History

Smederevo – the last medieval capital of Serbia

Smederevo

Although Smederevo is attractive and strategically important spot at the right Danube bank populated ever since the 1st ct. BC, the city of Smederevo as we know it today originates in the Middle Ages. It was fortified by Despot Djuradj (George) Brankovic, the grandson of knez Lazar Hrebeljanovic who led the Serbian army to the Kosovo battle (1389). After the death of Lazar’s son, despot Stefan Lazarevic, Belgrade had to be handed over to Hungarians. Serbia needed new capital and Djuradj as Stefan’s successor chose to locate it 45 kilometers down the Danube. He wanted to keep close to Hungarians to ally with them in the case of the Ottoman attack.

The inner city of the Smederevo fortress was built between 1427 and 1430 and it consisted of Despot Djuradj’s court, mint and library. He moved in with his wife, a Byzantine princess Irene Kantakouzene, whose brother Thomas supervised the fortification. It continued until the outer city was finished in 1439. According to the legend, Irene pushed the builders so hard that they called her “Irene the Cursed” (Prokleta Jerina). This name survived until the present day in the popular culture. Irene’s participation in construction works is not impossible, since one of the towers is entitled “Irene’s tower”. Inner and outer city together occupy around 11 hectares, making the Smederevo fortress one of the largest lowland fortresses in Europe.

11Twenty five towers of this fortress form a triangular layout with one side touching the river Danube, the other on its tributary Jezava and the third one opening towards the contemporary city. Building the thick walls around 20 meters high quickly exhausted all the available stone in the area, so the material had to be dragged from distant places. It caused the usage of many spolia – fragments of older buildings – including some antique reliefs from the Roman period. The outer city hosted a medieval town with a small church, wooden housing facilities and a market. The inner city is still secured by a trench and one has to cross a small bridge in order to enter. It is where the most attractive architectural elements are situated – the donjon tower, the Cross tower and remains of what once was the despot’s court. Djuradj had important diplomatic connections in the neighboring countries as well as in Venice and he frequently received important guests. For this purpose he built the magnificent audience room, whose windows are saved to present day. Three Romanesque arched windows (biforas) and one built in Gothic style represent very distinctive features of the fortress, frequently depicted on Smederevo souvenirs. The Cross tower bears the inscription about the despot and the time of construction surmounted by a huge cross which gave it a popular name. Donjon tower was intended as the last keep in case of invasion. Its walls, being five meters thick, are the strongest of all towers and stocks of food were deposited there. However, it did not help against the Ottoman invasion in 1439. They kept the fortress besieged for three months in 1439, after which Smederevo surrendered due to the shortage of supplies. Nevertheless, it was given back to Despot Djuradj in 1444 and Serbian Despotate endured for a while more. In 1453 sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror launched two other terrible sieges in 1453 and 1456 but the city endured both of them. The final blow came in 1459, when Smederevo finally fell, thus putting an end to existence of the independent medieval Serbian state.

12The spatial fortress of Smederevo located by the Danube represents a favorite place for strolling, biking, fishing, and other leisure time activities of this city’s inhabitants. It also inspires love for art, archaeology and history among the youngsters who grow up by its magnificent sight. Recently a website with 3D virtual walk through the fortress was mounted with the help of Swedish government. Concerts, theatre plays and other cultural events often take place in the inner city. Together with the outer city it was a shooting location for several movies and TV series. Smederevo fortress represents the main tourist attraction for the foreign visitors, but one more important medieval monument deserves to be mentioned here.

Church of The Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary is ten minutes walk from the city center. It is built in the 15th century and belongs to Morava architectural school. This style follows the layout of Mount Athos churches, with lateral apses forming the sign of the cross. It is distinctive for its elaborate decoration made of brick, which probably reflects Armenian and Venetian influences. Smederevo church is small and not among the leading examples of Morava school. However, it is still attractive especially in its present day ambient. It is surrounded by the Old Cemetery where all the distinguished figures of Smederevo history are buried. Just beside the church lays Dimitrije Davidovic, a founder of Serbian journalism and the author of the first modern Serbian constitution (1835). There is also a chapel constructed by the famous Serbian architect, Alexander Bugarski and the spot offers a nice view over the city. Both, the fortress and the church are a must see for any Smederevo visitor, and their number is increasing in recent years. Hopefully, you will join them too!

Church of The Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Church of The Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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