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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Skull tower of Niš.

Skull tower of Niš.

Niš is the second largest city in Serbia and one of the oldest in the Balkans. Situated right between the East and the West it’s had a turbulent history involving numerous occupations and battles. For example in 1385 the Turks seized it after a siege lasting nearly a month.

For a while Serbia regained control, but the Turks re-conquered it in 1448. Then in 1737 the city was seized by the Austrian Army. Austrian rule didn’t last long, however, because the Turks returned the same year and took it back.

By the beginning of the nineteenth-century Serbians started a drive to push the Turks out of Niš. Thus, in 1809, thousands of Serbian insurrectionists surrounded Niš and dug-in. Their plan was to besiege the city then attack from different directions.

The Turks, however, managed to reinforce their army, and as soon as they outnumbered the Serbs they launched a counter-attack. Battles raged at a number of locations. One such battle was waged a few kilometres northeast of Niš at a place called Čegar Hill.

Thousands of Serbs were firmly entrenched at Čegar Hill under the command of Stevan Sinđelić. Even so, Turkish forces charged his position numerous times. At their sixth attempt the Serbian trench was so full of dead bodies the Turks managed to traverse it. They penetrated the Serb position and confronted the Serbs using their sabres, cutting down hundreds.

Realising their situation was hopeless, Sinđelić rushed to where Serbian gunpowder was stockpiled and fired his rifle into it causing a massive explosion. Stevan Sinđelić and many Serbs were totally blasted, but his sacrificial action also destroyed a huge number of the advancing Turks. In the end about three thousand Serbs and nearly six-thousand Turks died at the battle of Čegar Hill.

Though the Turks suffered very heavy losses they nevertheless defeated the Serbs. The brutal Turkish commander at Niš, Hursid Pasha, then set about decapitating hundreds of those killed, whereupon he took about a thousand Serbian skulls and had them mounted on a tower with the skull of Stevan Sinđelić placed on top. The scalps from the skulls were stuffed with cotton and sent to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) as proof for Sultan Mahmud II.

Hursid Pasha’s uniquely gruesome edifice is still standing. Though only 58 skulls remain, much of the Skull Tower has still been preserved thanks to a chapel built to enclose it. Today, however, it serves not as a threat, but as a monument commemorating the battle, a sort of shrine to the value of independence and the real price that some have had to pay.

Today, the remaining 58 in the tower of skulls which, together with the whole
environment, the National Museum of Nis and the whole city carefully taken into
account, respecting the words of Alfonso de Lamartine:

"My eyes and my heart greeted the remains of those brave men whose cut-off heads made the cornerstone of the independence of their homeland. 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."

- Alphonse de Lamartine, Journey to the East, 1833

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