Legends Steadier than Stone
There, at the tripoint of Pannonia, Carpathian and Balkan mountains, Celts, ancient Serbs, Romans, Byzantines… made their fortifications. The last in the series were Ottomans under Bayezid II in 1483. At all times, there was a shrine within the walls, and ships and ferries docked below them. Caravanserais and openings for cannons go without saying. After its recent reconstruction, supported by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency and the Serbian state, this fortress has again become an inevitable spot on the Danube between Smederevo and Golubac

Text and Photo: Ivana Stojanović Šešlak and NR Press

You will notice it from a distance. The Ram Fortress stands on the right bank of the Danube, next to the village with the same name. You will immediately realize its importance in the past times. Fortifications were made by Celts, Romans, Byzantines, Serbs… The reconstructed parts we are today walking on, preserved to this day, were raised by the Ottomans, after they conquered these lands in the late Middle Ages.
In the place of the former caravanserai, you will now see a small church inside stone walls. In the XV century, it was one of the few Turkish fortifications on Serbian territory with a caravanserai. Perhaps the only one. It was raised as a hostel, where travelers and merchants could stop and rest. There was also a market, with various goods bought and sold. The church was, of course, raised later, built on the foundations of an old, wooden church, and dedicated to Holy Archangel Michael.
Visitors are impressed already there, near the church. The view spreads over the Danube and the vastness of Banat. The Danube is the widest and slowest here. In this part, as many as four rivers flow into it: the Morava and the Mlava from the south, the Karaš and the Nera from the north. They enter it and slow it down. The Danube then leaves the Pannonian Plain, cuts its way through the Carpathian and Balkan mountains, later enters the Wallachian Plain and continues towards the Black Sea.
– Ram is the exact tripoint of Pannonia, Carpathian and Balkan mountains – tells Stevan Konstantinović, local expert. – It is the best place for crossing the river and connecting those areas, and that is why a ferry has been used since the oldest times.
We are told that the ferry is still the most favorite way for crossing the river, not only for business purposes, since it cuts off the trip to the opposite bank by 100 kilometers. It often happens that groups of people come to Ram by a ferry just to have a coffee. The trip is short, about half an hour. On the opposite bank is Banatska Palanka. Evliya Celebi mentions it as Nova Palanka. The Romanian border is also near. Locals still remember the 1980s, when they traveled to Romania to buy cheaper goods. They traveled again during the crisis in the nineties, this time due to empty shelves and lack of fuel. Now, most often on weekends, especially in the summer, you can see many Romanian tourists in Ram.


The Ram Fortress as we see it today was raised by the Turks in 1483, during Bayezid II, on the remains of ancient and Byzantine fortifications. Although smaller than the Golubac Fortress, Ram is called ”the pearl of the Danube” for a good reason. A fortification called Hram was mentioned already in the XII century. Some sources state that there was a settlement named Haram on the opposite bank, which later completely disappeared, but was related to the name of the fortress. There are several legends about the origins of the fortification. Each local can tell you a different story.
According to one, soon after the argument with his brother Romulus, while traveling down the Danube, Remus stopped on this hill and decided to raise a city on it. Another story is from Turkish sources. Bayezid II traveled here once, stopped to rest, and fell asleep on his rug. When he woke up, he felt recuperated. Celebi writes: ”When Bayezid the Holy came to this place to raise this fortress, he sat on a rug (ihram) and said: ‘Build me a fortress in the place of this ihram.’” The fortress was therefore named Hram. In time, the letter h was lost, and the name Ram remained. ”It is a wonderful, attractive fortress”, notes Celebi.
Legends emphasize natural beauties of the place, which enchanted rulers of other empires as well, forcing them to build a city in that very spot. The fortification has an irregular pentagonal shape, with five towers connected with massive walls. It was built as a military-artillery fortification, raised by the Turks for defending the borderline between Smederevo and Golubac.
One of the important events from the times after the death of Mehmed II was described by Constantine Jireček: ”In the autumn of 1481, an army commanded by Pavle Kinizi gathered near Hram (present Ram) on the Danube… It destroyed the Turkish fleet, defeated the commander of the city of Golubac, who was decapitated by Jovan Jakšić in front the city gate.” The Hungarians then crossed the Danube and took over Braničevo.
That is why raising an artillery fortification between Smederevo and Golubac was particularly important for Turks, as well as many before them. The fortification was designed for cannons, as one of the first of its kind in our lands. It has as many as thirty-six cannon ports.


The entire complex of the Ram Fortress is an open-air museum.
Since its importance was related to the fact that it was a border fortification, it gradually lost its significance as the borders of the Ottoman Empire moved to the north. After 1521 and the Turkish conquering of Belgrade, as well as the fall of Hungary a few days later, Ram was no longer a border fortification and slowly fell into oblivion. Still, it resisted time and testified about a turbulent history.
– There has always been a shrine here. It is believed that the circular object inside the fortress, from Roman times, had a sacramental purpose. It is especially interesting because it has no openings, no doors or windows, and is covered with a dome. There are assumptions that it also served as a mosque. Evliya Celebi writes about the Emperor’s Mosque inside the walls – tells Petar Trifković, historian.
The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency supported the reconstruction of this valuable edifice. Since the fortification belongs to Ottoman heritage as well, it is no wonder Turkish institutions are interested in such endeavors.
– There is a common misconception or frivolity about relating fortifications in this place exclusively to Turks – emphasizes Trifković. – The walls we see today do originate from those times, but we mustn’t forget that they were built on foundations of much older fortifications.
The Roman memorial plaque dedicated to god Jupiter confirms Ram’s ancient roots. The cuts caused by drawing ropes for pulling Roman galleons also testify about the Roman period. They can be seen on the riverbank rocks under the fortification. While visiting those places, you will be told: ”If you put your fingers into those cracks, you will go back two thousand years to the past.”
After Golubac, the reconstruction of the Ram Fortress completed the Serbian tourist offer on this part of the Danube route. Besides Turkey, the Serbian state and the local government also made a substantial investment. The Ram Fortress is today a guardian of history, part of Serbian cultural and civilizational treasure. We will not convince you to go there, we will not spice up the story, we will not describe sunsets in Ram, which are ”more beautiful than those in Sounio”. If you have a chance and decide to visit Ram, you will know you were not mistaken.


Safety Measures
The entrance to the inner courtyard of the Ram Fortress is through the main tower ground floor. The upper floors in the towers were not connected to the ground floor. They were reached by separate stone stairways or ladders, through a separate entrance on the upper floor.


The reconstructed Ram Fortress was opened for visitors last year. It was expected to be a real tourist boom this year. Many things were, however, stopped by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is certain that we will be rediscovering Ram in the nearest future.


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