They are not many, but they come nevertheless. The snow which blanketed Belgrade over night does not stop them. Serbians of all walks of life and of all ages make their way to the Royal Chapel, dedicated to St Andrew the First Called (patron saint of the Royal Family), to pay tribute to the last King of Yugoslavia, Petar II (or, in English, Peter).
They sign the book of condolences and leave a lengthy message, they pick up a photograph of the late King, light a candle, cross themselves and walk around the flag covered coffin in the middle of the beautifully decorated Chapel.
There are fresh flowers, and wreaths placed by Crown Prince Aleksandar II (Alexander) and his wife Crown Princess Katherine, and by the Serbian Government. Two simple chairs stand next to the coffin - to be used by the Crown Princely couple.
Two soldiers keep a watchful eye over the Chapel, but do not stand guard next to the coffin. They even help visitors take pictures. It is solemn, but stuffy - in line with modern times.
Inside the adjoining palace a room has been turned into a small exhibition space, with many pictures of King Petar and his family. It is a poignant record of his short life. Born in 1923 to King Aleksandar I and Queen Marija - granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and born Princess of Romania - he became King at age 10 when his father was murdered in Marseille in 1934. Petar II was declared of age in 1941, and had to flee to England when Hitler Germany invaded Yugoslavia.
In London Petar met his future wife Princess Aleksandra of Greece and Denmark, daughter of the late Greek King Alexander. They married in 1944, in the middle of the war, with many fellow monarchs and royals in exile present, e.g. Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, King Haakon VII of Norway.
The Allies by then had already betrayed the King and thrown their lot with the communist resistance in Yugoslavia, led by Josip Broz Tito. He abolished the monarchy at the end of 1945, declaring the royal couple and their baby son Aleksandar - who had King George VI and Princess Elizabeth as godparents - enemies of the state. Petar II never recovered from these blows, and died a lonely man in the USA in 1970, only 47 years old.
Crown Prince Aleksander for over a decade worked to fulfill his father's wish to be buried in his native soil, in the Royal Mausoleum in Oplenac in central Serbia. That wish was finally granted and the remains of the late King returned to Belgrade in January and now await the State Funeral which is set for May 26.
In the mean time it is expected that the remains of Petar's wife Queen Aleksandra (buried at Tatoi in Greece) and of Queen Marija (at Frogmore, near Windsor) will be repatriated as well to be buried on the same day. The coffins of the two Queens, once they have been brought back to Serbia, will join that of the King in the Royal Chapel. © RB Hans Jacobs in Belgrade
* The public is welcome to pay their respects every weekend - Saturday and Sunday - from 10 AM till 2 PM.