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By the power of Greyskull! Cela Kula – Nis, Serbia’s Skull Tower

The story of the Skull Tower in Nis, Serbia is a cautionary tale about power and rebellion. It is called Cela Kula in Serbian which means…”Skull Tower”.

serbian skull towerThe Serbs were far from happy being in the Ottoman Empire and they had began a rebellion in Nis which sits on the Constantinople Road running through Sofia, Bulgaria to modern day Istanbul. The 1809 rebellion was put down and the skulls of the rebels were used to build a tower as a reminder to anyone else who wanted to rise up against the Ottomans and Sultan Mahmud II.

Here is some of the history from Wikipidia:

On May 31, 1809 on ?egar 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 Sin?eli?, 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.

After the retreat of the Serbian rebel army, the Turkish commander of Niš, Hursid Pasha, ordered that the heads of the killed Serbs were to be mounted on a tower to serve as a warning to whoever opposed the Ottoman Empire. In all, 952 skulls were included, with the skull of Sin?eli? 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.

The tower stood in the open air until the liberation of Niš in 1878. By that time, much of the tower had deteriorated from weather conditions or from the removal of skulls for burial by relatives of killed rebels. In 1892, with donations gathered from all over Serbia, a chapel designed by the Belgrade architect Dimitrije T. Leko was built to enclose what was left of the tower. Today, only 58 skulls remain, including that of Sin?eli?.

In front of the chapel stands the monument to Sin?eli?, and a small relief depicting the battle, both from 1937. The monument commemorating the battle in the form of a guard tower was built in 1927 on ?egar Hill by Julian Djupon. The lower part is made out of stone from the Niš fortress.

Skull Tower was declared Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979, and it is protected by Republic of Serbia.

cela kula serbia NisLike much of Serbia, I found the Skull Tower to be creepy. To get there I had to walk about two kilometers from the center of Nis. The ever present dog turds and tagging were constant while the sidewalks were not. Along the way, I stopped to eat the Serbian delicacy Borek, basically a filo dough pastry stuffed with cheese or meat. It was a bit greasy, but overall pretty delicious. I bought a yogurt to wash it down while sitting in a grungy little park with some senior citizens who had no idea what to think of me joining them as they ate their boxed lunches.

At the tower, there was no signage. I walked around it, took some pictures of the external chapel, but the doors were all locked so I couldn’t get inside. By this time, the borek and yogurt had caused my bowels to become a bit upset and I needed to find a toilet so despite my desire to see the tower of skulls, I went towards a dirty little bus station nearby to see if I could find a toilet. At the bus station, the lady asked me if I wanted to see the tower. I explained that I needed a toilet first, but yes, I wanted to see it.

A tiny little dwarf of a woman came out and led me to the very dirty bathroom (which I was very happy to have access to) and after I paid her the very reasonable entrance fee of 100 Serbian Dinar, she led me to the chapel where she pulled out her huge ring of keys and unlocked three locks to let me in. She watched curiously as I snapped some photos and tried to ‘feel’ the place. It felt like I expected, creepy.

When 19th century traveler Alphonse de Lemartine visited Nis in 1833, this was his experience.

“ 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. ”

It made me think of this – which has caused more than a few people to claim I was being disrespectful, but which was, afterall, what it made me think of.

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Vago Damitio

Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

12 thoughts on “By the power of Greyskull! Cela Kula – Nis, Serbia’s Skull Tower

  • March 22, 2011 at 9:35 am
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    It is so easy to be an ignorant, right?

  • March 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm
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    Yeah. Pretty easy. It’s also easy to confuse the fact that ignorant is usually not a noun but that’s cool. Way to be creative.

  • March 23, 2011 at 10:53 am
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    I don’t know where do you come from Vagobond, but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t write this crap if it was about your own history and hundreds of thousands of lost lives your own people suffered in a struggle for freedom and justice. Think about that.

    You can also criticize anybody over English language, but have in mind that I’m pretty sure you can’t write a simpliest sentence in a language that is spoken in these places you ticket so easily as creepy and violent towards the perfect You.

    Yet, inform yourself more before you make a judgement upon something. I’m really sure that you ain’t a new Messiah who’s authorized to judge over all of us.

    The Skull Tower is still unique monument and you know that very well. It’s not some piece of mud and stone, having or not having signs around. It is after all, place that tells the story of one nation’s suffering and extremely hard struggle for some values. Think about that when you get up from your warm bed, and rethink would you be that much blatantly rude if it was your own victim incorporated in it (other than having to go to the toilet from the warm bed).

  • March 23, 2011 at 11:05 am
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    In fact, I have written this kind of crap about where I come from and about my own history. I write about my experiences. As I pointed out repeatedly, the Serbians I met were mostly warm, intelligent, and well educated people. The Skull Tower is certainly unique and if it were my distant relatives/ancestors, I’d probably have written about it the same way.

    Correct me billy, germanbckpacker, nokian or whatever fake alias you want to use today. Tell me I’m wrong, point out where, and let my readers know about it. Fill everyone in.

    My experience with Serbia was that it was a creepy place where I was accused of being a spy and spied on. I was bossed around, attacked by dogs, stepped in more than a few dog turds, and overall didn’t much appreciate Belgrade, Nis, or Serbia on the whole. My experience. Others have different experiences. Tell about yours. Tell people how Serbia is great, how beautiful the women are, how great the food are, and how it saved the world from the awful Ottomans (who I happen to think were better than the awful west in the first place). Set me straight anonymous dude. I’m approving your comments, not deleting them.

    Now, I think I will get up from my warm bed and go to the squat toilet. Afterwards, I will wash, as the Turks do. It’s more civilized.

  • March 23, 2011 at 12:14 pm
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    Even if my English is not the best one, I can read clearly Your ignorance.

  • March 23, 2011 at 12:24 pm
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    @Steff I make no bones about it. hahaha

  • March 23, 2011 at 5:27 pm
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    A person who can compare tragic symbol of Serbian resistance with Greyskull is definitely without any bones… Sometimes I am really happy being European.

  • March 23, 2011 at 11:54 pm
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    I think everyone else is very happy about that too Steff. I’m sure Hitler or Slobodan Milosovich were proud to be European too.

  • April 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm
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    vago..this is rude..

  • April 25, 2011 at 8:46 am
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    Since we are generalizing here, George W. Bush was also proud to be American, so your way of thinking is not surprising for me.

  • April 28, 2011 at 11:32 pm
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    It’s part of the reason I escaped. Thanks.

  • April 28, 2011 at 11:33 pm
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    It is. I agree.

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