Ćele Kula – better known around the world as Skull Tower – is a structure located in Niš, Serbia. As the name suggests, it is a sinister monument which originally contained almost a thousand skulls embedded in its walls, although only 54 remain today. The tower was raised during the Serbian Revolution by the Ottoman Turks after the Battle of Čegar Hill (May 31, 1809) using the skulls of rebel leader Stevan Sinđelić and his detachment of freedom fighters. During the battle Sinđelić’s position was assaulted by the Ottoman Turks, and despite their fierce resistance, the Serbs were eventually overwhelmed by the enemy’s numbers. Knowing what gruesome fate awaited him and his men if they were captured alive by the Muslim Turks, Stevan Sinđelić decided to go out in a blaze of glory, firing his pistol at the gunpowder storage from the redoubt. The massive explosion killed Sinđelić and all his men, along with most of the Turks assaulting the hill.
One witness account tells that:
[the] Turks attacked five times, and the Serbs managed to fend them off five times. Each time [their] losses were great. Some of the Turks attacked, and some of them went ahead, and thus when they attacked for the sixth time, they filled the trenches with their dead so that the living went over their [dead] bodies and they began to fight against the Serbs with their rifles, cutting and stabbing their enemies with [their] sabers and knives. The Serbian soldiers from other trenches cried out to help Stevan. But there was no help, either because they could not help without [their] cavalry, or because Miloje Petrović (the chief commander of the Serbs) did not allow it. Anyway, when Stevan Sinđelić saw that the Turks had took over the trench, he ran and took out his gun and fired into the powder magazine. The explosion was so strong that everything was shaking, and the whole trench was caught in a cloud of dense smoke.
When the battle ended, the victorious Ottoman Turks collected the heads of Stevan Sinđelić and his men, flayed them, stuffed them, and sent them to the Sultan in Constantinople. The heads were then returned to Niš and encrusted in a three-meter-high tower. Initially meant to intimidate the Serbs and serve as a warning to future generations that might dare to rebel against the Ottoman rule, the Skull Tower quickly became a symbol of Serbian independence and a site of pilgrimage for Orthodox believers. Six years after the Battle of Čegar Hill, the Second Serbian Uprising ignited and in only two years, the Serbs managed to win their independence once and for all. The Skull Tower remained a monument of cultural significance and a symbol of Serbian nationalism. In 1892 a chapel was built around it to sanctify the land. In 1948 the site was included on the list of Cultural Monuments of Exceptional Importance. Today it attracts around 50,000 tourists every year.
Consulted Works and Sources:
- Kemp, A. (2010). Jihad: Islam’s 1,300 Year War Against Western Civilisation. Ostara Publications.
- Liotta, P. H. (2007). The Graveyard of Fallen Monuments. Quale Press.
- Damnjanović, L.; Merenik, V.; Popović, R. (2004). The First Serbian Uprising and the Restoration of the Serbian State. Historical Museum of Serbia, Gallery of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts.
- Morison, W. A. (2011), The Revolution of the Serbs Against the Turks: 1804 – 1813, Cambridge University Press.
- Battle of Čegar Hill on the City of Niš Official Website. Retrieved from: http://www.ni.rs/about-city-of-nis/history/battle-on-cegar-hill/