Cultural Corridors of South East Europe

South East Europe / Diagonal Road

Medvedgrad Fortress

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Medvedgrad Fortress

About the site

Corridor: Diagonal Road
Country: Croatia, Zagreb
Type: Fortress
Epoch: Middle Ages
Theme: Fortresses
World Heritage:
Middle AgesFortressesFortress

The medieval noble town at the top of the southern slope of Medvednica is the most important example of medieval civil architecture in Zagreb. Zagreb’s Bishop Filip built the Medvedgrad fortress in the 13th century, after King Bela IV granted him a deed authorising its construction. The fortress on Medvednica had great strategic significance. It could be easily defended during times of war, and it was situated near the west border of the Hungarian-Croatian state. The double-ringed protective walls were impressively high and thick and the strong towers, together with the well-defended accesses and entrances to the town, show what a well-organised defence structure this really was. Access is possible only from the north, where the entrance to the town is located. From the first gateway, there is a long, narrow, funnel-shaped corridor between the inside and outside ring-like walls leading to the second gateway, emerging on an area of open space. If an invader managed to get past all of this, he would be surprised by yet another door. All these facts were no secret to potential invaders, so Medvegrad has not seen many attempts at invasion in its history. From the time, Medvedgrad was built and throughout the following seven centuries, it had a total of 107 owners. Until the 16th century, it was owned by several distinguished noble families, such as Bela IV, Draskovic, Gregorijanec, Radic, Zrinski, Andrija III, Zagreb Kaptol, and King Matijas Korvin. When Bishop Filip became Archbishop in Ostrogon in 1262, the king 'temporarily' took Medvedgrad from the Diocese, installed his own garrison, and allegedly stored his treasure there. Slavonian viceroys on behalf of the King ruled Medvedgrad. Since the Diocese of Zagreb considered Medvedgrad its property, it kept demanding that the King return it to its rightful owner. However, the new owners were not willing to give up such a large estate and repeatedly ignored the Diocese’s demands. These were feudal times, and the property owner imposed heavy taxes on the peasants for maintenance of the estate and for soldiers' pay; the peasants paid the taxes by supplying the soldiers and property owners with wine and wheat. The main part of the Medvedgrad estate was situated in the woody hills surrounding Zagreb. The villagers in this area were mostly winegrowers. Sufficient means for managing such a large estate as Medvedgrad was not available in these hills, so the feudal lords made constant efforts to expand the estate to as wide an area as possible. Their methods in doing so were mostly violent, with a complete disregard for the law. When the Zagreb Diocese finally regained ownership of the fortress after several decades, it could not use it (but had to pay for its maintenance nonetheless) because the former owner – Viceroy Stjepan Babonic – refused to leave. In the 16th century, due to the development of new weaponry and military strategy, Medvedgrad lost the defensive significance it had formerly had. Besides, the new living requirements of the feudal lords made such inaccessible hillside forts unsuitable for living. In the second half of the 16th century, the feudal lords left the forts and castles in the hills and moved to the lowlands. The feudal lords of Medvedgrad followed this general trend, and so the Medvedgrad squire, Stjepko Gregorijanec, finally decided to leave the fortress at that time. After the earthquake of 1574, the fort acquired new tenants: gendarmes appointed by the Croatian Parliament to maintain order. The fort was entirely abandoned in 1590, after it was severely damaged in an earthquake.
Medvedgrad further deteriorated over the years, until the Croatian Restoration Institute started research and restoration work there in 1975.

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