In Paris, several of the most luxurious townhouses in the most chic parts of the city have been transformed into embassies or ambassadorial residencies. Typical visitors to embassies find themselves waiting outside in long lines, before finally being admitted into the most banal administrative zones, whilst the residencies only admit a select few guests. Not many people have access to all areas, but one such person is the Serbian journalist Jelena Kalicanin. Here she opens the doors to the residence of the Serbian ambassador, one of the most impressive in Paris, and gives a little insight into what can be found behind these highly protected walls.
Why did you visit the Ambassador’s residence?
I am a Serbian architect and journalist working for Kuca Stil home interiors magazine. I chose to write about this residence because it is very interesting both in terms of architecture and decoration, certainly for the people of Serbia. I am also lucky enough to go there very often when I am in Paris.
What is the building and what is its history?
The building is the Hôtel de La Trémoille on the Boulevard Delessert in the 16th arrondissement. It was designed by the architect Ernest Sansson and built between 1910 and 1920 by the 11th Count of Trémoille, very much in a classic 18th century style. The count died before it was finished, but his son and grandson continued the construction. The family lived in the house until it was sold in 1936 to Alaxandar 1, the King of Yugoslavia.
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Is the interior in French or Serbian style?
The decoration is pure French, but you can consider the residence as a kind of gallery of Serbian artists who have lived and worked in Paris, such as Vlada Velickovic, Petar Omcikus, Milos Sobajic and Djordje Ivackovic. One of the the greatest Serbian painters to have lived in Paris is Milenko Serban, who studied at the Académie Colarossi.
What is particularly interesting about this residency for you?
Well, my article was titled ‘The Million Dollar View’ because the view of the Eiffel Tower from the residency and the garden really is exceptional! I think that perhaps no other building in Paris has such a wonderful view. Inside, there is a very large gallery of Serbian painters on the first floor, and a large and valuable tapestry in the antechamber which belongs to the French state. Each year they take it away and bring it back after cleaning it. There are also two painted wooden walls in the dining room that belong to the French state too.
The role of the ambassador is to represent the citizens of their country and to promote their country abroad. Is there a history of good relations between Serbia and France?
When the President Tito opened the Yugoslavian frontiers in 1962 many people left the country. Most of them went to Germany, but the architects and designers went to Paris. In general, relations between France and Serbia (Yugoslavia) have been very good. The old Belgrade fortress was designed by a Frenchman, Nicolas Doxat de Morez, following the model of the French engineer Vauban. There is also a monument which was erected in the glory of France thanking her for her support in the 1914-18 war which says “We love France as she loved us”.
However, after the start of the NATO offensive on Belgrade in 1999 in which the French participated, the monument was covered with a black cloth. That cloth was of course quickly removed, but the symbol was important. As for ill-feeling today, I'd say there is none in Serbia, but it probably still exists in France. History is always difficult. When talking to French people, I compare Kosovo to Corsica, and Milosevic to Napoleon, but they can't really understand this. When I asked them what Napoleon was doing in Russia, one person replied that he "wanted to show Russian people how to live better".
Anyway, I myself love France. During the war years, I was the only journalist in Belgrade who was able to go to France, and I love going there as often as possible.
Thanks to Jelena Kalicanin for her time and for the photos that accompany this post. See http://www.jelenakalicanin.com/index.htm for more information on her work as a journalist.
It should also be noted that this residence can sometimes be visited during the annual Journées du Patrimoine in September.