Psychogeography: Vladimir Ivkovic on Belgrade Fortress

Vladimir Ivcovic traces the history of Belgrade Fortress and his favourite place Zindan Gate...

Psychogeography: Vladimir Ivkovic on Belgrade Fortress

Vladimir Ivcovic traces the history of Belgrade Fortress and his favourite place Zindan Gate...

I was born and raised in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, so basically I spent my "formative" years there. It’s a city located at the confluence of two rivers - Sava which was the longest Yugoslavian river, and Danube the second longest European river. Yugoslavia is no more, but that’s another story. Tools discovered in the area indicate that there were settlements between 50000 and 20000 years ago, and one of the most important prehistoric cultures of Europe, the Vinča culture, evolved within the Belgrade area in the 6th millennium BC.

The geographic position of Belgrade (translated as Beograd which means white city) and probably its appearance made it a beloved target for everyone who sailed by or saw it from one of the hills that surrounded it - Thracians, Celts, Romans, Byzantines, Franconians, Ottomans, Habsburgs (…) everyone felt invited to invade it, destroy it, rebuild parts of it. The city was destroyed around 50 times in its history, and is currently being destroyed again with the demonic energy of the useful idiots who are in charge, but there is something deep below the city and the region that gives me hope that the destroyers of today will be just a bizarre historical fact for the city and its spirits.

On the confluence of Sava and Danube there is Belgrade Fortress, one of the most visited tourist attractions in Belgrade. Besides many nice corners for boosting your social media appearance, there is much more.

Oskar Potiorek, commander of the Austro-Hungarian forces in the Serbian Campaign of the World War I (1914/15) gave advice to his successor, Archduke Eugen of Austria: If you have to attack Serbia again, do it only at Belgrade.

Potiorek was probably right, if Belgrade is the easiest gateway to deep Balkans, but I assume that he was not familiar with Roman author Pliny the Elder. In his "Naturalis Historia" he wrote about people from faraway places (the Balkans) who had two pupils in each eye and whose angry looks could kill.

All this aside, Belgrade Fortress is a house to my favourite place in the universe, Zindan Gate.

The thing with Belgrade is that there are not (many) single pretentious tourist attractions, but if you have in mind the long history of the city area, layers of civilizations below you, underground rivers and you’re somehow receptive to it, Belgrade is one of the great places for psychogeography.

There are few ways to reach Zindan Gate, but the easiest way is by entering the Fortress from the pedestrian zone of Kneza Mihailova street, which was the main cute of communication and urban development in the time of Roman era until the mid 5th century.

The first thing that you’ll see when you cross Pariska street and enter the Fortress will probably be the Monument of Gratitude to France, but if you look to your right, you’ll see little white obelisk with (for a foreigner mysterious) cyrillic signs.

Here our psychogeography can begin as it’s the place where the Ottoman authorities who occupied the city handed over of the keys of Belgrade to Prince Mihailo Obrenović. On April 6/19, 1867, at the site of today's memorial a firman issued by Sultan Abdul Aziz was read according to which Belgrade and the fortresses of Šabac, Smederevo and Kladovo were to be handed over to the authority of the Serbs. This event marked the beginning in a new stage in the development of the Principality of Serbia, which paved the way to gaining national independence. This is just the obvious layer of history, a visible sign in 2019.

If you manage to ignore neonationalist kitsch sold in Kalemegdan Park, you’ll reach The Monument of Gratitude to France by the famous Yugoslav sculptor Ivan Meštrović. It was installed in 1930 to commemorate the friendship, help and cooperation between France and Serbia in World War I. It represents France in action, sword in hand, coming to Serbia’s aid. Here I was always wondering why there is no such thing of gratitude to Montenegro who’s victory in the famous Battle of Mojkovac, fought between 6 January and 7 January 1916, made the retreat of the Serbian army to Corfu via Albania possible. At least General von Reinöhl said of the battle: "The courage of the Montenegrin soldier has no equal in the history of wars. Here you could see the Montenegrin soldier attacking the bayonets of the enemy with his bare hands. That numerically small army, armed with primitive weapons, on the terrain of Mojkovac for days stopped the much more numerous Austro-Hungarian Army, equipped with modern arms."

Psychogeographically this place is interesting for other reasons. The Monument is surrounded by neatly cut trees. In the last few decades, since I've become familiar with it, this place looked way more spooky, especially at night. While during the day Kalemegdan Park was occupied by pensioners, school classes, families, and tired day laborer who’d find some rest on one of the benches, the night belonged to others. From the darkness of the park sounds of dirty quick sex were nothing unusual and you could count with it that behind one of those Monument trees more or less harmless exhibitionists lurked. A few times guys with triumphantly open trench coats proudly showing their genital organs would jump out. It looked somehow sad and understandable at the same time. It would be even more awkward if they’d appear like this in front of their grandparents in flats that three family generations would share…

From there you turn right and pass Karađordje’s Gate. It’s the Southern gate of Belgrade Fortress ravelin, and it was named after Đorđe Petrović, better known by the sobriquet Black George, or Karađorđe. He was a Serbian revolutionary who led the struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire during the First Serbian Uprising of 1804–1813. It was named after Karađordje because it was believed that he entered the fortress in 1807 through this gate.

Later it was proved that Karađordje and his insurgents came through the outer Stambol Gate, but the name of the gate has been preserved to this day. After the collapse of the Serbian uprising, the Turks, in the historic continuum of madness of this region, walled up this gate and destroyed the bridge. The gate was restored and reopened after the First World War.

If you follow the path to the left, you’ll reach the Inner Stambol Gate built around 1750. This was the main gate in the direction of Istanbul and a symbol of Turkish rule. It’s connected via a bridge to the Clock Gate, but proper fun begins when you pass the gate. In the trench between the Inner Stambol Gate and the Clock Gate, you’ll discover the biggest open-air porn museum of the world for people who are into arms. Tanks, cannons, rocket launchers (…) from the World Wars and more recent history. It’s all there, very close to the Torture Museum. The items on display here are not part of the history of Serbia. Most were used by the inquisition in Germany, Italy, Spain etc. Here, within a radius of 150-200 meters, you can make a small pause, timetravel for a while, and think about about the minds who invented and used all those devices. I still used to do it, when I visit.

When you move on and pass the Clock Gate, somewhere on your left you’ll see Damat Ali-Paša's Türbe. Türbe is the Turkish word for "tomb". It’s a simple building with a hexagonal base and a shallow calotte on the top, which rests upon the drum.

Damat Ali-Paša was Grand Vizier, he died in 1716 and was buried in Belgrade. Keeping in mind the widespread history of destruction and reconstruction in Belgrade, this is one of the rare precious structures preserved in its original and authentic form, and one of the few examples of Islamic funerary architecture in Belgrade. Before it’s renovation I found this place gloomy. Not in a bad way. When I looked through it’s windows, it was dark inside, there was always weird cold breeze, but I also found it fascinating that the old documents say that above this grave, there used to be Izzet Mehmed Pasha's telescope. Another Grand Vizer who served at the Ottoman governor of Belgrade in 1783-84. Until today I’m not sure if it’s something in the soil of Belgrade, it’s layers, that makes places like this possible. Grave and observatory at the same time.

From there you follow the path to the right towards Despot’s Tower and Despot’s Gate. The Tower is a tower built ca. 1405, a couple of years after the city became the capital of Serbian Despotate under Despot Stefan. Here you’ll find the most medieval atmosphere of the Upper Town. The Despot's Gate is the only gate of Belgrade fortress, preserved in its original form. Despot’s Tower is often referred to as the Dizdar tower because in the second half of the 18th century a dizdar - commander of the fortress lived in it.

Despot Stefan Lazarević was a son of Lazar of Serbia, who died in the Battle of Kosovo on June 28, 1389 in the crucial battle that brought the Serbian Empire to collapse. The day of the battle, known in Serbian as Vidovdan (St. Vitus' day), is an important part of Serb ethnic and national identity. So this place is a direct line to this event, and other notable events in Serbian history falling on that day: in 1876 Serbia declared war on the Ottoman Empire (Serbian–Ottoman War (1876–78)); in 1881 Austria-Hungary and the Principality of Serbia signed a secret alliance; in 1914 the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was carried out by the Serbian Gavrilo Princip; in 1921 Serbian King Alexander I proclaimed the Vidovdan Constitution, the first constitution of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes; in 1989, on the 600th anniversary of the battle, Serbian political leader Slobodan Milošević delivered the Gazimestan speech on the site of the historic battle.

The effects of those events can easily be found in history books and recent memory of Europe. Today the Dizdar’s Tower is home of the Observatory and the Astronomical Society "Rudjer Bošković", there are telescopes that are on its top. In order to reach the top you have to take adventurous dimly lit stairs soaked in the smell of cold smoke and mouldy paper, and pass people in their little offices. Maybe you can ask them what they do there today.

But the tower, besides being a portal to times and places, carries a precious memory. From its top I watched the Perseids with my younger brother on 13 August 1992. You just have to cross the wooden bridge and then you’re few steps away from Zindan Gate.

But before you can look to your right and see the walls of the Roman castrum Singidunum. Singidunum was an ancient city which later evolved into modern Belgrade. The name is of Celtic origin, going back to the time when Celtic iron age tribe Scordisci settled in the area in the 3rd century BC. There are several theories about the origin of the name. One of them points out that Celtic "dun" means fortress, while "singi" is a Celtic word for circle. That would mean that Singidunum was a round fort. Another theory stresses that the city could be named after the Sings, a Thracian tribe that inhabited the area prior to the arrival of the Celts. To me the most appealing possibility is that Singidunum is a composite name. The first part meaning the "old prayer", the site of Celtic religious significance, that became "dun", a fortress. In 75BC the Romans arrived and conquered the area. Unfortunately later development of Belgrade destroyed most of the archeological layers, but some remarkable things were discovered in the area close to the fortress. Remnants of the ancient Roman thermae, remains of luxurious villas, necropolises, an area from the 2nd century paved with cobblestone, but also a house of worship dedicated to the Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft, magic, crossroads, ghosts, and necromancy.

Singidunum was also a birthplace of Jovian, Flavius Jovianus Augustus, 331 – 17 February 364. He became Roman Emperor eight months prior to his death. In this time he managed to reestablish Christianity as the state church, and to die of a surfeit of mushrooms and wine.

Then you’re facing Zindan’s Gate with towers, built around 1450. At first sight, this place looks like just another gate who’s sole purpose is background for tourist’s photos, but… if you look to the right, you’ll see a staircase with few steps, almost hidden behind a wall that looks like it will fall apart every moment. They will lead you to the towers. Now you can take some time and look around, because you’ll rarely see other people on those towers, although the amount of garbage is a sign that every now and then idiots find their way there.

You’ll see the already mentioned Dizdar’s Tower, confluence of Sava and Danube, area at the very confluence of Sava and Danube beneath the Kalemegdan Fortress where the defenders positioned themselves during the Belgrade against Austro-Hungarian and German attack in the First World War on 7 October 1915, Great War Island, rooftop of the small Ružica Church, Saint Petka’s Chapel, the lower town which is the oldest part of Belgrade Fortress, Jakšić’s Tower, Charles VI Gate, Topolivnica, Nebojša Tower, Turkish Bathroom, remains of a Metropolitan Court, and even if you don’t recognise it at first, you might hear and smell Belgrade Zoo.

If you know that the Turks used the towers’ basement as dungeon for Christians - hence the name for the whole complex is Turkish word "zindan", which stands for dungeon - it’s highly recommendable to take another rest, sit down and imagine all the worlds, energies and spirits that are now below and around you. It’s one of the most intense psychogeographical places I know.

A few years ago I actually took a dear friend on a sightseeing tour, we went straight to Zindan Gate, sat down, didn’t say a word while traveling without moving through spacetime, then left six hours later. The top of Zindan Gate is also home to "Punk’s Not Dead" scribble, one of those things that disappear in Belgrade. Such scribbles were highly popular in the 80s before the arrival of one of the five pillars of hip hop: graffiti.

Then it was more about messages than "art". Messages were simple, sometimes witty, from "Margita je dečak", people’s names, names of bands, "punk", "HM" (…) to "Death to Heavy Metals", "Death to Punks" and the classic "Punk’s Not Dead", that on Zindan Tower looks like an archaeological reminder of bygone naive times.

Now, some details.

Positions of the defenders of Belgrade on 7 October 1915: on that day already devastated Serbian troops were preparing for their last counter-attack. Commander major Dragutin Gavrilović addressed his troops with these words: "Soldiers, exactly at three o'clock, the enemy is to be crushed by your fierce charge, destroyed by your grenades and bayonets. The honor of Belgrade, our capital, must not be stained. Soldiers! Heroes! The supreme command has erased our regiment from its records. Our regiment has been sacrificed for the honor of Belgrade and the Fatherland. Therefore, you no longer need to worry about your lives: they no longer exist. So, forward to glory! For the King and the Fatherland! Long live the King, Long live Belgrade!" 

The counter attack failed. When the foundations for the Saint Petka’s / Saint Paraskeva of the Balkans Chapel were being dug - at the site of an ancient spring with miraculous powers - a mass gravesite of Serbian soldiers who fell defending Belgrade between 1914 and 1915 were discovered. The remains were moved to the ossuary beneath Jakšić’s Tower which was specially built for that purpose. Since then the most famous feature of the chapel is the spring of holy water that runs nearby. People travel to Belgrade in order to have a drink of water from this spring which is said to refresh the spirit and help with ailments. The water is especially beneficial to women - as St. Petka is patron-saint of all women - as well as that washing one’s eyes with the water from this spring helps with many sight-related problems. It’s a beautiful small spiritual place.

It is believed that St. Petka is a protector of home and family. St. Petka day is celebrated on 14 October by those who follow the old Gregorian calendar and on 27 October by those who follow the new Julian calendar. Old belief marks this day as the transition to winter. It marks the end of the agricultural work - last autumn sowing and harvesting. To this day all agricultural work must be completed.

After St. Petka day to St. Demetrios (26 October / 8 November), during the fertilization of domestic cattle, women should not work with wool and scissors tied with red thread - "to not open the mouth of the wolf", also to knit.

These twelve days called "wolf or vampire stroked" are sacred boundary between the old and the new year. In these days bizarre creatures roam the land and the human world is chaotic and dangerous.

According to legend, women who do not respect this decree will be visited by Petka - in the form of a snake or wisened woman who wants to die. It is believed that if a person wears garments sewn in the days between St. Petka Day and St. Demetrios Day will be mad or sick, then his death will become a vampire.

In 1393 Paraskeva’s relics were transferred to Belgrade to the Ružica Church, from where they were transferred to Constantinople in 1521, when Belgrade fell to Ottoman forces, and the first Ružica Church was demolished. Today’s Ružica Church (Little Rose Church) is the oldest and one of the most beautiful churches in Belgrade.

In the time of Despot Stefan Lazarević (see the Despot’s Tower above), there was an old church of the same name, the one that was destroyed in 1521.

According to a folk tale, there were three sisters: Ružica, Marica and Cveta, and each one of them raised a Church as their endowment and legacy in the area of Belgrade Fortress, and named the churches after themselves. Ružica Church has been there ever since and it was built in honour of St. Petka’s wellspring which flows beneath it.

Another legend tells that in former times there was a king who had daughter Ružica, who became ill one day and nobody could cure her.

Then the king received the news that his daughter would recover if somebody brought her water from the spring at the confluence of two rivers. A knight found the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers and brought the water to the king’s daughter who promptly got well. To express his gratitude, the king built a church on that place and named it after his daughter Ružica. The rebuilt church was sanctified on 10 December 1876, and handed it over to the garrison of the Fortress to use it as its martial Church.

During the World War I the Church was severely damaged. It was one of the main targets for the canon attacks because of the battery that was located next to the Church. The part of the church was completely destroyed.

The church was rebuilt and consecrated on 11 October 1925. During this renovation two statues were placed at the church entrance. One represents Emperor Dušan’s spearmen and the other represents the infantry man from the Balkan wars. Chandelier and flower vases were made out of rifle bullets and pistol shots from the Great War, Serbian sabers, cannon ammunition and parts of military trunks. Its symbolism is pretty simple: never again should the madness such was the Great War happen.

From there you can walk downhill to the lower town and the river bank, and leave churches, gates and towers of the upper town behind.

You’ll also leave the wall of Belgrade Zoo behind. For good. It’s a miserable place, and no matter how hard it tried to improve its look in the last two decades, it will remain a miserable place. A remarkable story about the Belgrade Zoo is that in the late 80s lots of animals there were diagnosed with venereal diseases - diseases that don’t appear in the animal world. Probably in similar ways in which Belgrade (Fortress) attracted lunatics over centuries, Belgrade Zoo located within the Belgrade Fortress attracted other modern day lunatics who’d jump over the walls at night.

On your way to the river bank you’ll pass the Old Turkish Bath. It was built in the 18th century in a cutting in the hill that was created in 1690 when a powder magazine located here was destroyed in an explosion. The Bathroom was damaged in 1944 in World War II, it was rebuilt, and used as  a planetarium since 1969. I have some fond memories from my school days, but today this building looks abandoned and like it’s falling apart.

Next on your way to the river side is Karl VI / Charles VI Gate. It was built in 1736 in the honor of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles. The building maybe motivated him to ally with Russia in 1737 and go on another Turkish War that ended in a decisive Austrian defeat. In the Treaty of Belgrade signed on 21 August 1739, the Habsburgs ceded the Kingdom of Serbia with Belgrade to the Ottomans, and set the demarcation line to the rivers Sava and Danube. So the Gate remained on the Ottomans’ side. The crest on western side of the gate is the oldest preserved crest in Belgrade. So much about Charles VI here.

So at the edge of Ottoman Empire there is Nebojša Tower. This best preserved and biggest medieval tower is located at the end of the north-eastern rampart. The tower was built around 1460 by the Hungarians at the very river bank and it protected the entrance to the medieval wharf. In the 16th century it was mentioned by travel writers as a White Tower. During the 1521 Siege of Belgrade, cannons from the tower successfully defended the city from the Ottoman invasion from July to August. Only after the Ottomans managed to set the tower on fire, they managed to conquer the city. The tower was used a dungeon and due to the conditions there and the practice of strangling the (faithless, Christian) prisoners and throwing them through the openings of the tower into the river, Nebojša Tower became one of those dark symbols of Belgrade.

Allegedly the tower got it’s current name after the biggest and most successfully defended tower of the Upper Town - Nebojša Tower, which was destroyed after an explosion of a powder magazine in 1690. The one that made space for the Old Turkish Bath. So much about the „official“ version. Psychogeography tells another story. Nebojša means something like „fearless“ in Serbian. So the most fearless ones were defending the city from this place.

As one of the places that can be seen below Zindan gate I mentioned the remains of a Metropolitan Court. You can visit it if you go back towards the hill below Zindan Gate.

On this plateau below the Danube slope there once stood the most cherished building of medieval Belgrade - The Cathedral Church Of The Dormition Of Our Lady. It housed the Miraculous Icon Of Our Lady, patroness of the town. Next to it it was the residence of Belgrade’s metropolitans. This court was built during the rule of Despot Stefan Lazarević in the first half of the 15th century on the foundations of an older edifice. It was destroyed in a fire during the Turkish siege of Belgrade in 1521. Unfortunately, there are no preserved remains of the church. After the Ottomans took over Belgrade on August 29 1521, the church was turned into a mosque named after Suleiman, the conquering sultan.

It was severely damaged by a gunpowder explosion during the 1717 Austrian siege, and several years later it’s remains were completely demolished. Those events added more layers of blood and destruction, but as long as there is memory, those buildings can be visited and felt.

Next on your way back to the Upper Town there is another cave - Big Powder Magazine built during the Austrian reconstruction in early 18th century, and in the middle of the 18th century the magazine was surrounded by protective wall in order to create a safe place protected from the enemy artillery. It obviously remained the safe place, but later it was abandoned for decades, it was a squat until taken over by the city and restored as an exhibition hall for the many Roman relics found throughout the city.

The greatest relic is probably Jonah's sarcophagus, around 1500 years old, that tells a lot about early Singidunum, Belgrade. The sarcophagus belongs to the pagan, Pannonian type sarcophagi that were often decorated with Noric-Pannonian scrolls. What makes it unique in the region of Moesia (an ancient region and later Roman province situated in the Balkans south of the Danube River. It included most of the territory of modern-day Central Serbia, Kosovo and the northern parts of the modern North Macedonia, Northern Bulgaria and Romanian Dobrudja) is its relief decoration on the front side. In the field usually used for an inscription, one finds carved scenes from the Old Testament story of Jonah and the Good Shepherd.

The place where the sarcophagus was discovered, Singidunum, was one of the most important cities of the provinces of Upper Moesia and of Moesia Prima. The information that we have today on ancient Singidunum, is fragmentary because contemporary Belgrade developed over the top of the Roman city. The erection of a series of later Byzantine, Serbian, Austrian and Ottoman fortifications destroyed most of the remains of the ancient city, but it seems that the residents of local provinces remained faithful to pagan cults for a long period.

The lack of Early Christian artifacts from Singidunum underscores the importance of finds such as the Jonah sarcophagus from Belgrade. But the Belgrade sarcophagus is also a unique example of iconography from the Roman provinces in the Balkans. Its sophisticated iconographic decoration with a typical early Christian salvific theme bears witness to the existence of an organised church in Singidunum in the fourth century. The pagan elements in the decoration of the sarcophagus testify to the coexistence of two religions and the sarcophagus can therefore be regarded as a product of a transitional period. Here, instead of reclining, Jonah is shown as being spit out by the ketos with arms outstretched toward the Good Shepherd as if reaching out to Him in hopes of being saved. The entire scene is placed under the gourd plant with the bird on it, that symbolises resurrection.

There is putto riding the dolphin. Representations of antique putto are rare in Jonah cycles. I could go on here, but maybe this is enough information, a guideline for a proper ride through timespace in front of the sarcophagus that represents a valuable witness to the life and faith of Early Christian community in Singidunum.

Since 1995 parts of the Big Powder Magazine were used for parties, and although some details from the early 90s are blurred, I remember playing on one occasion during my semester break. Something I vividly remember from that night, the track that I still love today was "Diesel Drudge" by Planetary Assault Systems. That night was probably one of the first nights there organised by Gordan Paunovic and his crew.

Lots of it can be written about Gordan and his importance, Radio B92 defunct since 2015, lots of it is already written about it, and because lots of it happened outside of the Belgrade Fortress, I’ll leave it here as honorable mention only.

From there you can take the steep stairway to Defterdar’s Gate. Its medieval gate that connects Lower Town with Upper Town, and it offers a great view of the rivers, New Belgrade and sunsets. There were times where the gate and it’s surrounding were less quiet. In striking distance to it there is Mehmed Pasha Fountain built in 1576. It was the first public drinking fountains. It’s the only endowment of Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic left in Belgrade, but it’s a beautiful evidence of Turkish culture in Belgrade.

Next thing you’ll see from there is Pobednik or The Victor, a monument erected in 1928 as a reminder and symbol of Serbia’s victory over Ottoman Empire (Balkan Wars) and Austro-Hungarian Empire (First World War). The bronze sculpture by the famous Yugoslavian sculptor Ivan Mestrović is one of Belgrade’s most noticeable symbols, and there is plenty of information about Victor’s artistic and historical values. More significant for a psychogeographic walk through the Belgrade Fortress is the story of Victor’s placement there, which is great example of the execution of the classic idiom "Srpska posla" (Serbian business). Original idea was that Victor should be placed in the middle of a fountain in the center of the city, but this big bronze guy with a falcon and a sword offended those who thought that he doesn’t represent a Serbian soldier, and it also offended those who claimed that his nudity in the city centre would damage the moral of Belgrade girls. After months of discussions it was decided to place Victor at the mouth of Sava and Danube rivers. Victor was erected in a way that his genitals are clearly visible from the area across the confluence of two rivers, until 1918a domain of Austro-Hungarian Empire. Unfortunately at the moment Victor is removed and transported for necessary reparation out of Belgrade for the first time since it was posted. He should return in 2020.

But 30-40 meters from Victor, or the place where Victor was, there is still the phantasmagoric Roman Well with it’s strange and cruel history. Documents from medieval times mention the existence of the pit that was used as storage for food in the case of occupation, but also as a dungeon.

Roman Well is the place of one of the monstrous executions in the endless string of executions in the Belgrade Fortress.

In 1494 Belgrade was the border fort of the Kingdom of Hungary. 37 Hungarian conspirators who wanted to let the Turks in the city were dropped there, after their conspiracy was discovered. They were left without food, and when they started to lose their minds, knives were thrown in the pit. The conspirators used them to kill and eat each other.

The present facility is 60,15 meters deep, surrounded by a double spiral staircase with 212 steps. There are stories about divers sent down during German occupation during the World War II. It was believed that at the bottom there is hidden gold from the National Bank of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Some documents mention one diver, some mention three divers. They never came back, their bodies were never found.

There is some dark cold breeze that ascends from the bottom of the well, from the underworld below today’s Belgrade. Some historians say that the current well was dug in the 18th century by Austrians, some say that the well is much older.

Too many legends to mention here are linked to the Roman Well, but the most interesting one is the story that says that this mysterious place is the navel of the world, similar to Delphi. In Greek mythology Zeus who wanted to know where the center of the earth is, sent two eagles from the two ends of the world. The eagles crossed their paths above the area of Delphi where Zeus placed an omphalos, a stone that marked the navel of the world. The legend of the Roman Well in Belgrade follows the story of the Romans, who considered that it was in this place, the meeting of the two eagles, where Orpheus found a passage to Hades and Underworld.

When you leave the Underworld, you’ll pass the Royal gate built between 1693 and 1696, and find a sweet quiet spot on the edge of the walls. I spent countless hours here watching the sunset, the rivers or so called Branko’s Bridge that connects the Old and New Belgrade. It’s name is actually Brotherhood and Unity Bridge, but I assume that not many people remember that. The bridge is an extension of the Brankova street. This Branko was Branko Radičević, Serbian poet who died on 1 July 1853. But Branko’s Bridge became Branko’s Bridge for me when Branko Ćopić, a writer who wrote one of my favorite beautifully illustrated novels for children, Ježeva kućica – Hedgehog's House in 1949, committed suicide on 26 March 1984, jumping off the bridge. The bridge in general is infamous as the suicide bridge.

From that spot, the area of Staro Sajmište, Old Fairground, can be seen. In the World War II, 1941-1944, it was Sajmište concentration and extermination camp in todays New Belgrade, territory that at the time was under control of the Independent State Of Croatia. It’s a dark place. Thousands of non-Croats such as Serbs, Jews and Roma passed through the camp. Estimated number of deaths at Sajmište range from 20,000 to 23,000, with the number of Jewish deaths estimated at 7,000 to 10,000. More than a half of all Serbian Jews died there. 

Today the view is slightly less gloomy. From the walls there you can also see Klub 20/44, simply known as The Boat. One of the bastions of Belgrade today. Belgrade with its coordinates: latitude: 44° 48' 14.44" N longitude: 20° 27' 54.47" E.

On the way out of the Belgrade Fortress, pay attention to the more recent reminder from the past, the Tomb of People’s Heroes. It was built in 1948 and holds remains of four recipients of the Order of the People’s Hero of Social Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On it’s front it says: Death to fascism, freedom to the people.

This text was inspired by Kyle Scott. Dedicated to Rokko and Zelda.


Vladimir Ivkovic plays Le Guess Who (7th-10th November) - buy tickets.

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