The Pirot Fortress
The Pirot Fortress or Kale
The Pirot Fortress, among 10 most beautiful Serbian military fortifications, bore different names through different times. Turres (tower) in the 3rd and 4th century during the reign of the Roman Empire, then Pirgos, Thurib, Momcilo’s city, Kale, Fortress. Today, the most common name used for this fortification built during the rule of Prince Lazar is Kale or The Pirot Fortress
Pirot was first incorporated in the state of Serbia during the time of Stefan Nemanja (1183-1189), while it has been part of its territory during princes Dusan, Uros, and Lazar as well. In the time of Moravian Serbia’s ascension, during the reign of Lazar, Pirot was a strategically important city on the eastern frontier of the state. As the city was located on the way of Ottoman raids, Lazar built the fortification by the right bank of Bistrica River on an isolated rock, by Sarlah Hill. Relatively small, the Fortress comprises of 3 parts: Upper, Mid, and Lower city. The Upper city is built under Lazar and is of a polygonal shape, with the towers with rectangular base. Donzon tower and the entry gate are incorporated in this part. The Mid city was built under Despot Stefan Lazarevic and is of an ellipsoid shape, descending in a stepwise manner towards the foothill. The Lower city is built towards the plain which descends stepwise from southern, eastern, and northern sides of the Upper city. River, acting as a natural defender, is flowing there, which made entering the city available from one side only. The Lower city was built by Turks in the 18th century, and in this part an inscribed tableaux was found, stating that Rahim Pasha has restored the city in 1804.
During the ruling period of Prince Lazar (1371-1389) the army, nobles, and administration were based in the Fortress, while civilians as well could find a refugee among its walls during turbulent times. Already in 1385 and 1386 Lazar faced a powerful invasion of Turks towards Ponisavlje, and Pirot was conquered at once. Prince Lazar sent out the army led by Duke Dimitrije Vojinovic (Jefimija’s brother) to reclaim the city. With the help of residents which allowed him to enter the city, he succeeded in his goals. However, numerous Turkish armies arrived soon after, raiding and burning the city’s surroundings and taking the victory. Mehmed Nesri, an Ottoman chronicler, wrote that Serbian army was led by Lazar’s nephew (assumed to be Stefan or Lazar Music). He evacuated the part of the citizens during the retreat and then set the Fortress on fire. According to some historians, this infuriated Turkish army, which directly led to The Kosovo Battle, where Music family died some years later.
This was not the final fall of Pirot to Ottoman hands. During the rule of Despot Stefan, the son of Prince Lazar, Serbia regained Pirot. Stefan continued with construction of the Fortress initiated by his father. He strengthened it with another layer of ramparts, hence building the Mid city. However, Pirot was not under Serbia’s governance for a long time, as it fell under Ottomans again in between 1425 and 1427. The united army of Serbian and Hungarian crusades managed to liberate the city shortly in 1443, only to lose it again the year after.
By liberating the city from Turks, both Pirot and the Fortress became the part of Serbian state. The fort was used for military purposed until the first half of the 20th century. Nowadays, it is preserved to a great extent, while archeological researches followed by restoration and conservation were conducted by Cultural Monuments Protection Institute from Nis and Ponisavlje Museum from Pirot between 1970 and 1986.
This fortification has been wrongly called Momcilo’s City, according to the belief that the city was built by the duke of Southern Rhodope, Momcilo. Little is known about him besides that he lived in the first half of the 14th century, that he participated in Byzantine civil wars during which he was awarded the title of a despot, and that he was killed in 1345 in the siege of Greek city Peritheorion. Peritheorion became Pirot, which is why it was believed that Momcilo is the city’s founder. Recent archeological excavations proved that the city was built in the second half of the 14th century, which disqualifies Momcilo as its founder.
The look of the Fortress
The Upper city was built on a high rock by Bistrica River, not far from its confluence in Nisava. It was spreading in the direction of west-east in an irregular polygonal shape dimensions 50 with 35 meters, with four towers positioned, each positioned in direction of one side of the world. The towers were connected with strong ramparts, while the entry gate was located on southwestern part of the rampart alongside the protruding fifth tower. The high Donzon tower was on the northern side, on the very top of the rock from which the wide Pirot field could be seen. Facades of both ramparts and towers were built from shattered carved stones with inserted fragments of Ancient bricks.
The Mid city of an ellipsoid shape and dimensions of 70 with 60 meters is descending stepwise from the south, east, and north towards the foothill of the rock. It is surrounded with string ramparts where towers and arcades used to be. It is as well built from irregular shattered stones. High rocks and the river behind the city were a natural defense; hence the city was approachable from one side only. Even this route was mostly restricted due to swampy soil.
The third part of the Fortress, the Lower city, is shaped after irregular rectangle dimensions of 180 with 130 meters, spreading in the direction of the southwest and the northeast. It is built in the 18th century in the area towards the river, with weaker ramparts and loopholes. It had 3 gates: Nis, Stambol and Knjazevac. The necessary defense was strengthened by building an aqueduct 6 meters wide.
Rehabilitation and renovation of The Pirot Fortress
Archeological excavations in the area of The Pirot Fortress discovered that a settlement predating Antiquity existed there. Through a program of the cross-border cooperation with Bulgarian city of Montana, a sum of 405.000 Euros was invested, out of which EU invested 344.000. The rest of the funds arw enabled through co-financing of the users. Deputy Head of EU Delegation to Serbia, Oscar Benedict, the mayor of Pirot, Vladan Vasic, and the ambassador of Bulgaria to Serbia, Rastko Vlajkov, announced the beginning of the reconstruction works.
Researchers have discovered that during the reign of Emperor Constantine in the 2nd and the 3rd century a settlement back then known as Turres was the main stop on route to Nis (Naisus) to Sofia (Serdik). This was not only a tower or a station for changing the wagons, but a serious settlement serving as a market between the two cities. In the radius of circa 500 meters there was an ancient suburb with a necropolis where the remains of pottery and coins were found. However, the biggest discover is the very size of the city, with length of more than 150 meters, foundations wide almost 4 meters and deep almost 2 meters. New research projects concluded that on this place legions were stationed too, with the task of securing and maintaining the military road of Via militaris.
The reconstruction includes a partial restoration of the foundation and towers, as well as little church and ramparts. Conservational activities were conducted primarily to preserve the complex from the future decay and make it accessible for visitors through a space for exhibits, multimedia presentations, museum units, and workshops for children. The main exhibit will be displayed in the southwestern tower, which was reconstructed in 2009, the same time a well was found in the complex. Donzon tower will accommodate children and exhibits aimed for their age. In the remaining two towers, displays and exhibits will change which will enable artists and photographers to exhibit there. To ease the visitors’ experiences, info boards will be posted.
Additionally, The Pirot Fortress is registered as a cultural monument of great value. Through its restoration, the visitors will be able to learn about the complete history of this place, spanning across two millennia.