A historic Belgrade “square” (more like a short boulevard, comparable to Wenceslaus Square in Prague or Times Square in NYC) is called Terazije, which means ‘scales.’ (The word is from Turkish terazi, which is from Persian terâzu, from Middle Persian terâzug; if anyone has information about its further provenance, please let me know.) This is an odd name for a town square, but I would have assumed it was either populated by merchants or the site of a municipal weighing machine (like Trongate in Glasgow, tron being a Scots word for “a pair of scales or other machine for weighing merchandise; a public weighing apparatus in a city or (burgh) town” [OED])—but most sites that discuss its name claim that it comes from the Turkish name for a water tower that used to stand in it. This sounds implausible on the face of it, but “Marko Serb” in an Illyrium Forums discussion says “Two high ‘towers’—water collectors—were located here, resembling a scale (scales) and this is how the place got its name.” Which would explain it, if there were two such towers there and if they resembled a pair of scales and if that became the popular name. How is one to know? And other sites give the more obvious explanation (for instance, this one says “The word Terazije means ‘weighing scales’ in Turkish, and during some 400 years of Ottoman rule — and well into the 19th century — this was a street of merchants and craftsmen.” That’s more believable, but then why is the water-tower one so common? And shouldn’t the principle of Lectio difficilior potior favor the latter? What we need are facts, and facts are hard to come by when speculation is so easy and enjoyable.


  1. I’ve always thought that the lectio difficilior rule was never a rule, but more like an occasional tactic and warning against glossing over difficulties. For example, a one-letter misspelling or misreading is always the easiest explanation, but often it’s right.

  2. Very true, and I’m using it here as a warning against glossing over difficulties.

  3. Cognate: Terrace? (a tiled place)

  4. Not at all. That was, of course, my first thought (especially since I saw the name misspelled “Terrazia” in a book I was reading), but it turned out to be totally wrong.

  5. The word “square” (town square as opposed to a geometrical figure) in both Serb and Croatian languages is “trg”. The verb “trgovati”, derived from the word trg, means “to trade”. Similarly “trgovina” means “shop”. It is not surprising that a square, where most mercantile activity would have been carried out, would be named after scales. But who knows how these things get their names.
    (Which reminds me – some years ago, the weekly “Politikin Zabavnik” ran an article on Belgrade place names. Hopefully there are some ex-Yugoslavs out there who can remember)

  6. I hope those articles have been collected into a book and that the NYPL has a copy of it. That’s exactly the kind of thing I love. (My copy of Hillairet’s Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris is one of my most treasured possessions.)

  7. Probably someone who knows Turkish history and language could be of help. I found this explanation (at http://web.mit.edu/most/www/ser/Belgrade/trg_terazije.html):
    With regard to the origin of the name Terazije, the historian Milan Đ. Milicević (b. Ripanj 1831, d. Belgrade 1908) noted that “In order to supply Belgrade with water, the Turks built towers at intervals along the water supply system which brought water in from the springs at Mokri Lug. The water was piped up into the towers for the purpose of increasing the pressure, in order to carry it further.” One such tower was erected on the site of the present drinking-fountain in Terazije and the square was named after it the Turks called their water towers terazije za vodu (scales for water). Up to about 1865, the buildings on Terazije were mainly single and double storey ones. The water was removed in 1860 and replaced by the drinking-fountain
    …. etc

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