The Golubac Fortress

Golubac Fortress was built at the entrance of the Iron Gate gorge, a place where the Danube’s widest stream flows into a pass of the Carpathian Mountains.

By Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Golubac Fortress - the guardian of the Iron Gate (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The Fortress represented an important military border stronghold, built purposely in response to the military and strategic significance of the area. The position of the fortress allowed easy control over all roads and waterways connecting the east and the west, , while the steep and inaccessible Ridan cliffs on which the fort was built, as well as the Danube River, provided natural protection.

Golubac Fortress (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Such position led the border powers – Hungary and Serbia, and later the Ottoman Empire, to battle throughout the 14th and 15th centuries in order to conquer the Golubac Fortress, thus gaining control and dominance over the state border. In historical sources Golubac Fortress is mentioned for the first time in 1335 as a fortification housing Hungarian military garrison. 

Golubac Fortress (14th Century) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Although it was erected even before that year, its original builders and the exact date of construction remain unknown. On medieval maps the name appears in various languages: Galambas, Galambocz, Colombazo, Columbaz, Columbarum, Taubersburg, Tawbenstein, Peristerin, Giwerdzinlik…each with the word golub (dove) at the stem.

Golubac Fortress on a sunny day (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The explanation for the mystery of the name is found in medieval legends, among which the most famous one tells the tale of an Ottoman town commander who fell in love with a beautiful local girl named Golubana. Having refused to enter his harem, Golubana was cruelly punished – she was chained to a rock to repent. Her defiance to the Ottoman commander led to her death.

Golubac Fortress (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

In her memory the Fortress was named Golubac, while the rock, which protrudes from the Danube to this day, was named “Baba-kaj” (Turkish for “repent”). In the 1930s, construction of a regional road that ran through the Fortress caused damage to both gates of the fortification.

Golubac Fortress, a tower with an entrance gate in the foreground (14th Century) by Documentation of the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Serbia - BelgradeMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the country’s researchers focused their interest on the fortress, prompted by the construction of hydropower plant “Djerdap I”. Explorations were conducted on several occasions, while conservation and restoration was overseen by the Republic Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments.

Golubac Fortress, view of the position of the fortress at the entrance to the Đerdap gorge (14th Century) by MMD Studio NišMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

As a cultural property of exceptional importance, Golubac Fortressalso belongs to the Golubac Nature Reserve, the area surrounding the entrance into the Iron Gate gorge that at the same time represents the entry point into Djerdap National Park.

In 2011 the Republic of Serbia declared it the “Golubac Fortress” Tourist Area, for which the infrastructure was provided and the fortress itself reconstructed through the project “Reconstruction of Golubac Fortress”, financed from IPA funds for 2011 and 2016. Today this is Complex “Golubac Fortress Ltd”.

Golubac Fortress (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Upper Town

The base of Golubac Fortress is adapted to the configuration of the terrain. It comprises the Palace and 9 towers connected by ramparts. Given its architecture and the time of construction, it is apparent that the fortification is divided into two main parts: the Inner Fort, with the tallest Donjon or defense tower, better known as the Hat Tower, and the Outer Fort, which was the first to come under attack of the enemies.

Golubac Fortress in the early morning (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The Inner Fort, or more precisely its Upper Town, was the first to be constructed, whereas the Palace with its defensive tower as well as the system of towers and ramparts in the Outer Fort were built in later stages, most likely during the reign of despot Stefan Lazarevic. The entrance to the Fortress was located on the west side, through the Main Gate and via a wooden bridge leading across a moat filled with water.

The Fortress was originally constructed in the cold weapons era, however during their rule the Ottomans erected a Cannon tower to defend the harbor and added battlements to the Outer Fort towers. The battlements served as reinforcements against cannon fire, as the introduction of firearms in the 15th century necessitated adjustment of the architecture to the new form of warfare.

Hat Tower, The Golubac Fortress Ltd, Matija Maksimović, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The main and highest tower of the Fortress still keeps secrets, The Golubac Fortress Ltd, Matija Maksimović, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Hat Tower, The Golubac Fortress Ltd, Matija Maksimović, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Hat Tower, The Golubac Fortress Ltd, Matija Maksimović, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Tower 1, better known as Hat Tower, was built on the most prominent and highest spot on the Ridan cliffs. In architectural terms, it belongs to the oldest, Inner Fort. The tower is multi-story, polygonal in the base and circular in the upper story. A narrow path along the cliff leads to its entrance. The new archaeological excavations, carried out in the debris layer right in front of the entrance and the large structure underneath the Hat Tower, have  uncovered numerous fragments of fresco plaster that was common in Serbian medieval fresco paintings, an indication of the existence of an even earlier building painted with frescoes. Nonetheless, the main and tallest tower in the Fortress is undoubtedly most popularly noted for the numerous legends in which it appears.

Tower 2 - inaccessible part of the fortification (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Tower 2

Tower 2 architecturally belongs to the Upper compound of the Inner Fort of the fortification, constructed at an earlier date. Circular and smaller in size, it was built on a precipice protruding right above the Danube, most likely to serve as a watchtower.

View of the tower 3 (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Tower 3

Tower 3 architecturally belongs to the Upper compound of the Inner Fort of the fortification, constructed at an earlier date. It is a 3-storey structure, open in its entire height, indicating that it served as a defense post.

View of the tower 3 (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Archaeological excavations have uncovered round cannon balls made of stone and numerous arrowheads (the largest number of arrowheads and arrows for crossbows, roughly 7000 in total, were found in towers 3 and 4). 

Mašikula - Machicolation is defensive balcony (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Mašikula

Mašikula - Machicolation is defensive balcony (standard architectural part). The outer  machicolation is made of stone and the inner one was probably made of wood. From the machicolation, the defenders fired arrows at the enemy or poured hot water  or oil on those who attacked the enemy or it was just an observation post.

Tower 4 in which are the remains of the chapel (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Tower 4

The tower with a chapel. Tower 4 architecturally belongs to the Upper compound of the Inner Fort of the fortification, constructed at an earlier date. It is an enclosed 5-storey building, which suggests that the upper story may have served as a accommodation for the army. On the second story there is a chapel with a decorated and nicely finished entrance.

View of the tower 4 from the lower part. (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

A semi-circular niche above the entrance held the icon of the town’s patron saint. Archaeological excavations of the story above the chapel have uncovered numerous arrowheads (the largest number of  arrowheads and arrows, roughly 7,000 in total, came from towers 3 and 4), as well as parts of segmented armor.

View of the tower 5, The Golubac Fortress Ltd, Matija Maksimović, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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View of the tower 5, The Golubac Fortress Ltd, Matija Maksimović, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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View of the tower 5, The Golubac Fortress Ltd, Matija Maksimović, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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View of the tower 5, The Golubac Fortress Ltd, Matija Maksimović, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The tower that protected the Palace. Tower 5 served as a defense bastion for the Palace. It was built in the second phase of construction, i.e. during the reign of despot Stefan Lazarevic, and architecturally belongs to the Lower Compound of the Inner Fort. The tower is an enclosed 6-storey structure with two entrances, one from the palace and the other from the rampart walking path. Besides its defense function, the discovered remains of fireplace and toilet suggest that it doubled as living quarters.

The tower protecting the Fortress from hillside attacks (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Tower 6

Tower 6 architecturally belongs to the Upper Compound of the Outer Fort, built at a later date. It is square based, presumed to originate from the time of despot Stefan Lazarevic. During the Ottoman rule, at the time of intensified use of firearms, it was reinforced with battlements, as were the other towers in the Outer Ward, and adjusted to the new form of warfare.

The tower protecting the Fortress from hillside attacks (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Around the same time, cannon fire embrasures aimed towards the hillside behind the Fortress were added as another defensive measure. Tower 6 is open in its entire height, which indicates that it served for defensive purposes. The tower protecting the Fortress from hillside attacks.

The tower with Christian inscriptions etched in stone (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Tower 7

The tower with Christian inscriptions etched in stone. Tower 7 architecturally belongs to the Upper Compound of the Outer Fort, built at a later date. It is square based, originating from the third phase of construction and reign of despot Stefan Lazarevic. During the Ottoman rule, at the time of intensified use of firearms, it was reinforced with battlements, as were the other towers in the Outer Fort, and adjusted to the new form of warfare.

Golubac Fortress, view from the cliff to the interior of the fortress (14th Century) by MMD Studio NišMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Being open in most of its height, tower 7 served for defensive purposes. The function of subsequently walled-up lower story remains unknown at this time. This is where the excavations have uncovered two built-in stones with engraved crosses and inscriptions in Serbian Slavic. Further examination of the inscriptions should ascertain whether the lower story of the tower may have served as a dungeon at some point.

The tower that guarded the Main Gate (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Tower 8

The tower that guarded the Main Gate. Tower 8 is adjacent to the Main Gate and was used predominantly for defensive purposes. It architecturally belongs to the Lower Compound of the Outer Fort, built at a later date. During the Ottoman rule, at the time of intensified use of firearms, it was reinforced with battlements, as were the other towers in the Outer Fort, and adjusted to the new form of warfare.

The tower that guarded the Main Gate (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

As it was the first to come under attack and completely exposed to wartime destruction, it bears visible traces of numerous building repairs done over the years, in particular in the highest levels of the tower. The two bottom story of tower 8 are enclosed and some point presumably served as armory and food storage.

The tower from which cannons roared, The Golubac Fortress Ltd, Matija Maksimović, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The tower from which cannons roared, The Golubac Fortress Ltd, Matija Maksimović, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The tower from which cannons roared, The Golubac Fortress Ltd, Matija Maksimović, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The tower from which cannons roared. Tower 9 or Cannon Tower belongs to the Lower Compound of the Outer Fort, and was added to the fortification at a later date as a part of its inshore belt. It was built during the Ottoman rule, at the time of intensifying use of firearms, which is attested by boards with inscriptions in Ottoman Turkish and the distinctive polygonal shape of the tower itself. It represents one of the final (fourth stage, late 15th century) stages of construction at the Fortress. Distinguished by cannon embrasures on two story, it was mainly used to guard the harbor, which the writer Broquière described as being equipped with about one hundred chaikas.

Golubac Fortress, palace and tower next to the palace (14th Century) by MMD Studio NišMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Palace

The majestic edifice – home of the long gone fortress’ commanders. The Palace is a monumental, multi-story building belonging to the Lower compound of the Inner Fort. It is attributed to the second phase of construction, i.e. reign of despot Stefan Lazarevic. 

Magnificent building of the ancient commanders of the Fortress, The Golubac Fortress Ltd, Matija Maksimović, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Golubac Fortress, the remains of the palace and the tower next to the palace, Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Serbia - Belgrade, 14th Century, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The Palace comprised three story: the basement, used as a storage facility, the ground floor housing the main hall used for public functions as well as the private quarters of the town’s commander, and the second floor where the palace garrison resided. The Palace had two entrances – gateways. The staircase adjacent to the grand entrance with a semi-circular finish led to the chambers on the lower – ground level, currently under water due to Djerdap accumulation, which separated the entire Palace space into two parts. The latest archaeological research has uncovered the access communication to the Palace made from trimmed rock.

The tower from which cannons roared (14th Century) by The Golubac Fortress LtdMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Credits: Story

The Golubac Fortress Ltd
Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Serbia - Belgrade
Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments Smederevo

The narration was provided by Marina Bunardžić – archaeologist, Zeljka Milenković - archaeologist, Nikola Jović - marketing manager, Sreten Zivkovic – tourismologist, Matija Maksimović, audiovisual technology engineer, author of photographs The Golubac Fortress Ltd.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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