Danube Virtual Museum

Belgrade Fortress

Belgrade Fortress is a multi-layered and intricate monumental complex formed over a long period of time - from the 2nd to the 18th century. The first fort, a Roman legionary camp used as a permanent military camp of the IIII Flavia legion, was built on the area of the present day Fortress in the second century AD. In its function, it was one of the important military strongholds on this border of the Roman Empire. After being destroyed by the Goths in 378 and then again by the Huns in 441, the fort was reconstructed in the early decades of the 6th century. Less than a century later, it was destroyed by the Avars and Slavs.

The first Slav settlement, known by the late 9th century as Belgrade to the contemporaries, was formed on the ruins of this ancient fort. In that early period of the Middle Ages, new forts were not built. Instead, old ancient walls were used for defence. It was not until the mid-12th century, under Byzantine rule and the reign of Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180), that construction of a new medieval fortification, a castle in the corner of today's Upper Town began.

Further development of the Belgrade fortress was influenced by aspiration of the Serbian rulers to consolidate their state border on the banks of the Sava and Danube. As a result of these desires, a new fortified lower town, connected to the castle on the hill, was built on the banks of the Sava River in the first part of the 14th century. However, the main medieval fortifications were built in the early 15th century, when Belgrade became the capital of Serbia. Existing fortifications were rebuilt; Despot Stefan’s court was built in the old castle, while a new war port on the Sava was added to the existing one. At the same time, a new fort was built at the Upper Town, surrounded by double walls, similar to most of the urban settlement at the Lower Town. In this way, the defended area of the Fortress was increased tenfold. Belgrade fortifications built during this period are one of the best examples of Serbian military architecture. Later, in the 15th century, some parts of fortification were reconstructed and adapted for the effects of artillery - the polygonal cannon tower, today’s Nebojša Tower near the river bank, as well as the fortified lower town to the east with another similar cannon – the Jakšić Tower.

Belgrade Fortress did not undergo any significant reconstruction in the period between 1521, when the Turks conquered it and the end of the 17th century. A new era began with the Austro-Turkish War in 1688. As a key fort in the middle of the war, which lasted until the late 18th century, the Fortress was reconstructed three times. The old castle was demolished, while a large part of the medieval ramparts was covered by new fortifications. During the Austrian rule (1717-1739) new bastion artillery fortifications, based on the principles of the defence system of military engineer Marshal Vauban, were built. This was done according to plans and under the supervision of a military engineer Nicolas de Doxat Moret, a Swiss in the service of the Hapsburg court. After the construction of new modern fortifications, Belgrade Fortress became one of the strongest defensive strongholds in south-eastern Europe. However, the Austrian military defeat and the loss of Belgrade, under a peace treaty, was followed with the demolition of all the newly built fortifications. Turks, rebuilding the destroyed fortifications, attempted to restore this important stronghold for defence. During that period, until the late 18th century, the Belgrade Fortress got its final form.

In the following sequence of historical events, during the 19th and 20th centuries, the Fortress gradually lost its military significance. After the World Wars, during which the Fortress suffered significant destruction, decades of research and reconstruction work began, which is still ongoing.

(Text: Belgrade City Museum)