Smederevo Fortress

Тhe capital of Serbia from 1428 to 1459

By Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Small town. Smederevo Fortress (2009-01-28) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

After the sudden death of Despot Stefan Lazarević in 1427, Serbia’s new ruler, Despot Djuradj Branković, had to surrender the capital city of Belgrade to the Hungarians under an earlier agreement. 

Driven by geostrategic and political considerations, he chose to build a new capital city, forty kilometres downstream of Belgrade and ten kilometres upstream of the confluence of the Great Morava and the Danube, a key spot in the Balkan peninsula. 

This choice allowed him to balance between Hungary to the north and the Ottoman Empire to the south, both of which sought to achieve their interests by annexing Serbian land.    

Moreover, the city’s situation meant it had good transport links and military strategic properties for defence, although it was built in a plain, which had not been a common choice for building fortifications in these parts up until that point. 

Remains of the church. Smederevo Fortress, Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Smederevo, 2012-10-12, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Remains of the church. Smederevo Fortress, Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Smederevo, 2012-10-12, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Remains of the church. Smederevo Fortress, Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Smederevo, 2012-10-12, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The nature of the soil itself predetermined its triangular shape, while its sheer size and monumental construction reflected its role of the last stronghold, thrust upon it by historical circumstances. Practical considerations prompted the choice of a mild elevation above the confluence of the river Jezava and the Danube, amidst a plain, which had not been common practice for fortifications in these parts. 

Towers 2, 3, 4 and 5. Smederevo Fortress (2018-10-29) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The site had good transport links and military strategic properties for defence, while also providing ample space for future expansion of the town and a wealth of agricultural resources in the hinterland to sustain the population.    

Towers 13, 12, 11 and 10. Smederevo Fortress (2018-10-29) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The nature of the soil itself influenced the triangular shape of the base, while the sheer size and monumental construction of the Fortress reflected its role of the last stronghold, thrust upon it by historical circumstances. 

Tower 19. Smederevo Fortress (2002-01-01) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

With its surface area of 10.5 hectares, encompassed by the ramparts, it is among Europe’s largest lowland fortifications and the largest fortified structure in the mediaeval Serbian state. 

Small Town and the Water Tower. Smederevo Fortress (2018-10-29) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

As he embarked on the task of erecting a new capital of mediaeval Serbia, Despot Djuradj Branković was driven by a desire to create a modern capital city, rather than just a military stronghold.

The appearance of the Danube rampart. Smederevo Fortress (2004-02-09) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Gradually, the Smederevo Fortress acquired all the trappings of a large mediaeval city.    

The Jezavak rampart. Smederevo Fortress (2018-10-29) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

In parallel with the fortification, it also saw the construction of the court, two churches (only one of which has been discovered to date) and residential and commercial quarters, which have unfortunately not been preserved for the most part. 

Towers 12, 11 and 10. Smederevo Fortress (2018-10-29) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

In a short while, Smederevo emerged as a vibrant political, ecclesiastical, cultural, commercial and economic centre of Serbia. 

Towers 18, 19 and 20. Smederevo Fortress (2018-10-29) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Therefore, given the circumstances of its creation, its concept and the worldview of the day, instead of the Smederevo Fortress, the name under which it is now commonly known, it would be much more appropriate to refer to it as the Town of Smederevo.    

Tower 20 and Dubrovnik gate. Smederevo Fortress (2011-01-18) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Unfortunately, due to historical circumstances, the original idea only partly came to fruition, in the first three decades of the town’s existence (1428-1459).   

Dubrovnik gate. Smederevo Fortress (2011-01-18) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

In the subsequent course of its history, Smederevo would never again have such a prominent role as the one for which it was originally destined.    

The appearance of the Danube rampart. Smederevo Fortress (2004-02-09) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

It was built from 1428 to 1439, when works were completed on the two main fortification units: the Fortified Court (the so-called Small Town) and the Large Town, covering a total surface area of 10.50 hectares and featuring 25 massive towers built on a rectangular base, and with a rampart between 3.00 and 5.00 metres thick.

The Danube rampart. Smederevo Fortress (2004-02-09) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

In front of the land rampart was a moat filled with water, which completed the defensive power of the Smederevo Fortress based on water, earning it the nickname of the “water town”, a common reference in historical sources.

The palace from the Danube side. Smederevo Fortress (2004-04-28) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Construction works on the fortress were managed by the brother of Despotess Jerina, Thomas Kantakouzenos, who probably designed and shaped its concept.   

Cross. Smederevo Fortress (1427/1430) by Republic Institute for the protection of cultural heritage of SerbiaMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

The court saw a constant inflow of numerous envoys from all over contemporary Europe; Kir Stefan the Serb translated the first music theory textbook from Greek into Serbia; many learned individuals lived there; the Despot himself owned what was a large library of manuscripts by the standards of the day; and the court was the seat of the Metropolitan Bishop of Smederevo. 

Small town. Smederevo Fortress (2009-01-29) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

Commercial and political relations were particularly strong with the people of Dubrovnik, who even had their merchants’ colony in the town.

Tower 25. Smederevo Fortress (2018-10-29) by Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of SmederevoMinistry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia

A crucial event for the capital city and the entire Serbian people, deeply concerned for their future, was the transfer of relics of Saint Luke the Evangelist from Rogos to Smederevo in early.

Turkish tower. Smederevo Fortress, Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Smederevo, 2002-01-01, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Appearance Barjak tower. Smederevo Fortress, Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Smederevo, 2002-01-01, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Turkish tower. Smederevo Fortress, Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Smederevo, 2002-01-01, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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However, the town’s powerful and rapid development and progress was cut short already in 1459, when Smederevo fell under the rule of Ottoman Turks, ripping the thread of mediaeval Serbian statehood. Immediately after the conquest of the town and the collapse of the mediaeval Serbian state in 1459, the Ottomans added an external, lower rampart with four polygonal cannon towers, to adapt the Fortress to new warfare, which involved the use of firearms.

Water Tower, Smederevo Fortress., Republic Institute for the protection of cultural heritage of Serbia, Author of the photo Pavle Marjanović, Endowment of despot Djuradj Brankovic, 1427/1430, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The appearance of the Water Tower. Smederevo Fortress, Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Smederevo, 2018-10-29, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The appearance of the Water Tower. Smederevo Fortress, Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Smederevo, 2018-10-29, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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The well-preserved mediaeval complex of the Fortress is its core value and as such has been subject to extensive conservation and restoration works, which were particularly intensive between 1980 and 1990, in the area of the Small Town and the Danube Rampart. After that, in 1994 Tower 10 underwent conservation and restoration works, while works on the Jezava Rampart took place from 2007 to 2018.

The entrance to Small town. Smederevo Fortress, Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Smederevo, 2009-01-18, From the collection of: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Serbia
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Archaeological research of the Smederevo Fortress has been successively carried out since 1948 and have been focused primarily on the area of the Small Town, the sacral complex in the southeastern corner; also, numerous probe surveys have been carried out to partially research the eastern area and the external rampart and the foundation of Tower 11 also underwent probe surveys.

Credits: Story

Regional Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments in Smederevo.
The narration was provided by Dejan Radovanović, archaeological advisor, acting director.

Republic Institute for the protection of cultural heritage of Serbia. 

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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