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  • Architectural Restoration Project: 18th-century Imperial border fortress at Slavonski Brod

Architectural Restoration Project: 18th-century Imperial border fortress at Slavonski Brod

During the conflicts and Ottoman inraids from the East dating back to the 15th century and especially after the Peace Treaty at Karlovci in 1699, the Military Frontier, that was to divide and ensure the status quo between the Hapsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire, was set to run in part along the Sava River. The Frontier was intended to separate the conflicting parties with a series of fortifications, watchtowers and guard posts. For that purpose, the Hapsburgian strategist, Prince Eugene of Savoy, envisaged the west wing of the defense line against the Turks as a series of border fortresses or citadels from Stara Gradiška, Slavonski Brod and Osijek in Croatia extending as far east as Romania.

Slavonski Brod became part of the Military Frontier in 1702 and Hapsburg engineers started the construction of the Fortress in 1715. As the works progressed, changes were made in the initial layout of the fortress and N. Doxat de Demoret, following the most advanced fortification architectural theories and projects set out by the Dutch Menno van Coehoorn, gave the fortress its final star-shaped form thus extending the total spread of defensive lines with a series of counterscarps, bastions, ravelins and moats, and setting the fortress perpendicular to the river and next to the civil settlement that influenced and defined the future development and urban planning of the city. For the most part, the complex was constructed of earth, wood, brick and masonry with some sporadic stone interventions. Done in haste due to political circumstances, the fortress of Slavonski Brod accommodated its first regiment in 1720 while the construction works lasted until the 1780s. This huge fortification object was designed primarily for the needs and advent of artillery. It was designed for accommodation of 4,000 soldiers, who had to defend 2,150 meters of ramparts (the town Brod itself had 1.573 inhabitants in the second half of 18th century). The crew had at disposal (...) 150 cannons and, in case of enemy siege, it disposed with storage rooms for food, ammunition and other military hardware for the time period of 30 days. (1)

The fortress finally had three defense lines: internal, external and southern in which strictly articulated substructures of the large terraced platform perfectly intersected with the surrounding landscape and created an everlasting link between the natural shape of the river bend and the fortification architecture. In its original form, the fortress exhibited a spectacular and articulated organization of horizontal and vertical planes, architecturally different and going from the maximum visibility to the underground concealment. In the middle, the fortress was somewhat elevated with respect to the surrounding area and represented the core of military encampment embodied in a massive c-shaped casemate structure called the «Cavalier». Essentially a two-storey building, the Cavalier contained living quarters for the soldiers and storage facilities. From the east, north and west, the Cavalier bordered a square with St. Anne Chapel in the middle. The Chapel (although razed to the ground after WWII) was a very fine example of the Baroque architecture in northern Croatia. On its southern side the square was encircled with two separate buildings that completed the first level. Each corner of the central platform was further extended with four bastions connected with curtains with three ravelins to the east, north and south. They presented the internal line of defense and contained openings and artillery storage areas. The defensive belt was encompassed by moats where water presented the next line of security. The moats were constructed with such forethought and the right inclination that they were periodically emptied by letting the water out in the river through a system of dams/channel. Behind the moats, lower than the central platform but still high enough to control the surrounding area was a series of counterscarps and lunettes forming a glacis made of stumped earth brought over from the dug-out moats, with a separate and final defense area to the river in the south, an area called «Hornwerk» where further buildings for the military personnel had been built.

Despite its impressive dimensions, the significance of the defense function of Slavonski Brod began to diminish already during its construction and its primary goal as the defense stronghold against the Turkish Empire was never fulfilled or tested in practice. Already in the late 18th century, concerns were voiced as to the feasibility of the fortress upkeep and the need for its functional transformation. The Military Frontier ceased to exist in 1873 and the slow decline of the fortress became inevitable due to the loss of its primary function.

The initial phase of the Cavalier restoration in 1997. Click here for a picture of the Cavalier in its final restoration phase.

Although used by various armies until March 1994, the fortress appeared less and less architectonic due to the systematic deposition of detritus and garbage, heavy bombing during the Second World War and the construction of various traffic roadways and buildings inside its perimeter. Nevertheless, due to a prohibition issued in 1775 to build only wooden floor houses inside the fortress that could be immediately destroyed in case of war, as well as its continual military use which separated the fortress from any civil jurisdictions, the fortress remained for the most part intact. Finally in the 1990s, the ruinous character of the whole complex increasingly identified it with the irregular natural landscape surrounding the fortress and its original star-shaped form was almost completely obliterated. After the fortress had been handed over to the civil authorities of Slavonski Brod in the early 1994, it became the property of the City of Slavonski Brod. The civil authorities decided to poll the public opinion and 80% of the inhabitants decided in favor of the reconstruction and reaffirmation of the fortress as cultural property. The outstanding cultural importance of the fortress had been recognized back in 1959 when it was proclaimed cultural heritage of highest importance (0-category).

Nevertheless, the degree of destruction and devastation was such (in 1994 the perimeter of the fortress was 300,000m2 as opposed to its original size of 700,000m2) (2) that the authorities, faced with the elevated costs of reconstruction works, started thinking about how to put to good use the vast spread of the fortress adjacent to the center of the city. The architects and project participants who submitted their proposal for the reconstruction of the fortress (3) had to look for, and partly suggest, the meaning and the role of the monument, with its more communicative and still unrevealed value. This last aspect defined the nature of the restoration project. On the level of the immediately visible, the project team had to take into consideration how to arrest the fading of the archaeological image and, more pressing, how to deal with the preceding restorations, some of which were not adequate. On the level of the unrevealed, the project initiated the excavations of the moats and its immediate reuse in the reconstruction of the star-shaped glacis.

Start the animation by clicking the image (3,58 MB; wmv format)

The decision was made in 1996 to destroy five buildings built after WWII and to restore the Fortress to its blueprint form. Thus the complex first needed be cleaned of layers of detritus and earth deposited through centuries. Attention was paid to the spatial planning of interiors and their connection with the external space as well as the employment of similar or homologous materials, in comparison with the pre-existing ones in order to guarantee good compatibility. The choice was made to use traditional techniques and avoid the employment of poured concrete mixtures. (4) Since it became obvious in the early 1990s that a justification for the extensive works projected could not be found purely in the museological conservation of architectura militaris but in a commercial re-use of the fortress compound (for discussions see the presentation and reception of Mr. Lončarić’s paper at the IFC conference) (5) and its transformation into architectura civilis, the existing buildings were functionally redefined: the Slavonian barracks became the Grammar School and the students moved in in 1997 (financed by the Ministry of Education), the Chapelain’s Quarters will become the Tourist Information Center (financed by the Ministry of Tourism), the Officers’ Pavilion has been turned into the Magistrate Office (financed by the Ministry of Justice). Thus not only have the buildings found its contemporary civil use but new ways of financing have been unearthed. Further commercial and recreational spaces are also projected: the Powder House will become a multimedia center, the remains of the building symmetrical to the Grammar School will be rebuilt as a hotel. (6)

One of the more radical interventions has been projected for the northeastern part of the glacis: the counterscarp earthwork structure is to become an architectural space with sports courts, fitness rooms and cafes which would complement the existing sports facilities outside the closed perimeter.

This brings up perhaps the most important aspect of the project: the conservation of the natural and technical heritage of the Fortress in Slavonski Brod and its outstanding interaction with the existing cultural heritage. The most expensive and labor-intensive works so far have been the archeological excavation and cleaning of the moats. The works were undertaken by the Croatian Waterways and city authorities who recognized the importance of a proper drainage of the moors and ponds accumulated inside the Fortress for the entire urban ecosystem. So far, half of the moat encirclement has been cleaned and rebuilt. The enormous spread of the earth embankments has been reaffirmed and the existing green areas have been reevaluated. The Fortress in Slavonski Brod has thus become an architectural restoration project breaking new grounds at several levels:

  • the reintegration of cultural heritage in the activities of a contemporary urban center and its inclusion into the daily commercial and functional activities of its immediate surroundings (7)
  • the transformation of the space of war into the space of peace (8)
  • the importance of landscape architecture in fortification planning
  • the importance of fortification landscaping not only as natural heritage but also as an outstanding example of technical skills and culture of the Baroque architecture in Croatia.

    by C. Enquist

We invite you to include your thoughts and comments on the project by joining culturenet forum.


1) Ivanka Bunčić, Catalogue of the exhibition "Fortress Brod", Museum of Brodsko Posavlje, 1994
2) Jadran Antolović, Economic evaluation of Built Heritage, pp. 88-89
3) Authors: Stjepan Lončarić, architect, Ivica Leder, project leader, and Zlatko Uzelac, art history professor (model maker: Željko Matuško)
4) As was the case in the restoration of the Cavalier roofed with earth
5) Hans-Rudolf Neumann (ed.), Erhalt und Nutzung historischer Zitadellen, Philipp von Zabern Verlag, 2001, Mainz am Rhein
6) Similar to the successful employment of casemate structures in Krakow, Poland
7) Similar to the functional use of the Diocletian palace in Split, Croatia as pointed out by Mr. R. Ivančević
8) S. Lončarić: The contemporary messages of the spatial planning of the 18th century, Space of war for space of peace

Feature links

International Fortress Council
International organization for cooperation in the field of fortresses, fortifications and other military architecture. Founded in 1989. Address: Mariaplaats 51, 3511 LM Utrecht, The Netherlands, Tel: 31-

Fortress Study Group
The Fortress Study Group is the only international society concerned with the study of all aspects of military architecture and fortifications and their armaments, especially works construted to mount and resist artillery.

Die Deutsche Gesellschaft für Festungsforschung e.V.
German Association for the promotion and study of fortification architecture and landscape.

L"Association Vauban
Founded in 1981, L’Association Vauban regroups everyone active in promoting the knowledge of the great French fortification planner and architect Vauban.
Email: henri.ribiere@wanadoo.fr

Simon Stevin foundation
The Simon Stevin foundation has the objective to promote the study, the conservation c.q. the restoration of fortifications (old, out of military use), as memorials of history and as monument of nature.

MDC (Museum Documentation Center)

City of Slavonski Brod - Administrative department for social affairs


Brodsko-posavska County - Board of Education, Culture, Sports, Information and Technical Culture

Brodsko Posavlje Museum

State Archives in Slavonski Brod


Administration for the protection of cultural heritage

Archives of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts

Croatian Conservation Institute

Croatian Conservationists Society

International Council on Monuments and Sites - Croatian National Committee

Conservation Board in Osijek

Ministarstvo kulture, Konzervatorski odjel u Osijeku, Kuhačeva 27, 31 000 Osijek, 00385-31- 207 400, fax: 00385- 31- 207 – 404

Konzervatorski odjel u Požegi, Trg Sv. Trojstva 21, 34 000 Požega, 00385-34- 273 362, fax: 00385-34 271 651, zoran.fumic@po.hinet.hr

HRZ – Restauratorska radionica u Splitu, Poljudsko šetalište 15, 21 000 Split, 00385-21- 342 327, 00385- 21- 347 534, fax: 00385-21 345 710, branko.matulic@st.hinet.hr

Osijek"s Fortress Restoration Agency
The Agency is a central Croatian government institution for coordination of restoration of Osijek Fortress.


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(D.H., 09.01.2009)