Belgrade Fortress was built as a defensive structure on a ridge overlooking the confluence of the Sava and the Danube during the period from the 1st to the 18th century. Today the fortress is a unique museum of the history of Belgrade.
The complex is made up of the Belgrade Fortress itself, divided into the Upper and Lower Towns (Gornji/Donji grad) and the Kalemegdan Park.
Because of its exceptional strategic importance, a fortification – a Roman ‘castrum’ – was erected here at the end of the first century A.D., as a permanent military camp for the Fourth Flavian Legion. After being razed to the ground by the Goths and the Huns, the fortification was rebuilt in the first decades of the sixth century. Less than a century later it was demolished by the Avars and the Slavs.
Around this fortification on the hill above the Sava and Danube confluence, the ancient settlement of Singidunum grew up, followed by the Slav settlement of Belgrade in the same place. The Belgrade Fortress has frequently been demolished and rebuilt. On top of the Roman walls stand Serbian ramparts on top of which are Turkish and Austrian fortifications. In the 12th century the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus built a new castle on the Roman ruins. During the first decades of the 14th century this small hill-top fortification was extended as far as the river banks.
Under the rule of Despot Stefan Lazarevic, Belgrade became the new capital of Serbia and was fortified by the addition of the extensive fortifications of the Upper and Lower Town. The Despot’s palace was built in the old castle, and a military harbour was added on the Sava River. An advanced medieval city developed within the ramparts.
A new era began with the Austro-Turkish War. As a key fortification at the heart of the fighting during the 18th century, the Fortress was rebuilt three times. The old castle was demolished and a large part of the medieval walls were covered by new fortifications. Under the Austrian occupation from 1717 to 1739, and after the construction of new modern fortifications, the Belgrade Fortress was one of the strongest military strongholds in Europe. It was built to plans drawn up by Colonel Nicolas Doxat de Démoret, a Swiss serving in the Austrian Army. By a quirk of fate the builder of the fortress was shot right in front of the fortress walls at dawn in March 1738, because of the defeat of the army at Niš. Prior to the return of the Turks to Belgrade in 1740, all the newly constructed fortifications were demolished. By the end of the 18th century the Belgrade fortress had taken on its final shape. Nearly all the buildings in the Upper and Lower Towns were destroyed in the fighting during the previous decades and the walls were badly damaged.
Two streets, Knez Mihailova and Uzun-Mirkova lead to the Belgrade Fortress. The two main gates on that side are the Stambol Gate(Stambol-kapija) (inner and outer) and the Clock Gate (Sahat-kapija). The mediaeval fortress was entered from the east (alongside today’s Zoological Garden), through the Prison Gate (Zindan kapija) and the Despot’s Gate (Despotova kapija) in the Upper Town. The Lower Town is approached via Bulevar vojvode Bojovica (via the Vidin Gate – Vidin-kapija) and from Karadordeva street (the Dark Gate -Mracna kapija).
The Upper Town
At the entrance to the Upper Town was the broad fortress plateau known as Kalemegdan. After the withdrawal of the Turks in the second half of the 19th century the plateau was turned into a park. Parts of the walls and some individual buildings from different periods have been preserved in the Upper Town, of which the most important are:
The Gallery of the Museum of Natural history
This building was erected between 1825 and 1835 to be used as a guard post for the main access route to the Stambol Gate. Themed and academic exhibitions of natural history, lectures, book promotions and presentations are held in the Gallery. On the Large Ravelin (Veliki ravelin) behind the Gallery is an outdoor theater.
This was founded in 1878 but was not opened to the public until 1904 on the 100th anniversary of the First Serbian Uprising. It contains more than 40,000 exhibits illustrating military and historic events in Serbia from ancient times up to the Second World War. Part of the exhibition is in the open.
The Clock tower (Sahat kula)
At the end of the 17th century the Venetian builder Andrea Cornaro built what is now the Clock Gate. As you pass through the gate you can see high up on the archway the remains of the original Austrian narrow brickwork dating from the time of its construction. The tower which houses the clock dates from the period from 1740 to 1789 and has clear elements of the Baroque style. On the 27.5 m high tower is a clock with a central mechanism and weights which are still in working order. There is a cell where the guard, weapons and various other items of military equipment were housed.
Belgrade Fortress Museum
This is located within the South Gate (Južna kapija). Statues from Roman times, three large models of the fortress from the 15th century, made in 1735 and 1790, tools belonging to the builders of the fortress, weapons and equipment are exhibited in it.
Damad Ali Pascha’s Mausoleum (Damad-Ali Pašino turbe)
This is one of the few examples of Islamic architecture that have been preserved in Belgrade. The mausoleum (‘turbe’) is a covered grave, a small tomb on a hexagonal base built in 1783.
This building was erected at the end of the 19th century for use by the Serbian Army. The Institute was founded in 1960 charged with research into, scientific study, appraisal and protection of the cultural and historical heritage of Belgrade.
The Roman Well (Rimski bunar)
Its present appearance was given to it by the Austrians in the period of 1721-1731. It was built to provide the Fortress with a more secure water supply. It was given the name ‘Roman’ on the basis of legends, which ascribe the well, whose origins are now forgotten, to the Romans. The well is about 60 m deep, and the water level can be reached down a spiral staircase of 35m.
The victor Monument (“Pobednik”)
This instantly recognizable Belgrade monument, the work of the sculptor Ivan Meštrovic, is dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the breaching of the Macedonian (Salonika) Front. The monument is 14 m high, and the bronze sculpture represents a warrior with a sword in his right hand and a hawk in his left. It was originally intended to be placed in the center of Belgrade on Terazije, but the nude male figure led to protests from the public of the day.
The Ruins of Despot Stefan Lazarević’s Castle
This was constructed in the 15th century during the reign of Despot Stefan Lazarevic. The castle was almost completely destroyed during fighting between the Austrians and the Turks at the end of the 17th century. During the middle ages this was a pedestrian passage between the Upper and Lower Towns. It was named after the ‘defterdar’ – the man who kept the books in the Turkish army. The gate took on its present appearance in the 18th century.
The Monument to Despot Stefan Lazarević
This work by the sculptor Nebojša Mitric was unveiled in 1981. The bronze statue is 3.2 m high and depicts Despot Stefan during whose reign Belgrade first became the capital of the Serbian state. The pedestal shows motives of medieval symbolism and is inscribed with the words “I have found the most beautiful ancient place, the great city of Belgrade”.
Mehmed-Paša Sokolović’s Fountain (Česma Mehmed-Paše Sokolovića)
This fountain was erected in 1576 as the endowment of Mehmed-Paša Sokolovic, the Turkish Grand Vizier, who originated from Bosnia. Mehmed-Paša was a Serb by birth and was taken from his home town as a child and converted to Islam.
The Despot’s Gate (Despotova kapija) and the Castellan’s Tower (Dizdareva kula)
In the Middle Ages the main entrance to the Belgrade Fortress was located here. Alongside the gate is the massive square Despot’s or Castellan’s Tower, which today houses the Observatory of the Ruder Boškovic Astronomical Society.
The Prison Gate complex (Zindan kapija)
This semicircular fortification was built in the middle of the 15th century and consists of a gate topped by an arch with two round towers armed with cannon. As far as can be ascertained, the cellars of the towers were used by the Turks as prisons for Christians (‘zindan’ in Turkish means prison).
The Rose Church (Crkva Ružica)
An old church of the same name stood here during the time of Despot Stefan Lazarevic, but was demolished by the Turks during the capture of Belgrade. It is in a building which originally served as a gunpowder store. When the fortress passed into Serbian hands in 1867, it was converted into a church. The iconostasis is the work of the monk and painter Rafailo Momcilovic. The works on the walls, which show scenes from the life of the Holy Mother of God and portraits of prominent people (Aleksandar Karadordevic, Nikola Pašic and others) are the work of the painter Andrej Bicenko. Bronze figures of a mediaeval Serbian knight and a soldier from the First World War by N.P. Krasnov were placed at the entrance to the church in 1924.
St Petka’s Chapel (Kapela Svete Petke)
Construction of the church began in 1935 on the site of an older chapel, on top of a spring that is believed to have miracle-working and healing powers for women. It was completed on St Petka Paraskeva’s Day, 27th October 1937. The design for the church was done by the architect Momir Korunovic. During the excavation of the foundations for St Petka’s Chapel the bones of some Serbian soldiers, who had perished in the defense of Belgrade in 1914-15, were dug up and these were transferred to the charnel house built into the walls of Jakšic’s Tower.
The Lower Town
The entire area of the Fortress along the river banks comprises the Lower Town, and it was here in the Middle Ages that the main part of the settlement of Belgrade which had been walled by Despot Stefan Lazarevic was situated. The most notable of the buildings that have been preserved are:
The old Turkish Baths or Amam were built during the 18th century. Up until 1690 the site of the Amam was occupied by a gunpowder store, which was destroyed in an explosion together with the surrounding buildings and part of the old wall. At the end of the 19th century it was converted into army kitchens. Since 1970 it has housed the Planetarium of the Ruder Boškovic Astronomical Society.
The Army Mess or the Cannon Foundry
This dates from the second half of the 17th century and is of stone and brick construction. After capturing the Fortress in the Serbian Uprising, Karadorde’s men used this building as a cannon foundry. After the return of the Turks in 1813 it was once again converted into an army mess. Today the building houses a section of the Archaeological Institute of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts (SANU).
Vidin Gate (Vidin kapija)
This was built by the Austrians in the 17th century as part of the defense system of the south-east face of the fortress towards the Danube. The original gate was demolished by the Turks and it was replaced in the middle of the 18th century with today’s Vidin Gate. Next to the gate is a coach park.
The gunpowder store (Barutana)
The large gunpowder store was sunk into the walls of the western foundations during the extensive Austrian reconstruction of the Belgrade Fortress. This was built from 1718 to 1720 as a safe gunpowder store, away from enemy artillery. One of the halls now houses a display of Roman stone monuments, stellas, sarcophagi and altars which have been collected over the years and brought here from numerous sites in Belgrade, Kosmaj and Kostolac. From time to time, concerts and theatrical performances are held in the Barutana.
Nebojša’s Tower (Kula Nebojša)
This, the best preserved and largest medieval cannon tower in the Belgrade Fortress, was built about 1460 on the banks of the river to protect the entrance to the harbour. The Tower, which has a ground floor and four other floors, is about 22 m high and stands on an octagonal base, Under Turkish rule it was converted into a prison and a torture house, where the Greek revolutionary and poet Rigas Feraios (Riga od Fere) was executed. During the war years from 1914-15 the Tower suffered major damage and was rebuilt in 1938.