Kalemegdan Fortress is probably the greatest tourist attraction in Belgrade, Serbia. Located at the vantage point that dominates the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers, it offers splendid panoramic views and a bunch of interesting tours and establishments. The primary attraction is the fortress, which is completely free of charge. Kalemegdan is simultaneously Belgrade’s favourite park, with the monuments, children play areas, and remnants from the times when it was held by the Turks, the Austrians, and even the Romans.
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A bit of Kalemegdan’s history
The hill on which the fortress was established used to be the Celtic stronghold in the 3rd century B.C., which was replaced by a Roman military camp in the 1st century A.D. After the downfall of the Roman Empire, the already established Singidunum (the first name of Belgrade) devolved to the Byzantine Empire, the eastern part of the former Roman Empire that withstood the conquests of barbaric tribes. However, the settlement was destroyed by Atila’s Huns (441).
Realizing the superior strategic position of the hill, Justinian, the greatest Byzantine emperor, had the formidable stronghold erected (around 535 A.D.). In the next century, the Slavic tribes migrated to the Balkan region. Amazed by the glittering whiteness of the city walls, they named it Belgrade, or the White City (Beograd in Serbian, beo=white, grad=city). In the following centuries, besides the Byzantines, Kalemegdan and Belgrade were occupied by the Bulgarians, the Hungarians, and briefly by the Serbs (in the 13th century).
With the arrival of the Ottoman Turks, the Kalemegdan Fortress proved impenetrable to the Islamic invaders in conquest of Christian Europe twice, in 1440 and 1456. Following the latter invasion, Kalemegdan earned the epithet “the rampart of Christianity.” The besieged, consisting of the Hungarians, the Serbs and a few crusaders, were led by Janos Hunyadi, a brilliant commander, and Johannes Capistrano, a zealous friar. In the series of continuous assaults that lasted almost three weeks, the defenders repelled the Turks led by Mehmed the Conqueror, who conquered Constantinople a few years earlier.
The fortress was finally taken in 1521, by Suleiman the Magnificent. Bombardment of the bastion commenced in June and the fortress fell at the end of August, when all of the defenders were either dead or heavily wounded and the ammunition was spent.
In the next few centuries, Kalemegdan was mostly occupied by the Turks, with occasional Christian interruptions. Until the 19th century, it was additionally fortified and expanded on several occasions, both by the Turks and the Christians. The last conquest for the Belgrade fortress occurred during the First Serbian Uprising (1804 – 1813), when the rebellious Serbs, led by Karadjordje (Black George), took over the Belgrade settlement (1806) and Kalemegdan (1807) from the Turks. Finally, the Turks abandoned Belgrade for good in 1867, and the symbolic handover occurred at Kalemegdan.
In its history, the fortress has been destroyed and rebuilt around 40 times.
Kalemegdan’s points of interest
When you reach the Kalemegdan Fortress through the pedestrianized Knez Mihajlova Street, imagine that you have all the time of the world and admire its numerous attractions slowly.
The exhibition of the First and Second World War artillery and armoured vehicles provides an introduction to the Military Museum, where you can familiarize yourselves with the history of warfare of the Balkan region. As you tour its interesting collection, you’ll see weapons, uniforms and items from various epochs, starting from the prehistoric period. The admission fee is 1.25 EUR (1.40 USD), and the museum operates from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, save Mondays and national holidays.
If you would like to observe the night sky and the galaxy as viewed from this meridian, you should head to the National Observatory, which is located in the medieval tower (see the above photo). The tower was commissioned by Stefan Lazarevic, the Turkish and Hungarian vassal, who got Belgrade from the latter to rule over and made it the Serbian capital. It was built somewhere between 1404 and 1427. The observatory features telescopes for spectacular panoramic views over the surrounding area and observation of celestial bodies. The entry price is 0.25 EUR (0.30 USD).
The planetarium, occupying the former Turkish baths, is where you can attend various interesting lectures on science, such as the creation of the universe, its constellations, birth and death of the stars, and more. The entry price is 1.20 EUR (1.30 USD).
More than 2000 animals of around 270 different species live in the Belgrade zoo. You can see the apes, tigers, stags, vultures, large reptiles, snakes, etc. Children are allowed to ride a pony or play with some young animals.
The zoo operates each day of the year, and full admission price is 3.10 EUR (3.40 USD). Just across from the zoo’s entrance is a fun park for small children.
The Clock Tower, a Baroque monument, was created in the 18th century, when the Austrians held the fortress. Its main purpose was to accommodate the guards, ammunition, and other military equipment. Clock towers used to be quite an ordinary thing in the settlements, which cannot be said for the strongholds. Thus, this example is a rarity. The admission fee is 0.75 EUR (0.80 USD).
Monuments of Kalemegdan
The Victor Monument, overseeing the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, is a monument honouring the victory over the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany in the First World War (1914 – 1918). The most photographed statue in Belgrade represents a naked man in a full strength, holding the sword downward (implying the readiness to defend the country) and an eagle (a symbol of freedom). Initially placed in Terazije Square, it was moved in 1928 to the present position due to the public opinion that the presence of such a statue was inappropriate in the city centre.
Another imposing monument of Kalemegdan is devoted to France and its help to the Serbian people in the First World War. France is represented as a fierce woman, possibly Marianne – the symbol of France, with a sword, rushing to aid Serbia. Side reliefs illustrate the suffering of the French and Serbian soldiers (to the west) and a personification of the Sorbonne, symbolizing the educational aid the Serbs received during this dramatic period (to the east). In the First World War, Serbia lost a third of its overall populace.
The memorial celebrating the symbolic delivery of the keys to Belgrade by a Turkish pasha to Duke Michael is located at the exact place where the handover occurred in 1867. Besides the Kalemegdan Fortress, the Turks abandoned their fortifications in other Serbian towns and settlements. Nevertheless, further wars were still waged against the Turks, which were finally driven from the Balkans only in 1912, during the First Balkan War.
Restaurants, facilities, events…
Kalemegdan features a myriad of busts and other monuments honouring celebrated Serbian writers, artists, diplomats, and other prominent personalities. Throughout the year, various open-air exhibitions are held in the most historic place of Belgrade, as well as diverse local and regional events and festivals. In addition to the above-mentioned points of interest, you should also visit the Damad Ali Pasha’s Turbeh, one of a few remaining Turkish monuments in Belgrade, the Roman Well (another creation of the Austrians), the Nebojsa Tower, a Turkish prison, the Art Pavilion Cvijeta Zuzoric, St. Petka Chapel, a military Ruzica (Little Rose) Church, and the Natural History Gallery.
A couple of restaurants are deployed throughout Kalemegdan at various vantage points. If you want to see the engaging panorama, just head to the outer walls. Kalemegdan is especially beautiful during sunset. As you enter the park from the Knez Mihajlova Street, you are sure to be drawn to stalls selling local delicacies, handmade goods, snacks, and other interesting products. Drinking fountains, decorative fountains, and other works of art are also to be found throughout the park, as well as a couple of sport grounds.