History and heritage


 

Material remains indicate the existence of the Illyrian (Liburnian) hill-fort, with continuity from the late bronze age to late antiquity. According to one theory, the name Šibenik is of Illyrian origin and refers to numerous underwater springs in the surrounding area.
Šibenik was first mentioned in the deed of gift of the Croatian king Petar Krešimir IV. to the Monastery of St. Mary in Zadar, written on 25th December 1066. It is believed that there was already a fortress on a cliff above the sea, because Šibenik hosted the Croatian king and all his retinue then.
The Venetian doge Faledro brought down the "impregnable fortress" during the conquest of Šibenik in 1116. It was destroyed "to prevent it from being a stronghold of the Croatian army". Together with Šibenik’s citizens, it offered tough resistance to the Venetians
Piracy was one of the main “economic” fields on the Adriatic at that time. The first documented source of Šibenik’s plundering pirates was recorded in 1167. Ten years later, in 1177, Raymundo de Capella, the papal envoy to German emperor was robbed by pirates from Šibenik. Since a safe and solid fortress is a prerequisite for pirate activity, it is certain that Šibenik’s locals renewed and strengthened it to a maximum shortly after the demolishing.
First historical data about the existence of the Fortress date from the late 11th and early 12th century: Croatian king Stephen II issued a deed "in front of the Šibenik fortress", and shortly afterwards the bishop of Trogir held a mass in St. Michael’s Church. We know from written sources from the 14th century that St. Michael’s Church was located within St. Michael’s Fortress.
The Fortress was again demolished by the citizens of Šibenik in order to prevent the Templars to move in, after the Croatian-Hungarian king Andrew gave away the castrum in Šibenik in exchange for Klis. As evidenced by the documents of Pope Alexander IV from 1255, they were "overwhelmed with rebellious spirit". The testimony about the connection of identity of Šibenik’s locals with the Fortress dates back from the same year– on the first preserved seal of the Šibenik commune St. Michael is depicted on the city walls.
In times of the fall of power of the Šubić dukes, Šibenik was one of the cities that revolted against them. The punitive expedition against the city was led by Ban Mladen Šubić in 1319, who besieged it from land and sea. With the help of the Venetian navy, Šibenik was able to drive off the army of Ban Mladen Šubić from the city walls, and St. Michael’s Fortress played an important role in defending the city.
As part of a large Venetian-Hungarian conflict, the Venetian fleet led by Admiral Vettore Pisani came in front of Šibenik in 1378. Šibenik responded to his ultimatum that "surrender can only be imposed by the sword, not by words". A fierce attack and looting of the city followed, but the Fortress was not conquered. Although Šibenik suffered significant damage, the attack again demonstrated the strength of the walls of St. Michael’s Fortress.
The Venetian Republic bought in 1409 the rights to parts of Dalmatia from one of the claimers to the Hungarian throne. Šibenik showed the greatest resistance when Venetian government was established. After a long period of 38 months of siege, Šibenik and the Venetians sign an agreement on the surrender of the city, in which the demolition of St. Michael’s Fortress is one of the key provisions. With this, Šibenik's locals wanted to prevent the presence of military authorities in the city, and the Venetians wanted to prevent the possibility of rebellion of the population.
However, at request of Šibenik’s citizens in 1416, the rebuilding and enforcement of the Fortress begins. With these works, the construction of the double walls, which connected the Fortress directly with the sea, begins in the next few years. This has improved the defence significantly, because the supply or flight of the military garrison in case of enemy siege or rebellion of the citizens was enabled.
The Fortress is the most important part of the fortification system of Šibenik and at that time its permanent crew consists of 40 soldiers. They are divided into two units, each of which had a commander and a corporal, their two assistants, and 16 crossbowers (balistarii). In mid-century, the Fortress was armed with 32 cannons, 5 rifles, about 100 crossbows, 77 arches with the corresponding 3000 arrows, 68 spears, 42 armours and 68 shields
The Fortress is the most important part of the fortification system of Šibenik and at that time its permanent crew consists of 40 soldiers. They are divided into two units, each of which had a commander and a corporal, their two assistants, and 16 crossbowers (balistarii). In mid-century, the Fortress was armed with 32 cannons, 5 rifles, about 100 crossbows, 77 arches with the corresponding 3000 arrows, 68 spears, 42 armours and 68 shields
The Venetian ambassador Andrea Giustiniani reports that St. Michael’s Fortress is "small, with weak walls". He concludes that the defence of the city must be reinforced with the construction of a fort on St. John’s Hill nearby; otherwise the Ottomans could easily bring down the Fortress. This is just one of several reports from the 16th century, attempting to alert the Venetian government on the status of fortifications in the city.
Two Ottoman sieges of Šibenik were shattered primarily due to the urgent construction of two new defensive fortifications on the hills above Šibenik – St. John’s Fortress and Barone Fortress. According to some sources, 4.000 Ottoman soldiers died during the second siege. Shortly afterwards, the Venetian military adviser Onofrio de Campo begins his report from Dalmatia with this sentence: "Speaking of importance, Šibenik’s fortress is crucial among all fortresses of the province. It is a place where the enemy can inflict the biggest damage ... not only to the Illustrious Republic, but also immense damage to entire Christianity."
Two Ottoman sieges of Šibenik were shattered primarily due to the urgent construction of two new defensive fortifications on the hills above Šibenik – St. John’s Fortress and Barone Fortress. According to some sources, 4.000 Ottoman soldiers died during the second siege. Shortly afterwards, the Venetian military adviser Onofrio de Campo begins his report from Dalmatia with this sentence: "Speaking of importance, Šibenik’s fortress is crucial among all fortresses of the province. It is a place where the enemy can inflict the biggest damage ... not only to the Illustrious Republic, but also immense damage to entire Christianity."
On 21st August, an even more destructive explosion in the gunpowder magazine happened. The stones from the Fortress flew all the way down to the sea, and the entire south-western part of the Fortress, as well as parts of the north wall, was destroyed
For the first time in over a century, the citizens of Šibenik were visited by their head of state, the Austrian Emperor Francis I, on his way through Dalmatia. The emperor took notice of the Fortress: "The city is surrounded by high walls that include the castle as well ...", and writes that the Fortress could be accessed by stairs through the double walls.
After the engineer Giustiniani reported to the Austrian administration on the poor state of the fortresses and emphasized the need for their restoration in 1822, St. Michael’s Fortress, other fortresses and city walls were reconstructed.

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.