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Golubac Fortress, Serbia.

Golubac Fortress: The Best Preserved Medieval Fortress in Europe


Golubac Fortress is a medieval fortified city located in the northeastern part of modern day Serbia. This fortress is situated at the very entrance of the Djerdap Gorge, which is known also as the Iron Gates, on the section where the Danube River is widest.

The fortress can be found on the southern side of the river, and approximately 4 km (2.48 miles) from it is the present day town of Golubac. Golubac Fortress is one of the best preserved medieval fortified cities in Serbia. As Golubac Fortress occupies a strategic position in the landscape, many nations have fought for its control over the ages. The powers that occupied this fortress at one point of time or another include the Hungarians, Serbs, Austrians, and Turks.

The Ten Towers

The most striking feature of Golubac Fortress is arguably its ten towers, which are connected by a series of walls. Initially there were only nine towers, but when the Turks took possession of the fortress they added another tower. The tower thought to be the oldest amongst the ten has been given the nickname ‘Hat Tower’. This is due to its unique octagonal base and cylindrical top. Apart from being the oldest tower, this was also the strongest tower, and had served as the fortress’ citadel.

The rear gate and tower 5 on the right, and tower 10 on the left.

The rear gate and tower 5 on the right, and tower 10 on the left. (Public Domain)

The rest of the towers are square in shape, taken by some to be an indication that when they were built, the battlefield was dominated by weapons such as swords and spears. In other words, they were constructed prior to the advent of gunpowder.

The widespread use of gunpowder later on meant that the fortress had to be ‘upgraded’. Alterations were made on the walls so that cannons could be placed within them. Changes were also made so that the fortress’ defenders could fire at their enemies whilst being protected by the walls.

Topographical sketch of Golubac Fortress prior to 1972.

Topographical sketch of Golubac Fortress prior to 1972. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Occupants of Gobulac Fortress

The human habitation of the site of Gobulac Fortress predated the construction of the fortified town, and that it was once a Roman settlement. Gobulac Fortress, or at least the majority of it, is generally believed to have been built around the beginning of the 14th century. In a historical document dated to 1335, the fortress is mentioned as being occupied by a Hungarian military garrison.  

Main entrance and forward compound of Golubac Fortress.

Main entrance and forward compound of Golubac Fortress. (Public Domain)

Golubac Fortress gained importance around the middle of the 14th century due to the growing threat posed by the Ottoman Turks. Also at this point of time, the masters of the fortress were the Serbs. Shortly after the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, the fortress was lost to the Ottomans. In 1391, the fortress was conquered by the Hungarians. Their ownership of this fortification, however, was short, as the Turks were able to re-capture Golubac Fortress in the same year.

Battle of Kosovo, by Adam Stefanović (1870).

Battle of Kosovo, by Adam Stefanović (1870). (Public Domain)

At some point of time before 1403, Golubac Fortress must have returned to the hands of the Hungarians. In that year, the King of Hungary, Sigismund, is recorded to have ceded the fortress to the Despot of Serbia, Stefan Lazarevic, as a personal fiefdom when the latter became a Hungarian vassal.       

Following the death of Lazarevic in 1427, the ownership of Golubac Fortress reverted to Sigismund. In return for the fortress, Sigismund recognized George Branković, Lazarevic’s nephew, as the rightful heir to the Serbian Despotate.

The commander of the fortress, Voivode Jeremija demanded a compensation of 12000 ducats. When the Hungarian king refused to pay, Jeremija handed the fortress to the Ottomans, who turned it into the pasha’s residence. With this fortress in their possession, the Ottomans became Hungary’s immediate neighbor across the Danube. This, in addition to the increase in Ottoman raids on Hungarian territory during the 1420s, was an alarming situation for Sigismund. Thus, during this decade, 14 new castles were built by the Hungarians between Belgrade and Turnu Severin (in modern day Romania).

Sigismund, aged approximately 50, in a painting traditionally attributed to Pisanello.

Sigismund, aged approximately 50, in a painting traditionally attributed to Pisanello. (Public Domain)

For the rest of the 15th century, control of Gobulac Fortress would swing back and forth between the Hungarians and the Ottomans. By the end of this century, the Ottomans were the masters of Serbia, and Gobulac Fortress would be firmly in their hands. The fortress fell into the hands of the Habsburg Monarchy several times during the 17th and 18th centuries. For several years towards the end of the 18th century and in the beginning of the next, the fortress was controlled by Serbian rebels.

The Ottomans eventually reclaimed Gobulac Fortress, though in 1867, it was handed over to Mihailo Obrenović III, the Knez (Prince) of Serbia. Gobulac Fortress has lost its defensive purposes since then and today the fortress is a popular tourist attraction.

Featured image: Golubac Fortress, Serbia. Photo source: CC BY-SA 3.0

By Wu Mingren

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Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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