Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Byzantine Skopje Fortress in Macadonia

The Skopje Fortress, commonly referred to as Kale Fortress, is a historic fortress located in the old town of Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia. It is situated on the highest point in the city overlooking the Vardar River. The fortress is depicted on the coat of arms of Skopje, which in turn is incorporated in the city's flag.

The first fortress was built in 6th century AD.  It was constructed with yellow limestone and travertine and along with fragments of Latin inscriptions, assert the idea that the material for the fortress originated from the Roman city of Skupi, which was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 518.

The fortress is thought to have been built during the rule of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I.  The fortress would have been part of Justinian's extensive fortification building program in the Balkans to guard against invasion by Slavic tribes.

The fortress was constructed further during the 10th and 11th centuries over the remains of Emperor Justinian's Byzantine fortress.  The fortress built by Justinian may have been destroyed or damaged due to a number of wars and battles in the region, such as that of the uprising of the Bulgarian Empire against the Byzantine Empire under the rule of Peter Delyan.

The Skopje Fortress, commonly referred to as Kale
Fortress, is a historic fortress located in the old town of
Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia.

The Bulgarian Uprising

During the summer of 1040 in the theme of Bulgaria local people rebelled against the Byzantine Empire.

There were two main causes:
  1. Replacing Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid with Greek (1037) and beginning of process of Hellenisation.
  2. Imposition of taxes in coin for local people by the Byzantine government.
The uprising spread and rebels very quickly took over control over northern part of Pomoravlje and liberated Belgrade. Leader of the rebellion Delyan was proclaimed emperor (Tsar) of Bulgaria in Belgrade under the name Peter II by being raised atop a shield by leaders of the resistance, and perhaps enjoyed some support from Hungary.

Peter II Delyan took Niš and Skopje and the fortress, first co-opting and then eliminating another potential leader in the person of one Tihomir, who had led a rebellion in the region of Durazzo. After this Petar II marched on Thessalonica, where the Byzantine Emperor Michael IV was staying.

Meanwhile, though blinded in a coup, Petar II Delyan resumed command of the Bulgarian forces, but the Byzantine Emperor Michael IV determined to take advantage of the situation and advanced against them. In an obscure Battle of Ostrovo, the Byzantines defeated the Bulgarian troops and Petar II Delyan was captured and taken to Constantinople, where he was perhaps executed. According some legends he was blinded and later exiled to a monastery, in Iskar Gorge, in the Balkan Mountains, where he died.

Not much is known about the Medieval fortress apart from a few documents which outline minor characteristics in the fortress' appearance.

In 1660, Evliya Çelebi, a chronicler of the Ottoman Empire, wrote an in-depth account on the appearance of the fortress while traveling through countries occupied by the Ottoman Empire:

It is a fortified city, a very strong and sturdy fortress with double walls. The city gate and the walls are built from chipped stone that shines as if it were polished. One can not see so much refinement and art in the construction of any other city. The city lies in the middle of Skopje. It is a tall city, of a shedadovska construction and five-sided shape. The walls, that surround the city from all sides, reach the height of around fifty arshini. The city is protected by seventy bastions and three demir gates on its southeast side, and there are many guards in the entrance hall. The door and walls of the entrance hall are decorated with different arms and tools needed for the arms.

There is no site or location that can dominate the city. It lies on tall rocks, so that one can see the whole plain. The river Vardar flows on its western side. On the same side of the city, there is a road that leads through the caves towards the water tower located at the riverbank. Since there is an abyss at this side of the city, as scary as the depths of hell, there are no trenches, nor there can be one. On the east, southeast and north side of the city, there are deep trenches. On that side, in front of the gate, there is a wooden bridge that lies over the trench. The guards used to lift the bridge using a windlass, which provided for defense of the gate. Above the gate, there is an inscription, giving more information about the reparations of the gate that took place in the past. The inscription reads: The wise son of Mehmed-han in the year 1446.

The fortress was partially destroyed yet again by an earthquake in 1963 but was not reconstructed until recently

(Skopje Fortress)

Large Byzantine coin cache found in Macedonia

In 2010 Archaeologists found a Byzantine coin cache at Macedonia's Skopje Fortress, which they say is the largest of its kind to be found in the country.

The chest contained 44 gold coins and 76 Venetian silver coins, dating back to the Byzantine Era, BalkanTravellers reported.

The gold coins bear images of Byzantine Emperors and Biblical motifs, while the silver ones are stamped with the images of Venetian leaders.

According to archaeologist Pasko Kuzman, the coins belonged to the business partners of Byzantine rulers, who lived in other the regions and the Venetian Republic which had close commercial ties with medieval kings.

Since the coins were all found in a small box, they might have had great value at the time and were carefully kept, Kuzman said.    (presstv.ir)

Skopje Fortress, commonly referred to as Kale Fortress. 
The fortress is thought to have been built during the rule
of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I.


Isavros said...


Gary said...

Wikipedia shows Skopje Fortress is in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia.

Unknown said...

hi, do u have any picture of the spaces inside towers ?

Gary said...

Sorry no