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Novi Sad is Serbia’s second-largest city after Belgrade, and it’s often referred to as the “Serbian Athens.” Overlooking this beautiful city is the Petrovaradin Fortress, one of Europe’s largest and most striking fortifications.
This structure dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries when it was built as a military fort against the Ottomans. However, archaeological excavations indicate that this particular site has been in use for about 20,000 years.
The Petrovaradin Fortress has an awesome strategic position on the northern slope of Frusga Gora. It overlooks the Danube River, dominating the landscape. It’s nicknamed “the Gibraltar of the Danube”.
But, what made it especially interesting to me was hearing that it contained a vast labyrinth of underground tunnels. I decided that I wanted to participate in that evening’s underground tunnel tour in the fortress.
On the Terrace of the Petrovaradin Fortress
Arriving at the main terrace of the Petrovaradin Fortress, high up on a hill, I found a spectacular view of Novi Sad and the Danube River. There were several restaurants and cafes. It appears to be a very popular spot to simply hang out and enjoy a sunset and the panoramic view.
I also had an up-close and personal look at its clock tower. I learned the clock had to be wound by hand every day. Strangely, I could see that the hour hand was much larger than the minute hand. Apparently, this had allowed sailors to know the hour of the day from quite a distance away on the river.
Another thing of note is that EXIT, a popular annual music festival, is held here. Entertainers such as Snoop Dogg, The Prodigy and Guns N’ Roses have performed at the Petrovaradin Fortress.
There’s a story of a couple of young guys who once tried to crash this concert by sneaking in for free through the fortress’s tunnels. However, they became disoriented and lost in the catacombs. It was only a ‘miracle’ that they were eventually found and rescued.
The Petrovaradin Fortress Guided Tour
After checking out the fortress’s terrace, I met my guide. I was given a flashlight (to help ward off the darkness in the damp, cool, secluded catacombs that I was about to enter) and listened to some instructions and some fortress history. Then I began my nighttime tour of the tunnels.
This rather spooky tour wouldn’t be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’. It involves a lot of steps and walking through rather low and narrow passageways. It’s rather dark down there – as well as claustrophobic.
It may result in some chills running down your spine as you think about the situation. However, I knew that I wanted to check these catacombs out for myself. Besides, the rumor prevails that the riches of Serbia’s medieval leaders are still hidden in these tunnels. Perhaps I’d find them while exploring.
I soon realized that the most important thing to remember on this tour was to stay close to the guide. We were also cautioned about watching our feet (gravel, steps, and slopes) and our heads (low overhangs and tunnel sections). It was necessary to crouch down on several occasions to avoid hitting my head.
Many of the tunnels are now locked and not used but there was still a maze of tunnels that seemed to go off in many directions. Therefore, individual tourists are not allowed to venture into these catacombs without a guide. There’s just too much danger of getting lost.
Ghosts of the Petrovaradin Fortress
There are various stories that I heard about people wandering through here in the past and never being seen again. There are also spooky stories about individuals meeting the ghosts of bygone soldiers who were killed in past battles at this site.
The fortress has been the location of many bloody battles, tortures and deaths, so some people are convinced that this area must be a haunted location. Spirits of some of these dead soldiers are said to be still walking about.
It was also used as a prison for a period of time. Apparently, the clatter of the prison chains could be heard from the catacombs.
Another legend associated with this fortress suggests that once upon a time, Peter, a poor shepherd, was offered a great sum of money by the devil in exchange for his most valuable possession.
Not knowing at the time that his wife was pregnant, the poor shepherd agreed to this deal. After his daughter was born, the devil returned to get this prized possession.
The story goes that she was placed in these catacombs and that Peter is still searching for his lost daughter in the dark corridors of the Petrovaradin Fortress.
Spooky Stories and Facts
If this isn’t spooky enough for you, there’s even a corridor, marked with a Maltese cross, where it’s alleged that Satanists still perform sacrifices. “Ghost Hunters” devoted an entire episode of their TV show about paranormal activity to this fascinating destination.
There is about 16 km of subterranean tunnels within this fortress but the walking tour only took me to a couple. Most of the area is now blocked off and closed to the public.
However, I still encountered some small pits along the passageways where ammunition and explosives could be hidden. There were also areas of the tunnels where ‘booby traps” could be set. Plus, I passed by several shooting holes/embrasures in the walls.
Furthermore, there’s a suggestion, held by some, that there’s a secret underground tunnel that leads from the fortress under the Danube River and across to the other side.
The Petrovaradin Fortress is a rather confusing and treacherous place, but the tour was an awesome Novi Sad adventure.
Book This Trip
Ready to explore the deep catacombs and spooky streets of Novi Sad? Then get prepared for your trip with hotel and VRBO accommodations, local restaurant reviews, insider tips on how to get around Novi Sad and more through TripAdvisor and Travelocity.
Book your flight to Belgrade and car rental at the best seasonal deal through CheapOair. Be sure to protect your trip plans from flight cancellations, lost luggage, unexpected sickness and more with travel insurance specific to your needs from Squaremouth.
For More Information: www.serbia.travel/en/see-serbia/culture/fortresses/petrovaradin-fortress
Author Bio: John is a freelance travel writer and photographer who enjoys travelling the world and writing about his adventures. He has written weekly travel features for a group of community newspapers, presented several travelogues, and is the author of two major cycling books: “Cycling Canada” and “Cycling the USA”