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Đerdap Gorge and Golubac Fortress

Đerdap Gorge

The Danube River flows through Serbia and after passing through the capital city of Belgrade, runs eastwards, subsequently following a section of the border with neighbouring Romania. It is along here the river is at its most dramatic, passing through the towering limestone cliffs of the 100km (62 mile) long Đerdap gorge system. In the broad sense, this section of the river, which divides the southern Carpathian Mountains and north-western foothills of the Balkan Mountains, is commonly known as the Iron Gates. However, the term Iron Gate technically refers to just the last 3km (2 mile) long gorge of the system, just beyond the Romanian city of Orșova. The Đerdap gorge is Europe's largest river gorge and comprises four interconnecting gorges in total. The canyon is just 150m wide in places, with cliffs that soar up to 500m in height.

The Roman Emperor Trajan (53-117AD) was the first to build a road here and to mark its completion, today can be seen the Tablet of Trajan, a monumental carving dating from 103 AD, although this can only be seen by boat. Medieval empires on opposing banks of the river once fought over the great riverside fortresses of Golubac (see below) and Ram. Since the second half of the 20th century, along this section of the Danube River there have been sited two hydroelectric dams, with two power stations; Iron Gate I Hydroelectric Power Station and Iron Gate II Hydroelectric Power Station. Either side of the river are situated areas of conservation (the Iron Gates natural park on the Romanian side and the Đerdap national park on the Serbian side). Although Trajan's route and many other historic sites were submerged when the dams raised the water level, a modern road on the Serbian side weaves its way through the Đerdap gorge system, and it is along this route the photographs on this webpage were taken (in November 2017).

Following the river downstream, the main sites along this route include the aforementioned Ram Fortress (a 15th century Ottoman fortress, Viminacium (a Roman site dating from the 1st century AD), the Golubac Fortress (which is featured in more detail below), Lepenski Vir (a settlement where archaeologists have uncovered seven layers of prehistoric civilization; for the visitor interested, there is a museum at the site), Rajkova Cave (open to visitors), the aforementioned Tablet of Trajan (moved from its original position when the river level rose due to the hydroelectric project and visible only by boat) and also the Đerdap dams themselves. A final note on the hydroelectric plants; after construction, Beluga sturgeon populations in the river dramatically dropped as their migration route was blocked. Further photos of the Đerdap gorge may be seen in the thumbnail gallery below (click to enlarge):

Golubac Fortress

The Golubac Fortress is a medieval fortification that was constructed right at the very entrance to the Đerdap Gorge. The site was chosen as a naturally protected spot from which it was easy to control all of the land and water routes that were connecting the East and the West.

The exact date of construction and under which Hungarian King this was is unclear. However, as a fortress with the army stationed inside it, historians point it to dating from the late 13th or early 14th centuries. During this time, the Danube formed the border between Hungary and Serbia, which led to many battles over control of this area, although it is known that the fortress was mainly under Hungarian rule. Only until sometime between 1402 and 1410 did the Serbian Ruler Despot Stefan Lazarević (1377-1427) receive the fortress as a gift from the Hungarian King Sigismund, on the condition that he returned it after his rule had ended. After the death of Lazarević, the fortress commander (duke Jeremija) refused to give it back to the Hungarians, instead selling it to the Turks for 12,000 ducats. This led to one of the biggest battles in the fortress’ history (in 1428). The Polish knight Zsawizsa Czarny (a national hero) died in the battle, fighting for king Sigismund, although the fortress remained in Ottoman hands. As an important border fortification right from its construction, the Golubac Fortress was constantly the scene of battles between the Hungarians, Serbs and Ottoman Empire. In the year 1444, the Turks gave the fortress to Lazarević’s inheritant, Djuradj Brankovic, as part of a treaty. However, in 1458, the fortress once again came under Ottoman rule, and remained so until the early 19th century.

At the time of the visit the photographs on this webpage were taken (November 2017), Golubac Fortress was undergoing some restoration work (expected to end soon as of then) and unfortunately access to the interior was not possible, however, the newly opened informative visitors centre and exhibition were open and provided an excellent insight into the history of the site. Some photos from it can be seen in the thumbnail gallery below (click to enlarge):

Golubac Fortress consists of two parts; the upper (and oldest) part contains the tallest, donjon tower and the lower part, comprising the outer fortification. The palace and tower that defended the outer fortification were constructed during the rule of Lazarević. The fortress was originally built during the age of cold weaponry. However, when the Turks conquered it, they fortified the outer tower and added a cannon tower. Modifications were made to the towers to enable the cannonballs to ricochet more easily; the 15th century brought with it the use of firearms and so the architecture of the fortress had to be modified accordingly in order to withstand the new ways of doing battle. Further photos taken around Golubac Fortress may be seen in the thumbnail gallery below (click to enlarge):

Despot Stefan Lazarević

Despot Stefan Lazarević (1377-1427) was a Knight of the Order of the Dragon (a monarchical chivalric order for selected nobility) and one of the greatest rulers and army generals of his time.

During his time, Serbia faced a difficult period after the Battle of Kosovo and he was forced to accept to become the vassal to the Turks, battling for Sultan Bayezid I. However, after the Turks suffered a heavy defeat in the Battle of Ankara in 1402, a fight for the Ottoman throne started between Bayezid’s sons. Changes in South-eastern Europe in the 15th century resulted in Despot Stefan Lazarević becoming closer in allegiance to the Hungarian King Sigismund. Soon, Lazarević became a Hungarian vassal, and as a sign of his good ties, he received Mačva, Belgrade and Golubac from the Hungarian King. The Golubac Fortress was put under Lazarević’s rule around the years 1402-1410, whereby he rebuilt and expanded the fortress. He had constructed an entire outer fortification and a palace on the river bank. Constantine the Philosopher, Lazarević’s biographer, spent some time in the fortress at Golubac, after returning from Constantinople in 1410, where he took part in the battle between Bayezid’s heirs. He also wrote that Lazarević’s ally, Musa, took refuge in the fortress after losing a battle at Edirne (a city in the very northwest of modern-day Turkey). During the rule of Despot Stefan Lazarević, despite difficult times, Serbia became a politically stable country, with the economy and army strengthened. Lazarević was prolific in the arts, writing (including poetry – his most well-known poem being Slovo ljubve), translating, and he was a patron of artists. He is remembered for the Resava School of Copyists in the Manasija monastery and for moving the capital to Belgrade. Another page featured on this website relevant to his life and times may be found on the link Here (Manasija Monastery).

References and Further Reading

1. In-Situ Literature and Information Boards
2. Mitchell, Laurence. (2005). Serbia. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.
3. Willis, Matt. DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Serbia. DK Publishing.

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