HISTORY OF THE BELGRADE FORTRESS
The city-fortress was first established in the 3rd century BC. For centuries, the city population lived within the walls of the fortress. Thus, its history was also the history of Belgrade.
Today, the fortress is a beautiful place, right in the heart of the city. You can go there to escape from the crowds in the city, away from the noise and the traffic. You can also spend a peaceful afternoon there, surrounded by history, while you enjoy the views.
The Belgrade Fortress is divided in the Upper and Lower Town and Kalemegdan Park. Unfortunately, the lower section is slightly neglected, despite the fact that it contains some historically important structures. Anyway, you should go to see the Upper Town and Kalemedgan Park.
The main entrance to the park starts at the end of Prince Mihailo street.
That’s also where you can see a place where in 1867 they read Sultan Abdulaziz’s ferman, by which the fortresses of Belgrade, Kladovo, Smederevo and Šabac were handed over to Prince Mihailo Obrenović and the Serbian Army. It meant the end of the Ottoman occupation of those parts of Serbia.
“A LA FRANCE” MONUMENT
Next, you will come across the “A La France” monument. Unveiled in November 1930, 12 years after the end of the First World War, it represents gratitude to France for her military aid during and after the war and it also honours French soldiers who lost their lives while defending Belgrade in 1915.
The monument is by one of the greatest Yugoslavian sculptors of all times – Ivan Meštrović. The Belgrade city authorities thoroughly restored it in 2018.
The monument stands as a symbol of the eternal friendship between people of Serbia and France.
“UNHAPPY FISHERMAN” FOUNTAIN
In the vicinity of the “A La France” monument, you will see the “Unhappy Fisherman” fountain, by Simeon Roksandić. Famous for his bronzes and fountains, he was one of the most renowned sculptors in Serbia and Yugoslavia. He also made the same fountain for the Jesuit Square in Zagreb.
The Promenade and the Vista Point are one of several points within the fortress from where you have the best views of the city.
It starts with the Small Staircase on one side, directly opposite the French Embassy.
On the other side, it ends with the Grand Staircase. I mentioned this staircase in my post, “Work in Progress”, from last year. At that time, it was under restoration because it was in a terrible state. The staircase looks magnificent now and it certainly adds to the beauty of the whole park complex.
From the Promenade, you can see the Sava river and New Belgrade on the opposite side. You can also see the Belgrade Waterfront construction site and bridges over the river.
The Military Museum, founded in 1878, contains over 3000 ancient and modern artefacts. The collection includes Roman swards and helmets, Greek daggers, Serbian heavy knight’s armours, axes, shields, crossbows, armoured gloves and also western medieval weapons.
There are also more modern guns, firearms and elements of soldier’s uniforms and equipment. The first permanent display opened in 1904 and it coincided with the 100th anniversary of the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman rulers.
From there, the path takes you towards the central and the most prominent area of the fortress.
The Victor is the symbol of Belgrade and its most famous landmark, erected in 1928. It commemorates Serbia’s victory over Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires during the First and the Second Balkan Wars and the First World War.
The monument is a standing bronze male figure with a falcon in the left and a sword in the right hand, as symbols of peace and war. It is on a pedestal in the form of a Doric column, on a tall cubic base. The statue looks forward, across the confluence of Sava and Danube and over the vast Pannonian plain, the area that belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire until 1918.
A big scandal followed the creation of this statue. They originally wanted to erect this monument in the centre of Belgrade. However, the public challenged the erection of the monument in the city centre on moral and artistic grounds. The public made claims that the statue of a nude man insulted and damaged morality of chaste Belgrade ladies and girls. Thus, after a lot controversy, debate and criticism, they put it in its current position within the fortress.
In the photo below, you can see the newly restored monument.
To get to the section where the Victor is, you have to pass through the King’s Gate, which is one of several remaining original gates that led into the fortress.
It dates between 1690 and 1696.
As soon as you pass the King’s Gate, you will come across the “Roman Well”. Strangely, the well has nothing to do with Rome or Roman times, although it’s called like that. Rather, it was constructed between 1720 and 1731, when the Austrians ruled the Belgrade Fortress.
The well was a military edifice and it represented the most advanced fortification architecture at the time. You can also visit the well, but they charge the entrance fee.
INSTITUTE FOR PROTECTION OF CULTURAL MONUMENTS
A building that you can see in the photo below, opposite the Victor monument, houses the Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments in Belgrade.
Built between 1902 and 1904, it was severely damaged in the 1915 bombing of Belgrade, during the First World War. The original building was in the style of Academicism.
However, after the 1919/1920 reconstruction, it assumed the style of a traditional 19th century Balkan townhouse, as the half-timbered structure with Ottoman elements.
CONFLUENCE OF SAVA AND DANUBE
The best view of the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers is from a point where the Victor is. It’s a truly magnificent image of two big rivers merging together, which no other European capital city has.
The view is especially captivating in the spring and the summer, with lush greenery everywhere and images of sprawling New Belgrade across the river.
DAMAT ALI PASHA’S TURBE
The Damat Ali Pasha’s Turbe, named after the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, during the reign of Sultan Ahmed III. It was built in 1784, on the grave of Izzet Mehmed Pasha, another Grand Vizier and governor of Belgrade. The turbe was badly damaged during the First Serbian Uprising. So, the Ottoman governor of Serbia, Marashli Ali Pasha, reconstructed it in 1819 and dedicated it to Damat Ali Pasha.
Another two governors that only administered the fortress, as Serbia gained autonomy, were also buried there: Selim Sirri Pasha in 1847 and Hasan Pasha in 1850. It is one of the very few remaining Ottoman architecture monuments in Belgrade.
The Defterdar Gate, built in the last decade of the 17th century, is directly opposite the Sahat Gate. Through this gate, you can go to the Lower Town.
SOKOLLU MEHMED PASHA FOUNTAIN
Of all Ottoman heritage in Belgrade, perhaps the Sokollu Mehmed Pasha fountain is the most significant. I’ve already written about this Ottoman Pasha in my post “Ottoman Istanbul”. He was Serbian, abducted by the Ottomans at a young age and taken to Istanbul. There, he was converted to Islam and educated in the Topkapi Palace.
He became the Grand Vizier under the rule of Selim II and after Selim’s death, he ruled the empire together with Selim’s formidable wife Nurbanu Sultan.
His significance in the Ottoman history is reflected by the magnificent Sokollu Mehmed Pasha mosque in the historical part of Istanbul, not far from the Blue Mosque. In fact, there are two mosques with his name in Istanbul.
The Serbian version of his name is Mehmed Paša Sokolović. The fountain was built in 1576 – 1577.
DESPOT STEFAN TOWER
The Despot Stefan Tower is one of the oldest constructions within the fortress, built around 1405, several years after the city became the capital of the Serbian Despotate, under despot Stefan Lazarević.
The Zindan Gate was built in the mid-15th century, between two round towers. From the 18th century, the Ottoman rulers used the towers’ basement as dungeons and the gate’s name originates from the Turkish word for dungeon – zindan.
The Leopold’s Gate is immediately next to the Zindan Gate. In fact, you first pass through this gate and then you arrive to the Zindan Gate. Construction of this gate started in 1688, during the first Austrian occupation of Belgrade.
The gate is one of the most representative Baroque gates of the Belgrade Fortress. The facade is in the German-Baroque architecture, with Tuscan influences.
The Ružica Church is also within the Belgrade Fortress. The Ottomans demolished the original church with the same name in 1521. In the 18th century, the site was a gunpowder storage.
The church was further damaged during the First World War and rebuilt by the Russian architect in 1925.
SAINT PETKA CHURCH
The Saint Petka Church, built in 1937, is immediately next to the The Ružica Church. It’s small but beautifully decorated with mosaics.
The Clock Tower is also one of the most important constructions within the Belgrade Fortress. The Venetian architect Andrea Cornaro built it in 1789. The gate under the tower has the same name.
INNER STAMBOL GATE
The Inner Stambol Gate, built around 1750 and named after Istanbul, was the main gate of the fortress, within the second city wall.
OUTER STAMBOL GATE
Constructed in the mid-18th century, the Outer Stambol Gate does not have any sculptural decorations. It is representative of the utilitarian architectural style of the Ottoman period.
GALLERY OF THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
The Gallery of the Natural History Museum in the Kalemegdan Park serves for exhibitions, educational workshops and conferences. It’s a small gallery, but it contains a lot of of interesting exhibits.
The Serbian leader of the First Serbian Uprising passed through the Karadjordje Gate, to conquer the fortress from the Ottomans, in 1806. The gate is from the 18th century.
CVIJETA ZUZORIĆ ART PAVILLION
The Cvijeta Zuzorić Art Pavilion, built in 1928, in the Art Deco architectural style, was the first venue specifically built in Belgrade as an art gallery. Cvijeta Zuzorić was a famous 16th century poet and benefactor from Dubrovnik.
It’s a small zoo, but it contains a lot of animals and it’s definitely worth a visit. The most recent addition to the zoo were two hyenas.
They neglected it for a long time but, in recent times, the zoo made a lot of effort to improve conditions in which they keep animals. Thus, the newly renovated enclosures look good and spacious.
However, the works are ongoing in the large part of the zoo. It will certainly be interesting to visit it when they finish everything.
Everyone coming to Belgrade will inevitably visit the Belgrade Fortress. It’s a magical place where you can easily spend several hours, perhaps even the whole day.
It’s also a place from where you can see the breath taking confluence of Belgrade’s two rivers.
If you go to Belgrade, make sure that you don’t miss this fortress.