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Every metropolis has its own enigma. Belgrade has several of them, and about one of its greatest writers in this text.
There are some stories that swallow the abyss of historical turmoil forever. Written or unwritten, not many of them remain, as if they were never even destined.
From the top of Avala, where the view reaches to the lowlands of Vojvodina and Šumadija, another such invisible mystery is watching us and a big question mark to which we will hardly be able to give satisfactory answers in the foreseeable future.
Why did King Alexander I Karadjordjevic mind the remains of the city that Evliya Celebi mentions as one of the six most important fortifications in Serbia, and archaeologists claim that people at this site were engaged in mining 4,000 years ago? Other peoples respect their history and keep medieval cities as great shrines. There is no answer and that mystery has never been solved.
Medieval castle Žrnov
Few inhabitants of Belgrade know that the town of Žrnov, also known as Žrnovan, was built on Avala by the Romans. They chose that location for the fortification in order to control the approach to Singidunum, but also to protect their relatives who were about a hundred meters from the top of Avala.
The city was located at the top of Avala, at an altitude of 511 meters. Zrnov or Zrnovo, as it was also called, was a city of fortresses from which the view descended to Belgrade. Archaeologists claim that a mining settlement was located here 4000 years ago.
The presence of the Celts on Avala as well as in Belgrade is a historically established fact and it is believed that they laid the foundations of the fortress. Due to its mineral wealth, Avala was an important destination in history, and one of the first miners who exploited the ore on it were the Scordisci, a tribe formed by mixing Serbs and Celts, so according to some theories, they built the first fortifications.
On these foundations the Romans later erected their watchtowers. From there, they controlled the approaches to Singidunum (Belgrade) and supervised the mining mines on the outskirts of Avala. There is no reliable historical evidence about the significance and use of Žrnovo in the time of Byzantium, but it is certain that the first real fortification was built here during the time of Despot Stefan Layarević.
Ottomans on (H) avala
Having started successfully with the conquest of Serbian territories after the defeat of the Serbian army in Kosovo, the Ottomans reached Belgrade, and in 1442 they captured Žrnov itself. Immediately after the conquest, they strengthened its eastern and southern ramparts, however, two years later, they were forced by the Peace of Szeged to renew the Serbian despotism and return the fortress to the Serbs for an indefinite period.
That period, however, did not last long. Immediately after the deaths of Janos Hunjadi and Djuradj Brankovic, the Turkish army moved to Belgrade again and in 1458 captured Zrnovo. The siege of Belgrade did not succeed, but the Turks from Žrnovo, which they are strengthening, are building a fortress for the siege of the city which is in Hungarian hands.
Obsessed with the conquest of Belgrade, the Turks named the fortress Havala, which means an obstacle or a barrier, and the present name of the mountain, Avala, remained after it. With the fall of Belgrade in 1521, the fortress itself began to lose its strategic importance. However, it is believed that there was a military reconnaissance in Žrnovo until the 18th century.
All sketches, illustrations and photographs of Žrnovo, united in one place:
What the city looked like
Žrnovo consisted of the Lower and Upper Towns, where the Upper Town represented a Serbian fortress with Ottoman expansion, and the Lower Wall, which followed the shape of a mountain. It was connected to the Small Town, which was based on a regular pentagon, surrounded by a dry moat.
The direction of the spread of the Small Town was northwest - southeast and it corresponds to the position of today's monument to the Unknown Hero. The small town with two towers on the southeastern rampart is the oldest part of Žrnovo and was a fortress at the time when the Serbs ruled Žrnovo. It was built in the Middle Ages, but the exact date of construction cannot be determined. The last parts of the city, towers, ramparts and a dry moat around the whole city were built by the Turks in 1458.
There is no trace of the city today, there are only records of its appearance and a couple of photographs that are kept in the National Museum. Evliya lebelebi pointed out that Žrnov is one of the six most important Serbian fortifications. The travel writer Felix Kanic states only that the Romans had their own observation post on Avala, and that the first fortification was built by Serbian rulers, when and which he does not state.
As for the origin of the name Žrnov, it is assumed that it was named after the millstone for grinding ore from the mines that existed along the edges of Avala, which before the Turks was called Žrnov.
The unfortunate fate of Žrnovo
After it stopped playing the role of an important military plant in the 18th century, the fortress of Žrnovo was left to the ravages of time.
However, the problem is not only that it was not taken care of as it deserved at the time of the formation of the Serbian state, but that it was compared to the country by inexplicable negligence and almost barbaric act of the Serbian king Zrnovo before it was fully explored.
The historical and cultural significance of Žrnovo was such that even the world's largest cities would be proud of it, but it seemed to bother Belgrade.
In 1934, Serbian King Alexander I Karadjordjevic, as part of a plan to erect a monument to the Unknown Hero, ordered the demolition of the medieval Serbian city in order to use the plateau on Avala as the foundation for a new monument. Why some other elevation in the vicinity of Belgrade was not used for that monument, of which there are enough, will remain an enigma forever.
I will write something more about the monument that was erected on the site of Žrnovo in tomorrow's article