The Balkans Trip Recap- Day 3: Nis, Serbia


After visiting two cities in two days in Serbia it was time to move on to our third city, Nis. We took an early morning bus which was a little over 3 hours long to get there.

Like Belgrade and Novi Sad,  Nis has a nice main square  & city center and an impressive fortress which is now a park. There were also some other interesting and unique sites to check out while there.

Here are some of the things we did:

  • Red Cross Concentration Camp
  • Mediana- Roman archaeological site
  • The Skull Tower
  • Nis Fortress 

IMG_4682The Red Cross Concentration Camp was the first opened by the Nazis in the former Yugoslavia. It’s also one of the few left pretty much, fully intact since 1944. The main building was originally used by the army and was later taken over by the Germans. Over time a few more buildings were added. This wasn’t a huge camp since it was a transit camp which sent prisoners mainly to Poland. While at the site, we were shown around and told a lot of interesting facts and stories about the history of this camp by woman who worked at the site. The camp is most famous for the dramatic escape where over 100 prisoners got away in 1942.

IMG_4715We took a cab around 15 minutes from the city center to Mediana, an ancient historical site. I was expecting to see some columns or remnants of old buildings and mosaics, like the pictures I saw online. When we arrived at the site the first thing we saw was a relatively new looking ticket office and souvenir shop but once inside the gate we were a bit surprised. There was hardly anything to see! The guard explained that the site was undergoing major renovations. We were told that the famous mosaic of the medusa was “under ground”. The small museum which housed other mosaics was also closed. There were a bunch of  structures protecting active digs sites and restoration efforts.

What we did get to see were some ancient stone foundations of an early church.  I took a stroll over to one of the protected areas. When I peaked inside, I was able to see a mosaic resembling a checker board pattern. This wasn’t much but it was the highlight of our visit to the site.

IMG_4743The Skull Tower was the site we looked forward to visiting most while in Nis. When Kim and I read about the Skull Tower, it reminded us of other sites we’ve seen around the world which used human bones  for decoration. However this site had a much different story.

The Turks took the skulls from the Serbs killed in the battle of Cegar in 1809 and built the Skull Tower. It was built as a warning to those that opposed the Ottoman Empire. The tower ended up becoming a symbol of pride for the Serbs and has been a protected site since 1979.

Originally there were over 950 skulls included in the tower but under 60 remain today. The tower was left out in the open causing deterioration due to weather. Some skulls were also removed by family members for burial. In 1892 a chapel was built to enclose and protect the tower from further damage.

The Skull Tower was an amazing site to see but my one issue with it was the chapel. It was built pretty close to the tower so it was hard to get a real feel for the size of it. It also made the tower difficult to photograph! (Yes, photos are allowed.)

Either way the site is well worth a visit

IMG_4786The Nis Fortress was most impressive from the outside. On the ride from the bus station to our hotel we passed it and thought it looked like a castle. From the main square you can walk over a bridge (which reminded me of a draw-bridge) to get to the main entrance.

On  the left side and front of the fortress we got to  go to the top of the walls. The views were decent and it was nice to check out the area from high above but the overall  feeling was that of a spilled over trash can with broken bottles and other garbage around.

Within the walls of the fortress are a couple of souvenir shops, a restaurant/ bar and a large park. We wandered around for a while and found some of the uncovered archaeological sites interesting to see.

Visiting the park was enjoyable but I felt the best part was the views from outside.

Don’t forget to keep checking back for more about our trip to the Balkans. Our next stop is Macedonia!

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