VThe centuries-long history of the Petrovaradin Fortress has always been the subject of interest for historians, but besides the official history, there’s another one as well, the one you won’t find in the official books or manuscripts, but in the stories told by the locals.
A lot of people, while growing up here, were told bed-time stories about the hidden treasures of Petrovaradin, monsters and ghosts hiding in the tunnels. Word has it that Maria Theresia used to lock away her lovers or hide very strange animals in the dungeons. Is there any truth to these myths and legends of the Petrovaradin Fortress?
The Logic of a ‘Chicken Pearl’
There is a story that has been passed down through generations. Namely, some say that people used to put chicken eggs in the mortar in order to make the wall stronger. The egg white is a universal tying material in miniature painting, but historical sources indicate that people used to build using hot lime, sand and bricks – so, naturally, no eggs here. The main argument of those in favour of the egg story are the longstanding solid walls, which are that way thanks to the eggs. However, we shouldn’t forget that the Fortress was built during the times when there was no food to spare.
In the period of the intense building of the fortress, more than 40 thousand people were engaged in the working process (wage labourers, prisoners, prisoners of war, armed forces). If we assume that each person needed at least 3 eggs daily, that’s 120 thousand eggs per day. This would surely represent a huge burden for the locals, but not the only one – the work was done under unfavourable conditions, without food or medication. There was a curse in Novi Sad referring to these conditions; the saying goes like this ‘May your soul build Varadin.’
A Cat Has 9 Lives
The belief that a cat has nine lives had huge consequences. Apparently, builders of all times and from all around the world, in order to ensure the longevity of their buildings, used to put living cats into the foundation. There is a legend about cats being built into the walls of the fortress, thus giving the fortress all their lives, so that no one could ever destroy it. Even today, on the large staircase leading to the Clock Tower, you can see a lot of cats.
Tunnel Under the Danube
In 1838, Danish author Hans Christian Andersen travelled the Danube in Serbia. In his writings, he mentioned that there was a tunnel under the Danube that connected Petrovaradin and Novi Sad. There are many theories on whether such tunnel exists or not. However, there is no proof in the historical sources of something like that ever existing. There is no tunnel on the maps, or any sign of there ever being an attempt to build a tunnel, but proponents of these theories claim that it doesn’t have to mean anything since there were Turks, Romans and Celts long before the Austro-Hungarians came, who could have been the ones to build such tunnels.
The assumption about there being a tunnel under the great river like the Danube sounds unbelievable, but not impossible. As an example, we can take the tunnel under the Euphrates river, which was built by diverting the river. After the tunnel was built, everything was put back in its place. Trajan’s Bridge was built by diverting the flow of the Danube with a temporary earth dam. In a waterless trough like that, it was possible to dig a tunnel about three meters deep, coat it with clay and build it.
Legend has it that you could enter this secret tunnel from behind the altar of the church of Saint Jurja in Petrovaradin, and get to the chapel of Saint Ivan Nepomuk, located on the Bridgehead (Brukšanac), on the Novi Sad riverbank. At the Danube Quay along the shore, under the Monument to the Victims of the Raid, stands the still-visible remnant of the Bridgehead – a small tower (a round stone pillar with a rounded top). This stone pillar, built in 1831, was used for measuring the water level at the dock. That’s the only remnant of the former Bridgehead, which had been part of the Petrovaradin Fortress since 1694. It was a fortification with ramparts and gates facing the city, and a flat base towards the Danube. It served to protect the bridge, and partly the fortress.
An Austro-Hungarian officer was the last one to pass through the tunnel under the Danube in 1912, carrying his mistress from one side to the other. That’s when the tunnel began to collapse. The couple barely escaped alive. Rumour has it that the last Austrian emperor, Charles I, and his wife Zita, supposedly passed through the tunnel. Some older locals, in the latter years of their lives, swore the tunnel existed, but reality and legend were usually interwoven in their stories.
Pera’s Cave is located in Popovica, on the Fruška Gora hill near Stari Ledinci, not far from Novi Sad. Some say that the Petrovaradin Fortress can be reached by an underground tunnel, starting from Pera’s Cave. However, everything indicates that this cave is, in fact, an old forgotten mine which has about 50 meters of a winding, underground coal seam. Still, who was this Pera person, after whom the cave was named? Some say he was the owner of the mine, while others say he was the man who lost his life in it. The one thing we know for sure is that Fruška Gora and the Petrovaradin Fortress are intertwined and inextricably linked – if not by the tunnel leading from the fortress to Pera’s Cave, then by their histories, significance and heritage.
The Battle of Tekije and Treasure in the Swamp
We have to go back to the 5th of August, 1716, when the biggest battle of Petrovaradin took place. The Turkish army of 200 thousand soldiers, led by Damat Ali-Paša, wanted to conquer Petrovaradin and then move towards north and west. The garrison in the Fortress included about 8,000 soldiers, while 70,000 soldiers were stationed in the military camp near today’s Futog, under the command of Eugene of Savoy. According to the legend, Prince Eugene dreamed of Saint Mary the night before the battle; the prophetic dream told him he would emerge victorious from the battle. When he woke up that August morning, he was shocked to see that the snow was falling. The Turkish soldiers didn’t like the cold weather. What’s interesting is that the 5th of August is the Our Lady of the Snows day – the only winter saint during summer. As a sign of gratitude, the friars of Petrovaradin built a church dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows at the place of the victory – the so-called Tekije Church. Today, the church is still a gathering place for Christian believers.
According to the unconfirmed sources, during the battle, Damat Ali-Paša issued an order for the war coffer and looted valuables loaded in carriages to break through along the Danube and towards Belgrade. According to the Turkish prisoners, at the beginning of the journey through the swamp, the carriages disappeared in the quicksand. After the battle, Eugene of Savoy organized a search for the Turkish treasure, which ended with the death of several soldiers. After that, the search was stopped, and the Turkish treasure was declared haunted. The second version of the story claims that Eugene of Savoy shared the treasure with a small circle of officers and soldiers, playing not only the rest of the army but the Emperor Charles VI himself, with an ingenious story about quicksand
Monster of the Underground
The legend of the lost treasure in the swamp might attract Indiana Jones, while some other legends serve as a good horror movie material, such is the legend of the gigantic snake from Petrovaradin, the so-called monster Peti. It was believed that after the defeat in the Battle of Tekije, the vindictive Turks brought the sacks of large reptile cubs in the dead of night, attempting to spread panic among the Eugene of Savoy army. Stories about the monsters ruling the underground of the Petrovaradin Fortress got exceedingly popular at the beginning of the 20th century when people started to tell stories about all kinds of tragedies this gigantic snake caused.
The crew of the American reality show Ghost Hunters Classic explored the underground of the fortress in 2011. Using sophisticated and hypersensitive equipment, they supposedly identified some paranormal activities happening in the long hallways and tunnels of the underground.
The four-level underground of the fortress was built between 1764 and 1776. They say the total length of the underground is 16 kilometres, but it might be even more because when you’re in situ, it seems as if part of the underground was built but not stated in the official documents. Alfred Schroeder, the military major, was in charge of building the underground military gallery. This unique system had the planned installations of the minefields, as well as rooms for accommodating the army and storing the weapons, all this in order to defend the Fortress. It was estimated that the underground military galleries could accommodate around 30 thousand people in emergency situations. There are four levels to the underground in the documents, but research proves there is one more level, the lowest one. At the deepest point of the underground, there are many large boulders of petrified earth, which would probably be brought out had the works continued.
They say that the deep verticals and holes hide ghosts, human skeletons in shackles, deadly mechanisms and the mystical underground connected to Novi Sad and the Titel Hill (a loess hillock), where, according to the legend, Attila the Hun was buried.
Treasures of the Habsburgs
The legend of hidden treasures of the Habsburg emperors in the underground tunnels is still spoken of today. Namely, after the defeat by Napoleon in 1809, the Habsburg monarchy placed its valuables in the safest fortress of the empire. There was a family archive, the emperor’s treasury, state gold and silver bars, as well as reserves of mercury necessary for making ammunition. Supposedly, the treasure still lies hidden in the underground gallery. Some people say this is confirmed by the weird underground with disproportionately big ventilation, which implies existence of the unknown deep underground on top of which the Academy of Arts sits today, or where the Hornwerk barracks used to sit in the past.
The Enigma of the Maltese Cross
The Big Maze, which has a lower level too (the so-called bastions), is located beneath the southwestern part of the Hornwerk and towards the ‘Tranches’ (Sr.Trandžament). Nearby is a dead-end corridor, with the terrain-surface Maltese cross on its right wall. During the 70s, this unique surface was damaged. The main corridor of the maze is paved with bricks and it lowers further to the southwest, while high humidity and underground springs have contributed to floor erosion. The erosion unveiled the vault of some unknown construction. They used to say that this tunnel run under the Danube, although it was parallel to the bank and was facing south. A systematic exploration was planned by the end of the 70s, with the precise measuring of the Fortress’s underground, which might have unravelled the enigma of the Maltese cross hadn’t the accident which involved the plumbing system happened.
The Bottomless Well
There used to be an Armenian church in the centre of Novi Sad. It was demolished during the 60s when the Mihajlo Pupin Boulevard was getting built. In front of the church, there was a square monument, under which, supposedly, there lied a bottomless well encompassing many tunnel branches. One of them is said to lead to the Petrovaradin Fortress, while the others connect the city centre with other parts of Novi Sad. However, there is nothing in the historical documents supporting this story. Rumour has it they only found two human skeletons while demolishing the church, no bottomless well or magnificent tunnels of any kind.
When the water level of the Danube is very low, between Ribnjak and the coastal walls of the Petrovaradin Fortress, various remains of the past can be found: flint scrapers, small knives, Roman coins, fragments of bricks, pottery and ceramic pipes. Upstream from the coastal walls of the Fortress, large stone blocks in the shape of a cube or a square can be seen, some longer than one meter and weighing several tons. These blocks are difficult to access, as they can only be seen at extremely low water levels that occur once every few decades, usually in the winter at that. It is believed that these stone blocks were made for the needs of the Danube gates and the port that stood there during the Austro-Hungarian rule, while the largest ones come from the remains of the old bridge of Franz Joseph I. Contrary to this, mystery fans believe these stone blocks date back to a much earlier time. It is assumed that they used to be on dry land, but that over time they gradually slid down the gentle slope of the Danube bank.
Author: Author: Ljiljana Dragosavljević Savin, MA in History
Photo: Vladimir Veličković, Uroš Dožić