27 Dec Momchil’s City, the fortress in Pirot
In Serbia’s deep south, along the road to Constantinople, find the city of Pirot nestled between the Stara (Old), Suva (Dry) and Vlaska mountains. Located in an area where the Nisava, Jerma, Visocica and Temstica rivers cross, experience the charm of a 14th-century stone fortress located on the periphery of Pirot, Momchil’s City.
The city of Pirot has been a crossroads since the Roman Period, when the famous Via Militaris passed through here. At the end of this road, on the banks of the Nisava river, a 3rd-century settlement called Mutacio Turess existed here in the form of a fortress. When old Slavic tribes moved here later on, however, the former settlement changed its name to Pirot, deriving from the Greek word Pirgos, which means “tower”.
Divided in two parts, Pazar and Tijabar, Pirot is connected by three bridges, being Gazela, Golemi and the Love bridges, the last of which is accessible only to pedestrians. The main street of Pirot, Serbian Rulers street leads right to the fortress. While you’re passing through the city, however, take the opportunity to visit the house of Hriste Jovanovic, a typical Balkan house turned museum, where you may find various interesting articles and rarities tied into the daily lives and traditions of folk from this area. Among them are some of city’s trademarks, including Pirot’s famous pottery and homemade rugs. The vibrantly colored red and white rugs feature geometrical patterns and are very resilient. Pirotian households were once workshops for these rugs as almost all local women were able to craft them.
Adventure options near Pirot are in abundance as well. Aside from visiting the nearby Temska and Sukovo monasteries, Pirot serves as a great base for adventuring throughout the Stara Planina National Park — located east, hiking atop the Suva (Dry) Mountain with its peak Trem — located West, and exploring the Jerma River, home to the Poganovo monastery — located south.
It is believed that Bulgarian brigand turned opportunistic mercenary, Momchil erected the fortress during the 14th century. Though, another theory suggests that Prince Lazar built the city to protect his fellow Serbs from the Ottomans as well as the Bulgarians. In any case, the fortress is still known as Momchil’s city and perhaps that is perhaps the most accurate version of this historic event.
Not much is known about Momchil, other than that he existed during the first half of the 14th century and participated in civil wars within the Byzantium, with his military prowess earning him the title of despot. Following Momchil’s death in 1345, other prominent warriors of the period took over the fortress, including Dimitrije Kobilic, who Turkish historian Mehmed Nesri described as a very capable military leader. In one instance he led a siege against the Turks, which resulted in an evacuation and lead to the Battle of Kosovo in 1389.
Momchil’s City was erected on the site of a 3rd-century Roman tower. It consists of three parts, being the Upper, Middle and Lower towns. Upper Town was built during the first decades of the 14th century, though it’s unknown whether it was by Momchil or Prince Lazar. This part of the fortress is home to the entrance game. It features an elongated polygonal shape with rectangular towers, as well as the donjon tower within the Upper Town.
Next, the Middle Town was built of broken stone during the reign of the despot Stefan Lazarević. It features an ellipsoidal shape and descends toward the plain.
Finally, Lower town was built low along the plain, which is where it got its name. A river behind the fortress makes a natural barrier, so entrance to the city was possible only through Upper Town, which was difficult enough in itself. Lower Town was built in the form of an irregular rectangle and had three gates: Niska, Stambol and the Knjazevac gates. Here, a plaque with a sign was found which testifies that in 1804 the city was renewed by the Rahim pasha.
Tips & Essentials:
- Visit from the beginning of July to mid-August, when the Pirot Cultural Summer festival is held.
- Visit the nearby Zavojsko Lake
How to get Momchil’s City:
Many major roads lead to Pirot, as well as through to Istanbul and Sofia, making the fortress easy to get to. If you’re heading from Novi Sad or Belgrade, take the E75 through Nis and continue to Pirot along the E80, which leads through the Sicevo Gorge.
Some major Serbian cities have multiple daily buses travelling to Pirot, including Subotica, Novi Sad, Belgrade and Nis. This also applies for trains, as many travelling to Sofia and Istanbul pass through Pirot.
The number of bus station in Pirot is +381 10 332 548 and it is best to ask them for the exact timetable. Regarding rail schedules, it is easiest to visit the Serbian Railways website by clicking here. The contact number for the railway station in Pirot is +381 10 337 309, in Belgrade +381 11 2641 488 and in Novi Sad +381 21 443 200. Contact any of the aforementioned for scheduled train times.
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