The newly renovated Nebojsa Tower in Belgrade is a symbol of Balkan solidarity.
By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade – 02/05/11
Serbian President Boris Tadic (left) and Greek counterpart Karolos Papoulias opened on Friday (April 29th) the renovated Nebojsa Tower, built as a symbol of their two nations’ friendship. [Reuters]
The presidents of Serbia and Greece, Boris Tadic and Karolos Papoulias, opened the renovated Nebojsa Tower, one of the most important medieval monuments in Belgrade, on Friday (April 29th). In Serbian, its name means fearlessness and defiance.
The tower, part of the Serbian medieval fortress of Kalemegdan, is also a building of particular importance to the cultural co-operation and friendship between Serbia and Greece.
Built around 1460 by the Hungarians to protect Belgrade from the Ottoman armies, the structure occupies the site of a former Roman military facility dating back to the 1st century AD. When the Ottomans conquered Belgrade in 1521, the Nebojsa Tower was turned into a prison. Greek poet and patriot Rigas Velestinlis, also known as Rigas Ferraios, was tortured and killed there in 1798.
Rigas Ferraios is considered an advocate of strong co-operation between the Balkan countries in the fight for liberation from Ottoman occupation, which can be seen as an antecedent of European unification. According to legend, his last words before execution were: "I have sown, let others reap."
At the same time, in the eyes of the Serbs, the tower is a symbol of resistance to numerous assailants throughout the tumultuous history of Belgrade.
Today's tower, about 22m tall, has been turned into a museum with four exhibition rooms. Its reconstruction started in the spring of 2009 and cost about 2m euros. Greece donated 1.4m, which makes this the biggest donation to culture that Belgrade has ever received.
The April 29th reopening of the tower was attended by the presidents of Serbia and Greece, Boris Tadic and Karolos Papoulias, who said the building was an extremely important place for cultural co-operation between the two states and friendship between the two peoples.
"The Nebojsa Tower has existed for five and a half centuries and has played different roles in this city, had different purposes in our history and is now becoming an important place of connection between the Greek and Serbian peoples," Tadic said.
Papoulias said that the tower renovation also honoured the Greek hero. "He [Rigas Ferraios] is [an] ideologist who gave his life for the vision of national independence of the Balkan peoples and of their brotherhood," the Greek president said, adding that the building's renovation had been accompanied by harmonious bilateral co-operation.
Speaking at the event, Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas said the Nebojsa Tower held great historical importance, not just for Belgrade but for the entire region, because it was "a symbol of fighting, conquering and the achievement of freedom".
As it has been transformed into a museum, the Nebojsa Tower now boasts exhibitions on four levels. The first level houses a section illustrating the turbulent history of Belgrade and the tower itself. The next section is dedicated to Rigas Ferraios, after which visitors can see the part devoted to the First Serbian Uprising against the Turks in 1804. The last section of exhibition space focuses on Serbian and Greek history since independence.
The base of the tower is shaped like an octagon and boasts thick walls. Each side has openings for canons, which could defend the tower from attacks by sea and land. During reconstruction, the architects strived to maintain each part of the heritage the tower acquired over the centuries from the various civilisations that controlled it.