Our city through the centuries

Ćuprija is among the few places in Serbia that still bear evidence of the Turkish rule in its name. The town got its name from the Turkish word for bridge, which is “kopru-ćuprija”. This is because there is a bridge on the Morava river that runs through the town.

The Velika Morava valley has been a meeting point for different ethnic groups, peoples, and cultures since prehistoric times, thanks to its favorable geographical features. In ancient times, the Tribala and Meza tribes inhabited the valley of the Velika Morava river. These tribes were suppressed by the Celts, who took over the region. Later, the area was included in the Roman province of Mezija, and the bridge on the Morava river at the mouth of Ravanica was already known in Roman times. The Roman city of Horreum Margi, also known as the Granary of Morava, was built next to the bridge and became the largest city in the interior of Upper Mezija. From the 1st to the 4th century, Horreum Margi was a center for the production of weapons and the largest warehouse of grain, which explains why it was called the Granary of Morava. Its strategic importance lay in the fact that it was located at the main crossing over the Great Morava, which allowed the Romans to reach the northern provinces of the Eastern Roman Empire. The city was likely restored as a fortification during the reign of the emperor, who erected a brick stone bridge. Barbarian invasions, starting with the Huns under Justinian (527-565) in the first half of the 5th century, destroyed the city. As a result, it is no longer referred to by its ancient name. However, it was destroyed by barbarian raids, which began in the first half of the 5th century with the invasion of the Huns under Justinian (527-565), and is no longer mentioned under its ancient name. In the 7th century, the South Slavs inhabited these regions, and the rivers and settlements were given new names. The Greeks called the territories inhabited by these tribes Sclavini, and that’s how the Margus river became the Morava.

These regions were under Byzantine rule until the 12th century when the Nemanjić dynasty gained independence from Serbia. Ravno, a significant trading station in the heart of Pomoravlje, was first recorded in the book of famous Arab geographer who wrote his most important work at the court of the Norman king Roger II, Idrizi in 1154 as Rabna (Ravna). Crusaders who passed through the Morava River on their way to the Holy Land wrote about this city in their travel diaries as Rabnel or Ravenelle. Stefan Nemanja, a great prefect, even mentioned it during his meeting with the German emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa in 1189. In 1215, Stefan Prvovenčani met with the Hungarian king Andrija II in Ravno “on the border of my fatherland”. Ravni is also mentioned in the oldest Serbian sources from the first half of the 13th century. The name of the city indicates its position in the plain, but it also reminds us of some destruction of its ramparts in the past. Ravna was overrun by the Tatars in the mid-13th century and was probably destroyed, considering Prince Lazar calls it a village in the charter given to Ravanica.

Understanding the history of a nation is the basis for understanding the meaning of the existence of the nation itself.

In 1381, the Ravanica monastery was built. The monastery was surrounded by a city with seven towers, and the church itself was richly decorated. Prince Lazar donated many villages and lands, including Senje, Žirovnica and Ravno, to the monastery in a charter. This is the first time that the old town was mentioned as a village. After Serbia fell under Turkish rule in 1459, many people emigrated. With the arrival of the Turks, a large number of the population were taken into slavery. Around 200,000 Serbs crossed into Hungary, almost half of them from the Morava valley area. At the time of the first census in 1467, the village of Ravno had 33 houses. As early as 1476, there were 41 houses. However, the wave of emigration completely wiped out the inhabitants of Ravno. By 1516, only six houses were found there.

Under the Turks, Ravno was a “palanka” – a station on the Constantinople road and a lodging place for travelers and livestock. The Turkish crew and Turkish population lived there. In the earlier days of Turkish rule, the Morava was bridged only during military campaigns. During the military campaigns of Suleiman the Magnificent (1521-1566), a temporary pontoon bridge was erected on the Morava, and it appeared as the city of Morava and as the seat of the Kadiluk. Later, it was called Morava Palanka or Morava Hisar (Morava town, town). At the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century, the Morava River was crossed using a scaffold. The Turkish bridge on the Velika Morava was built only in 1658, during the preparations of the Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed Pasha (Mehmed Pasha Ćuprilić) for the campaign to Erdelj. He built the bridge to facilitate the crossing of the army that was supposed to go to Belgrade and then on to Erdelj. The wooden bridge that the Turks built on the ruins of the old Roman bridge was the most important crossing over the Morava on the so-called “imperial” road. The bridge is very nicely and appropriately built, although it is all made of wood. This bridge was named Mehmedova Ćuprija.

Since the construction of this permanent bridge, the settlement began to get its current name. During 16th, 17th and 18th century, Ćuprija was also a port on the great Morava. This, together with the area around it, gave Ćuprija an extremely important strategic position. Stefan, the abbot of the Ravanica monastery, who himself escaped during the great migration of Serbs in 1690, and came back to his monastery in 1718, says that during the Austrian-Turkish War (1683-1699), there was a great displacement of people, and that monasteries and villages were completely deserted and some completely burned down. According to the description of the Austrian officers from 1784, Ćuprija was a town on the right bank of the Morava with 90 Turkish and 20 Serbian houses. It had two mosques and four taverns, with seven lodging and as many bakeries. The buildings in the town were made of fence and wood. The bridge over Velika Morava was wooden, placed on 12 stationary pontoons, 318 long, and 14 wide.

There were gates on both sides that were closed from sunset to sunrise. For the advancement of Ćuprija at that time, in addition to the Constantinople road, the navigation of the Morava was also important. Goods were transported from Serbia along the Morava to the Danube and then on to wherever they wanted. The Morava was used for shipping until the beginning of the 19th century. However, at the end of the 18th century, with the Austro-Turkish War (1788-1791), the population from the Velika Morava valley migrated north across the Sava and Danube rivers, especially from the Ćuprija region. These areas remained deserted again, so that, as eyewitnesses say, there was “neither a singer to sing nor a dog to bark.” The first years of the 19th century marked the rule of 4 dahis in Serbia. Ćuprija nahija was under the rule of Kučuk Alija, but the bridge on Velika Morava was seized by Mehmed Fočić-aga. There were never less than 1,500 to 2,000 Turkish soldiers in Ćuprija and the positions around it. The first Serbian uprising, and especially the battle at Ivankovac near Ćuprija, brought great success to the Serbian insurgents and an enthusiasm that could no longer be stopped. The Second Serbian Uprising has already brought evident results. The first forms of autonomy will be confirmed at a meeting between Miloš Obrenović and the Turkish vizier Marashli Ali Pasha, who met in 1815 in one of the taverns by the bridge.

The events mentioned here mark a turning point, as they indicate the end of the emigration period and the beginning of the intensive immigration of the ancestors of today’s population. Immigration was of utmost importance for the ethnic makeup of the Ćuprija region until the end of the first half of the 19th century, when the ancestors of today’s population settled in. Several streams of immigration, including Kosovo-Metohija, South-Morava, and Timo-Niš, settled in the Ćuprija region. The first census of the population was in 1818, which showed that 400 inhabitants lived in Ćuprija. In 1834, the Turks finally left the town of Ćuprija, and 812 inhabitants were recorded in the census from that year. The largest influx of inhabitants was recorded from 1880 to 1890, after the liberation wars (1876-1878), when many Serbian people from the newly liberated southern regions moved to Ćuprija. According to the 1900 census, Ćuprija had 5,155 inhabitants. In the second half of the 19th century, several wooden bridges were built over the Velika Morava river, but they were all washed away by the water after a short or long time, so the scaffolding was returned. The first iron bridge was built after the First World War, but it was destroyed by the retreating German army on October 13, 1944. The restoration of the bridge began in the spring of 1945, and it was opened to traffic in October of the same year. With occasional renovations, this bridge still stands today and is one of the oldest in Serbia that is used every day.

Author of the text: Dragan Savić, prof.