As a symbol of Serbian struggle for independence against the Ottoman Empire during the first Serbian Uprising (1804-1813), Skull Tower has had a great inner value for all the following generations of Serbs.
One of the main battles during the First Serbian Uprising was the Battle of Cegar which happened on the 31st of May 1809, on the Cegar hill, next to the village Kamenica, near Nis. The heroic Duke Stevan Sindjelic, overwhelmed with despair during a Turkish attack, decided to fire his flintlock pistol into a pile of gunpowder kegs at an underground powder magazine. The powerful explosion that followed killed all of the Serbian and around 10.000 Turkish soldiers. Both armies were completely destroyed.
After that the Ottoman commander of the fortress, Hursid Pasha commanded to skin all of the fallen Serbian soldiers, fill their skin with hay and send it off to Constantinople. In order to frighten the remaining Serbs, the Turkish commander ordered their soldiers to collect the skulls of the dead Serbians, and with them, to build a tower on the eastern gates of Nis.
The tower was made out of stone, with the skulls built in its walls. The middle of the tower was meant to be simple, made out of rock and calx, and the sculls of Serbian soldiers facing the field and being in and outward position.
The tower was built in the fall of 1809, close to the eastern city gates, on the main road to Constantinople. It has 4 supporting walls leaning onto each other, and the original curved shape was 5 meters high.
952 skulls in fourteen rows were embedded in its walls. Even though Turks had forbidden the skulls to be retrieved from these walls, many of the skulls were stolen and buried in local cemeteries.
Many travelers, who visited Nish, wrote about this unique monument. A detailed description of the Tower came from Zivan Zivanovic in 1882. He counted a total of 511 skulls, 123 on the northern side, 103 on the west side, 105 on the east side, and 180 on the south side of the monument. He also witnessed the locals who could not stand watching this terrifying site, and therefore they took down some of the skulls to ensure their proper burial in accordance with the Serbian orthodox customs.
Until 1892, Skull Tower had been vulnerable and exposed to severe weather conditions during the year. The project of an architect Dimitrije Lek, which was financed by contributions from entire Serbia, proposed building a chapel around the site. In 1937, during a celebration, more skulls were found hidden in the middle of the tower and they were re-embedded into the walls.
Today there are only 58 skulls left, and one of them has a special place, a pedestal in the middle of the tower. It is presumed to be the skull of the Uprising’s leader Stevan Sindjelic.
In the modern city of Nis, it is the center of the Trosarina municipality.
It is considered as one of the most significant Serbian historical monument. In 1979 the Government has declared Skull Tower a cultural good of an outstanding importance for the Republic of Serbia.
Every year 30-70 000 people visits this important historical site. Tickets are quite affordable at the price of only 1 Euro.
Enjoy your visit!
There are public city transport buses which are headed for Trosarina. Their final station is right next to the Skull Tower.