Blagaj Fortress is a town-fortress complex built on a high, inaccessible karst hill. The archaeological material scattered above the slopes of Blagaj hill indicate that settlements existed here during the prehistoric and Roman periods. Remains of fortifications were discovered on each of the summit's highest points: On the north-eastern summit, there are the remains of a Roman or late antique fortification or observation post (specula, burgus) known as Mala gradina, while on the south-eastern summit the contours of a prehistoric hillfort can be discerned. The south-western summit contains the remains of the present day Stjepan grad, a medieval or Ottoman period fort. The shorter sides of the triangle are bordered by a gorge through which a river once flowed, and on the longer and only accessible side the remains of massive ramparts are visible, enclosing a fortified town complex of more than 2 hectares in area.

It is possible that this complex consisted of two parts in the early medieval period – the Old Fort and Mala gradina, and that this twin settlement lasted at least until the mid-tenth century. The earliest indirect source in writing dates from between 948 and 952.

After the 10th century, Blagaj played an important role in the development of Hum or Zahumlje. A major influence on its development was the proximity of a major route linking the Adriatic sea with the Bosnian hinterland via the Neretva valley. Turbulent political events, particularly after the tenth century, did not have any essential impact on the economic development of the town besides the occasional ramparts.

The Ottomans occupied Blagaj in 1465, and by 1473 references to the kadija of Blagaj already exist. The Ottomans repaired the fort twice: in 1699, when the west tower was repaired, and again in 1827. A garrison was stationed there until 1835, although the fort’s former strategic role had long since been taken over by Mostar.

Fortress complex

Unlike other fortifications that were also rulers’ residences in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Blagaj fort is on a naturally flat site above vertical cliffs to the south, west and north. The ground plan of the fort is an irregular polygon adapted to the configuration of the terrain. The walls of 12 or 14 metres in height have remained largely preserved. The inner defended space is a relatively small area of about 1,700 square metres.

The entrance to the fortified town was protected by an outer forecourt that is now hard to discern, a forecourt and a gatehouse as the final obstacle to attackers. The walls of the gatehouse are noticeably more solid and higher than those of the forecourt.

In the 6th century, most of the walls were increased in height although their dimensions remained the same. During the medieval period the entire mass was considerably increased by these additions, and it is not impossible that some of the lower parts of the tower collapsed. The breastworks may not have been built up fully to their original height, but somewhat lower (Basler, 1983, 32). In the late 14th and early 15th century, the walls were reinforced and thickened. About ten meters from the fort yet another wall was added giving that space the impression of a trench. The east wall was badly damaged in the 18th or early 19th century when a large quantity of gunpowder exploded in its middle tower.

Among the architectural features discovered, the most significant were the remains of a palace, of irregular rectangular outline.

The shahids' necropolis in Blagaj located below the fort, near the road, is an old Muslim burial ground known as Šehitluk. Graves and tombstones are almost completely wrecked, although the outlines of several graves can still be discerned and there are eight, mostly damaged nišan tombstones to the left and right of the brook and road. This is most likely the oldest burial ground in Blagaj.

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Founded: 10th century AD
Category: Castles and fortifications in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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