Kalemegdan Park is the largest park and the most important historical monument in Belgrade. It is located on a 125-metre-high (410 ft) cliff, at the junction of the River Sava and the Danube. Its name is formed from the two Turkish words: “Kale” (meaning “fortress”) and archaic word of turkish origin “megdan” (meaning “plaza”).
The Kalemegdan Park, split in two as the Large and Little parks, was developed in the area that once was the town field. It provides places of rest and entertainment. The Belgrade Fortress and the Kalemegdan Park together represent a cultural monument of exceptional importance, the area where various sport, cultural and arts events take place, for all generations of Belgraders and numerous visitors of the city. The first works on arranging the town field Kalemegdan started in 1869. During March 1891, the pathways were cut through, and trees were planted; in 1903 the Little Staircase was built, based on the project of Jelisaveta Načić, the first woman architect in Serbia, while the Big Staircase, designed by architect Aleksandar Krstic, was built in 1928.
The Monument of Gratitude to France, a work of sculptor Ivan Mestrovic was ceremoniously unveiled in 1930 in the presence of king Aleksandar Karadjordjevic. The monument was put up at the initiative of the Society of Friends of France and Society of Former Pupils of the French School in the same location where once stood the memorial dedicated to Karadjorde, which was destroyed during the First World War, to thank France for its help to the country during the war.
We choose the Karageorge‘s Gate to enter the inner part of the park, where the Fortress is.
Belgrade Fortress is the core and the oldest section of the urban area of Belgrade and for centuries the city population was concentrated only within the walls of the fortress, thus the history of the fortress, until most recent history, equals the history of Belgrade itself. First mention of the city is when it was founded in the 3rd century BC as “Singidunum” by the Celtic tribe of Scordisci who had defeated Thracian and Dacian tribes that previously lived at the fort and around. The city-fortress was later conquered by the Romans, became known as Singidunum and became a part of “the military frontier”, where the Roman Empire bordered “barbaric Central Europe”. Singidunum was defended by the Roman legion IV Flaviae which built a fortified camp on a hill at the confluence of the rivers the Danube and the Sava. In the period between AD 378 and 441 the Roman camp was being repeatedly destroyed in the invasions by the Goths and the Huns. The legend says that Attila’s grave lies on the confluence of the Sava and the Danube (under the Fortress). In 476 Belgrade again became the borderline between the empires: Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire), and the Slav-Avar State in the North.
The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I rebuilt the Fortress around 535. In the following centuries a fortress suffered continuous destruction under the Avar sieges. The Slavs (Serbs) and Avars had their “state union” north of Belgrade with the Serbs and other Slavic tribes finally settling in the region of Belgrade as well as the regions west and south of Belgrade in the beginning of the 7th century. The name Belgrade (or Beograd, in Serbian), which, not just in Serbian but in most Slavic languages means a “white town” or a “white fortress”, was first mentioned in AD 878 by Bulgarians. The Fortress kept changing its masters: Bulgaria during three centuries, and then again the Byzantines and again Bulgarians. The fortress remained a Byzantine stronghold until the 12th century when it fell in the hands of a newly emerging Serbian state. It became a border city of the Serbian Kingdom, later Empire, with Hungary. The Hungarian king Béla I gave the fortress to Serbia in 11th century as a wedding gift (his son married Serbian princess Jelena), but it remained effectively part of Hungary, except for the period 1282-1319. After the Serbian state collapsed after the Battle of Kosovo, Belgrade was chosen in 1404 as the capital of the principality of Despot Stefan Lazarević. Major work was done to the ramparts which were encircling a big thriving town. The lower town at the banks of the Danube was the main urban center with a new build Orthodox cathedral. The upper town with its castle was defending the city from inland. Belgrade remained in Serbian hands for almost a century. After the Despot’s death in 1427 it had to be returned to Hungary. An attempt of Sultan Mehmed II to conquer the fortress was prevented by Janos Hunyadi in 1456 (Siege of Belgrade). It saved Hungary from an Ottoman management for 70 years.
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 period of short Austrian rule (1718–1738) the fortress was largely rebuilt and modernized. It witnessed two Serbian Uprisings in the 19th century, the Great Serbian Migration in the 17th century, the Turkish Period. The fortress suffered further damages 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.
Through another gate, Stambol Gate, we went deeper inside the Fortress, between the two walls, a space once filled with water, that now houses artillery pieces from different wars and a War Museum.
Finally, passing through the Clock Gate, we were at the very core of the old citadel.
to the presence of the Statue of the Victor or Statue of Victory a monument erected on 1928 to commemorate the Kingdom of Serbia’s war victories over the Ottoman Empire (First Balkan War) and Austria-Hungary (World War I). It is one of the most famous works of Ivan Meštrović and the name of the statue represents the Victory of Liberty.
The statue was originally supposed to be placed on the Terazije square, but ended up at the Belgrade Fortress after people complained about its nudity (and seeing it where it is now, we couldn’t think of a better place, to be honest). The statue, holds a falcon, on watch for the new threats on the horizon, in one hand, and a sword of war, ready to counter these threats in the other. It’s looking forward across the confluence of the Sava and the Danube, and over the vast Pannonian plain, towards the very distant Fruška Gora mountain, towards the (at the time), Austro-Hungarian empire, and it is probably the most powerful, most popular visual symbol of Belgrade.
From there the view over the two rivers, just before the sunset was amazing………….
Inside the old citadel it was like being taken back in time……………
One of the gems inside is the Rose Church.
A church of the same name existed on the site in the time of Stefan Lazarević. It was demolished in 1521 by the invading Ottoman Turks. Today’s church was a gunpowder magazine in the 18th century, and was converted into a military church between 1867 and 1869. Heavily damaged during the First World War, the church was renovated in 1925. The iconostasis was carved by Kosta Todorović, and the icons painted by Rafailo Momčilović. The walls were covered in paintings by Andrej Bicenko, a Russian artist.
Too bad the church was closed at the time………….