Strumica Fortress or Czar’s Towers (Струмичко Кале/ Цареви Кули)

Strumica Fortress


Location: Strumica Map

Constructed: 5th century


Strumica Fortress or Czar’s Towers is an early medieval citadel that stands on a hill overlooking a town of Strumica in Eastern Macedonia. It was constructed in the 5th century AD, although archaeological digs proved that it was inhabited since at least 1st century BC. Its walls measured 4 m in thickness and corners of the citadel were defended by mighty towers. In the 11th century Byzantine Emperor Basil II ordered destruction of the fortress after victory at the Battle of Belasica (Battle of Kleidion) in 1014. Strumica Castle was razed to prevent any attempts of Bulgarians, Macedonians and other Slavic nations to rise up against Constantinople. It was abandoned ever since.


The emperor towers rise above the southwestern periphery of Strumica where important ancient roads intersected: the road Astibo - Astrajon - Dober - Idomeni - Thessaloniki (today's Stip - Strumica - Valandovo - Dojran - Thessaloniki); the road to Strimon to the east (today's Petrich) and to Stenae to the west (today it goes only to Konce, and not to Demir Kapija).

This fortress is located at an altitude of 445 meters and from there it is possible to see and control over the entire Strumica valley. The fortress could have been easier to defend even if it was not fortified, because it is surrounded by a slope on all sides. This location of the fortress allows it to simultaneously control the three entrances to the city.

The suburbs of the city stretched at the northern foot of the hill, on the high terrace on which today lies the oldest part of Strumica. And it was covered with walls, and outside this area spread the necropolis (at the old post office). Graves from the Hellenistic period (III century BC) and the Roman period (III century AD) were excavated in this part.

The fortress had a specific rectangular base measuring 21.60 × 8 meters. In the whole area of ​​the fortress there are foundations of houses for living and larger buildings of another character. The area of ​​the fort is 3,654 m2.

From 986 to 1018 Strumica was part of Samuel's Empire and his successors. From 1018 to 1330 it existed within Byzantium, with shorter interruptions from the end of the XII to the middle of the XIII century. Namely, it was then ruled by the local feudal lord Dobromir Hrs (from about 1185 to 1202), and then alternately by the Bulgarians, the Latins of Thessaloniki and the emperors of Nicaea. The Serbs took Strumica in 1330, and the Ottomans in 1385 or 1395. In the Turkish period Strumica existed as a town with a mixed Turkish and Christian population and the seat of a large kaza.

Ancient period
The oldest remains of a city in this place date back to the early Copper Age, when research in the 2000s found a house or prehistoric settlement that was located on the slope. Fragments of pottery from this period were also found. Above this so-called house was found second phase, probably from the late Copper Age. Many fragments of pottery from the early Copper Age were also discovered from this settlement, as well as some other stylistic objects that were in some way used in the daily life of the inhabitants of the settlement. Thus, according to all the findings so far, together with the discovered prehistoric settlement, they indicate that various civilizations existed in this place for a period of about 6,500 thousand years.

In 168 BC. Macedonia fell under Roman protectorate and was divided into four meridians, and Astraion belonged to the second meridian. In 148 BC. Macedonia became a Roman province. Under the name Astrayon, the city or fortress is first found in written sources by the Roman historian Titus Livius, in 181 BC, in connection with the assassination of Demetrius, the brother of the Macedonian king Perseus (179-168 BC). ), ie the son of Philip V of Macedon (221-179). The city was named Astraion after the Paeonian tribe, Astraeus.

Coins depicting the god Apollo as well as coins with the image of Philip of Macedon originate from this period. From the period when Strumica was under the rule of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, a necropolis was discovered. During this period it is not known if any fortress existed. Research has shown a burial ritual by cremating the deceased with a rich fund of vessels and other material such as jewelry, coins.

From this period were also found five pits dug into the rock, some of which were huge. The so-called Pit 5 is 5x5 meters wide and 4 meters deep. From these pits were discovered a huge amount of pottery with black firmness and fragments of red-figured pottery, jewelry, fibulae of Asia Minor type, lead missiles with inscription, Macedonian coins of Philip II and Amyntas III and Philip V, several fragmented iron spears, cults of Kibe and Hermes confirmed through their terracotta representations, a pair of gold earrings with negroid heads and another pair of gold earrings with lion protomes as well as a lamp with the image of Alexander the Great.


During 2014, during an excavation of the archeological site, a royal vault of artifacts was found. Terracotta figures of the goddess Cybele and Hermes, gold rings, Roman lamps depicting Achilles, Penthesilea and Athena, as well as coins from the 4th century BC were found in the vault. , 4300 Byzantine coins and a small number of Venetian coins.

Byzantine-Slavic period
During the Early Byzantine period, the first fortress was built on the present site, although it is not known what it looked like. Coins of Constantine and Diocletian were found in the necropolis from that period, ie the 4th century. Probably in the following centuries there was no life in this area in order to find the remains of the XI century again.

The history of this fortress is related to the existence of the city itself. In the time of Samuel's Kingdom, the emperor himself knew that the incursions of the Byzantine forces came from the southeastern part, ie from Thrace and Sersko Pole to the valley of the river Struma.

This choice of Strumica was quite suitable. The fortress was called "cloudy" by the Byzantines because "the people sitting on the walls, when viewed from the plain, looked like birds".

In the Battle of Belasica, according to some historians, Samuel is either in the Strumica fortress or was transferred to the fortress after the catastrophic defeat of Byzantium, after which he was taken by his son Gavrilo Radomir to the fortress in Prilep. In the period after the battle of Belasica, the Byzantine emperor Basil II ordered his dukes to cross the hills around Strumica and burn the walls to clear all obstacles on the road leading to Thessaloniki. After the great victory, Basil II went to the fortress in Strumica, but soon another event forced him to abandon its siege and retreat to the east, from where he came. Namely, the Byzantine emperor ordered the Thessaloniki strategist Theophylact Votaniat with one unit to clear the road to Strumica from the south, from Kosturino and Cham Chiflik. The Byzantine detachment was suddenly greeted by ambushes by the Macedonian guards who destroyed it with a strait, attacking it with stones and arrows. The Byzantines suffered a complete defeat, and Theophylact Votanijat himself fell, allegedly stabbed by the spear of Gavrilo Radomir himself, which was followed by the blinding of Samoil's soldiers near the village of Vodo .a.

Copper skiffs and 4300 Byzantine coins were found during the excavations during the 12th century.

At the end of the XII century and the death of Manuel I Cominus Byzantium weakened significantly and in the region around Strumica Dobromir Hrs became independent and besides Strumica he also chose Prosek as its seat. During this period there is most information about what life was like in the late twelfth century in the fortresses. The fortress was guarded by 200 to 300 soldiers. The fortress is thought to have been occupied by Byzantium in 1201.

In the following period the fortress was under the rule of Sevastochar Strez, the miller master Alexius Slav. At the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th century, the Emperor's Towers played a significant role in the Serbo-Byzantine conflicts where the fortress is mentioned.

Ottoman period
The fortress was probably conquered around 1334 by the Serbian Tsar Dusan and already at the end of the XIV century (1385 or 1395), the city together with the fortress fell under Ottoman rule. During the 15th century it is known that the Ottomans carried out certain activities and repairs to the fortress itself so that by the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century the fortress lost its strategic importance. In the period in the XVI century, only a small guard consisting of several soldiers stayed at the fortress, so that in the XVII century the fortress was completely abandoned.

According to research, the fortress was used during the Balkan Wars and the two world wars. In the days before the liberation of Strumica, in November 1944, a German unit was stationed here to simultaneously control the three entrances to the city.

During the 2000s, a project for reconstruction of the Carevi Kuli site was made through the program for cross-border cooperation with the Municipality of Petrich from the Republic of Bulgaria and it was financed by the European Agency for Reconstruction and from the municipality's own funds.

The whole project is divided into five phases:


I - phase infrastructure
II - phase research
III - conservation phase
IV - phase reconstruction
V - phase - presentation and holding of two workshops in the field of culture

Description of the fortress
Western part
The fortress known as the Emperor's Towers was divided into two main parts, the west and the south. The western part, which was at the narrow top, was covered with an inner wall and four towers. This part was reserved for the military garrison. The highest northwestern part with an inner wall was separated into an acropolis.

Northern part
The north side of the fortress is very steep, and the stone material is crushed and shed. In several places the torrents made large holes. In the middle of the slope are the remains of a small, single-nave building, perhaps a small church, from which the east and south walls are preserved. The walls are plastered, but there are no traces of paint or drawing on the plaster, which would indicate that the building was a church. It is not clear how this building was approached, but it is very likely that there was a road that was swept away by torrents, along with the northern half of the building and its vault. The material from the collapsed walls, in larger compact blocks, can be seen scattered on the steep slope.

Southern part
The wide slope that stretches south, southeast, east and northeast of the acropolis was covered by the outer city wall and was used as a residential area. In this part there are numerous foundations of smaller buildings and workshops.

At the very edges of the fortress there are remains of a defensive wall of which the western one, 14 meters long, is still well visible today. This defensive wall runs around the plateau and follows the terrain configuration along almost the same isohypses. In addition to this rampart at the top of the hill, there are several other ramparts that extend to the north side in several belts. These belts probably reach the city of Strumica itself.

The main entrance to the fortress was on the south side. The entrance was flanked by two rectangular towers, of which the southwestern one is still preserved today, although in a damaged condition. As for the southeast tower, it rose until the earthquake that struck these areas in the 1930s. The entrance on the south side was organized by a bridge, which was probably movable at times and which bridged the artificially made deep ditch connecting it with the ridge south of the entrance.

Remains of four towers can be seen on the north and northwest sides of the former fortress today, while on the east side the remains of a round tower can probably be seen, which probably marked the entrance to the fortress.

The towers were probably built in the time of Konstantin Dejanov. The two towers located in the western part of the fortress were rebuilt during the 12th and 14th centuries.

The most preserved and interesting is the tower inside the fortress, which was probably built by the 12th century at the latest. This tower is a dungeon tower (main tower) which on the outside is in the form of an elongated hexagon and protruding sharp edges and inside has a rectangular base and had two or more floors. In this tower there was rainwater, ie the interior of the basement was covered with hydrostatic insulation and served as a water cistern. Inside the walls are the bearings of the mezzanine structures made of wood. The dimensions of the walls measured from the outside are: 5.50 × 12.5 meters, about 3 meters thick, and in the beaks over 3 meters. The highest part of the preserved wall is about 9 meters high.

The southeast tower together parts of the tower on the southwest side formed the entrance on the south side. The entrance probably functioned with a drawbridge. This tower was destroyed in the 1931 earthquake.

Fifty meters north of the tower there is a quadrangular room carved into the ground - a cistern. This room is presumed to have been a water cistern or food storage; grain, wine, etc.

During the reconstruction of the Emperor's Towers, a medieval church dating from the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th century was discovered. A rich fresco was removed from this church and a coin that is an imitation of a Latin or Bulgarian coin, which means that the church probably dates from the 13th century. In front of the altar area of ​​the church was found a cross with a saint and the inscription Georgio, which indicated that this church may have been dedicated to St. George. The church has a single-nave base, a north porch and a southern chapel of a later stage. The church itself served as a chapel for the crew of the fortress, and dozens of tombs with anthropological remains were discovered next to it, some of them rich in jewelry.


The church was found around the built transmitter of MRTV that dates back to 30 years ago and a part of the church was demolished by setting up the substation next to the transmitter itself. In addition, archaeologists have found traces of ignition.

In popular culture
Old town song "Under the towers of Strumica"
Festival of old town songs and serenades "Under the towers of Strumica"