Skull Tower, Nis
If there is one thing that might make a person consider visiting Nis it is the Skull Tower. This piece of macabre architecture has been there since the 19th century after an unsuccessful revolt by the Serbs against their Turkish masters. Here, in the heart of the Balkans and not very far from Vienna, the heart of Europe one can witness a monument that comes straight from Sindbad the Sailor’s stories. One does not have to go all the way to Central Asia and dig the sands of the Karakorum; it is here less than two kilometers form downtown Nis, the second most populous city of Serbia. The actual tower has been enveloped in another building to preserve it from the elements and give it the respect it deserves. The tower itself has lost most of its skulls for different reasons. Nevertheless it contains enough bone material to convey the message that the Turks passed on to their subjects some 200 years ago. And this message is even more poignant now when in places like neighboring Bulgaria some new ways of depicting the Ottoman rule in Europe are en vogue. How flippant and expedient interpretations can be!
The Skull Tower (Cele Kula) was erected by the Turks at the beginning of the 19th century just after the Battle of Cegar, where Serbian insurgents suffered a defeat against the Ottoman rulers.
The skulls of almost 1000 Serbian rebels were integrated in the tower as a warning to all opponents of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1892 a chapel was built around the Skull Tower to preserve the remaining parts of the tower.
There is a small ticket office near the Skull Tower, from where someone will unlock the tower and also give you a short description of it.
We got ourselves a sort of museum pass (150 RSD) at the Red Cross Camp Museum, which was also valid for the Skull Tower and the Mediana, which we didn't visit.
The Skull Tower is located a 30 Minutes walk east of the city centre. It can be found near the Boulevard Svetog Zara Konstantina, which is the road leading to Niska Banja and further east. The local bus #1 to Niska Banja stops near the Skull tower.
Monument to the Serbians defeated by the Turks in the 1800's
Lots of skulls set into a wall, housed indoors close to the ticket office, not obvious where to find it to us anyway.
Cost (May '09) 120 dinars
Cele Kula (Tjele Koola) or Skull Tower is a gruesome reminder of the Ottoman domination that profoundly shaped the Serbian consciousness. I went on a Sunday morning when the only visitors were a middle-aged Serbian man and myself, but, just from the conversation between the curator and the man I could sense the importance of the monument for the locals. In 1809, a revolt broke out among Serbs against the Ottoman forces. A Serbian army rode south to liberate the town of Nis from the Turks and met the Ottoman forces north of modern-day Nis. A large battle ensued and 9000 Serbs and 16 000 Turks, according to the write-up at Cele Kula, lost their lives. The Ottomans maintained control of the area and the commander of the forces ordered his soldiers to decapitate the heads of the dead Serbs, skin them and bring them back to Istanbul to show the Sultan. In Istanbul, the Sultan order the construction of Cele Kula, a tower into which the skulls of the Serbian war dead were mortared, as a reminder of the consequences of revolt against Ottoman rule. To this day you can still see wisps of hair on some of the skulls. The actual tower is inside a larger structure to protect it from the elements and no photography of Cele Kula is permitted.
Walking to Cele Kula is not a short trip, especially if its a hot summer's day - you can also get to the site by taking the Niska Banja bus from the centre of town.
As revenge of killing of Turkish soldiers, Hushit-pasha made the tower of heads of dead Serbian heroes, killed on Cegar, the monument of unprecedented inhumanity. The tower is rectangle based, 3m high. It was built of slaked lime and sand. There are 14 rows on every side and 17 holes for skulls in every row. In the beginning, there were 950 skulls and less then 60 now. A hundred years later, in 1909, the chapel was erected.
One skull is separated now and it presumed it is Duke-s one because it was on the top of the tower.
After the retreat of the Serbian rebel army, the Turkish commander of Niš, Hurshid Pasha, ordered that the heads of the killed Serbians were to be mounted on a tower to serve as a warning to any other would-be revolutionaries. In all, 952 skulls were included, with the skull of Sindjeliæ placed at the top. The scalps from the skulls were stuffed with cotton and sent to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) as proof for Sultan Mahmud II.
On May 31, 1809 on Èegar Hill a few kilometers northeast of Niš, Serbian insurrectionists suffered their greatest defeat in the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire (1804-1813). The insurrectionists' advance towards Niš was stopped here and, when the far stronger Turkish forces attacked, the battle was ended by the Serbian commander Stevan Sinðeliæ, who sacrificially fired at his gunpowder depot in order to avoid surrendering to the Turks, killing himself, the rest of his men, and the advancing Turks.
Cele Kula, in Turkish the Tower of Sculls, was built from the sculls of the Serbs killed in the battle of Cegar, near Nis, in May 1809. It is of rectangular shape, about 3 m high and was built from quicklime, sand and the skinned sculls according to the order of Khurshid Pasha who sent the skulls filled with cotton to the Sultan in Istanbul. Each side of the Tower has 14 rows with 17 openings where the sculls were embedded. There were around 950 sculls, but today only 58 have remained. The rest were pulled out to be buried or were lost in time. In 1892 a chapel was built around the Tower.
BTW, in Serbian 'cela' means bold head as well.
From VT friend Srdjan [Drphoto] :
"Osmanlian Turks have carried out unseen brutalities, and indeed bestialities, upon Serbian population. One of the more common penalties for Serbs was impalement on stake.
The castle of Cegar (or Cele kula, as the Turks preffered to call it, implying that its building blocks were bald heads or sculls) in Nis is a unique monument in the world. It was built by the Turks into which they inbuilt the sculls of the Serb commander Sindelic and his heroes with the intention of frightening the Serb population. The message it was intended to convey (in Turkish mentality) was: to herald to all the Serbs who decide to stand in the way of Osmanlian Empire's interests (Islam) will have premature deaths, like the Serbs of Cegar."
Cele Kula, the tower of skulls, was built from the skulls of Serbs killed in the battle of Cegar, near Nis, in May 1809. Cele Kula is of a rectangular shape. It is 3 m high and was built from quicklime, sand and skinned skulls. Each side of the tower has 14 rows with 17 openings where the skulls were embedded. Originally, there were around 950 skulls, but today only 58 remain. The rest were pulled out to be buried or were lost over time. In 1892 a chapel was built around Cele Kula.
Stevan Sindelic: On the day of Holy Trinity 1809. (At the time of the First Serb upraising), the Turks marched out of Nis and headed towards Sindelic's trenches with cavalery and two cannons. First the prayer to Allah and then, the positioning of the cannons, followed by a slow approach to the trenches on Cegar. The fist volley over, the Turks charge on the trenches. Sindelic in such time of crisis resembled more a dragon than a man! He saw everything, reached everywhere, helped everybody. When he saw that the trenches were filled with Turkish bodies and that they were still charging in over the dead and fighting his men with rifle butts, he opened the trench gate and told his soldiers to save them selves if they wished. Save yourselves brothers, who wants and who can! Who stays will die. He himself took a position in the middle of the trench where the gunpowder was stored. He took his handgun from his belt and reloaded it, he then took a look around what was happening. There was panic in the trenches; around Sindelic men were chocking and dropping dead or wounded both Serbs and Turks. Stevan Sindelic took a glance on his beautiful Nis, then at the sky and then at the remainder of his fighters who, desperately outnumbered, fought like lions. When the Turks swarmed the trench from all sides and headed for him Sindelic fired his handgun into the gunpowder container. An awesome explosion shook the surrounding fields and hills. Thick smoke engulfed the trench and billowed skyward, the Serbs that were still in the trench with Sindelic and the attacking Turks were all blown into the air and killed. Thus ends his life, the falcon of Cegar, the commander of Resava, Stevan Sindelic, 19th May 1809.