Baroque Macedonia and the Macedonian Revolts/Chapter 4 : Construction of fortifications

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The Kumanovo Fortress would most likely looked like the fortress in this photo. It was constructed for the Battle of Kumanovo.

Chapter 4[edit | edit source]

Construction of fortifications

Some time between 1687 and 1689, the Macedonian revolutionaries together with the assistance from the woodworkers and stonemasons of Kumanovo began the construction of a fortress. This fortress was definitely important to the Macedonian armies as it provided a strong defensive wall against the powerful Ottoman troops. According to Macedonian historians, the fortress was more like a palisade then a fortification, however it did manage to keep out the Ottoman foot soldiers until they brought with them wooden ladders. These wooden ladders were used to climb over the palisade. One accepted theory is that the Kumanovo Fortress was most likely constructed on the outskirts of Kumanovo. There is no historical document or chronicle that suggests or explains that the fortress surrounded the city of Kumanovo with a large wall.

There is also no document of a historical nature that explains whether the fortress also included a double wall. There is however a good indication that the fortress was within a radius of about 5 kilometers out of the actual city of Kumanovo. The fortress did include an armoury where they kept various weapons, including ammunition and gunpowder. There was also a watchtower, one that was used by the night troops, to keep a surveillance around the area. The Kumanovo fortress was used during the Kumanovo battle. The first part of the construction involved the building of the foundation and this was normally the work required by the stonemasons. Before the laying of the stones or blocks of masonry the ground was made firmly flat.

Kumanovo back in the 17th century was really a small town, one that only had a few buildings and a number of houses mostly constructed by Ottoman tradesmen. The Macedonians were also good tradesmen and most of them were involved in the construction of residential properties. Today the Macedonian archaeologists are yet to discover the location or the site of the Kumanovo fortress. Modern scientific archaeology is not just about finding sites and digging. It unfolds as much in the laboratory as it does in the field. We've become detectives who rely on all kinds of tiny clues from many often unlikely sources to study the people of the past.[1]There are two possibilities regarding the Kumanovo Fortress, the first likely explanation is that the fortress might have been completely torched (set on fire) by the Ottoman soldiers, that is why the archaeological site of the fortress is extremely difficult to locate.

The other possibility might be that the site was completely neglected and a possible construction of a building, road, or residential properties above ground occurred covering the overall site of the fortress. In order to find the archaeological site, an equipment known as GPR can be used. GPR stands for Ground Penetrating Radar, it is an archaeological equipment that uses FM radio waves. These radio waves are then penetrated into the ground which then are reflecting off any surface deep within the ground. By measuring how quickly the signals are reflected back to the GPR, the GPR can reveal features or structures within the ground. Any feature or structure could be a solid object. Ground Penetrating Radar is a very important tool or equipment to archaeologists it acts like something similar to a metal detector, however it has many advantages over the metal detector.

Kumanovo is located in the north-eastern region of Ottoman Macedonia. It is located at the foothills of Skopska Crna Gora, in the Kumanovo Field. Evliya Celebi describes the town of Kumanovo back in 1660–61 : "The colony of Kumanovo is situated on the territory of the Skopje sanjak and represents one county. The city is embellished with many rivers and 600 tile-roofs houses. The mosque in the downtown is beautiful, there are tekke, madrassas, hammams, a number of shops and water mills; and the climate is pleasant and agreeable. There are many vineyards and gardens". Evliya Celebi was an Ottoman Turkish traveller who also travelled to Krushevo.

The history, religion, social and economic structure, technology and skills of Ottoman Macedonia have been the subject of innumerable accounts, analyses, and discussions. In contrast to all the discussions and analyses, numerous historians, archaeologists, documentary producers and subsequently film makers have produced or written extensively about Ottoman Macedonia.

Archaeology can provide evidence more hard-edged than a literary text : A wall, a burial pit, a shrine, and a link across time or space shown by continuity in a ceramic decorative tradition. The survival of remnants of material culture has created a detailed, if still expanding picture of the regions prehistory and history.[2]

Another archaeological project around Kumanovo, or close to the city of Kumanovo is the Kostoperska Karpa archaeological project, this project however does not involve looking for the remains of the Kumanovo fortress, it is mostly concerned in uncovering remains or structures of a church or a number of churches. During an exploratory visit in 2014, the current archaeological project team was able to identify walls on a summit, traces of terracing and structures to the west of it, as well as a fragment of marble architectural decoration bearing a cross and a cross-inscribed stele, suggesting the settlement extended beyond the hill itself. Focusing on the region of Kostoperska Karpa (Mlado Nagoričane, Republic of Macedonia), where at least three major settlements and twenty churches are attested, it combines archival research, satellite imagery analysis, field walking, geophysics and targeted excavation to build a comprehensive framework for interpreting changes in the region’s religious and civic landscape.[3]

The battle of Kumanovo which occurred in November, 1689 was part of the uprising that was started by Karposh. Eventually the Macedonian revolutionaries were outnumbered, however the fortress was very useful to the Macedonian rebels. One must ask himself how important have fortresses and walls been in the history of civilizations, fortresses were not the only structures that Macedonians built. Everywhere around the world people fortified, their villages, towns and cities. They would build such infrastructure on elevated areas and they would also dig ditches, which was common back in those years. With not enough time, the Macedonian revolutionaries however did not proceed in digging a ditch alongside the walls of the fortress. This was one disadvantage that proved fatal to the outcome of fortifying.

Back in the late 17th century, Macedonia's land area comprised of about 50% forests, it is unclear whether in the 17th century there existed a law that prohibited illegal forest logging. However if there was such a law then the Ottoman gendamerie would in-force that law. Logging was done so that firewood can be readily available, which was needed for a number of purposes. Firewood was required to warm houses, provide energy to warm water for use in the normal household. But logging was also done for other reasons and one reason was for the construction of timber homes. In order for the woodworkers to construct a fortress they would require large amounts of timber, well over 150 trees were cut down and sawn or shaped to fit perfectly. The type of trees in the Macedonian forests were : birch, cherry, spruce, and oak, these type of trees were particularly used because of their durability and hardness. Making or building a fortress required hard work, it is unclear whether the Macedonian revolutionaries assisted the woodworkers and stonemasons in the construction of the Kumanovo fortress, as described earlier the fortress did not encircle the whole city of Kumanovo, it was constructed in the countryside near the city. Looking back through history some cities were completely fortified, walls surrounded large cities keeping out enemies, a good example is the Byzantine city of Constantinople.

In late summer 1452, Mehmed took his army to the very walls of Constantinople, where Constantine Palaeologus could only watch helplessly while the sultan and his engineers spent three days studying the fortifications. At least the walls remained formidable. Fourteen miles in circumference, they still enclosed every side of the triangular city. The two longer sections faced water : the Sea of Marmara to the south and the inlet known as the Golden Horn to the north. Both of these sides were essentially impregnable.[4] The description of the city of Constantinople sounds as though it cannot be taken. However the Ottoman troops did manage to forcibly take Constantinople and in the end they were successful.

Anyway coming back to the topic about fortified cities, settlements that were fortified and contained wooden houses or buildings were known as a gord. The term gord originated most likely in the region of Germania or possibly in the western Slavic states during the 7th or 8th century. The purpose of a Gord (archaeology) was to establish a strong defensive barrier or wall to prevent enemies from gaining access to a certain town, or village. Gords were very popular back in medieval Europe. Back in the late 17th century, Kumanovo was not regarded as a town that resembled a gord type settlement, as mentioned earlier the fortress did not encircle the town. Examples of western Slavic states that had gord type settlements were : Sorbia, also known as Lusatia and the Obotrites confederation which were states back in the 7th or 8th century.

  1. A Little History Of Archaeology, Author : Brian Fagan, Yale University Press, 2018 p.5.
  2. Antiquity Imagined, Author : Robin Derricourt, I.B Tauris, 2015 p.192.
  4. Walls : A history of civilization in blood and brick, Author : David Frye, 2018 p.165.