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2009, iss. 10, pp. 65-76
article language: Serbian
document type: unclassified
published on: 19/01/2010
The Sava Gate of the Fortress of Belgrade


The Sava Gate was a fortification system built in stages from the 1330s until the second half of the eighteenth century. It was situated on the main southern approach way to the Western Suburb (subsequent Lower Town), which ran along the Sava and led towards the western parts of the Balkans (fig. 1). A quite well preserved structural element of the Fortress until the Anglo-American air raids in 1944, the gate was completely destroyed by two or three direct hits. Its ruins were buried under a thick layer of demolition debris. The layer was levelled, and it was not until 2007 that archaeological excavation was undertaken. The excavation has shown the severely ruined state of the gate (figs. 2-4). Nonetheless, from what has remained of it and the documentary sources (figs. 5-6) it is possible to reconstruct its former plan and to distinguish several building phases (fig. 8). The results obtained through comparative analysis of all available data are presented here in chronological order. To the earliest archaeologically attested phase within the system of the later gate belong the recently discovered remains of the Southern Wall of the Western Suburb with traces of the Southern Gate (fig. 7). This wall ran down the Sava facing slope from the Suburb's Tower VII to riverside corner Tower VI. The discovered portion of the wall with traces of the gate, incorporated into the later Sava Gate, was heavily damaged in 1944 and was razed to what then was the ground level (73.50-73.70). The explosions caused its remaining lower sections to crack and pushed them 0.20m-0.60m towards the interior of the Suburb. As earlier investigations have shown, the Suburb's Southern Wall with the abovementioned gate was built along with other defensive elements of this part of the fortification under King Stefan Dušan, most likely in the 1330s. No later medieval additions to the Southern Wall or reinforcement to the Gate have been observed. In the next building phase which has been observable, the sides and vault of the old medieval gate were pulled down and a new gate was built with the passage enlarged to a width of about 4.20m. This undertaking may be ascribed to the construction works overseen by Andrea Cornaro in 1690-96. The third phase would include the flank of a smaller demi-bastion which made part of the bastioned trace of the Lower Town's Riverside Wall. The demi-bastion was built on the site of former Tower VI soon after Austria took control over the city in 1717. Reliable information about the construction of this part of the fortification can be found in the report of 30 April 1721 that an imperial inspection commission sent from Belgrade to Vienna. It contains a detailed account of all construction works carried out from the Austrian takeover in 1717, and refers to this demi-bastion as already standing. It seems that the old Southern Gate of the Suburb was not intended to undergo any significant reconstruction. During the closing stage of reconstruction works on the Fortress, however, the strengthening of the older Sava Gate did begin, but was never completed. It may be assumed that what was built then was later incorporated into the new Ottoman gate. Following the demolition of the Austrian outer fortifications in 1740, the Ottomans built new defenses following a simpler plan. The new Sava Gate was built in the form of a vaulted passage through the bastioned trace. In terms of structure, it did not differ from other Ottoman-built gates. It abutted the outer face of the Southern Wall of the Suburb on the axis of the existing Southern Gate which was entirely incorporated into it as its inner façade facing the Lower Town. The axis of the new gate's passageway coincided with that of the older gate only partially as it took a slight south-eastward turn towards the outer portal. In the front part of the new gate there were two smaller rooms, of which barely recognizable traces have survived. In the rear part of the gate there was a larger room abutting the former outer face of the Suburb Wall. Although virtually no traces have survived of it, its position and size may be inferred from a souterrain plan of 1790 (fig. 5b). Given that the bend of the gate axis coincides with the position of this room, there is a possibility of interpreting this part of the Sava Gate as Austrian-built. The portal of the Gate, to judge from a surviving draft made in 1916, was built with courses of finely dressed stone. Its sides were accentuated by slender pilasters, and the passage was spanned by a segmental arch. The frame receded about 10cm from the façade. A moulded cornice separated the stone-built façade from the brick-built attica (fig. 10). The construction of the Sava Gate, viewed in the context of the surrounding fortifications on the Sava-facing slope, may be roughly dated to the period of Ottoman reconstruction works on the Fortress or to 1740-60. During the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth no observable interventions were made on the Sava Gate, except for the possible replacement or repair of the cobblestone pavement. The state of the unearthed remains suggests that full reconstruction of the Sava Gate system is no longer feasible, to mention but the loosened and partly dislocated structural remains and lack of the necessary documentation on the appearance and structure of the gate system prior to its destruction in 1944. Only partial reconstructions of the gate system are possible. Especially important would be partial reconstruction of the Suburb's Southern Wall as the most valuable tangible heritage element of the Sava Gate system. Given that the 1944 bombing displaced the remaining portions of the wall mass, reconstruction possibilities are quite limited and the purpose of conservation works will have to be confined to enabling archaeological presentation.


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