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Skull Tower (Ćele Kula), Niš

The Skull Tower (Ćele Kula) is located in the city of Niš in southern Serbia. It is a stone monumental structure, rather morbidly embedded with, as the name suggests, human skulls. The tower serves as a reminder of the tyrannous wrath of the Turks and represents a part of the history of Turkish rule in the area.

After around 400 years of turbulent governance, and many fierce battles, the Turks were finding themselves continuously facing resistance by the Serbs. During the Battle of Čegar in 1809, which occurred during the First Serbian Uprising, a massacre of rebel Serbs took place. The uprising had been commanded by Serbian revolutionary Stevan Sinđelić. The Turkish (emperor) ordered the Serbian dead to be decapitated. Following this, as a rather disturbing deterrent to would-be rebels, the skulls were built into a tower, a few kilometres from the centre of Niš. The tower originally contained some 952 skulls embedded on four sides in 14 rows, although only 58 subsequently remained; the tower underwent some plundering by relatives later trying to find their loved ones for burial.

Above: Composite image of the Skull Tower in Niš (Perspective Projection). A composite image was necessary with the camera used, as the tower is enclosed within a chapel and can only be viewed from close proximity.

The tower is 4.5m (15 feet) high and following the Ottoman withdrawal from Niš in 1878, it was roofed over. In 1892, a chapel was built around it and in 1937, this was renovated. The following year, a bust of Sinđelić was added to the chapel. The Skull Tower and the chapel in which it is enclosed were declared Cultural Monuments of Exceptional Importance in 1948, coming under the protection of the Socialist Republic of Serbia. Further restoration of the chapel took place in 1989 and today, 54 skulls are to be seen on the tower itself; one which is said to be that of Sinđelić himself, is enclosed within a glass container. The Skull Tower is seen today as a symbol of independence by Serbs and as well as having been mentioned in the works of several writers, it is a popular site for tourists visiting this part of Serbia. Further photographs from the visit (in November, 2017) can be seen in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

References and Further Reading

1. Foer, J., Thuras, D. and Morton, E. (2016). Atlas Obscura. New York: Workman Publishing Company.
2. Mitchell, Laurence. (2005). Serbia. Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.
3. Willis, Matt. DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Serbia. DK Publishing.

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