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Categories: Cultural Diversity

The Fortress of Niš - Symbol of the city

The Fortress of Niš - Symbol of the city

The cultural monument that depicts the rich past of Niš from ancient times to the present day is the Fortress. The first records of the building, which today extends over 22 hectares, date back to the first century AD. The Lapidarium, a unique collection of gravestones, votive and building monuments collected at the sites in Niš and Knjaževac, also testifies to the ancient period. The Lapidarium is located on the central plateau of the fortress and represents a collection of the oldest monuments of that type in Serbia.

During the Middle Ages, the fortress was demolished and renovated several times, and at the beginning of the 18th century, the Turks built a fortress as we know it today on the remains of an ancient and Byzantine fortress. For almost 5 years, 400 builders built the ramparts of the Fortress, which, in addition to the Belgrade one, was the strongest Turkish fortress in the border area of ​​the Ottoman empire.

Niš Fortress has 4 main and 4 side gates. The main ones are: Stambol Gate (also known as Constantinople, Main, South and Entrance gate), Belgrade Gate, Vinik Gate and Southeast, ie Pasha's Gate. The side gates were arranged between the main ones, and one of them (in the northern part of the ramparts) was called the Gate of Death, because the Turks led the captured insurgents through this gate to be shot in the trench behind the Fortress.

One of the oldest preserved cultural monuments inside the ramparts is the Hammam, an old Turkish bath built in the 15th century. The Hammam could be used either only by women (usually during the day) or only by men (at night). The water for the Hammam was transported by clay pipes from the nearby Nišava river, then filtered and heated to be used in the bath.

There were also ten mosques in the Fortress, of which only Bali Beg Mosque is preserved today. It was the endowment of the commander Bali Beg from Jedren, who is believed to have been one of the richest Turks in this area. This place of worship was the main gathering place of the Ottomans in Niš. News from Istanbul were discussed there and plans for further actions were made. Later, the building has been repurposed several times, from the library to the place of residence of the army. Today, it hosts the Niš Gallery of Contemporary Art and serves as an exhibition space.

Several gunpowder magazines, dating back to 1723, have also been preserved. These buildings were used for the storage of gunpowder and ammunition in remote parts of the fortress. An arsenal built a little later (1857), also used as a warehouse for cannons, gunpowder, weapons and ammunition, today also serves as the exibition space for  contemporary art.

However, the most famous and most visited place in the Fortress is the Summer Stage, where national film festival, internationl Nishville Jazz Festival and other cultural events are organized every summer.

The National Museum

The National Museum in Niš was founded in 1933 following the initiative of the Museum Society of the City of Niš. The museum is of a complex type and in addition to 40,000 exhibits in its permanent exhibition, it also holds cultural assets of exceptional importance, such as the Roman archeological site of Mediana, unique monument - the Scull Tower and the memorial museum "12th February ". It also hosts two memorial collections of famous Serbian authors Stevan Sremec and Branko Miljković, that contain personal belongings, manuscripts and personal libraries of these two writers.

The National Museum in Niš comprises of departments of archeology, numismatics and epigraphy, history, art history, ethnology, literary heritage, education, documentation and conservation. The museum has a photo laboratory and a library with over 14,000 publications, including a large number of old and rare publications.

Archaeological site Mediana

Mediana is an ancient archeological site built during the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. This site is located in the suburbs of nowadays Niš - the historic Naissus – and presents former royal estate and summer house. The remains of the imperial palace with a peristyle, many luxury villas with mosaic floors, sacral buildings, economic buildings with pithos, thermal baths, water cisterns, etc. were discovered in Mediana. A church from the 4th century with a floor mosaic in the shape of Christ's monogram was also discovered at this site. All this testifies to the culture and luxury of Naissus during the time of the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.

Emperor Constantine the Great laid the foundations of the Byzantine Empire and a civilization that merged ancient experiences and Christianity. It lasted for more than a thousand years. In 313, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which introduced Christianity as the official religion of the Empire.

Mediana is one of the architectural and artistic signs of the Byzantine era, which is very well preserved and worth a visit.

Skull Tower and a monument on Čegar hill

The Skull Tower is one of the most important cultural and historical monuments in Serbia. It was built by Turks shortly after the Battle of Čegar in 1809 and was a sign of the their revenge on the Serbian people due to the organized rebellion against the sultan. This tower is unique in that 952 human skulls were built into it, arranged in 14 rows, on a 4 meter high quadrangular building.

The tower itself was built along the road to Constantinople so that everyone who travels this way passes by it and see this omnious warning. The idea of ​​Hurshid-pasha, the Turkish commander of Niš, was that the built-in heads remind the Balkan people that the same fate will befall them if they ever oppose the sultan again. At the very top of the tower was the skull of Stevan Sinđelić, Serbian duke and the leader of the insurgents of the Battle of Čegar. The tower with 58 remaining skulls todayis  part of the Čegar memorial park. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Niš, the Monument to the Battle of Čegar was erected, on the site where the trench of Stevan Sinđelić and his soldiers was located.

The Battle of Čegar - In the spring of 1809, about 16,000 Serbian soldiers arrived in Niš. Their goal was the liberation of Niš, strategically very important city. Deployed at several points, Serbian soldiers waited for the promised and agreed Russian help, in order to launch an attack on the Fortress of Niš. As the Russians failed to appear, and the discord among the Serbian dukes increased, the Ottoman army used the opportunity to attack their positions on Čegar hill. Stevan Sinđelić, the duke at the head of the Čegar insurgents, managed to repel several attacksfrom the Ottomans. However, twice as many and better armed Ottoman army managed to break into Sinđelić's fortification. Seeing that he could not stop them, Stevan Sinđelić released his soldiers from the oath and allowed them to leave the battlefield. None of them left. With the desire to inflict as much damage as possible on the Ottomans, Sinđelić shot at full gunpowder magazine blowing up about 3,000 Serbian and 6,000 Turkish soldiers. After that event, Hurshid-pasha ordered that the heads of the fallen Serbian soldiers be skinned and their skins filled with cotton, in order to be sent as a trophy to the sultan in Constantinople. The remaining skulls were then walled up in a tower.

The Red Cross concentration camp - memorial complex "12th February"

The Red Cross concentration camp was one of the German concentration camps in the territory of Serbia. It was founded in 1941, first as a temporary camp for prisoners of war of the Yugoslav Royal Army, and later for the rest of the Serbian, Roma and Jewish population many of whom were women and children. The camp complex covers an area of 7 hectares and is surrounded by a high wall and barbed wire. Today, the main building of the concentration camp is a museum complex. There you can see solitary prison cells, rooms where groups of citizens were held captivated, as well as their authentic messages on the walls and personal items, such as letters and photographs, they took with them when they were taken prisoners.

Living conditions in the concentration camp were extremely inhumane - without ventilation, heating and day light. The amount of food was barely survivable, especially considering that the prisoners were forced to do hard physical work. It is estimated that more than 30,000 people were detained in this concentration camp, while more than 10,000 of them were shot at Bubanj.

In February 1942, a group of 147 bare-handed prisoners attacked the guards and tried to escape from the camp. 105 of them succeeded in this attempt, while 42 of them left their lives on the camp wires. This was the first organized escape from a Nazi camp in enslaved Europe. This event accelerated the already prepared plan of the Nazis for the mass shootings that followed in retaliation.

The Orthodox Cathedral

The Orthodox Cathedral in Niš was built after the Treaty of Paris in 1856, which forced the Ottomans to recognize the equality of Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Immediately after obtaining the permit from Constantinople, the construction of the temple began. It was consecrated after the liberation from the Ottomans in 1878 and dedicated to the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. For more than half a century, this temple was the largest Christian place of worship in Serbia. It holded a significant place in the history of Serbian art with 48 painted compositions by the well known Serbian painter Đorđe Krstić, who brought a spirit of Realism, as a new, pro-European artistic movement. The cathedral burned down in a fire in 2001, when all works of art inside the temple were destroyed. It was renovated in 2010.

Church of St. Nicholas

The Church of Saint Nicholas is known for changing its religious purpose 6 times, from a mosque to an Orthodox church. Before the arrival of the Ottomans, this temple was dedicated to the holy great martyr Procopius, whose relics were located inside the church. During the Ottoman conquests, the relics were transferred to the neighboring town, which was later named Prokuplje after him. After the conquest of Niš (1386), the church was demolished to its foundations, and a new church was built on the foundations of the old one at the beginning of the 17th century. During the Austro-Turkish War, the Ottomans built a minaret and turned it into a mosque. After the liberation of Niš, this place of worship became a church again.

Islam-aga's Mosque

The Islam-aga’s Mosque was declared a cultural asset of great importance and was introduced in the central register of cultural monuments in Serbia. During the Ottoman period, numerous mosques were built in Niš, most of them within the walls of the Fortress. Islam-aga’s Mosque was built in 1870 by the rich local Islam-aga Hadrović Đakovalija in the very center of the city, outside the Fortress. It is rectangular in shape with a flat wooden roof and a gallery on pillars. Today this is only working mosque in Niš.

The Synagogue

The first written records about the Jewish community in Niš date back to 1695. The first synagogue in the city was built in 1801, but in 1879 it completely burned down in a fire. The new synagogue was built in 1925 and was in function until the Second World War. In 1970, the Jewish community was forced to sell the synagogue building to the city. After restoration it was turned into a gallery space. Today this building is a part of the complex of the National Museum in Niš. Due to the architectural and historical values, the synagogue building was placed under state protection.

Monument to the liberators of Niš

In the central part of one of the main city squares, King Milan Square, there is a monument to the liberators of Niš. This sculpture, which symbolizes the liberation wars fought during the Ottoman rule and during the First World War, is the work of the famous Croatian architect Antun Augustinić. A horseman with a flag at the top of the monument symbolizes the arrival of freedom. The middle part of the monument depicts Stevan Sinđelić during the Battle of Čegar and Kole Rašić who calls on the people of Niš to join the uprising.

Kazandžijsko sokače and a monument to Stevan Sremac and Kalča

Kazandžijsko sokače, a place where the spirit of past times is kept, is a traditional, today bohemian street in the very center of Niš. After the liberation from the Ottomans, 13 potters opened their shops in this craft district. The most famous were potters who made barrels for wine and brandy, and mutavdzije who made bags from goat hair. Their shops were mostly located in small ground-floor houses, although there were also one-story buildings in which the first floor would usually be used for living and the ground floor as a workshop.

At the very entrance to Kazandžijsko sokače, there is a monument to the famous Serbian writer Stevan Sremec and the hero from his popular novel ’’Ivkova slava’’, the famous hunter Kalča from Niš. The monument was built on the site where the house of the famous local quilt maker Živko Mijalković, better known as "gazda Ivko", used to be. Stevan Sremac, a native of Senta from the north of Serbia, was enchanted by the immediacy and passion of the people of the south and this bazaar, and in his novels he described the lives of these ordinary people using the authentic dialect of Niš. This bronze sculpture depicting the writer, his hero Kalča and his dog Čapa is the work of the sculptor Ivan Felker. Today, Kazandžijsko sokače is a place where you can drink coffee or enjoy the culinary specialties of this area.

Monument to Šaban Bajramović

A monument to Šaban Bajramovic, a famous Roma composer and singer, is located at the top of the amphitheater on the promenade by the Nišava river. Born in Niš, this, as many call him the king of Roma music, recorded over 700 songs and 20 music albums. His song "Đelem-đelem" was declared the anthem of all Roma. The fact that the American magazine "Time" has put him on its list of the 10 most influential blues singers in the world speaks volumes about the significance of Šaban Bajramović. The life-size bronze statue is the work of Vlada Ašanin, local sculptor. It was inaugurated during the opening day of the 27th Nishville Jazz Festival, in 2010.

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