Smederevo began life as a Roman settlement on the route from Singidunum to Viminacium. In 1427, it became the new Serbian capital, when the Hungarians took over Belgrade again following the death of Stefan Lazarevic. The castle is triangular in shape, with five gates, 25 large towers, double ramparts and a moat. At one end of the complex is a smaller stronghold that consists of a place and a citadel, which has its own moat and four bastions. On one of the bastions is the date of the building, 6938, the numbers of years reckoned by the Orthodox Church to have elapsed since the world was first created, which corresponds to the date 1430 in the Roman calendar. Considering that the castle was erected very quickly, within a year from 1429-30, its dimensions are hugely impressive: the walls of the keep at the north of the inner fortress are about 5m thick, and the total distance around the perimeter is about 1.5km.
The castle’s construction was by order of Djuradj Brankovic, son of Vuk, who was despot at the time. The notion was to provide an impenetrable barrier to the Turkish advance that was taking place during this period. One legend states that the impoverished peasants who built the castle were obliged to provide thousands of eggs to mix with the mortar in order to firmly secure the stones, while another asserts that it was Branković’s tyrannical Greek wife, Jerina (known by her subjects as ‘Damned Jerina’ and said to bathe only in milk), who gave the order for the castle’s construction. Either way, it is undeniable that a great deal of forced labour had to be recruited to build such an extensive and imposing structure in such a short time.
The Turks eventually arrived to subdue the fortress but it took them more than 20 years to do so. Smederevo Fortress was finally surrendered in 1459 to Sultan Mehmet I, which marked the final victory of the Ottoman Turks over Serbian territory. Immediately, the Turks made the castle the headquarters of their pasalik in the region and it remained in Turkish occupation, with the exception of a brief period of Austrian control, until 1805 when Karadjordje formally received its keys following his initial success with the First National Uprising. Having survived the medieval period more or less intact, the fortress suffered considerable damage in far more recent times when a German ammunition depot blew up part of it in 1941 claiming more than 5,000 lives, and then later in 1944 when it was bombed by Allied forces.