Friday, May 30, 2014

Tales From the Crypt: Skull Tower of Niš

Image source: Comic Book Daily

The Skull Tower of Niš, Serbia is a reminder of the long struggle for Serbian independence in the beginning of the 19th century. The skulls adorning the tower are from an army that was killed together in an instant (and at the hands of their own commander).

Niš wasn't so nice in 1809, as the Battle of Čegar waged during the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire. Led by commander Stevan Sinđelić, the Serbian revolutionaries were in a losing battle, as they faced 36,000 Turkish imperial guards. Rather than have his men caught and executed by impalement, Sinđelić fired his pistol into a gunpowder magazine, blowing up himself and his Serbian rebels.

The Turkish Grand Vizier of Niš had the bodies mutilated and ordered a tower to be constructed at the entrance of the city, showcasing all 952 skulls. This barbaric act was a warning to the Serbs; a visual of  what happens when one picks a fight with the Ottoman Empire. The tower was built 15 feet high with four sides and 56 rows of skulls. Sinđelić was placed right on top. Following the construction of the tower, families made the pilgrimage to collect their fallen soldiers (they guessed as to which was which) to give them a proper funeral. Only 54 skulls remain today.

Image source: Megaodd

Image source: Discover World
Sinđelić's skull. Image source: Wikipedia
In the early 1830s, French Romantic poet Alphonse de Lamartine visited the tower and was visually impressed. His ability to make a tower of murdered soldiers romantic:
I saw a large tower rising in the midst of the plain, as white as Parisian marble... [R]aising my eyes to the monument, I discovered that the walls, which I supposed to be built of marble or white stone, were composed of regular rows of human skulls; these skulls bleached by the rain and sun, and cemented by a little sand and lime, formed entirely the triumphal arch which now sheltered me from the heat of the sun. In some places portions of hair were still hanging and waved, like lichen or moss, with every breath of wind. The mountain breeze, which was then blowing fresh, penetrated the innumerable cavities of the skulls, and sounded like mournful and plaintive sighs.
The Serbs eventually won independence in the 1830s and in 1892, a chapel was built around the tower in order to preserve the significant monument. The chapel was later renovated and declared a Cultural Monument of Exceptional Importance. This symbol of Serbian independence is visited by 30,000 to 50,000 people annually.

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