This article examines the image of the city and notions of urban management in the discourse of elite groups in Belgrade between 1830 and the late 1860s. It focuses on the negotiation of modernity in heterogeneous cultural spaces, particularly looking at the textual interplay of power, orientalized exoticism and notions of backwardness. These discourses were integral to the processes of managing urban populations and homogenizing the cityscape. The city's specific political situation as a site of dual authority, however, left room for minor acts of contestation which questioned the primacy of exclusion and dispossession as bases for modern urban transformation. This dynamic interplay framed the city as a site of conflict between mutually defining forces of ‘Europeanization’ and ‘backwardness’.