People of Belgrade grow up in some streets, or next to them, and use those street names without questioning what’s the origin. Many don’t know who the rulers after whom Serbian Rulers Street was named. Or who was Neda Spasojević, Pera Velimirović or August Cesarec. On the other hand, these are not the busiest streets in Belgrade. But Tošin bunar (Toša’s Well) is, and again there is a lot of people not aware who Toša is.
The longest street in Zemun, which is the border between New Belgrade and Bežanijska kosa, is named after one of the most famous people from Zemun – Toša Apostolović. And unfortunately, the well is no more.
Teodor Toša Apostolović was born in the vicinity of Thessaloniki in the middle of the 18th century, and moved to today’s Zemun after Austrians left. By vocation, he was candlestick maker and a manufacturer of soap, outstanding merchant, so he earned a great fortune. He was a benefactor, church councilor and president of the Zemun church community when Zemun had 6,000 inhabitants. In 1786, he built the church of the Holy Archangel Gabriel, which became a monastery in 1990.
Toša lived to a good old age when his eyesight began to fail, so he could not tell the difference between silver and gold coins. According to the legend, he went to churches and prayed that he would not go blind. Rumor has it, one night he had a “strange” dream – St. Nicholas appeared to him and gave him the following instructions: “Son, go out on Bežanija’s hill and bring an empty barrel of two shackles, and let it roll down. Wherever it stops, buy that land and dig a well, then plant trees around it and wash your eyes with that water to regain your sight.”
The rest, as they say, is history. The barrel rolled on the place of today’s tavern Tošin bunar, i.e. the pub “Jakarta”. Toša bought the land, dug a well, made a ravine next to it, washed his eyes with water and healed. A tavern was soon opened there, a gathering place for passengers and coachmen. There, a tax was charged for traders who brought goods to the Zemun market.
Toša bequeathed a land with vineyards and a well to Zemun, and until the construction of New Belgrade, it was a favorite picnic spot for the people of Zemun. It is believed that the street bears this name from that period, and has not been changed to this day. Each year, the May Day uprising took place in that very place, trade and business were done. But unfortunately, that is no more.
In order to build the Student City (dorms), the well was buried shortly after Second World War ended. Since then, more people moved to this part of town, craft shops opened, and life began to blossom once again. Maybe a little different, but still vibrant. Some part of the streets withstood the test of time and gentrification, so parts of it still look like you stumbled into the beginning of 20th century. And the legend of Toša and his well lives on!
Remember, every street hides a story, and some are so interesting that they just have to be told.