Emerging of Roman Belgrade
Recently, during the works on the tram rails running by Kalemegdan, parts of a 1.800 years old Roman fortification were discovered. Based on conducted researches, the main communication routes within the city, the positions of the northeastern wall and main elements of infrastructure were determined with certainty. Numerous big questions about the attitude of present Belgrade towards the Roman one were also excavated. If this generation does not give real answers, it will already be too late for the next one

NR Press

Already in elementary school, most of our pupils learn that a significant Roman fortification named Singidunum used to be in the place of present Belgrade. However, even after 150 years of explorations, its remains are not completely accessible to tourists or other people curious about Belgrade history. After World War II, under the excuse of following the unstoppable progress of the capital of our ”nations and nationalities”, most of the archeological remains were covered with concrete and asphalt, or, in the best case, buried again and left for some ”better times” (as the case was with the Roman bath in Studentski Park). Two weeks ago, after removing the tram rails running by Kalemegdan, parts of a 1.800 years old Roman fortification saw the light of day. The news soon became headlines in numerous printed and electronic media, and more Belgrade people and tourists stopped to see the Roman remains before entering the Belgrade fortress and to ask the archeological crew for additional explanations.
– In the several millennia of human life at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube, specially emphasized is the Antique period – says Stefan Pop Lazić, PhD for National Review, expert of the Belgrade Institute of Archeology, head of this research, chief of the large team of archeologists, students and workers engaged in the excavations. – The presence of the Roman civilization is noted already in the early I century A.D. Graves with Roman artifacts from the I century were discovered at the large prehistoric graveyard in Karaburma and Rospi Ćuprija. However, the first period of establishing the Roman Singidunum is related to the arrival of the Roman army to the area of present Belgrade. For the time being, it remains unknown which Roman military unit was the first to take over this area. Humble remains of a military camp explored in Knez Mihailova 30 indicate that a street constructed at the end of the I century could have represented the main internal traffic route. Its direction corresponds with the position of present Kosovska, Vasina and Uzun Mirkova streets.
The oldest Roman cemeteries in the Belgrade area originate from that period, when the Roman troops fought against the Dacia Kingdom over the Danube – explains Pop Lazić. Graves of cremated dead people, with remains of dishes, lamps, coins and other artifacts originating from the very end of the I and early II century were discovered in Cincar Janko’s Street. After the victory over the Dacians and establishing the Roman province of Dacia, the Legio IV Flavia Felix was permanently stationed in Singidunum. They built a stone fortification and its remains are immediately under the present Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan. That big camp, covering an area of 20 hectares, spread from the City of Belgrade Library (one can see the remains of the southeastern gate in its Roman Hall), all the way to the northwestern wall of the Upper City.
– The northeastern border was near the ”Cvijeta Zuzorić” Pavilion, whereas the southwestern wall was discovered under the Sava promenade – continues Mr. Pop Lazić. – The camp interior included rows of legionnaires’ barracks near the walls. There was a street between them, with access to walls and towers, while the headquarters, where military decisions were brought, war actions analyzed and administrative jobs completed, were in the center. A special building was intended for storing supplies for soldiers. One such building from the Late Antique period was discovered in the Upper City, in front of the Clock Tower.


Based on explorations of other camps on the territory of the Roman Empire, it is known that the remaining space was occupied with baths, hospitals and warehouses.
Three defensive trenches outside of the camp made the intrusion of enemies and conquering the walls difficult, continues Mr. Pop Lazić. Numerous stone balls testify that throwing devices were used during defense. Swords, remains of shields, armors, spears and arrows illustrate the equipment a Roman legionnaire used in everyday battles.
– Two streets exited into the civil settlement (municipium Singidunum) through the southeastern gate. The buildings of the civil settlement covered the area from the present Kralja Petra Street to the Republic Square, from Kosančićev Venac towards the Sava and from Gospodar Jovanova towards the Danube. That small settlement had all elements Roman cities were proud of. The Forum (main square) was located near the National Bank of Serbia building in Kralja Petra Street. The famous Roman baths were in the present Studentski Park and in front of the Faculty of Philosophy. At the city’s edges, by the National Theater and in Gospodar Jovanova Street, workshop furnaces for producing ceramics were discovered. Cemeteries used to be along the streets at the city exits.
That is where numerous tombstones originate from. Some of them have preserved inscriptions with the names of the inhabitants of Singidunum, their vocations, age, and social status. Based on this, we know that some ancient Belgrade people lived even to the age of 90.
– The latest explorations conducted during the reconstruction of the tram rails reliably identify the main communication routes, positions of the northeastern wall, as well as the main elements of the camp infrastructure – adds Mr. Pop Lazić. – We already knew that, immediately along the walls, there was a street for approaching the walking path on the rampart and the entrances into the towers. Waterworks and sewage canals were parallel with that street. A sword from the first half of the III century was discovered in one of them in 1973, a unique finding in this part of the Empire. Besides the large edifice in the northeastern part of the camp which could have served as a military hospital, another edifice was also discovered near one of the main streets in the camp. That edifice had a big gate, with a preserved 4 meters long threshold. The entrance was through the porch ornamented with small red bricks arranged in the form of a fishbone. One would walk further on a floor made of special waterproof mortar. Skillful Roman masons knew how to warm the houses using the floor heating system. The remains of this system were also discovered in the southwestern part of the edifice. Unfortunately, this part of the edifice was significantly damaged during earlier construction works. It seems that this time too, most part of the remains of the Roman Singidunum will remain under the modern city infrastructure.


About Future Explorations
With regards to presenting and revitalizing the Roman Singidunum, people should first be shown the sites which are today located in free areas, such as the thermae in Studentski Park and the Plateau in front of the Faculty of Philosophy, as well as the villa on Kosančićev Venac – says Stefan Pop Lazić, PhD. – Then all future edifices which will be discovered during constructing new buildings should be processed. Unfortunately, such a site has just been destroyed near the City of Belgrade Library, because the principle of fitting Antique into modern architecture had not been applied. However, we have the whole area of Kalemegdan for future studies. Rows of edifices from the early II to the late IV century are below the park. Archeological excavations await us, as well as presenting all this to the wider public within the historical complex of the Belgrade Fortress. First we have to explore and present large sites such as the Lower City and Kalemegdan, where Antique architecture was preserved. All these places could be great tourist destinations in Belgrade. We only need a little bit of good will for compromise.


About the Authorities and Investors
Founding of the Public Company ”Belgrade Fortress” a few years ago was supposed to manifest a clear intention of the Belgrade authorities to care better and more systematically about the monuments which are part of our heritage – says Mr. Pop Lazić. Unfortunately, even today they don’t seem to understand that explorations at archeological sites open a possibility for an attractive presentation of that heritage.
– Our cooperation with investors and contractors exists to the extent that they are ready to offer basic technical support to the archeologists. However, for them we are only a necessary evil.


About Endangerment
– The degree of endangerment of Roman Belgrade is on the highest level, mainly due to the fact that it stands below a developing city – Mr. Pop Lazić.  – Each new construction directly endangers the remains from previous periods. If people of Belgrade would get used to living by ancient sites, like inhabitants of Thessaloniki or Sremska Mitrovica for example, everything would be easier.

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