A picturesque outline of Petrovaradin Fortress, as seen from the banks of Danube, is one of the most recognizable sights of Novi Sad. The mention of the fortress brings together history and fun, but barely anyone knows what Petrovaradin fortress hides underground. There is more to it than meets the eye, a whole system of the underground galleries and tunnels, telling a darker story than the cozy art galleries and souvenir shops on the surface.
The first fortress in this exact location on the Danube river was built some 3000 years BC. Ever since then, the fortress has changed many masters, most notable ones being the Ottomans for close to 180 years, and subsequently the Austrians, who took over the region in the 18th century and built a distinctive fortress in a style that we know today. Leopold I of the Austro-Hungary monarchy decided to reinstall the walls on the river and establish a military fort that would serve as a defense against the occasional raids and attacks from the Turks.
Primarily, the tunnels were used as the defensive galleries, to host reinforcing armies, and provide a better strategic position during the defense, but were turned into prison over time. Petrovaradin Fortress hides underground more than 16 km of tunnels, consisting of thick darkness (in some parts the ceiling is as low as 1.8 meters) and not too much oxygen. A thrilling walk may sound a bit claustrophobic, but it gives a good impression of what it was like to be held in one of the dungeons. The maze is very easy to get lost in, and most of the entrances are locked, so it's highly recommended to enter the tunnels with a guide.
Some findings suggest that there was a long tunnel under the Danube connecting the left side of the river, where the fortress is, and the city on the right. Supposedly, the tunnel has collapsed and was flooded and impossible to explore nowadays. This fantasy setup is ideal for the conspiracy theories about the hidden treasures and unimaginable amounts of gold in the dark and lost tunnels of Petrovaradin.
Other legends suggest that during a restoration of the fortress foundations, the builders have built up alive cats in the walls in order to give the fortress the persistence and longevity of the nine cats' lives. Even though the Austrians were known as gentle and just rulers, the suppressed Serbian society in the 18th century was not fond of the obligatory work on the fortress restoration. As the city museum staff tells, many people have died of hunger, illness, or exhaustion during the work there.
In order to discover what Petrovaradin Fortress hides underground, it’s advised to join an organized tour as a part of Novi Sad City Museum's offer. During the tunnels tour, you will get to explore around 1-2 kilometers of the remote and dark tunnels, hidden behind the locked door and inaccessible from other entrances. In the summer, there are more organized tours by local tour agencies and individual guides.
Cover picture © Credits to optop