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SKULL TOWER (ĆELE KULA)

Skull Tower through time

Skull Tower (Serbian: Ćele kula) is a stone structure embedded with human skulls located in Niš, Serbia.

It was constructed by the Ottoman Empire following the Battle of Čegar of May 1809, during the First Serbian Uprising. During the battle, Serbian rebels under the command of Stevan Sinđelić were surrounded by the Ottomans on Čegar Hill, near Niš. Knowing that he and his fighters would be impaled if captured, Sinđelić detonated a powder magazine within the rebel entrenchment, killing himself, his subordinates and the encroaching Ottoman soldiers.

The governor of the Rumelia Eyalet, Hurshid Pasha, ordered that a tower be made from the skulls of the fallen rebels. The tower is 4.5 metres (15 ft) high, and originally contained 952 skulls embedded on four sides in 14 rows.

In 1861, Midhat Pasha, the last Ottoman governor of Niš, ordered that Skull Tower be dismantled. Following the Ottomans’ withdrawal from Niš in 1878, the structure was partially restored and roofed over with a baldachin. Construction of a chapel surrounding the structure commenced in 1892 and was completed in 1894. The chapel was renovated in 1937. A bust of Sinđelić was added the following year. In 1948, Skull Tower and the chapel enclosing it were declared Cultural Monuments of Exceptional Importance and came under the protection of the Socialist Republic of Serbia. Further renovation of the chapel occurred again in 1989.

As of 2022, 58 skulls remain embedded in Skull Tower’s walls. The one that is said to belong to Sinđelić is enclosed in a glass container adjacent to the structure. Seen as a symbol of independence by many Serbs, it has become a popular tourist attraction, visited by between 30,000 and 50,000 people annually.