of Tesla’s inventions, at least to the public mind, are more or less intangible on account of the fact that they are very technical and, therefore, do not catch the popular imagination, as, for instance, wireless, the X-ray, the airplane or the telephone.

Tesla is a man of extraordinary knowledge.

He is remarkably well read and has a photographic memory whereby it is possible for him to recite page after page of nearly every classical work, be it Goethe, Voltaire or Shakespeare.

He speaks and writes twelve languages.

He is an accomplished calculator, who has little use for tables and textbooks and holds the slide rule in contempt.”

My Inventions - The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla.jpg

Nikola Tesla’s autobiography, My Inventions, appeared in Hugo Gernsback’s magazine Electrical Experimenter in six monthly installments (February to June 1919 and October 1919) and is in a hard cover book offered by the Nikola Tesla Museum, which has been in operation since the 150th anniversary of Tesla’s birth (2006).

To fully appreciate and comprehend both men and the Museum dedicated to Tesla and Tesla’s autobiography printed by Gernsback, we need to look back at not only both men’s histories but as well back to an age where electricity existed in a realm that lay somewhere between magic, science and commerce.

 

Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) was born an ethnic Serb in the village of Smiljan, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Croatia.

Above: Tesla’s house, Smiljan, Croatia

 

His father Milutin was a Serbian Orthodox priest, his mother Duka was the daughter of another priest.

Above: Milutin Tesla, Nikola’s father

Milutin was the son of an officer who served in Napoleon’s army and, in common with Nikola’s uncle, a professor of mathematics, had received a military education but later embraced the clergy in which vocation he achieved eminence.

Milutin was a very erudite man, a veritable natural philosopher, poet and writer.

Nikola’s father had a prodigious memory and frequently recited at length from works in several languages.

Milutin often remarked playfully that if some of the classics were lost he could restore them.

His style of writing was much admired.

He penned sentences short and terse and was full of wit and satire.

 

Nikola’s mother, Duka, descended from one of the oldest families in the country and a line of inventors.

Both her father and grandfather originated numerous implements for household, agricultural and other uses.

Duka had a talent for making homemade craft tools and mechanical appliances and the ability to memorize lengthy Serbian epic poems, even though she had never received a formal education.

Tesla credited his eidetic memory and creative abilities to his mother’s genetics and influence.

Nikola was the 4th of five children.

 

Nikola Tesla was born during a lightning storm at the stroke of midnight on 10 July 1856.

His midwife is reported to have exclaimed:

He’ll be a child of the storm.

To which his mother replied:

No, of light.

How does the world’s greatest inventor invent?

How does he carry out an invention?

What sort of mentality does Nikole Tesla have?

Was his early life as commonplace as ours?

(Hugo Gernsback, foreword to Nikola Tesla’s My Inventions, 1: My Early Life, Electrical Experimenter, February 1919)

 

Our first endeavours are purely instinctive, promptings of an imagination vivid and undisciplined.

As we grow older, reason asserts itself and we become more and more systematic and designing.

But those early impulses, though not immediately productive, are of the greatest moment and may shape our very destinies.

(Nikola Tesla, My Inventions)

 

Nikola had three sisters (Milka, Angelina and Marica) and an older brother named Dane, who was killed in a horse riding accident when Tesla was five.

Nikola attended primary school in Smiljan and Gospic and middle school in the latter town.

View of Gospić

Above: Gospic, Croatia

 

In my boyhood I suffered from a peculiar affliction due to the appearance of images, often accompanied by strong flashes of light, which marred the sights of real objects and interfered with my thought and action.

They were pictures of things and scenes which I had really seen, never of those I imagined.

When a word was spoken to me the image of the object it designated would present itself vividly to my vision and sometimes I was quite unable to distinguish whether what I saw was tangible or not.

This caused me great discomfort and anxiety….

To free myself of these tormenting appearances, I tried to concentrate my mind on something else I had seen, and in this way I would often obtain temporary relief.

But in order to get it I had to conjure continuously new images….”

(Nikola Tesla, My Inventions)

 

In 1870, Tesla moved far north to Karlovac to attend high school where he became interested in demonstrations of electricity by his physics teacher.

Tesla noted that these demonstrations of this “mysterious phenomena” made him want “to know more of this wonderful force.”

Tesla was able to perform integral calculus in his head, which prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating.

Nonetheless he finished a four-year term, in three years, graduating in 1873.

Karlovac Train Station with HŽ 7122.jpg

This (mental imaging) I did constantly until I was about 17 when my thoughts turned seriously to invention.

Then I observed to my great delight that I could visualize with the greatest facility.

I needed no models, drawings or experiments.

I could picture them all as real in my mind.

(Nikola Tesla, My Inventions)

 

That same year, Tesla returned to Smiljan.

Shortly after he arrived, he contracted cholera, was bedridden for nine months and was near death multiple times.

 

In 1874 Tesla evaded conscription into the Austro-Hungarian army by running away southeast to Tomingaj.

There he explored the mountains wearing hunter’s garb, believing that this contact with nature made him stronger, both physically and mentally.

Tesla read many books while in Tomingaj and later said that Mark Twain’s works had helped him to miraculously recover from his earlier illness.

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Above: Tomingaj, Croatia

 

In 1875, Tesla enrolled at Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, on a military frontier scholarship.

The Schlossberg (Castle Hill) with the clock tower (Uhrturm), as seen from town hall

Above: Graz, Austria

 

During his first year, he never missed a lecture, earned the highest grades possible, passed nine exams (twice as many as were required), started a Serbian cultural club, and received a letter of recommendation from the dean of the technical faculty to his father, which stated:

Your son is a star of the first rank.

Tesla claimed that he worked from 3 a.m. to 11 p.m., no Sundays or holidays excepted.

 

(After Milutin’s death in 1879, Nikola found a package of letters from his professors to his father, warning that unless Nikola were removed from the school, he would die through overwork.)

 

At the end of his second year, Tesla lost his scholarship and became addicted to gambling.

During his third year, Tesla gambled away his allowance and his tuition money, later winning back his initial losses and returning the balance to his family.

When examination time came, Tesla was unprepared and asked for an extension to study, but was denied.

He did not receive grades for the last semester of the third year and he never graduated.

 

In December 1878, Tesla left Graz and severed all relations with his family to hide the fact that he dropped out of school.

His friends thought that he had drowned in the nearby Mur River.

 

Tesla moved to Maribor where he worked as a draftsman, spending his spare time playing cards with local men on the streets.

In March 1879, Tesla’s father went to Maribor to beg his son to return home, but he refused.

Nikola suffered a nervous breakdown.

Maribor's Old Town along the Drava River

Above: Maribor, Slovenia

 

On 24 March 1879, Tesla was returned to Gospic under police guard for not having a residence permit.

On 17 April 1879, Milutin Tesla died.

That year Nikola taught a large class of students in his old school in Gospic.

 

In January 1880, two of Tesla’s uncles put together enough money to help him leave Gospic for Prague, where he attended lectures in philosophy at Charles Ferdinand University as an auditor but did not receive grades for the courses.

Charles Bridge - Prague, Czech Republic - panoramio.jpg

Above: Prague, Czech Republic

 

In 1881 Tesla moved to Budapest to work as chief electrician for the Budapest Telephone Exchange.

Upon arrival, Tesla realized that the company, then under construction, was not functional, so he worked as a draftsman in the Central Telegraph Office.

Within a few months, the Budapest Telephone Exchange became functional and Tesla was allocated the chief electrician position.

During his time with the BTE, Tesla made many improvements to the Central Station Equipment and invented a device known as the telephone repeater, a precursor to the modern wireless telephone.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest at night.jpg

Above: Budapest, Hungary

 

In 1882, Tesla moved to Paris to work for the Continental Edison Company, in what was then a brand new industry, installing indoor incandescent lighting citywide in the form of an electric power utility.

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Above: Paris, France

Logo of Consolidated Edison

Management took notice of Tesla’s advanced knowledge in engineering and physics and soon had him designing and building improved versions of generating dynamos and motors, as well as sending him on to troubleshoot engineering problems at other Edison utilities being built across France and Germany.

In 1884, Edison manager Charles Batchelor, who had been overseeing the Paris Installation, was brought back to the US to manage the Edison Machine Works, a manufacturing division situated in New York City, and asked that Tesla be brought to the US as well.

Above: Charles Batchelor (1845 – 1910)

 

In June 1884, Tesla left Paris for New York City and the United States.

An amazing future awaited him.

Fame, fortune and amazing creativity would be both his bane and his blessing.

And there would literally be blood as two business magnates fought a merciless war for power….electrical power….with Tesla in the middle and Gernsback and the world as witness….

(To be continued….)

Sources: Wikipedia / Bradt Serbia / Nikola Tesla, My Inventions

Multiple lightning strikes on a city at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Holy Field of Sparrows

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 July 2018

I have three books in my possession that offer three different ways to consider the Serbian capital city of Belgrade….

I can choose to be as Chris Farmer and be Grumpy in Belgrade, I can choose to be as Momo Kapor and feel The Magic of Belgrade, or I can follow Aleksandar Diklic´s advice and take a sentimental journey through history of Belgrade: The Eternal City.

What is certain is that I experienced these emotions and more when I was in Belgrade this past April.

I spent six glorious days in Serbia as a guest of my Starbucks St. Gallen colleague Nesha, and there is much I learned that I wish to share with you, my gentle readers, in the hopes that you too will discover the unsung delights that are the fascinating cities of Belgrade and Nis.

Perhaps my stories will encourage you to visit….

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Above: The City of Belgrade

Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday 5 April 2018

The day, my first full one, began with a regret, my first full one.

During the evening as a result of excessive eating and drinking – first with Nesha and his mama Strawberry, and then later with Nesha and the godparents of Nesha´s daughter – in Belgrade, which, like New York City, never sleeps – I found that my night clothing had paid the penalty for my pastimes.

It had been a difficult time – my leg itched, I couldn´t get comfortable on my air mattress bed, and the gigantic teddy bears that shared the room seemed to be watching me.

I dreamt of Amadeus Mozart gambling – his name spelled Mozzart like the chain of Serbian betting offices seen everywhere.

Above: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

 

As the ladies of the harbour offered me comfort for the night, raccoon-eyed, hard-working, hard-living Nesha kept telling me:

“Listen to me, Adami.  I´ll sleep when I´m dead.”

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, house and outdoor

Above: Nesha Obranovic, the man, the legend

The begging boys by the Danube reminded me that no concentration camps are open on the Orthodox Easter weekend.

I take my night clothing into the shower, attempting to multi-task my morning cleanliness with a wee bit of laundry.

Not knowing how Nesha´s shower worked, I turn the bathroom floor into a swimming pool.

Yet Nesha is in good spirits, despite his lungs are tobacco leaf folders.

His kitchen is not ideally set up for elaborate cooking so after discussion about this and that we have latté and Turkish coffee at the Café Alphonse de Lamartine.

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Named after French writer/poet/politician Alphonse de Lamartine (1790 – 1869) the Café stands across from Park Lamartine.

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Above: Alphonse de Lamartine

Lamartine is memorialized by this park and café as well as a monument in Karadordev Park.

Lamartine was born in Macon, France, on 21 October 1790.

His family were members of the French provincial nobility and Lamartine spent his youth at the family estate.

Lamartine made his entrance into the field of poetry by a masterpiece, Les Méditations Poétiques (1820) and awoke to find himself famous.

He was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1825.

He worked for the French embassy in Italy from 1825 to 1828.

In 1829, he was elected a member of the Académie française.

He was elected a deputy in 1833.

Flag of France

Above: Flag of modern France

In 1835 he published the Voyage en Orient, a brilliant and bold account of the journey he had just made, in royal luxury, to the countries of the Orient.

Alphonse de Lamartine was an Orientalist with a particular interest in Lebanon and the Middle East.

He travelled to Lebanon, Syria and the Holy Land via Serbia in 1832–33.

During that trip, while he was in Beirut, on 7 December 1832, he lost his only remaining child, Julia.

During his trip to Lebanon he had met Prince Bashir Shihab II and Prince Simon Karam, who were enthusiasts of poetry.

A valley in Lebanon is still called the Valley of Lamartine as a commemoration of that visit and the Lebanon cedar forest still harbors the Lamartine Cedar, which is said to be the cedar under which Lamartine had sat 200 years ago.

“Highlanders with innate manners, shepherds who live for freedom and women as beautiful as ladies from Swiss cantons…”

This is how Lamartine saw the people of Serbia during his visit in 1833.

Was Alphonse de Lamartine actually the one who has established French-Serbian friendship, and not World War I, as it was considered for a long time?

Lamartine was the first man whose opinion mattered and who spread the word across Europe about sufferings of peoples in the Balkans under  Ottoman rule and the great courage of Serbs fighting for freedom.

Till than France was on good terms with the Ottoman Empire, but it all changed after what Lamartine had to say.

He visited Serbia, met the villagers that hosted him in their modest peasant houses, talked to princes and warriors.

Finally Lamartine came to a conclusion that “among them there is very little material inequality and the only grandeur they have are their weapons” used to defend their freedom.

He liked the Serbian language and considered it “harmonious, musical, and rhythmic”.

There was something in the country of this small nation from the Balkans that deeply touched the heart of this romantic poet.

Lamartine was so influenced by his trip that he staged his 1838 epic poem La Chute d’un ange (The Fall of an Angel).

From then on he confined himself to prose.

 

He was briefly in charge of the French government during the turbulence of 1848.

He was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 24 February 1848 to 11 May 1848.

Due to his great age, Jacques-Charles Dupont de l’Eure, Chairman of the Provisional Government, effectively delegated many of his duties to Lamartine.

He was then a member of the Executive Commission, the political body which served as France’s joint Head of State.

Lamartine was instrumental in the founding of the Second Republic of France, having met with Republican Deputies and journalists in the Hôtel de Ville to agree on the makeup of its provisional government.

Lamartine himself was chosen to declare the Republic in traditional form in the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville and ensured the continuation of the Tricolore as the flag of the nation.

During his term as a politician in the Second Republic, he led efforts that culminated in the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, as well as the enshrinement of the right to work and the short-lived national workshop programs.

A political idealist who supported democracy and pacifism, his moderate stance on most issues caused many of his followers to desert him.

He was an unsuccessful candidate in the presidential election of 10 December 1848, receiving fewer than 19,000 votes.

He subsequently retired from politics and dedicated himself to literature.

He published volumes on the most varied subjects (history, criticism, personal confidences, literary conversations) especially during the Empire, when, having retired to private life and having become the prey of his creditors, he condemned himself to what he calls “literary hard-labor in order to exist and pay his debts“.

Lamartine ended his life in poverty, publishing monthly installments of the Cours familier de littérature to support himself.

He died in Paris in 1869.

Above: The tomb of Alphonse de Lamartine, Paris

 

The square where Nesha´s apartment stands is named after this poet.

Nesha and I say little at breakfast, as he is determined that I am “set up electronically for Serbia” and magically manipulates my mobile so that I am not plagued by roaming phone charges.

Then we part company as he has business to conduct in distant Tara National Park.

I am left the use of Nesha´s Belgrade apartment and I am to remain solo until late Saturday night.

 

With the exception of a few Serbian words my bought-in-Switzerland guidebook provides, I am rendered mostly mute as a Canadian stranger in a strange land – a feeling that is simultaneously terrifying and exhilirating.

 

I continue down the street upon which the Café Lamartine stands and have breakfast at Restaurant Voulez-Vous: another latté and a serving of posinana jaja Benedict with home fries.

I am told by the waiters, resplendent in azure blue long-sleeved shirts with grey collars, that I must eat outside on the café terrace as “only the insane eat indoors on a sunny day.”

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor

 

Armed with guidebook and maps obtained from yesterday´s arrival at the airport, I am a man with a plan:

Try to see as much as I can, as leisurely as possible, allowing myself to occasionally get lost.

My steps are as unsteady as the aim of an amateur archer.

I am pointed towards a target but there is no guarantee that I will reach the target.

 

I make my way to the closest tourist attraction to Lamartine: the St. Sava Cathedral.

St. Sava Temple.jpg

The small rise upon which the Cathedral sits was once called Savinac, then later Vrapcije Polje (field of sparrows).

Over time and through the language variation that time creates, the name evolved into Vracarsko Polje and was eventually shortened to Vracar.

To appreciate Serbia fully, one must come to understand the importance of this Cathedral in the history of the country.

And much like Serbia itself, like Belgrade itself, the Cathedral has always been in a state of construction and renovation.

 

“There is a belief that the history of mankind is actually a history of waging war.

The voyage through history of our civilization´s soul leads us to Belgrade, one of the oldest and most often destroyed cities of the world.

When Le Corbusier, the famous architect, said that “Belgrade was the ugliest city at the most beautiful place“, he certainly had in mind the image of the results caused by the continual destruction of the city over many centuries as well as its inadequate renewal and reconstruction.

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Above:  Charles-Édouard Le Corbuisier (1887 – 1965)

It is for certain that the most beautiful Belgrade has disappeared without a trace, vanished, impossible to touch.

History cherishes many stories about this city that are hard to be reconstructed exactly due to its continuous destruction, shifts and intertwining of a large number of cultures and prominent people whose life paths have passed through Belgrade, the eternal city….”

(Aleksander Diklac)

 

Before 1236, no individual among the Serbs had been woven into the consciousness and being of the people as St. Sava.

Though certainly there were those who tried.

 

As Greek legend has it, the Argonauts, a team of mythical sailors under Jason´s command, stole the Golden Fleece and sailed into the river Danube.

It is believed that when Apollonius of Rhodes wrote his Argonautica (300 BC) he was copying a legend much older than himself, known from a time predating the Trojan War.

In the magnificent legend about the Argonauts, Apollonius tells us about the hospitality of the Sindi people who lived at a place where the waters part, a locality already heavily inhabited.

Above: The Argo, Konstantinos Volanakis (1837 – 1907)

According to other legends, the Danube River is one of the four rivers originating in Paradise.

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Above: The course of the Danube, flowing east from west

 

Singidun, Belgrade´s first name to be entered into the annals of history, is ascribed to the fearless Celtic tribe of Scordisci who, soon after Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC, invaded and conquered the area of Serbia.

However generations later, as it happens in history, no alliances, no singularities of culture, no dexterous manufacture and handling of weapons could repel the advancing Roman army, whose military order and war tactics made it a revolutionary apparatus for killing, subordination and enslavement.

The arrival of the Romans into Singidun hastened the complete assimiliation of the Scordisci and Romanized the name into Singidunum, but the region was not stabilized until the era of the formidable Octavian / Caesar Augustus.

Singidunum gained fortifications, magnificent edifices and villas, a precious water pipeline, roads and even artist´s workshops, which made life in the city quite pleasant.

Roman Singidunum became a strategic area and an important base connecting the fortifications and settlements along the Danube border.

An epitaph from Roman Belgrade, blazing like a flash of light across the centuries and with a disregard for time, comes to us with a pain that quivers.

The powerfully engraved text is the cry of a soldier, a father filled with sorrow over his prematurely departed son:

“To the gods of the underground world!

Traveller, ye who walks the roads, whoever ye be, please, hear.

When, in his 15th year of age, the fuzz of his first beard sprouted over the cheeks of the young man´s face, he was taken by the boat on which the dead are transported to the other world and deprived his unlucky father of his only consolation.

He is lying here now.

Taken from his father´s embrace, as the plough cuts the flower from the soil.

Still, the small flower shall blossom again in pleasant meadows.

But ye dead I can no longer revive.”

We feel the pain inherent, although 17 centuries have passed since the tragic event.

 

Signidunum was a city with developed civilized manners, wealthy people, active soldiers, and veterans.

Life was facilitated by an abundance of food: grains, vegetables, fish and excellent fruit of the vine.

Fishermen and shepherds were free men, while construction and farm labour was performed by slaves.

The ancient city saw numerous imperial processions as many Roman emperors (17) passed through Belgrade or stayed in it.

Christians first appeared in the 3rd century when the priest Montanus and his wife Maxima died, accompanied by around 40 fathful Christians.

They were killed in 315 when Emperor Licinius ruled the eastern part of the Roman Empire while Constantine the Great ruled in the west.

Together the Christians suffered brutal torture and were jointly sentenced to death, shut into a chest and cast into the Danube River alive.

Ten years later, Licinius made a bid for power, unleashing carnage in a series of rebellions and battles.

Constantine ordered him killed together with his young son, Licinius II.

Harmony did not reign among the first Christians, either.

 

Long ago, in 441, the legendary conqueror Attila the Hun (406 – 453) besieged and captured Singidunum.

He destroyed and killed everything that moves and single-handedly brought an end to the ancient past of the city of Belgrade.

Rivers of human bones and the odor of death testified to Attila´s barbaric cruel campaigns.

Attila died on the first night of his marriage.

After destroying Singidunum and forever extinguishing the Roman lamp within it, Attila died in the arms of a woman called Ildiko.

The wedding day progressed with the customary feasting, singing, inebriation and gluttony.

When night finally fell, the drunk and lecherous groom naturally led the bride to intimate quarters.

He was found the next morning, long dead, while beside him was his terrified bride, who had trembled the whole night.

As to the possible cause of death of the 47-year-old leader?

An enormous quantity of alcohol, vast quantities of food, poison?

According to one narrative, Attila was buried somewhere in the waters of Singidunum, as per Khazar custom.

After Attila, Belgrade was subsequently razed by the Sarmats, then the East Goths, and then the Gepids, before the city of Singidunum was restored by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (482 – 563).

Justinian with significant funds and even greater visions reached the Sava and Danube around 535 and rebuilt Singidunum.

Justinian was an important man for the history of Europe, especially Christianity, but it is clear that the true power of this ruler originated from the other half of his wedding bed.

The Emperor was a slow and indecisive man, practically a pawn in comparison with Empress Theodora, a charismatic courtesan with a brilliant mind.

Justinian gave orders for the construction of both Singidunum´s new fortifications as well as Constantinople´s Hagia Sophia, possibly the most beautiful place of worship in the world.

Ten thousand people over many years built the temple that marked a new era in the history of Christian architecture.

The best marble, as well as gold, silver and ivory were transported from the most distant regions of the empire.

Even with these divine components, the architects demanded that there be no lack of taste.

Thus, Hagia Sophia is a composition of the most refined artistic sensitivity towards space and materials, a rhapsody of diversity that successfully demonstrates the greatness of God imitated on Earth.

Hagia Sophia was consecrated in 537.

Belgrade’s monumental Temple of St. Sava, with its skyscraping cross at 82 metres above ground, is one of the tallest and largest temples in the Christian world.

Front view of Church of Saint Sava

It was intended to resemble the magnificent Hagia Sophia.

These days the Temple is consecrated to St. Sava, but what of the saint himself?

Patience, my gentle readers, we are getting there.

 

Many people and many conquerors to the banks of the Sava and the Danube came, for Singidunum was for most of its history the end point of a large number of organized states, and thus was a frequent target of attack and destruction.

None of the conquerors could boast of their humanity towards the population they found.

Though the flow of the rivers brought changes and new tyrants, the appeal of the location as a place of life endures to this day.

So fierce and frequent were the attacks from all sides that Singidunum, as a fortified and significant military fortification, could not and did not manage to repel them, regardless of the height of the defensive walls or the skill of the defenders.

By the end of the 6th century, ancient Singidunum was ultimately destroyed though never abandoned, as the Slavs appeared.

 

The first mention of the Slavic name Belgrade appears on 16 April 878, when the city’s name appears on a letter from Pope John VIII sent to the Bulgarian Prince (Knyaz) Boris Mihail, referring to the dismissal of the Belgrade Bishop Sergios.

Pope John VIII is remembered by history as a great advocate for the use of the Slavic languages in the liturgy.

Pope John VIII Illustration.jpg

However it should be mentioned that this Pope may have been a female in disguise.

John was poisoned by the wife of the spouse she fell in love with, then she was finished off by blows of a hammer to the head by the accomplices of the jealous wife, dying on 15 December 882.

 

Some decades after her letter to the Knyaz, once again armies and conquerors came a-callin’.

 

Charlemagne (Charles the Great)(742 – 814) during his reign conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III Roman Emperor in order to restore the hopes and dreams of a wealthy and holy Roman Empire.

Along the course of Charlemagne´s campaigns, he demolished Belgrade.

The severity of his campaigns was such that tribes begged for Peace and agreed to be baptized and embrace Christianity.

Rulers die and empires fall.

The Frankish rule over Belgrade was superseded by the Bulgarians and theirs by the Hungarians.

 

At the end of the 10th century, Samuilo (997 – 1014) created a large empire of southern Slavs taking over the region that is today´s Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Romanian Dobruja, northern Bulgaria and northern Greece, adopting for himself the title of Emperor of Bulgaria.

After several victories and defeats, the final showdown between Samuilo and Byzantium took place on Belasica Mountain in 1014.

The Bulgars were massacred.

Around 14,000 Bulgar captives were blinded by order of the Byzantine Emperor, with every 100th man left with one eye so as to be able to guide the others home.

As a consequence of such cruelty, Byzantine Emperor Basil II was given the epithet “Bulgar slayer“.

It is reported that Samuilo, at the sight of his chained and blinded army, died on the spot from a heart attack.

Samuil of bolgaria reconstruction.jpg

Above: Forensic reconstruction of Samuilo

 

Belgrade again became a significant border fortress to the Byzantine Empire.

During the 11th and 12th centuries the rival powers of Bulgaria, Byzantium and Hungary contended for Belgrade.

Enter, St. Sava (1169 – 1236)

Sveti Sava Kraljeva Crkva Detalj.jpg

Rastko Nemanjic was born in 1169 in Gradina (modern Podgorica, Montenegro) as the youngest son of Grand Prince Stefan Nemanjic and his wife Ana, alongside his brothers Vukan and Stefan.

The brothers received a good education in the Byzantine tradition, which exercised great political, cultural and religious influence in Serbia.

Rastko grew up in a time of great foreign relations activities in Serbia.

He showed himself serious and ascetic when he was made Prince of Hum at an early age in 1190.

(Hum was a province between Neretva and Dubrovnik.)

Having his own court with magnates (velmoze), senior officials and selected local nobility, governance in Hum was not only an honorary title but constituted a practical school of state administration.

Rastko, as a ruler, was said to be “mild and gentle, kind to everyone, loving the poor as few others and very respecting of the monastic life.”

He showed no interest in fame, wealth or the throne.

 

Meanwhile….

Frederick Barbarossa (1122 – 1190), following his reconciliation with the Pope and wearing the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, embarked on the Third Crusade to liberate from Muslim control the holy sites of Christendom, especially Christ’s empty tomb in Jerusalem.

His European counterparts, the French under Philip II Augustus and the English under Richard the Lionheart, joined the Crusade.

Richard and Philip approached Jerusalem by sea, while the German Emperor Barbarossa preferred land, over which he marched through Hungary and Serbia.

Under Barbarossa’s leadership, 190,000 warriors marched into Belgrade and left it in ruins, razed to the ground.

He then stopped in Nis where they were politely welcomed by Rastko who personally tended to the ailing Barbarossa, who continued on his journey.

Frederick Barbarossa, though successful at traversing Belgrade’s rivers, drowned on 10 June 1190 when crossing the small river of Saleph in Cilicia.

Thrown by a horse, the shock of the cold water induced a heart attack in the German king, who at the time of his unexpected death was 68.

 

After two years as ruler, in the autumn of 1192, Rastko left Hum for Mount Athos.

Upon arriving at Athos, Rastko entered the Russian St. Panteleimon Monastery where he received the monastic name of Sava (Sabbas).

He later entered the Greek Vatopedi Monastery, where he would stay for the next seven years, becoming acquainted with Greek theological and church administrational literature.

Sava´s father tried to persuade him to return to Serbia, but Sava was determined and replied:

“You have accomplished all that a Christian sovereign should do.

Come now and join me in the true Christian life.”

Stefan Nemanja took his son’s advice and abdicated on 25 March 1196, giving the throne to his middle son Stefan.

The next day Stefan and Ana took monastic vows.

Stefan took the monastic name Simeon and stayed in Studenica until leaving for Mt. Athos in the autumn of 1197.

Simeon’s arrival was greatly pleasing to Sava and the Athonite community as Stefan as a ruler had donated much to the community.

The two, with the consent of monastic head (hegumen) Theostyriktos of Vatopedi, went on a tour of Athos in late autumn 1197 in order for Simeon to familiarize with all of its churches and sacred places.

When Sava guested the Byzantine Emperor Alexios III Angelos at Constantinople, he mentioned the neglected and abandoned Hilandar, and asked him that he and his father be given the permit to restore the monastery and grant it to Vatopedi.

The Emperor approved and sent a special letter and much gold to his friend Stefan Nemanja (monk Simeon).

Sava then addressed the Protos of Athos, asking them to support the effort that the monastery of Hilandar becomes the haven of the Serb monks.

All Athonite monasteries, except Vatopedi, accepted the proposal, and in July 1198 Emperor Alexios III authored a charter which revoked the earlier decision, and instead not only granted Hilandar, but also the other abandoned monasteries in Mileis, to Simeon and Sava, to be a haven and shelter for Serb monks in Athos.

The restoration of Hilandar quickly began and Grand Prince Stefan sent money and other necessities, and issued the founding charter for Hilandar in 1199.

Sava wrote a typikon (liturgical office order) for Hilandar, modeled on the typikon of the monastery of The Mother of God Euergetes in Constantinople.

Besides Hilandar, Sava was the ktetor (founder) of the hermitage at Karyes (seat of Athos) for the monks who devoted themselves to solitude and prayer.

In 1199, he authored the typikon of Karyes.

Along with the hermitage, he built the chapel dedicated to Sabbas the Sanctified, whose name he received upon monastic vows.

His father died on 13 February 1199.

 

On 13 April 1204, Sava received the rank of archimandrite.

That same year, with the establishment of the Latin Empire, Rome increased its power over Serbia.

As Nemanja had earlier decided to give the rule to Stefan, and not the eldest, Vukan, in the meantime, back home, the latter began plotting against Stefan.

He found an ally in Hungarian king Emeric with whom he banished Stefan to Bulgaria and Vukan usurped the Serbian throne.

Stefan returned to Serbia with an army in 1204 and pushed Vukan to Zeta, his hereditary land.

After problems at Athos with Latin bishops and Boniface of Montferrat following the Fourth Crusade, Sava returned to Serbia in the winter of 1206, with the remains of his father which he relocated to his father’s endowment, the Studenica Monastery, and then reconciled his quarreling brothers.

Sava saved the country from further political crisis by ending the dynastic fight.

Simeon was canonized in 1206.

 

Having spent 14 years in Mount Athos, Sava had extensive theological knowledge and spiritual power, so he was asked to teach the court and the people of Serbia Christian laws and traditions and “in that way enwisen and educate.”

Since his return in 1206, Sava had become the hegumen of Studenica.

He used the general chaos in which the Byzantine Empire found itself after the Crusader siege of Constantinople (1204) and the strained relations between the Despotate of Epirus (to which the Serbian Church was subject to) and the Ecumenical Patriarchiate of Nicaea to his advantage.

He declared that “Here, therefore, no one is have authority, neither Bishop nor anyone else.” over Studenica.

In 1217, Sava´s brother King Stefan made a switch in politics, marrying a noblewoman of Venice, and asked the Pope for a crown and moral support.

Stefan was crowned in Zica, now equal to other kings, and was called by Rome “the first crowned King of all Serb lands“.

Stefan´s allegiance to Rome over Constantinople in matters of religion did not sit well with the Serbian people.

Serbia embraced and Sava represented the Orthodox Church, Stefan the Catholic Church.

The elevation of Serbia into a kingdom did not fully mark the independence of the country, according to that time´s understanding, unless the same was achieved with its church.

On 15 August 1219, Sava was consecrated as the first Archbishop of the independent Serbian church, which was vitally important as the church was the supporter and an important factor in state sovereignty as well as political and national identity.

That same year, Sava published Zakonopravilo (Sava´s Nomocanon), the first constitution of Serbia, uniting both politics and religion.

In 1229, after the son of Stefan, Radoslav was crowned King of Serbia, Sava left for a trip to Palestine.

After another throne change in 1234, when Radoslav was replaced by his brother Vladislav, Sava began a second trip to the Holy Land.

Sava, after much work and years of travelling, arrived at the Bulgarian then-capital of Trnovo a tired and sick man.

He died on 14 January 1235.

Above: Where Sava died, Trnovo, Bulgaria

 

Sava became known as the protector of the Serbian people – of their churches, families, schools and artisans.

He is regarded as the father of Serbian education and literature.

Many songs, tales and legends were created about his life, work, merit, goodness, fairness and wisdom.

His relics became a topic of nationalism, a political cult, a focus of liberation, a danger to foreign rule.

Belgrade is not only the capital of the Serbian state but as well Serbia´s most important economic, cultural and religious centre.

So it comes as no surprise that Serbia´s most important cathedral, dedicated to Sava, should be in Belgrade.

 

In 1319, Belgrade was seized, and again destroyed, by the Hungarians.

The ruined and deserted city became a border base.

The continued existence of the Serbian state and the reconstruction of Belgrade was necessary for the Hungarians as Serbia served as a desirable military buffer against greater barbarians and conquerors.

 

As such, Belgrade welcomed the 15th century when the Turks, a new large conquering force, entered the historical arena of Europe.

Belgrade would soon gain the rank of Antemurale Christianitatis, the Bulwark of Christianity.

For an entire century, Belgrade resisted Turkish incursions.

The Turks, under the leadership of Sultan Suleiman I (“the Magnificent“), would finally conquer Belgrade, on their third attempt, on 28 August 1521, and the key of defense to western Europe.

The reign of Suleiman I has been described as the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire.

EmperorSuleiman.jpg

Above: Suleiman I (1494 – 1566)

 

At the end of his reign, however, constant wars had taken their toll, damaging the economy.

The faulty politics that followed shook the economy and the foundations of Ottoman society: state officials became poor, their pay worthless, corruption and briberies common.

Mutiny struck throughout the Ottoman Empire.

 

Over the next few centuries there were many Serbian uprisings against Turkish rule.

In 1594, during the Austrian-Turkish War (1593 – 1606), a Serbian insurrection was staged in the Banat region north of the Danube River.

The Turkish Sultan responded by skinning alive and hanging the Serbian Patriarch, Teodor, before bringing the relics of St. Sava to Vracar to be burned and his ashes scattered on 27 April 1594, because the figure of St. Sava had adorned the flags of the Serbian rebels.

There was great violence carried out against the Serbian clergy and devastation of their monasteries.

The Ottomans sought to symbolically and in reality to set fire to the Serb determination of freedom.

But this desecration was considered to be an unimaginably sacrilegious act by all Serbs.

Rather than discouraging dissent, St. Sava’s desecration fomented and cemented rebellion.

One day the Serbians would rally around the idea of St. Sava and expel the Ottoman Turks from their land.

 

The Church of St. Sava was built near the place where his relics were burned.

Construction began on 10 May 1935, 340 years after the burning of Sava’s relics, and was “completed” in 2004, but the Church much like the Serbia it serves is never complete.

Construction was halted when the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941.

The occupying German army used the unfinished church as a parking lot.

Later in 1944 Russia’s Red Army and later the Yugoslav People’s Army would do the same.

For a while after, the Church was used for storage by various companies.

Construction resumed on 12 August 1985.

After the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, construction was halted again.

Serbian Patriarch Pavle thought that the expense of building a massive Cathedral was inappropriate when people are beaten and impoverished.

After becoming Prime Minister, Zoran Dindic spoke with the Patriarch and convinced him to have construction resumed.

By 2017, the exterior of the church was complete.

Work continues on the interior.

The church is centrally planned, having the form of a Greek cross.

It has a large central dome supported on four pendentives and buttressed on each side by a lower semi-dome over an apse.

Beneath each semi-dome is a gallery supported on an arcade.

The dome is 70 m (230 ft) high, while the main gold plated cross is another 12 m (39 ft) high, which gives a total of 82 m (269 ft) to the height of the Church of Saint Sava.

The peak is 134 m (440 ft) above the sea level (64 m (210 ft) above the Sava river).

Therefore the church holds a dominant position in Belgrade’s cityscape and is visible from all approaches to the city.

Above: The Church of St. Sava and the National Library of Serbia

The church is 91 m (299 ft) long from east to west and 81 m (266 ft) from north to south.

It is 70 m (230 ft) tall, with the main gold-plated cross extending for 12 m (39 ft) more.

Its domes have 18 more gold-plated crosses of various sizes, while the bell towers have 49 bells of the Austrian bell foundry Grassmayr.

It has a surface area of 3,500 m2 (37,674 sq ft) on the ground floor, with three galleries of 1,500 m2 (16,146 sq ft) on the first level and a 120 m2 (1,292 sq ft) gallery on the second level.

The Church can receive 10,000 faithful at any one time.

The choir gallery seats 800 singers.

The basement contains a crypt, the treasury of Saint Sava, and the grave church of Saint Lazar the Hieromartyr, with a total surface of 1,800 m2 (19,375 sq ft) .

Above: The crypt of the Church of St. Sava

The central dome mosaic depicts the Ascension of Jesus and represents Resurrected Christ, sitting on a rainbow and right hand raised in blessing, surrounded by four angels, Apostles and Theotokos.

This composition is inspired by mosaic in main dome of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

The lower sections are influenced by the Gospel of Luke and the first narratives of the Acts of the Apostles.

The texts held by the angels are written in the Church Slavonic language, while the names of the depicted persons are written in Greek.

The first points to the pan-Slavic sentiment while the latter connects it to the Byzantine traditions.

The total painted area of the dome is 1,230 m2 (13,200 sq ft).

It is one of the largest curved area decorated with the mosaic technique and when the work is completely finished, Saint Sava will be the largest church ornamented this way.

Magnificient is the legacy that is St. Sava’s Church.

 

It is my feeling that Serbia and Serbians will remain incomprehensible to the foreigner who has never visited St. Sava Church or has never read why this church remains integral to the Serbian identity, for Religion has Always played a defining role in the history of the Serbs.

The main religion of Serbia remains that of Sava: Serbian Orthodox Christianity, which is practiced by 84% of the population.

The Serbian Orthodox Church is an independent Church, ranking 6th in order of seniority of the Orthodox Churches after Constantinople (Istanbul), Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Russia.

Above: Flag of the Serbian Orthodox Church

Serbian Orthodoxy is also practiced by 74% of the population of Montenegro, 36% in Bosnia and Herzegovina and 4.4% in Croatia.

Religion plays an important role in Serbian daily life.

The religious calendar is filled with a profusion of saints’ days, celebrated by families in the traditional way – usually involving a visit to church, prayers and the lighting of candles.

 

As a barbaric heathen I cannot claim to understand the Serbian need to kiss icons as passionately and as frequently as they do, but it makes them happy so who am I to argue?

All I know is a visit to St. Sava, especially if one researches the history behind it, is as awe-inspiring as a visit to the Sistine Chapel in Rome or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, but unlike the Vatican City or Turkish temples of worship St. Sava has a feeling of warmth and personability that the others lack.

As much as it is splendid to feel the almighty grandeur of a glorious God in an edifice meant to impress and intimidate, I feel that religion, being the personal and private set of values and beliefs unique to each individual, should whisper into the ears and seductively warm the hearts of salvation’s seekers rather than frighten and cow people into a submissive state little related to the promise of eternal blessing from a loving deity.

Certainly St. Sava is not lacking in pomp and circumstance as a church should shine above the standards of the common Household, but one cannot have a personal relationship with God if one does not feel to have anything in common to that person inside God’s house.

And somehow St. Sava captures that nuance.

I left the church to explore more of the city, knowing one certainty upon which I stake my experience upon.

There is little danger (or hope) that I shall ever become a Serbian Orthodox Christian but to deny the feeling that there is a need to believe in something or someone beyond one’s self is a primal passion that St. Sava church quietly shares.

It is waiting to share this passion with you.

My explorations of Belgrade (and later Nis) would continue, but in the beginning God….

Sources:  Aleksander Diklic, Belgrade the Eternal City / Culture Smart Serbia / Momo Kapor, A Guide to the Serbian Mentality / Wikipedia / Facebook