A Symbol of Serbian Endurance: Ćele Kula - Skull Tower
In the early 1800s, the Serbs were growing restless of the Ottoman’s rule. They formed a band of around 10,000 rebels, led by Stevan Sinđelić. Advancing on the city of Niš, the rebels encountered a force of nearly 30,000 Turkish soldiers. The Serbs defended their positions, but when there was no hope of anyone surviving, Stevan Sinđelić went onto the gunpowder stores and fired his flintlock pistol into the barrels of powder. He blew up everyone on the battlefield, including all of the attacking Turks and his men, too.
The Turkish general in charge of Niš, Hurşid Pasha, commanded his soldiers to collect the heads of the Serb soldiers that had not been incinerated by the explosion on the battlefield. He peeled the skin of the skulls and stuffed them with straw. He then sent them off to the emperor in Constantinople, to prove he had won the battle. With the skulls, he built a tower on the side of a road, on Čegar Hill (the site of the battle).
Today the skull tower has only 52 of the 952 original skulls. The missing skulls have been taken by families for a proper funeral, or have been eroded over time. Now there is a small chapel around it that shelters it from wind and rain. The skull of Stevan Sinđelić is on display here.
The skull tower was supposed to be for the purpose of warning off intruders, but the Serbians see it now as a sign of endurance for their people. In the French poet Alfonse de Lamartine’s words, “May the Serbs keep this monument! It will always teach their children the value of the independence of a people, showing them the real price their fathers had to pay for it.”
For a small fee, you can see this grotesque monument. But if you want to do something else, there are countless other activities and sites. They include the grand reception hall for emperor Constantine’s summer palace. In fact, the great emperor was born in Niš. There is also a fortress and Nazi concentration camp.
Lukas Bruihler is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program
All photos courtesy and copyright Lukas Bruihler