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Belgrade Fortress

Illuminated passageway between two stone fortress walls
Belgrade Fortress

On the tranquil evening when Corie and I took a leisurely stroll around the Belgrade Fortress, it was difficult to imagine the wars, the bloodshed and the constantly changing rule that wove a complex history on the site.

Corie and I were two of the estimated two million people who will visit the fortress this year. As we strolled through the grounds, hundreds of people relaxed on the park benches, atop the fortress’ walls, and the handful of restaurants and bars.

Our day started off at the National Museum of Serbia, just a couple minutes’ walk from our apartment in the center of the city. While it’s not a particularly large museum, it houses an impressive array of artifacts and artwork providing a concise overview of several millennia of human habitation in the area, from the stone-age settlements to a collection of 20th-century Yugoslavian art. The first floor, a timeline of life in the area between the Paleolithic period and the Roman empire, is a must-see stop to put the early site of the fortress into historical perspective.

Archeologists have discovered artifacts showing a small settlement in the area 8000 years ago. Standing atop the fortress under the soaring World War I monument, Victory,  overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Saba rivers, it’s humbling to think our distant ancestors once stood in this same place, taking in a much different view than the cityscape the modern viewer enjoys.

The Homeric world knew of this view, where it is the site of one of the places in the saga of Jason and the Argonauts, where the crew sailed up the Danube from the Black Sea then up the Saba River seeking an outlet into the Adriatic Sea.

Greek chroniclers spoke of Celtic tribes settling the area in the fourth century BC, their Iron-Age technology driving out the Bronze-Age tribes living in the area. A thousand years later, the Celts built a primative wood fortress on the bluff overlooking the rivers’ confluence.

In the first century BC, the Celtic invaders became the invaded as military missions from Rome drove them out. The Romans built their own forts, including the fort at Belgrade that housed more than 5,000 legionnaires.

image of a statue atop a tall pedestal silhouetted by orange and violet clouds at sunset
Pobednik (The Victor) Monument, Belgrade Fortress, Belgrade, Serbia

In the first-century AD, the Romans replaced their wooden constructions with more permanent stone forts.

The Roman era marked one of the longest periods of stability for the city until AD 379 when the Goths invaded the city, followed by an AD 441 sacking by Attila the Hun.

In 1403, a new ruler, Despot Stefan Lazarević, a descendant of the sixth- and seventh-century Slavic herders who migrated to the region, strengthened the city’s fortifications, constructing stone walls from the bluff to the rivers, making it more difficult to attack the fortress from the sea and land. But just a century later, Belgrade fell to the Ottoman armies. During the next few centuries, it would change hands many more times, captured by the Austrians in 1688, recaptured by the Turks in 1690, then becoming part of the Hapsburg Empire in 1717.

But as the sun rested in a thick blanket of orange and violet clouds while Corie and I ambled, the fortress’ past didn’t seem to be on the minds of the two teenagers, sitting in a dark patch of grass, singing and playing the guitar. Nor did it seem to be in the thoughts of a middle-age couple enjoying the cool evening breeze atop a small tower overlooking a trendy restaurant below blaring a constant thump of club music.

On the other side of the tower sits a military church with one of the most unusual chandeliers in the world. I’ll take you inside next week.

A crowd of people sitting on a stone wall watching a sunset
People enjoying a sunset from atop the walls of the Belgrade Fortress, Belgrade, Serbia


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