Due to its exceptionally significant geographical and strategic position, historical data about Petrovaradin reach much deeper into the past, than it is the case with the data on today’s City of Novi Sad. In fact, at a time when an increasingly important settlement was developing in the area of Petrovaradin, and when the foundation stone for the construction of today’s Fortress was laid, there were modest houses across the Danube, on the Bačka side, which together formed a settlement called “Petrovaradinski šanac” (Petrovaradin Trench).
If we start from a remote past, archaeological data show that in the area of Petrovaradin there was a Palaeolithic settlement dating back to the period from 50-45,000 years BC, and that from the Neolithic period (around 4,500 BC) this area has been constantly populated. The dominant position of the Petrovaradin rock over the Danube and its surroundings has always been of interest to all peoples who stayed there for a shorter or longer period. Thus, the first fortress made of earth was erected by the Celts, who appeared in the region in the 4th century BC. Later, in the 1st century BC, the Romans appeared in the area, and they organised that important strategic point as their Fortress (Cusum), which they included in the province of Pannonia. Then, a period of instability occurred and the Great Migration of people, due to which many nations were settled there in turns, such as the Huns, Ostrogoths, Gepids, Langobards, Avars, Franks and Bulgarians. During the Middle Ages, the area of Petrovaradin became a battlefield and struggle for dominance between Byzantium and Hungarians, so that at the end of the twelfth century, Petrovaradin became a part of medieval Hungary.
The first official historical document of the existence of a settlement in the territory of the present Petrovaradin dates back to the period of the reign of Hungary over these territories. It is a charter of the Hungarian ruler Bela IV from 1237, based on which he bestowed the properties and villages to a new Cistercian abbey in Belakut (a medieval fort at the site of today’s Petrovaradin Fortress). Over time, Petrovaradin became an increasingly important settlement, primarily because of the existence of a ferry across the Danube and the fairs that were visited by merchants from all over Hungary.
The largest threat to people living in Petrovaradin at that time were the Ottoman Turks, whose direction of conquest went towards the northwest. After the conquest of Belgrade and later the campaign to Hungary and Vienna, the Turks conquered Petrovaradin in 1526 and that was the beginning of the epoch of their domination over the region that lasted for 161 years. During the Turkish reign, Petrovaradin had the status of a nahiya seat and was a very important strategic point, with two key transport routes at that time: the Danube and Constantinople Road. At that time, Petrovaradin had some 200 houses, and there was a Suleiman-Han mosque, as well as two smaller mosques. There were also the ammunition depots, grain barns, many shops, craft workshops, schools, hamams, and other structures of the Ottoman architecture. Within the city, there was also a Christian quarter with 35 houses, inhabited solely by the Serbs.
At the end of the 17th century, namely, after the Great Vienna War and several catastrophic defeats of the Turkish army, Petrovaradin and Srem became the part of the Habsburg Monarchy, making the southern border towards the Ottoman Empire. There was a need to fortify Petrovaradin as a strategically important point in the defence of the Habsburg Monarchy. The demolition of the old Turkish buildings started immediately along with the development of plans to build a more powerful fortification with the main task to stop new conquests of the Ottomans towards the north. The fortress was designed and built according to the famous “Vauban system”, that is, according to the latest achievements of the fortification school of that time. The stone foundation was laid down in 1692, in the name of the Emperor Leopold I. This huge construction undertaking was built on three interconnected altitudes, the basis of which consisted of: Upper Fortress (at the site of the medieval fortress), Lower Fortress (or Lower Town in the foothill) and Two-horned Bastion (Hornwerk).
The works of this magnitude have inevitably led to changing the physical appearance of Petrovaradin from that time, and they significantly affected the future appearance and purpose of houses, buildings and roads. This refers particularly to the appearance of the Lower Town characterised by compact urban architecture shaped into residential blocks, with preserved military, civil and sacral buildings. Some of the oldest preserved buildings include the former Jesuit convent and the Church of St. George, built from 1701, the Franciscan convent, which was later converted to the Military Hospital, and the building of the Fortress Military Headquarters. The main street accommodates the majority of formerly most important buildings of military and civil administration, as well as the most representative residential houses of high officers and clerks that were built in the Baroque style during the 18th century. In addition, many special purpose buildings, such as the gun powder depots, barracks, magazines, bakeries, pharmacy and inns were also built. Among several gates that have been preserved, two monumental main gateways – Belgrade and New Gate – are especially important.
During the construction of the Fortress, one of the greatest battles between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire took place, which determined further flows of history in the area. The Battle of Petrovaradin took place on August 5th, 1716. The mixed Christian army was led by the legendary Eugene de Savoy, while the Ottoman army was led by Damat Ali Pasha. Applying special offensive tactics, Eugene de Savoy managed to outwit a much larger Ottoman army and save Petrovaradin from being conquered again. The greatness and significance of this battle is also expressed by many legends that have been held up to this day among the population, as well as the subsequent erecting of the Church of the Holly Mary of Snow at today’s exit from Petrovaradin, in the wake of the great victory of the Christian over the Muslim army. After this battle, the possibility occurred to place the entire Banat and Belgrade under the control of the Habsburg Monarchy and move the border between the two empires to the south of Petrovaradin, which marked the beginning of the period in which it lost the first-class strategic importance.
Petrovaradin had a privileged status within the Habsburg Monarchy, and in 1783 it became the centre of the Slavonian-Srem General Military Command, whose population actively participated in all military conflicts of the monarchy throughout Europe. Its Fortress became one of the safest in the entire empire, with about 4,000 soldiers and 400 guns.
After the end of the World War I and military defeat of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Petrovaradin became a part of a newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
Today, Petrovaradin, with its Fortress, makes a part of urban Novi Sad. As the time has passed and along with the increase in the number of inhabitants, Petrovaradin spread along the long-established corridors leading towards the Fortress. Many smaller settlements around Petrovaradin bear the names that originate from toponyms from many battles that have taken place in the area of Petrovaradin (Tatarsko brdo, Alibegovac, Vezirac …). Petrovaradin Fortress was completely demilitarised in the middle of the 20th century, it was proclaimed the historical monument, and placed under state protection and assigned to the civilian use. The Fortress accommodates the Novi Sad City Museum and Archives, hotels and restaurants, ateliers and galleries of fine artists, Academy of Arts, Planetarium and many other contents.