Belgrade Fortress

Belgrade Fortress

Belgrade Fortress (Serbian: Београдска тврђава / Beogradska tvrđava), consists of the old citadel (Upper and Lower Town) and Kalemegdan Park (Large and Little Kalemegdan) on the confluence of the River Sava and Danube, in an urban area of modern Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. It is located in Belgrade’s municipality of Stari Grad. Belgrade Fortress was declared a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979, and is protected by the Republic of Serbia.

Belgrade Fortress is the core and the oldest section of the urban area of Belgrade. For centuries the city population was concentrated only within the walls of the fortress, and thus the history of the fortress, until most recent times, equals the history of Belgrade itself.

Some 115 battles have been fought over imposing, impressive Kalemegdan, the citadel was destroyed more than 40 times throughout the centuries. Much of what stands today is the product of 18th-century Austro-Hungarian and Turkish reconstructions

History

It was founded in the 3rd century BC but was being repeatedly destroyed in the invasions by the Goths and the Huns. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I rebuilt the Fortress around 535. In the following centuries the fortress suffered continuous destruction by successive waves of invaders and was rebuilt as a castle in the 12th century.

In 1521, 132 years after the Battle of Kosovo, the fortress, like most parts of the Serbian state, was conquered by the Turks and remained (with short periods of the Austrian and Serbian occupation), under the rule of the Ottoman Empire until the year 1867, when the Turks withdrew from Belgrade and Serbia. During the short period of Austrian rule (1718–1738), the fortress was largely rebuilt and modernized. It witnessed the Great Serbian Migration in the 17th century and two Serbian Uprisings in the 19th century, during the Turkish Period. The fortress suffered further damage during the First and the Second World Wars. After almost two millennia of continuous sieges, battles and conquests, the fortress is today known as the Belgrade Fortress. The present name of Kalemegdan Park derives from two Turkish words, kale (fortress) and meydan (battlefield) (literally, “battlefield fortress”).

Belgrade Fortress is generally divided into four sections:

Donji Grad (Доњи Град or “Lower Town”) occupies the slope towards the riversides, from the top spot (ridge where “The Victor” is). Between the lowest section and the Danube is Kula Nebojša (“Impregnable, Fearless, or Daredevil Tower”), which has been turned into a museum of the Greek revolutionary Rigas Feraios, who was strangled by the Turks in this tower and his corpse thrown into the Danube. Donji Grad, like the neighboring Savamala, frequently suffers from flooding, and Kula Nebojša suffered extensive damage during the major floods of 2006. The Orthodox churches of Ružica (former Austrian gun depot) and Sveta Petka are also located in this area, as is the Belgrade Planetarium.

Gornji Grad (Горњи Град or “Upper Town”) the upper section of fortress, turned into a park, with beautiful promenades and the statue of “The Victor” (Serbian Pobednik), the so-called “Roman well” (Serbian Rimski bunar), actually built by the Austrians, the Popular Observatory, the türbe (tomb) of Damad Ali Pasha, tennis and basketball courts.

Mali Kalemegdanski park (Мали Калемегдански парк or “Little Kalemegdan Park”) it occupies the area in the eastern section, which borders the urban section of Belgrade. The northern section of Little Kalemegdan Park is occupied by the Belgrade zoo, opened in 1936. The art pavilion Cvijeta Zuzorić is also located here.

Veliki Kalemegdanski park (Велики Калемегдански парк or “Large Kalemegdan Park”) it occupies the southern corner of fortress, with geometrical promenades, the Military Museum, the Museum of Forestry and Hunting, and the Monument of Gratitude to France.

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Fortress

The UPPER TOWN is in the heart of the fortress, it was Belgrade’s last line of defence and the place of residence of the city commanders. In the days of Roman Empire it was rectangular in shape, and although it grew substantially in the Middle Ages, its walls remained parallel, with numerous turrets for archers. With the emergence of artillery weapons, the Upper Town expanded further and was fortified with a new system of defensive walls with triangular ravelins and bastions. Today these ramparts conceal many secluded spots for couples in love. The most recognisable attraction in Upper Town is The Victor, the symbol of Belgrade, a male figure cast in bronze, with a sword in his right hand and a falcon in his left. The sculpture is 14m high and is mounted on a stone pedestal, facing Zemun. It is the work of Ivan Meštrović, unveiled in 1928, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of breaching the Salonika Front, a great victory achieved by Serbian Army in the WWI. It was originally intended to be placed in Terazije Square, but the idea of having a realistic presentation of a nude male in the centre of the city caused a public outcry. The plateau around The Victor commands some of the loveliest views of sunsets you can enjoy in the centre of any capital city in Europe. It also contains a scale model of the castle built by Despot Stefan Lazarević’s in Upper Town in early 15th century (destroyed in a huge explosion of a gunpowder magazine in 1690).

Despot’s Gate is the best preserved part of his medieval castle, built in the first half of the 15th century. It was the main gate to the Upper Town and had a drawbridge. The tower adjoining the gate houses today the Astronomical Observatory. General public is occasionally allowed to use its telescopes to observe the celestial bodies (enquiries number: 3032-133). The north ramparts of the Upper Town are the favourite spot of the Belgrade young for basking in the sun with a guitar and beer or for romantic declarations of love against a backdrop of breathtaking views.

Zindan-Gate was built in the middle of the 15th century and was the best fortified entrance into the fortress. Its vaults served as a dungeon.

The park in the Upper Town is home to Türbe (tomb) of Silahdar Damat Ali Pasha, a Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, who was mortally wounded in a battle against Austro-Hungarian forces led by Prince Eugene of Savoy at Petrovaradin. Two Ottoman commanders of the Belgrade Fortress were also buried here. Just inside the north-west ramparts, next to the Defterdar’s Gate, is the Fountain of Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, a Grand Vezier. He had served under three Ottoman Sultans (including Suleiman the Magnificent who had managed to seize Belgrade from the Christians). Opposite the fountain there used to be the main mosque in the Upper Town.

Roman Well is an intriguing structure, about 60m deep (10m of which are below the Sava bottom) and 3,40m wide, surrounded by many grisly legends. It took its present shape during the Austrian rule in the early 18th century. A double spiral staircase leads from its top to the water level.

Many legends surround the Roman Well, one of Belgrade’s most mysterious attractions, built at the beginning of the 18th century, during the baroque reconstruction of the fortress. It is believed that it was constructed upon a much older one, two thousand year old Roman well, that served to provide water to the Roman castrum in case of siege.

Alfred Hitchcock visited the well in 1964 and said that an environment like that is always a treat for him.

The water in the well is incredibly clean, and is home to an endemic species of tiny crab that lives only there. The source of the water still hasn’t been clearly determined.

Due to high humidity levels, stalactites (cave decorations) have formed around the well.

Opening hours:

Monday – Sunday

11.00 am – 07.00 pm

Tickets:

Single ticket: 120,00 RSD or $1.1

Pupils, students, senior citizens: 60,00 RSD or $0.55

Upper Town also contains the Military Museum and the first Masonic temple in Belgrade, which presently serves as the Gallery of the Natural History Museum. Ružica Church is dedicated to the nativity of the Holy Mother of God. It is the oldest church (that still stands on the same site) in Belgrade. An earlier church of the same name had stood on its site from the days of Despot Stefan Lazarević until it was demolished in the Ottoman conquest of 1521. The present church was initially used as a gunpowder magazine. It was converted into a military church in 1867, when Serbs took over the fortress. Severely damaged in Austrian bombing of the WWI, it was rebuilt in 1925.

The Military Museum is one of Belgrade’s most famous museums, located in the middle of Kalemegdan Park and Belgrade Fortress. The outdoor part of the museum is free to access and is composed of tanks, cannons, war trucks, boats and even a submarine, while the indoor gallery showcases the entire military (and related) history of the region, from the stone age to the latest war of the nineties.

Working hours: 10am to 5pm every day except Mondays.

The museum is closed on: January 1 and 2, January 7, February 15 and 16, November 11

TICKET PRICE

Adults: 150 RSD or $1.36

Adults (group): 120 RSD or $1.1

EURO 26 and ISIC members: 120 RSD or $1.1

Children: 70 RSD or $0.63

Children (group): 50 RSD or $0.45

Army personel:  free

Students of History, Archaeology and History of Art: free

Group visits can be arranged by phone: +38111/33 43 441

Sahat tower (clock tower), the clock tower (Sahat-kula) is situated above Sahat-kapija, a gate that was named after it. The gate is the main entrance to the upper section of the Belgrade fortress.Its appearance, characterised by prominent baroque elements, is a testimony to the period it was built in. Clock towers were a recognisable part of Turkish town centres, but were rarely present inside fortresses, which makes the Belgrade clock tower a unique example.The clock has a central mechanism, weights and two gongs, and it can run for about a week between windings.

Standing 27.5 metres tall, the Sahat-kula is one of the few buildings inside the Belgrade fortress that have not sustained major damage over time, and has retained all of its authentic architectural and stylistic features.

Opening hours:

Monday – Sunday

11.00 am – 07.00 pm

Tickets:

Single ticket: 80,00 RSD or $0.73

Pupils, students, senior citizens: 40,00 RSD or $0.36

LOWER TOWN: during the Middle Ages, this was a thriving settlement with many houses, churches, squares and a market, encompassed by thick walls. There was a harbour for merchant vessels and warships. During a siege, a heavy chain would be drawn across the harbour mouth to block the entry. Nearly all buildings of the Lower Town were swept away in various sieges and bombings. Their ruins are covered by a large lawn, a site of various events and a popular hang-out of dog owners. The few buildings that remain include Charles VI Gate, raised in 1736 to glorify the Habsburg Emperor whose forces conquered Belgrade in 1717 (built in baroque style, it has the character of a triumphal arch), the Turkish Hamam from late 18th century, which today houses the Planetarium of Ruđer Bošković Astronomical Society, remains of the See of the Metropolitan Bishop of Belgrade.

Gunpowder Magazine (Barutana) is also here, carved out in a rock below the Fortress and walled in. Built by Austrians in 1720, today it houses the Roman stone statues, sarcophagi and altars found in Belgrade and its neighbourhood, dating from the 1st to the 4th century AD (at which time, there was a temple to God Mithra below the present gunpowder magazine). The exhibits include “Jonah’s Sarcophagus”, the oldest artefact with Christian motifs found in Belgrade territory. Open: Tue-Sun. 12-17.

Nebojša Tower was built in 1460 as a cannon tower. During the Ottoman rule it was turned into a dungeon and torture chamber where many freedom fighters met violent death, including the famous Greek revolutionary and poet Rigas Feraios who was killed here in 1789. The tower has recently been renovated and you can no longer see the authentic ambiance. Multimedia applications on 4 floors offer various information about the tower, uprisings against the Ottoman Empire and Rigas Feraios. The adjoining building houses a souvenir shop, info centre and toilets. The name Nebojša is ambiguous and can mean fearless or unbreakable. It is also a common male name.

Today Nebojša tower is a unique museum of the history of Belgrade with multimedia installations about medieval Belgrade, the Turkish era, the rising of modern Serbia.

Legend says that when the Turks conquered Belgrade castle, Nebojša tower magically lifted up in the air, and flew out of their reach, to the outskirts of the lower city. (How it changed shape and size, they forgot to mention).

Opening hours:

Wednesday – Sunday

11.00 am – 07.00 pm

Tickets:

Single ticket: 200,00 RSD or $1.81

Pupils, students, senior citizens: 100,00 RSD or $0.91

Kalemegdan Park

Kalemegdan Park was developed as late as 19th century on a plateau between the Belgrade Fortress and settlements that was kept bare in order to better spot the approach of the enemy. During the Ottoman rule, it was also the site of a slave market and a scaffold. The park features numerous sculptures, a bandstand, “Cvijeta Zuzorić” Art Pavilion, the Zoo, amusement park and a playground for children. It is the favourite haunt of chess players, squirrels and couples in love. The main entrance from Kneza Mihaila St is lined with souvenir stands. We recommend a stroll along the promenade above the Sava bank, from the Little Staircase opposite the French Embassy (designed in 1903 by Jelisaveta Načić, the first lady architect in Serbia) to the King’s Gate, below the Victor monument. In the course of your stroll you can enjoy views of New Belgrade and bridges over the Sava. On the other side of the river, between Gazela Bridge and the old railway bridge (lattice girder railway bridge) is the site from which the attack on Belgrade was launched on 28 July 1914, which marked the beginning of the First World War (the opposite bank belonged to Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918).

The Monument of Gratitude to France , a work of art by Ivan Meštrović , built in 1930, was created to express gratitude to the French who had helped the Serbian army in World War I. A bronze figure of a woman with a sword, at the top of the monument, symbolises France , and at the back of the pedestal is the inscription “We love France as she loved us, 1914-1918…” The green area around the monument was made resembling French parks.

The Zoo was established in 1936. It is a great place to visit, it enjoys international fame as the place where many species of animals reproduce successfully, including white lions. In addition to white lions, its greatest attractions are white tigers and white kangaroos. The Zoo is home to the officially oldest alligator in the world named Muya. His exact age is unknown – he arrived in Belgrade in 1937 when he was already an adult. He has survived two major bombings in WW2 (1941 and 1944), which destroyed most of the Zoo and its inhabitants. A special attraction for children is the Baby Zoo, where baby animals born in the Zoo are raised. Open: Mon-Sun. 8-20.

The entrance

Belgrade Fortress area can be entered from both Kalemegdan Park and the Lower Town . The visitors enter the park by big sand paths from Knez Mihailo Street and Uzun Mirko Street, though there are a number of smaller transversal streets used as an entrance to the site. From the Lower Town you can enter the Fortress through Vidin Gate and the Nebojsa Tower.

Entering from Knez Mihailova, go through the 18th-century Karadjordje Gate to reach the Upper Town (Gornji Grad) of the fortress. From the Stambol Gate (1750), you’ll reach the Military Museum and the 27.5m-high Clock Tower. Further along, you’ll see a small brick octagon; this is the 1784 Ali Pasha’s Turbeh (tomb), one of Belgrade’s few well-preserved Islamic monuments. The Roman Well is nearby, a mysterious 60m deep hole (more a cistern than a well) of dubious origin and shrouded in horrifying legends; apparently the well even managed to creep out a visiting Alfred Hitchcock. Looming beside it is the Victor Monument, a symbol of Belgrade erected in 1928 to commemorate Serbia’s victories during the Balkan Wars and WWI.

The traffic in Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan Park zone is forbidden, except for delivery, public service and contractors vehicles, the car parking lot is situated at the Leopold Gate (the road leading to the Zoo entrance).

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