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brief history of Belgrade Fortress
"I cometh and found the noblest burgh from ancient times,
the grand town of Belgrade".
Despot Stefan Lazarevic (15th c.)
Belgrade is undoubtedly one of the oldest towns in this
part of Europe, though its present appearance gives an impression of a
completely new city. Nowadays, the only place where the remains of its
distant past can be seen is the fortress, situated on the site of the
former fortified settlement - the site where Belgrade was founded during
the Roman era in the 1st century AD and on
which it developed right down to the second half of the 18th century. The
fortress we see today was built in mid-18th
century, but its walls encircle the old 15th century Acropolis or the
Upper Town made
when Belgrade was proclaimed for the Serbian capital in 1404.
The Belgrade Fortress, situated on a bluff
towering over the confluence of the
Rivers Sava and Danube, has exceptionally fine position, easily defended
and dominating the area. It is for this that people settled here during
pre-historic times. The earliest settlement, judging by the remains
on the site, was established in the Neolithic period on the plateau
occupied by the present Upper Town or Acropolis. There were very favorable
conditions for the development of a settlement here, and it seems that the
site was later taken over by the Romans in the early 1st century AD. Then,
this area with a legionary camp - castrum called Singidunum (the oldest
known name for Belgrade) became part of the Roman Empire, whose northern frontier was
demarcated by the Rivers Rhine and Danube.
Belgrade of the
It was in the early Middle Ages, when Roman
towns were being destroyed by onslaughts from the north. The remaining
inhabitants found refuge in the ruined castrum, which was hastily
reinforced with material taken from destroyed buildings. Around this
nucleus there grew up a fortified town, with a very mixed population,
serving as a frontier post of the Eastern Roman Empire - Byzantium. With
the arrival of the Slavs in these regions, it lost its original name
Singidunum. From the 9th century onwards, it appears under the Slav name
of Beograd (the White town), starting to expand to the level ground
beside the Danube. Sturdy walls and towers also protected this lower
section of the fortification complex. The castle of the feudal lord was situated at the northwest
corner of the Upper Town (some segments have been excavated on the spot).
Belgrade as the center of 'Serbian Renaissance'
Development of Belgrade in the 15th century and its
transformation into a fortified mediaeval town took place during the reign
of Serbian ruler Stefan Lazarevic. Choosing Belgrade to be the
capital of his state, Stefan made it not only a defensive strongpoint of
the country, but also its economic and cultural center. Archaeological
research offers abundant information on the development of Belgrade in
the period 1404-27. A general picture of the town and its fortifications can
also be obtained from the notes of Stefan´s biographer, Constantine
the Philosopher and a French author Bertrandon de la Broquere.
From that superb period of Belgrade's history, one can see today:
remains of double ramparts with towers and gates (in 1984 the vestiges of the
so-called Little or West gate were discovered by archaeologists and the
eastern Despot's gate still is in function), as
well as some preserved ruins of the castle's entrance).
(The Bastion of Christianity)
Until the death of Stefan Lazarevic in 1427, Belgrade
constantly increased in size, augmented by new churches, hospitals, inns
and other sizable buildings. But the town's further growth, now again under Hungarian rule, was
hampered by the appearance of the Turks, who first besieged it in 1440.
They made a further vein attempt to capture it in 1456, and finally
succeeded only in 1521. During the time of the Ottoman Turks, the Upper Fortress
as a town area gradually disappeared, being inhabited only by the army and
representatives of the government. The Lower Fortress continued to be a
trade and crafts center, but as time passed, trade too moved outside the walls.
In the town beyond the walls, caravansary, inns, baths, fountains, mosques
and other buildings have been erected, fundamentally altering the
town's appearance. Work on the reconstruction of old fortifications began when
the Austrian army headed by Maximillian
of Bavaria captured the city in 1688.
The Austrian occupation lasted only two years, for
in 1690 Turks entered Belgrade again. In that brief period, however,
were taken to strengthen the defense of the fortress. The Venetian
engineer Andrea Cornaro commissioned for this task made use of what
was then a quite modern defense technique - bastion wall, and the
medieval fortification took on a new appearance, that of an artillery fort. This work was
also continued under
Turkish rule for Cornaro, who had been in Austrian service, went over to the
Turks and carried on the task. Generally speaking, the Cornaro's project
of the fort's reconstruction, based on the model of Old-Dutch fortifications was not
an up-to-date solution. A new type of artillery fortresses (introducing a series of bastions and various outworks,
so-called Vauban's forts) was being
built elsewhere at the time. Why Cornaro, as a good connoisseur of
military architecture and its development at the time, did not apply
more contemporary principles of
fortification construction? Though the question still is an enigma, we can
now only suppose that Cornaro, as a Christian
employee of the Turkish army, intentionally worked to the detriment of
Turkish military interests.
Builders in the
role of a demolition squad
In 1717 the Austrians, led by Prince Eugene of Savoy, took Belgrade
again and held it until 1739. In that period the medieval
fortified town definitely disappeared and a modern Baroque artillery fortress was
constructed on the same site. The reconstruction project (authored by Austrian Colonel
of Swiss origin Nicolaus Doxat de Demoret) was carried out during the next 15 years. For its time that was a sturdy,
modern and pretty extensive fortification of Vauban's type, in which high hopes were placed for the defense
of Europe against the Turks. But soon, after the Austrian army had suffered
several defeats, Austrian Belgrade surrendered to the Ottomans without fighting!
Unfortunately, according to a clause of the armistice contract signed on
Austrians had the right to hand Belgrade over to Turkey under the
condition that all new fortifications built after 1717, be destroyed. The
of the newly built Austrian fortifications lasted for almost six months.
One of the main tasks of the Turks, who settled once again in
the Fortress, was to build a new artillery fortification in the same manner and according to
architectural features of the destroyed
Austrian fort. The construction works started by the end of 1740
and, with frequent interruptions lasted for almost two decades. Then, around
1760, Belgrade Fortress was given its final form, preserved until this
date. The new Turkish fortress represented a restoration of
demolished Austrian military structures, but in a very simplified way. Though quite
similar to the foregoing fort, the new fortress had been constructed with
numerous failings. Outer fortifications, as a crucial support to the defense
the main bastion front, were missed out. However, the defensive role of
such fortifications started loosing any significance with the development
of new war tactics and when the Serbian
army succeeded the Turkish garrison in 1867, Belgrade Fortress was no
longer an important strongpoint of defense.
The Fortress is the
major archaeological and historic site in Belgrade today.
Guided tours of
For a private tour of
Belgrade fortress (duration: 2 hrs)in English, please contact us:
The concept and program of our
guided tours are fully harmonized with objectives and principles outlined in the
draft of the ICOMOS Charter on the interpretation of cultural heritage sites
from August 23, 2004.
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This is a personal
English version published 01/31/00
Last version: 09/01/00
Last updated: 01/18/06
Made by BRANKO
Official web site of Belgrade Fortress:
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