Novo Brdo Fortress Kosovo and Metohija

Novo Brdo Fortress Kosovo and Metohija

Novo Brdo is the late Medieval town and impressive Medieval fortification in the south-eastern part of the Serbian Province of Kosovo and Metohija which was the site of the largest silver mine and the prosperous economic center of the Serbian Medieval state and the Central Balkans from the 14th untill the 17th century. The Novo Brdo Fortress is situated on the top of Mala Planina Mountain, between villages of Prilepnica and Kriva Reka north of Gnjilane, some 20 km east of Pristina. Novo Brdo is accessible by the good paved winding road across gentle fertile hills of Pomoravlje area of Kosovo.

Novo Brdo constitutes a striking testimony and a symbol of the economic prosperity of medieval Serbia, its complex social structure and openness towards the European influences. The rich mines that provided the finest silver, very much valued in the then world, ensured not only the prosperity of the town, but also brought in significant revenues to the ruler. During the turbulent times of the Ottoman conquests, it was precisely on the Novo Brdo silver that the survival of the state rested to a significant degree. The riches of Novo Brdo, that was well-known far and wide, made a powerful impression on its contemporaries. Marko Popovic – Saint Nicholas Church, The Orthodox Cathedral of the Town of Novo Brdo.

The fortress of Novo Brdo has been built in 1285 by the Serbian King Stefan Milutin. The important mining activity in Novo Brdo had started in the first half of the 13th century, during the reign of the Serbian king Stefan Vladislav. The fortress of Novo Brdo is first time recorded in historical archives in 1325, already as the renowed mining and trading center where the merchants of Ragusa – Dubrovnik merchants performed trade and possessed the customs and the consul. In the letter from that year, the King Vladislav informed the Government of Republic of Ragusa – Dubrovnik Republic, that rental for mines of Novo Brdo was paid by the Ragusian merchants. The historical resources from the seventies of the 14th century prove that Prince Lazar gifted the Ravanica Monastery with the yearly allowance of 150 liters of Silver from the Novo Brdo mines. Despot Stefan Lazarević had his residence in the Novo Brdo settlement, and in 1412 had passed the Law on Mines – the Novo Brdo Mining Code which determined the mining activities and life of the local population. Thanks to highly developed mining of the Silver and Lead ores the Novo Brdo provided 14000 liters of Silver during the reign of Djuradj Brankovic.

The last Medieval free Serbian territory fall into Ottoman hands in 1438, under leadership of Sultan Murad II. However, after conquest of Smederevo fortress – the last capital of Princedom of Serbia, the Novo Brdo fortification withstood the Ottoman occupation and resisted capitulation. After more than two years of the Ottoman siege, the Novo Brdo fortress was occupied in 1441. Inhabitants of Novo Brdo refused to admit the defeat and instantly have organized defense that was brutally crashed in violence and blood by the Ottomans. After a lond siege, the Roumeli beglerbey Shehabedin succeeded on the 27th June 1441 to conquer the Novo Brdo fortified town – the most powerful and important economic center of Serbia. Occupied the Novo Brdo fortress remained undefeated and continued to resist until the 01 June 1455 when it was heavily bombed in long and harsh canon fire, and finally collapsed and capitulated. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror entered the town and brutally ordered butcher of the Novo Brdo nobility. The rest of the south Serbia was conquered soon after. The Ottomans forced population of Novo Brdo to surrender, and all people of higher rank and importance, as well as all working capable men of the Serbian army were beheaded by the order of Sultan Mehmed. It was estimated that 320 boys of Novo Brdo fort were taken into Janissary, while some 700 girls and young women were given to the Ottoman soldiers and their commanders.

The siege and its consequences were described in memories of inhabitants of Novo Brdo fortress, among which was Konstantin Mihailović who was taken with other boys to Janissairs. Numerous talented Serbian writers and artists lived then in Novo Brdo, among which were the most distinguished Konstantin Mihailović and Vladislav Gramatic. Among those who survived the siege of Novo Brdo was Dimitrije Dimitrijević Kantakuzin, poet of death, and indisputably one of the most talented and most original Serbian Medieval poets who wrote the poems of “Hymn to Saint Demetrius” and “Destruction of Dacia”. Dimitrije was born in Novo Brdo in 1435 during the reign of despot Djuradj Branković. Dimitrije, then twenty years-old guy witnessed the genocide, atrocities and deaths of Novo Brdo which obviously left indelible mark in his memories and made him obsessed with transitiveness of the life and the power of death. The death became constant thought of Dimitrije and followed him during his whole life, torturing him as the central idea and iteration of his literature. Dimitrije experienced another tragic event when according to some chronicles, the sultan Mehmed the Conqueror ordered death of several members of the Dimitrijevic-Kantakuzin family in Serbia. Janja, sister of Dimitrije and her younger brothers Alex and George, her four sons and twelve grandsons were killed by the order of the sultan. Mara Branković, daughter of despot Djuradj Branković was married to the Sultan Murad II, but could have not prevented this bloodshed. Somehow Dimitrije survived this massacre and left Novo Brdo to settle nearby the Black sea with some rescued relatives. There he died, the exact year of his death is unknown.

The Turkish historian Dursun-bey in the middle of the 15th century described the Novo Brdo as the “center of all states” with wide autonomy within the Serbian Despotate, and as the large settlement “likewise a gold and silver mine”. The relative standstill situation in Serbian state in the first four decades of the 15th century enabled pinnacle in mining on the crossroads of trading caravan roads, so the Novo Brdo Fortress took the primary position in southeast Europe for the quantity of extracted ore. The mining settlements of Novo Brdo and its surroundings featured cosmopolitan character with some 10000 inhabitants thanks to numerous colonies of Latin population and many literate and prominent personalities, among who were the Greeks persecuted by the Turks living together in prosperity with the Serb population. During reign of despot Stefan Lazarević and his successor Djuradj Branković Novo Brdo provided 20% of silver supplies of Europe. In 1412 despot Stefan Lazarević enacted the Mining Code – Novo Brdo Code – Zakonik o rudnicima that is compilation of mining laws, but also includes legal provisions concerning the organization of life in Novo Brdo, the largest mine in the Balkans at that time. This Mining Code enabled development of mining, that was the main economy branch of Serbia of that time, so at the end of the rule of Despot Stefan Lazarevic Serbia was one of the largest producers of silver in Europe.

As the economic center of the Serbian state, before it was conquered by the Ottomans for the next 350 years, Novo Brdo in Kosovo close to Priština distinguished itself from other Serbian towns and settlements, providing more than 200 thousands of ducats per year to the rulers. In Novo Brdo there was a year mining quantity of more than 7 tons of gold which at the beginning of the 15th century saved the Italian economy and lowered the monetary crisis of this area. During the reign of the Serbian Tsar Dusan, Novo Brdo mine was one of the most important mining centers of the Empire, with the mint whose large deposits provided the Chilandary Monastery 87 km of silver per year. After the first fall of the Empire to the Ottomans, a century later, Despot Đurađ Branković handled 50 thousands ducats and nearly 2,5 tons of silver for safekeeping to the Dubrovnik Republic !

It is not clearly determined and known when exactly the town of Novo Brdo was established, but in the historical archives it was first time mentioned in 1319 at the end of the rule of King Milutin Nemanjic. The Novo Brdo Fort was positioned at the elevation of 1100 meters, and contained the smaller Upper part and the larger Lower part, divided with the mutual wall with connecting gate. The garrison settled in the smaller part, with possibly the part of the administration, while in the larger part of the town lived the most significant people of Novo Brdo  where today we see remains of the structures and storage. The town of Novo Brdo itself was established in the beginning of the 14th century by the Serb ruling nobility of the Nemanic Dynasty. In the middle of the 14th century Novo Brdo became the most significant trade center and the largest mining settlement of the Medieval Serbian state, from where silver and gold was exploited and traded along the region, and also one of the largest urban centers of the Medieval Serbia. Novo Brdo Town used to have its urban and mining status in 1412 as well as the mint, and thus was named in Europe the “Silver Hill”. Besides the Serb population engaged in mining, in the prosperous town of Novo Brdo lived Saxons, settlers from Dubrovnik and Greece during the Middle ages. Novo Brdo was a Serbian metropolis at the time with a huge medieval fortress built on the top of an extinct volcano cone, the remains of which and residential sections sprawling all around can be visited today. Precious metals from Novo Brdo mines were mostly exported to Sicily, to Abruzzo and Toscana, and especially to Venice, by skilled Dubrovnik merchants and along the caravan roads direction Dubrovnik Republic of St Basil and to the ports of the Zeta.

South from the Novo Brdo fortified town remains of the Cathedral built by Saxons and Dubrovnik settlers are found that is so called the Latin Saxon Church. The Lower Town was spread east of the Novo Brdo fortress, forming a town settlement with the main town church of Saint Nicholas. In the church 900 graves and tombs have been discovered. The Novo Brdo town Church was dedicated to Saint Nicholas and its beautiful massive foundations are visible today. During the recent excavations in 2015 the new findings within the Novo Brdo stronghold are surprising, as the researchers have excavated various artifacts, as the foundations of the Medieval church with fragments of frescoes, the palace, the square, baths etc….

In the outer wall of the Novo Brdo fortress a large cross is visible built-in the stones. The Novo Brdo fortified castle or fortress, was thought at one point to have dated back to the Byzantine Empire. The Novo Brdo fort was mentioned in the historical documents as early as 1326. During the period of Serbian Emperor Dušan’s reign in the fortress of Novo Brdo there was the mint, but since 1349 coins with the title of the Novo Brdo Town were minted. The Fortress of Novo Brdo features the Upper and the Lower towns with eight massive rectangular towers. The Town of Novo Brdo resisted to the Turks for the longest period which was defeated from nearby fortifications of Prizrenac and Prilepac until it was finally occupied by Turks in 1455. From that moment, the Novo Brdo fortification started its downfall to be finally completely abandoned in the early 17th century.

Tradition of the Turks of Novo Brdo, and general tradition of the Gnjilane area, and especially the tradition of the Dzinic Family of Gnjilane itself has it that  the settlement of Gnjilane was established after the Novo Brdo lost its administrative and judicial power, what made the Dzinic Family overtook all the administration over the Novo Brdo region. The Dzinic beys /former Gjinoli/ settled in the 18th century in this part of Kosovo from the northern Albania. Its reign became so powerful to had overthrown the other Turkish lords in Pristina and took the whole reign into their hands. The weak Turkish government had to elevate their status and granted them the commander ship in Kosovo. In attempt to extend their power, Dzinic beys soon proclaimed themselves the rulers of the Novo Brdo region, after they have executed the dizdar who ruled the kaza, which contained the Gnjilane Morava area. At the of the 18th century the Gjinoli – the Džinić family transferred the seat of the Novo Brdo kadiluk to Gnjilane, where they have built a residence, and had created chitluk /system of land management in the Ottoman Empire providing powerful military officers to claim land from the Sultan’s holding as reward for their services, allowing them to pass the land onto their sons/ with several houses of the Serbs civciyas – workers without land who served the lords.

“Since the beginning of the 18th century the Vuchitrn sanjak was ruled as pashas by the members of the Gjinoli family, descendants of the “pasha dynasty”. By taking and rental almost all state income of the sanjak, the dynasty founder Gjin Ali pasha took over nearly all prerogatives of the central reign already til the middle of 18th century. By means of intrigues and violence, he simultaneously provided members of the dynasty the reign over the Novo Brdo kadi – subdivision of the Ottoman administration, and so he created pashaluk on the geographic area of Kosovo and Kosovo Pomoravlje where the rule of the Gjinoli Dynasty was stronger than the sultan’s rule. …. Likewise his predecessors the Jashar pasha also took over collection of nearly all income in the sanjak, while strengthening wealth of the dynasty by taking income from land cultivation from the whole Kosovo villages, and by trade and rental of shops in Pristina he had usurped or he had erected. Since the end of the 19th century and throughout the whole 20th century the Serbian history presented the last semi-independent pasha of Pristina as the culprit for thinning out the Serbian Orthodox population in Kosovo, along his claim that settlement and support of the Muslim Arvanites he had changed the ethnic and religious situation of the area he ruled, at the expense of the Orthodox Serbs. Besides the settlement of Arvanites, the historiography accuses the pasha for pursuit of the Orthodox church which was performed by destruction of shrines as per his orders”. Uroš Šešum – Uloga Jašar paše Džinolija u razaranju srpsih sakralnih spomenika na Kosovu

The tradition has it that the last Turkish ruler of Novo Brdo was the Abdul Fetaf ef, who died in 1778 /or 1764/.  The Mosque with the turbe /grave/ at the Novo Brdo is well preserved and can be visited. The research and reconstruction works of Novo Brdo fortress are carried out constantly. Visitors of the Novo Brdo fortress are warmly recommended to refresh at the nearby cafe or at the original rural household in the village of Zebince which is run by reputed producers of various agricultural products and fantastic tasty cheese, and provides excellent traditional food and present the authentic lifestyle of the locals engaged in agriculture and stock breeding.