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The city of Niš

Niš is the administrative center of the Nišava District and the third-largest city in Serbia , given that it has a population of 187,544 in its urban area. At least that is what was indicated by the official census carried out in 2011.

The city of Niš bears the name of the eponymous Nišava River, which flows gently through the city. Back in the day the Celts gave it a name of Navissos as early as the 3rd century BC; the Roman name for it Naissus originates from it further, and then came the terms in its wake - the Byzantine version Nysos and its Slavic version Niš. Legend has it that Niš was established by Prince Nisa. He constructed it using the Humska Čuka gravel and cobblestone excavated from the area located in close proximity . Only later did it get to be referred to as The Emperor's City.

It is one of the oldest cities in the Balkans and Europe . It has been regarded a passageway in between the West and the East for centuries now. Its first foundation stones were put in place by the Scordisci apparently in 279 BC after their invasion of the Balkans. Niš got its settlers in pre-Roman times, but it reached its historic peak during the times of the Empire. The city was amongst the several cities taken over , when the Romans conquered the region in 75 BC; the Romans built the Via Militaris through the city in the 1st century. The city of Niš is where Constantine the Great was born. He was the first Christian Emperor and the founder of Constantinople Constantine the Great (AD 280–337) was born here as were two other Roman emperors, Constantius III and Justin I. It is home to one of the oldest churches in Serbia, going back as early as the 4th century, in the outskirts of Niš, which bears the name Mediana. With the decline and the downfall of Roman Empire, when it was formally split into two parts, the Byzantine Empire assumed power.

According to official historical data, in the 6th century Slavic tribes began settling the Balkans; the town was held by the Byzantines until the 9th century when the Bulgarians assumed power. The rule over the city was continually being challenged until the Byzantines eventually handed the city over to the Serbs in the 12th century. Niš operated as Stefan Nemanja's capital. The conquest of the Ottomans ensued in the 15th century, with Niš becoming the seat of Sandžak initially in Rumelia Eyalet (1385-1443, 1448-1846), then in Niš Eyalet (1846-1864) and finally in Danube Vilayet (1864-1878). Serbian military regained power in 1878 during the Serbian–Ottoman War (1876–78). The Turkish Ottoman rule lasted from 1386 until 1877, regardless of a range of revolts and rebellions by the Serbs; Ćele Kula (Tower of Skulls or the Skull Tower) and Niš Fortress seem to be stark reminders of the then Ottoman reign . Niš regrettably had a troubled and turbulent period during the World War II as well.

Serbia's third largest city is a vibrant little city of quirky contrasts surely as Lonely Planet quote seems to rightly suggest.

A timeless forgotten feel envelopes this oft overlooked little city in Serbia’s down south which is surely a haven for all the ‘merak’ seekers (i.e. ‘merak’ is a local word arguably of Oriental origin which translates as merriment and joy).

Picture perfect views of the high snow bedecked peaks of Suva Planina and Stara Planina (planina =a mountain) offer a snow bedeckt welcome to those who roam this corner of the globe so we do suggest you should not miss out on a stroll around the wondrous woodland where a vast vista of the mountain opens up at some great vantage points from the city

Might be worth noting that, you would get to see destitute Roma people trotting and wobbling along blissfully happy and strangely carefree in their ramshackle slapdash horse-drawn waggons alongside brand new high tech cars driven by well-heeled yuppies of Niš. All manner of flamboyant cocktails rich in flavors and aromas are normally sipped in old dim lit alleyways and lanes dotted with cafes galore downtown. There is surely a hype around the city of Niš, with a huge number of scruffy looking students sipping their coffees in lanes packed with outdoor cafes and groovy live music scene. humble markets stalls everywhere, street vendors of all shapes and sizes and somewhat quirky looking funfairs ( 'vašar' in Serbian) in summertime.

Niš surely used to be one of the most vital industrial centers in Serbia particularly in the field of electronics, mechanical engineering, textile, and tobacco industries during the Former Yugoslavia . Yet sadly it is but a pallid shadow of its former self now. Constantine the Great Airport in Niš is its international airport as of recent yet still small scale given its size. Lest we forget in 2013 the city hosted the anniversary celebration in fond memory of 1700 years of Constantine's Edict of Milan

It is a lovely little city cosseted away by the river of the same name that never ceases to intrigue and draw in visitors from different parts of the world. One of the reasons for that might be in the fact that it is the birthplace of Tzar Constantine the Great but nonetheless it doesn’t seem to reveal that much at all once you set foot in it for the first time. On cobbled lanes and alleyways, historical monuments, rustic somewhat dilapidated facades and surely in old kafanas, there are tales yet to be told, the spirit of which can surely be felt in the haze of the southern air.

Still, we should be undaunted by having to delve deep into the untapped secrets that date back to the Roman times which surely makes it ever more intriguing. For that reason, the fort perched on the right bank of Nišava River seems to be a mysterious magnet with a riveting effect for all the lovers of history, architecture aficionados, fans of festivals and avid readers of arcane tales and legends. And Niš has plenty of them. Truth be told, the fortress of Niš has stood there for as long as two millennia in silent testimony of bygone days.

Towering above in the very heart of Niš , the Niš Fortress is a fortress based in the city of Niš, Serbia and is the landmark of Niš one cannot fail to see . It is not only a hugely important cultural and historical monument in the region but rather intricate as well. It is located on the right bank of the Nišava River, overlooking the area which seems to have been populated for longer than two millennia.

It came to be protected by law in May 1948 as it was proclaimed a heritage site of huge cultural importance by the national government of Serbia. The current condition of the fortress is such that it happens to feature as one of the best preserved edifices and fortifications of its sort not only in Serbia but on the Balkan Peninsula as well.

The existing fortification originates from the times of the Ottoman Turks, dating back from the first decades of the 18th century (1719–1723). It is well known as one of the most significant and best preserved monuments of its sort in the mid-Balkans. The Niš Fortress was built on the site of earlier fortifications – the ancient Roman, Byzantine, and later on followed on from all manner of medieval forts and fortresses. During World War I it was occupied by the Bulgarians who appeared to have converted it into a prison where Serbian patriots were taken to jail , only to be subjected to most terrible torture and atrocities.

The Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade and The Niš Fortress in Niš and Novi Sad Fortress exude an irresistible old-world charm , all of them being wonderfully preserved castles perching gently, above the river.

The fortresses blend into a range of flamboyant spectacles with a dizzying night-time clubbing Nishville Jazz Festival similar to that of Exit Festival , Novi Sad, Serbia.

To go back to our tale of Niš and its fortress, it is rather thrilling to explore it. There's a splendid view of this tiny little city from its top. Cafes and picnic spots abound A foreign tourist can hear lots of tales on the heroic feats back in the day performed by the locals , such as the one about the soldiers storming the fortresses too to fend off invaders. It is surely becoming an ever more popular destination for travel aficionados from all corners of the world.

ĆELE KULA in Niš which stands for the Skull Tower, which is its literal translation, is a rather idiosyncratic monument in the world we live in . This monument still stands in silent testimony of most horrible atrocities humans seem to be able to inflict on each other and as a potent symbol of its turbulent history of this smallish city in the south of Serbia, in general.

It was built after the Battle of Čegar on May 31st, 1809. According to the popular belief of “a Serbian hajji from Niš '', the Ottoman Turks were the ones to have prepared the ominous construction of the tower completely made of eerily looking skulls of the fallen soldiers . From the looks of things at that moment, the Serbian defeat seemed imminent so the Duke of Resava stormed through in a somewhat kamikaze- style onslaught towards the Turkish defense walls, firing at their gunpowder storages, 'all guns blazing'. The Ottoman Turks triumphed regardless of this somewhat peculiar but still praiseworthy feat of bravery. When Hursid Paša of Niš acknowledged that even though the military outpost at Čegar hill had been taken over, the battle and the explosion ensued resulting in 3,000 deaths among the Serbs and at least twice as many dead Ottoman Turks, so in order to deter and fend off any future acts of rebellion, he ordered all the mutineers to be beheaded, and then the heads of the Serb victims be collected, scalped, and that the skulls sadly be lodged into the wall of the tower. The heads were grotesquely stuffed with cotton and sent off to the Turkish King !!! in Constantinople as a bizarre proof of their death . This monument was built along the road to Constantinople as a stark reminder to anyone daring to plot a mutiny against the Ottoman Empire. A document written in the mid 19th century alleges that the tower used to be of a rectangular shape, 4.5 meters in width and 4 meters in length and that there was a total of 56 rows on all four sides, with 17 skulls in each row, totaling in 952 skulls. With the passage of time, most skulls were plundered by the marauding highway men or got severely damaged, so to this day , the tower regrettably has only 59 skulls. Contrary to what the Ottoman Turks seem to have had in mind back then, the tower in this day and age serves in what seems to be a proud testimony to Serbian heroic resistance to the most terrible tyranny of the time.

adapted and submitted by our guest contributor Natasha

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