Šibenik Weddings | Saint Mihovil fortress

Saint Mihovil fortress

The Medieval St. Michael’s Fortress is definitely a must-see in Šibenik. It was erected on a sixty meters high and steep rocky hill that dominates the surrounding waters. Under its walls, Šibenik evolved – the oldest native Croatian town on the Adriatic. It was first mentioned on Christmas in 1066, as the place where the Croatian king Petar Krešimir IV and his courtly retinue resided.

The Fortress is located on a strategically extremely favourable position, halfway between the antique centres Zadar and Split, in the protected mouth of the Krka river and near all important transportation roads in Dalmatia. St. Michael’s Fortress is of paramount importance for the history and urban development of Šibenik. It was originally built as a lookout of the Šibenik bay and the mouth of the Krka river, and as a refuge for the surrounding population. During the medieval times, the Fortress became a source point of the defence fortification system of walls and fortresses of Šibenik. The Fortress owes its name to the Church of St. Michael, which was located within its walls since the 12th century. The church has not been preserved, but the Fortress kept the name of the saint, who became the patron of Šibenik very early.

The importance of this place is evidenced by numerous archaeological findings – from the prehistoric axe, through Roman bone needles, to medieval pottery. As a key defensive position in the region, the Fortress was destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout history. It is preserved in the form of an irregular square. The oldest preserved part of the Fortress, the eastern wall, dates back from the 13th century, but the biggest part of the Fortress – other walls, vestibules, double walls – was built in the 15th century. In 1663 and 1752 the Fortress suffered significant damage to the walls due to explosions of the gunpowder magazine located inside the Fortress.

Typical for military architecture, the Fortress contains only a few parts which show stylistic characteristics of different epochs. Two square towers on the eastern wall and two polygonal towers on the northern wall are preserved. The walls are decorated with numerous coats of arms, such as the one of Šibenik’s count Dolfin, located above the Gothic arch of the main gate of the Fortress. Access to water, a key requirement of military life, was enabled with the construction of two cisterns which are preserved to this day. Other supporting structures, such as dormitories, storage rooms and other necessary premises, were not preserved.

The Fortress complex consists of several elements: Premises in front of the Fortress on the cliff edge oriented towards the east and the south, sub-walls from the northern and the western side. Part of the fortification facilities of the Fortress are also the attractive double walls which descend from the Fortress, down a steep cliff, directly to the sea. They were used for retreat or supply of the military garrison of the Fortress in case of siege by the enemy or rebellion of the townspeople.

Šibenik’s fortress (castrum) was first mentioned in historical documents from the turn of the 12th century. It was probably used as a base for piracy, which was then very widespread on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. A military campaign is described in 1116, when the Doge of Venice destroyed its “impregnable” walls. However, that description might be overstated, because piracy continued during the 12th century. The Fortress was again temporarily destroyed by Šibenik’s locals (“overwhelmed with rebellious spirit,” according to Pope Alexander IV) in the first half of the 13th century, in order to prevent it from being settled by the Knights Templar. Its strong natural position is confirmed by the event from 1378, when the Venetian admiral Pisani failed to take over the Fortress, although he conquered and set fire to the rest of the city.

After 38 months of siege, in 1412, Šibenik falls under the rule of the Venetian Republic and remains a part thereof for a little less than four centuries. The agreement on the surrender of the city included a provision to break down the Fortress. This was quickly abandoned, and the Fortress was repaired in the next ten years and additional elements, such as double walls, were built. During the long Venetian rule, the fortifications of the city are complemented with other fortresses (St. Nicholas’ Fortress, St. John’s Fortress, Barone Fortress), which defended Šibenik successfully against Ottoman attacks. However, the existence of new and more important fortifications on the wider perimeter led to a neglect of St. Michael’s Fortress, which was additionally affected by explosions of the gunpowder magazine within its walls in 1663 and 1752. Finally, new Austrian administration restores in 1832 a large part of the Fortress and the city walls.

St. Michael’s Fortress is a recognizable symbol of the city of Šibenik, and as such, together with the entire fortification system, it bears great cultural-historical and spatial-urban significance and represents significant architectural heritage of Dalmatia and Croatia.

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