Belgrade fortress

Kalemegdan is the favorite city park for both Belgradians and visitors. No matter what time of a year, you will always bump into people walking, socializing, contemplating or just enjoying the moment. However, history tells the story of a different time when Belgrade Fortress was soaked in blood of more than six million people who died in numerous battles for this fortress.
Its name is derived from the Turkish expressions 'kale', which means fort, fortified town and 'megdan' that stands for field.


The Monument of gratitude to France was erected in 1930 and dedicated to the French assistance and friendship to Serbia in the WWI. Central sculpture is woman with sword that symbolizes France rushing towards Serbia to give needed help. Pedestal is decorated with two illustrations: 'Woman with children' that represents Sorbonne's assistance in education and 'Warriors' that symbolizes French and Serbian soldiers in the WWI.
Serbs were Francophiles for a long time and French was the second language in Serbian. However, during war in Bosnia, France media and the country led anti-Serb propaganda. Than came NATO bombing and with bombing, another disappointment, which can be characterized as the biggest and final.
The whole monument was wrapped in black fabric and a sign saying 'Eternal glory to France which no longer exists' was placed next to it. Of course, that didn't last for a long time and friendly relationship between Serbia and France was restored short after democratic government came into power in 2000.


This fountain was made by Serbian sculptor Simeun Roksandić and presented on a large Balkans Exhibition in London, in 1907. It is interesting that there is identical sculpture in Zagreb, which was casted after Roksandić was misinformed that the ship with the sculpture sunk on its way to Belgrade.


From the promenade overlooking the Sava River you have the best view of New Belgrade. Until the end of the WWII, New Belgrade was partly sandy terrain and partly swamp. Only inhabited part was former Belgrade Fair, today called Staro sajmište and it was connected to Old Belgrade by bridge, which was destroyed at the beginning of the war. From this place old road led to Zemun, today part of Belgrade.
During the WWII, former Belgrade Fair was transformed into the concentration camp. It is estimated that 100,000 prisoners passed through Staro sajmište and 48,000 of them were killed in gas chambers. When this camp was closed, Jews were sent to camps in Central Europe and other prisoners, mostly Serbs and Romanies, were shot in Belgrade's vicinity.
After the end of WWII, youth volunteers built most of today's New Belgrade. Latterly, New Belgrade has become increasingly popular for living and working, since most of new apartments, offices and shopping malls are built here.


Roman Well is a site of horrifying stories and mysteries. Even Alfred Hitchcock commented the creepiness of the Roman Well during his visit to Belgrade. So far, historians didn't determine its age, nor function. According to different sources, well was built either by Romans two thousand years ago or by Austrians only several hundred years ago.
It is sixty meters deep and almost three and a half meters wide, and has a spiral staircase for each direction, with resting place for men and horses. This is not a real well and it is unclear how water gets there at all. It also served as a grain silos and a dungeon.
In the 15th century, Turks besieged Belgrade. At that time, they reached an agreement with the Hungarian garrison that guarded the fort to surrender it for a certain amount of money. News of the treason reached Hungary, which sent army to drive the enemy off from the already opened town gates. The conspirators, 37 of them, were thrown to the bottom of the Roman Well to die of starvation. After a while, when it was clear that they have become insane from hunger, knives were thrown to them, which they allegedly used to kill and eat each other.
Roman Well has never been thoroughly explored. There were some attempts of digging towards the Sava River, which failed due to the hardness of the rock. During the Second World War, attempt of Germans to search the well drew the biggest attention of public. It was believed that Germans have plans of underground Belgrade, which they received from Austrians and used them to explore all tunnels and aqueducts.
Exploration lasted through entire time of Belgrade occupation and apparently, it helped them to escape from the city before Russian army marched in Belgrade. Yet seems that the well was fatal for two Germans divers who explored its bottom. It was said that they disappeared and were never found. It is suspected that the well is connected to the river through siphons, which sucked two divers and never throw them out to the surface of the well or river.
A couple of movies were inspired with Roman Well and its mystery. One of them is about a Belgradian who took his mistress to a walk and pushed her to abyss. What made the story even more horrifying is that the girl's body was discovered ten days later, when it rose to the surface. During investigation murderer was caught and identified after public transport ticket with the same serial number as the one found with the girl.


Monument to the Victor was erected in 1928, at the 10th anniversary of the breakthrough of the Thessaloniki front. The Thessaloniki front was sort of a blitzkrieg, but this type of warfare was introduced as an official concept in the WWII. After breaching the front, Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary capitulated within several days.
German Emperor Wilhelm II called it a disgrace that 62,000 Serbian soldiers had decided the war. During the WWI and Austro-Hungarian occupation, 1,300,000 Serbs were killed, which represented 60% of men population at that time.
The Victor Monument is a work of sculptor Ivan Meštrović, who was considered the greatest sculptor of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Its pedestal is made of stone, while the sculpture representing a man with a pigeon is made of bronze (14 meters high). Initially, city government wanted to place it at Terazije Square, at that time central part of the city. Due to too much nudity of the male figure, Belgradians disagreed with this decision and requested from government to move it further from the city center.They place it at the furthest city spot, which ironically turned out to be the most visited city attraction today. Monument to the Victor is recognized as a symbol of Belgrade.


The Great and adjoining Little War Island have played an important role in defense and conquests of Belgrade. As well as in Zemun or Belgrade, authority over islands changed from time to time and at one point it was divided between the Turkish and Austro-Hungarian empires at the same time.
The Great War Island divides Danube flow into main and secondary flow. In early times, strong Danube currents deposited and broke off large parts of the island, which made navigation difficult. At the end of the WWII, two German barges hit a mine and sank almost instantly. Sometimes when water level is low, wrecks of the barges can be seen protruding from water.
Today, Great War Island is a preserve of numerous endangered bird species. On the side facing Zemun is a public sandy beach often called Lido. There were some plans to transform island into memorial dedicated to Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito or to build new Belgrade Zoo and move it from Belgrade Fortress. Luckily, lack of funds saved this island from disaster.
However, on some occasions as in 2003 when music festival was held on the War Island, many rare birds were forced to leave and some of them even died due to the excessive noise. Presence of game on the Great War Island became apparent during the great floods in 2006. Danube flooded the entire island and roe deer appeared on the New Belgrade side.
Great War Island is reachable only by boat, except during summer when a floating bridge connects island with mainland.


Mehmed Pasha Sokolović, born as a Serb but brought up as janissary, was an Ottoman statesman and distinguished person of Sultan's trust, awarded with the highest title of Vizier. He was sentimentally attached to his Serbian roots and known as a great builder. Unfortunately, the only trace of his presence in Belgrade is fountain in Kalemegdan Park. It was built in the second half of 16th century by Pasha itself and it is among rare remains from Ottoman period. Fountain is in use from 2006, after restoration and adaptation works had been carried out.


According to a legend, Nebojša Tower (Nebojša in Serbian means 'fearless') was never conquered. After Turkish conquest of Belgrade Fortress, it flew into the sky, landed into the Lower Town and remained unconquered. However, Nebojša Tower that stands in the Lower Town today is not the one from the legend.
The original Nebojša Tower truly flew, but from an explosion in gunpowder warehouse. Along with the tower, the entire area called Little Kalemegdan was destroyed. This Nebojša Tower inherited name, but not the looks from its legendary 'predecessor'. It is lower than original, has five stories and six-gun ports. Its first name was White or Timisoara Tower.
After Belgrade Port lost its significance on Danube, Turks turned Nebojša Tower into the most famous Belgrade dungeon. They had custom not to kill its political enemies, but to exile them. That way enemy would die from starvation, diseases or cold and not by doing something big and heroic, which would give them the title of martyr.
The most famous prisoner was Constantine Rhigas, better known as Rigas Feraios or in Serbian, Riga od Fere. He was Greek poet and a member of the Filiki Eteria society, which wanted to organize Balkan rebellion against Turkish rule in 18th century. He was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower. Rhigas died from strangulation and his body was thrown into the Danube. A street near Kalemegdan Park bears his name and his monument is situated in it.
Today, Nebojša Tower is museum in which visitors can see fragments from its history. In addition, one floor is dedicated to the First Serbian Uprising, as well as to Serbia and Greece as modern countries. Special part of Tower is dedicated to Rigas Feraios and other prisoners.


Ružica Church, dedicated to Assumption of Mary, is the oldest church in Belgrade. When Turks conquered Belgrade in 16th century, they it as a gunpowder depot. Church was restored in 19th century and named Ružica, which means 'little rose'.
For a while, it served the Serbian army and in 1924, two sculptures were added at the entrance of the church. The first one represents knight from the Kosovo battle and the second is Serbian soldier from the WWI. Ružica Church is known after its unique chandelier and decoration made of ammunition casings.


Beneath the Ružica Church stands the Chapel of Saint Petka dedicated to the most popular female saint among Serbs.
It is believed that wherever a church of Saint Petka exists, a miraculous spring appears. People say that water from this spring has healing powers. The present-day chapel was built on foundations of an older one in 1937.


Hungarians built Zindan Gate in 15th century. The term 'zindan' is of Turkish origin and it means dungeon. The gate got that name after Belgrade fell under Turkish rule.
Primarily, Zindan Gate was very strong military stronghold, but historians assume that it became dungeon after losing its importance as fortress gate.


Despot Gate and Castellan Tower is often referred as to Eastern Upper town’s Gate. During the Middle Ages this was the main entrance to the Belgrade’s Fortress. Alongside with the north-eastern rampart, it represents the best preserved segment of the medieval Upper Town dating from the first half of the fifteenth century. The Despot’s Gate, which is the only one preserved in its original state, consisted of double ramparts, two gates – one corresponding to the inner and other to the outer rampart.
The inner gate had a defensive balcony – ‘masikula’. Underneath there was a niche for the icon of the woman protector of the town. Beside the gate there is also a massive quadrangular Castellan’s Tower. It owns its name to the fact that it was the home of a castellan – Fortress commander in the eighteen century. This tower was severely damaged during the bombing of Belgrade in 1915. It has been partly reconstructed in 1938. At the end of the seventies of the last century, the tower’s top and tines were reconstructed. The Castellan’s Tower currently houses the Observatory of the Astronomical Society 'Ruđer Boskovic'.


The building of Sahat Gate and Clock Tower started under the Austrian, but finished under the Turkish rule in 18th century. Venetian Andreo Cornaro led construction of both buildings. The Clock or Sahat Tower, rising above the gate, is among few buildings that have preserved its original and authentic look from the time when it was built. You can visit Clock Tower every day, from 11:00 to 19:00.
After passing Sahat Gate and Tower, you will see tanks, guns and other military ordnance, which represent part of the nearby Military Museum display. Military Museum was founded in 1878 and it has a large collection from prehistoric times until nowadays wars. Arms, uniforms, flags, decorations, maps, models, dioramas, photographs are all kept in the Museum, which Austria-Hungarian and Germany armies robbed during WWI and WWII.
A small part of the collection had been retrieved and Military Museum created a new display. Most of the exhibited pieces was used in attacks or seldom in defense of Belgrade.


At the entrance of Upper Town stands Inner Stambol Gate that was named after the road that led towards Istanbul. It was built around 1750 and represented one of main gates in southeastern side of fortress.
It had double door strengthen with iron sheeting, side premises and casemates. In front of this gate, Prince Mihailo received keys of Belgrade from Turks, which marked end of their ruling era in Serbia. Today, Inner Stambol Gate houses little souvenir shop and info stand.


The gate that connects Great Kalemegdan with the Upper Town (right from Inner Stambol Gate) is named after Karađorđe, Serbian leader and organizer of the First Serbian Rising. He passed through it during siege of Belgrade Fortress in 1807 and after that, the gate got its name.
Karađorđe, which in Turkish means Black Đorđe, was thorn in Turkish side. They have tried to erase memory of his passage through that gate by immuring it and demolishing the bridge, which led to Great Kalemegdan. That attempt was short-lived since Karađorđe Gate was renovated and reopened after the Second World War.


Once, Gallery of Natural History Museum accommodated guards of the Stambol Gate. Although it was built around 1840, first restoration and adaptation works were done from 1992 - 94. After that, Gallery of Natural History Museum got its 'house' at Belgrade Fortress. Although it has small space, Gallery regularly hosts different bigger or smaller exhibitions that are dealing with numerous nature themes.


The first exhibition space in Serbia was open in Belgrade in 1928 and it was named after Cvijeta Zuzorić, famous medieval poet from Dubrovnik. This pavilion gathered distinguished Belgrade artists to plant 'art roots' in Serbia. Today, it has the largest exhibition space and is the seat of the Association of Fine Artists of Serbia (ULUS). The pavilion hosts collective and solo exhibitions, Autumn and May Art Salons, October salon, Spring exhibition, Biennale of small drawing and prints, Retrospectives of famous authors.