Sinking my Teeth into Subotica, Serbia: A Tale of Art Nouveau & Dental Tourism
Sitting in a dentist’s chair half-way around the world from ‘home’, I was told the disappointing news: I had my first, albeit tiny, cavity. Shawn and I had come to Subotica, Serbia to devour its delightful Art Nouveau architecture, but I hadn’t imagined that one of my teeth would be wearing a porcelain souvenir upon our departure from the historic city. While we’d read about Subotica’s gorgeous architecture and promising wine in a New York Times article dubbing it one of 52 Places to Go in 2014, we had only learned about the northern Serbian city’s well-respected dental tourism by chance, once we’d arrived there. Long curious about the medical tourism phenomenon, we sandwiched routine dental check-ups in between a Subotica walking tour, market visit and leisurely strolls.
As the dentist and her assistant initiated the drilling on my hitherto pristine tooth, they spoke in their native tongue, alternating to English whenever walking me through the procedure. The television monitor before me was there to distract and comfort patients, but a Nirvana video featuring Kurt Cobain violently thrashing a guitar did nothing of the sort, especially as the buzzing began and nervousness set in.
A few minutes later, with a successful and painless filling under my belt and pearly whites to boot, Shawn and I left the modern clinic. My bill had only come to about 35 Euros (roughly $40 USD)! With those prices, it was no wonder that the waiting room of this clinic had been filled with patients from Scandinavia awaiting dental implants and advanced dental procedures.
A spontaneous stop into Subotica’s tourist office earlier in the week had introduced us to staff member, Homolya ‘Levy’ Levente. Levy’s background, it turned out, was about as diverse as Subotica’s and the Balkans: he speaks Serbian, Hungarian, English, and a smattering of German, and has a mother that comes from Bosnia-Herzegovina and a father from Subotica. Just kilometers from Hungary, and once part of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Subotica’s population is today divided between ethnic Hungarians, Serbians, Croats, and Bunjevci people. It is one of Serbia’s largest cities.
With Levy having enthusiastically taken us under his wing, we embarked on a walking tour of the city, which was heavily focused upon its Art Nouveau architecture. On the way, we learned that the buildings’ designs had been largely influenced by folk art-motifs and that the area was once at the heart of a cultural crossroad.
At times, I imagined that the elaborate structures had spilled out from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book, because of their colorful, whimsical nature. I loved the colorful ceramic tiles adorning select rooftops, the curved gables and symbolism galore – everything from beehives to hearts and gargoyles to flowers.
Indeed, we will return to Subotica someday. And, I won’t be surprised if we spend some planned time in the dentist’s chair the next time we return!
Details of Subotica’s City Hall building (Gradska kuća), which was built between 1908 – 1912. Levy, one of Subotica’s tourist office employees, was kind enough to give us a mini tour of the grand building. We climbed to the top of the town hall’s tower, and also explored the ornate chamber where Subotica’s City Assembly meets.
In 1906, a competition was held, inviting architects to submit proposals for Subotica’s future Town Hall building. Architects Marcell Komor and Dezső Jakab were eventually selected to design the building, and construction began in 1908 (as seen in this coat of arms on the right). In the picture on the left is the observation tower to which we ascended. It offers splendid views of Subotica’s Old-Town core.
The intricate tiled rooftops of the city hall (left) and a grey gargoyle-like figure contrasts with the building’s colorful façade (right).
Views of Subotica’s Main Square (Trg Slobode) from the top of the City Hall.
Subotica’s Synagogue, which is currently undergoing restoration. It was designed by the same architectural duo that created the City Hall.
Wrought iron-work encases the city hall’s observation deck, lending lovely silhouettes.
A bird’s eye view of Subotica’s ‘Blue Fountain’, which was installed in 2001 (left), and the 18th-century Franciscan Church (right).
These stunning, jewel-toned stained glass windows were made by the same craftsmen who fashioned the stained glass in Budapest’s Parliament Building.
Mood lighting inside the building’s elegant Council Hall.
Street signs and tourist markers in Subotica’s center are written in a blend of languages: Serbian, Hungarian, and sometimes English. Here, they use both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets.
Shawn, enjoying another aerial view of the city.
Subotica is replete with Art Nouveau beauties. These decorative-frosting like details are on the former Subotica Savings Bank.
A beehive adorns the top of this former bank; the symbol is said to represent thrift and good financial management.
Colorful panels dress up an otherwise drab construction site.
A suitcase finds new life as a planter (left) and a sea of green details (right).
Shawn poses next to an Old World-style advertising column (left) and a quirky brass statue rises from a manhole (right).
Though Shawn enjoyed his fair share of Burek in Croatia, he didn’t get to try it here in Subotica. We heard this place has tasty versions of the savory pastry, which can be stuffed with everything from cheese and spinach to minced meat.
This tiny grey chapel (left) was built after the Plague ravaged the city. On the right, the kind of fanciful architecture that abounds in Subotica’s Old Town-core.
Formerly a popular hotel and restaurant (the Golden Lamb Hotel), this building was actually built in the 20th century, in a similar style to its 19th-century predecessor. I liked its cheery heart and flower motifs.
Symmetric and colorful ceramic-work, making me feel as though I was looking through an Art Nouveau-style kaleidoscope.
A small market was taking place during our visit, with vendors selling everything from honey and handmade textiles to soap, wine and liqueur.
At the market, we were introduced to Sofi, a natural brand of soap and essential oils. The company’s founders, pictured here, spoke English very well, and were happy to answer our questions. Shawn and I purchased handmade soap, as well as lavender and clove essential oils. Later, when we’d moved on to Serbia’s capital city, Belgrade, we were excited to see Sofi products for sale in a design district there.
These little motorized vehicles were popular in parks in Serbia. Here, a young boy motors past busts of the architects who designed Subotica’s City Hall and Synagogue.
The Blue Fountain.
The Baroque-style Cathedral of St. Theresa of Avila was built in the 1770s, when Subotica was part of the Habsburg Empire.
Subotica’s old synagogue is the third largest in world in the world, in terms of its seating capacity. It opened in 1902. Its dome features Zsolnay-glazed roof tiles.
The synagogue’s vibrant stained glass windows were made in Budapest.
Since the synagogue has fallen into disrepair, organizations are trying to raise a few million euros to restore it. As Subotica no longer has a sizable Jewish population, the structure might be used as a concert venue or museum.
Folk-art themes evident on a wooden bench (right) and a stenciled hallway (left).
Posing with Shawn (right) and our host extraordinaire, Levy, from Subotica’s tourist office (left). Levy was previously a member of Parliament, and speaks Serbian, Hungarian, and English, plus a smattering of German.
A bust of Ferenc Raichle (left) and detail of his former home and office (right).
A statue depicting Dezső Kosztolányi, a Hungarian writer and poet, who also wrote haiku (Japanese poetry).
The city’s Monument to the Victims of Fascism.
Detail of a copper relief on the monument.
Our Video of this Experience:
Where in the World?
- Subotica (also known as Суботица and Szabadka) is located in northern Serbia, in the country’s Vojvodina region. The city is roughly 10 km (6 miles) from the Hungarian border. See Subotica‘s or Vojvodina‘s websites for details.
- We stayed in the family-owned Stara Breza Apartments (affiliate link) in the nearby town of Palić. We enjoyed the establishment’s quiet atmosphere, made even more picturesque by its small fishpond and pleasing garden. It’s about a five-minute walk from the Stara Breza to a bus stop, and the bus there can take you to Subotica in about 15-20 minutes. As of May 2014, the bus-fare for one adult was 86 Serbian Dinar, about $1 USD each way. Palić has a lovely lake and was a popular resort town in the early 20th century.
- When we toured Subotica and learned about its dental tourism, we spontaneously decided to have routine check-ups and cleanings done at the NorDent Dental Center. We were pleased with the level of care there, as well as the very reasonable price of our bill!
- Need more trip-planning inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Serbia.
A big thank you to Levy for spontaneously taking the time to show us around this lovely corner of Serbia!
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. The video was created by my husband, Shawn.