Turkish and Austrian Rule


The Turks knew that Belgrade was the greatest obstacle in their campaigns towards Central Europe. After the fall of Smederevo in 1440 the Belgrade fortress was under siege by the Turkish army with over 100,000 soldiers, led by Sultan Murad II. Having a strong desire to conquer the town, the Turks have built Žrnov, a stronghold on the Avala hill. From there they were able to observe and control the surrounding area. For almost a century Belgrade has resisted Turkish attacks. Finally, under the command of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, on August 28, 1521, the Turks managed to conquer Belgrade - the rampart of Christianity and the key of defence of whole Hungary. The town was demolished and burnt down, and the way to Western Europe open.

With the moving of border to the north, the strategic position of Belgrade also changes, and in the next 150 years, it was relatively peaceful town with a more significant commercial and communication function. The seat of sandžak (district) was moved from Smederevo to Belgrade and more intensive development of the town began. Crafts and trade prosper more and more in newly reconstructed town of oriental look. It is the meeting point of merchants from Dubrovnik, Venice, Greece and Austria, as well as craftsmen: the Turks, Armenians, Gypsies and Serbs. Near the market-place numerous caravansaries, bezistans and mosques were built. The town has overgrown its former boundaries and ditches and began to spread more and more along the well-known trade routes connecting the East with Europe. Its highest progress under the Turks Belgrade makes in the XVII century, when it counts population of 100,000 and becomes the second-largest town, right after Istanbul.

At the end of the XVII century the plague struck Belgrade and together with fires and revolts of the janissaries it brought the town to stagnancy. After 167 years of relatively peaceful development, the town became a place of war conflicts. After the Turkish defeat under the walls of Vienna in September 1688, the Austrians conquered Belgrade. Two years later, the Turks regained control over it, but these conflicts left Belgrade destroyed and its population killed, persecuted and robbed because of its cooperation with Austrians. After these events Belgrade once again became a border town, and it was so until 1717, when it was conquered again by the Austrians led by Prince Eugene of Savoy. A new fortress was built then in the place of the already completely demolished Belgrade fortress, according to the modern military and strategic requirements.

The Austrian rule over Belgrade in the period from 1717 until 1739 was marked by a real transformation of the town, for then it lost its Turkish and Oriental outlines and it gained characteristics of a mediaeval town. Beside the fortress, many other buildings were constructed, too. Trade was revived, and the Hungarians, Germans, French, Czech and others move to Belgrade more and more. When in 1739 it was captured again by the Turks, it was exposed to heavy destruction. The Turks demolish Austrian barracks and buildings, as well as houses, while many churches were converted into mosques. Once again, Belgrade became a town of Oriental characteristics and with a border position, because the Belgrade peace treaty defined the Sava river as a border line.

On the other side of the river, Zemun gained border position on the Austrian territory. It gained a special status within the region of the Military Border and these conditions allowed it to develop its economy: trade, crafts, shipping and fishing. Citizens' class grew stronger. Forts, churches and state buildings were built. The houses of Karamata, Ičko and Dimitrije Davidović date from this period. The Serbian elementary school was established in 1745 and this town was the place of work of painters and other cultural workers.

At the end of the XVIII century, there were several unsuccessful tries of the Austrians to conquer Belgrade with the Serbian help. After signing the peace treaty of Svishtov in 1791, the Austrians retreated to Zemun, and the janissaries were forbidden entrance to the Belgrade Pashalik (district). After Moustapha-pasha was killed in 1801, the janissaries established their own rule over the town and surrounding villages. That was a period of total anarchy, violence and robberies made by the janissaries. It was finished by the notorious slaughter of the Serbian knezes and other famous Serbs, which was the cause for organizing the insurrection.