Visiting the Famous Skull Tower & Thoughts on Sad Sights and Family Travel

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nis serbia skull tower
We take photos like this one to remember and respect what we have seen, not for any other purpose.

Our Day in Niš, Serbia & The Skull Tower

One of the most interesting things about traveling the world is learning its history. While visiting art museums and staring at beautiful monuments is fun, there is also a very dark past in just about every place you go.

When traveling around Europe for example, there are signs of tragedies everywhere. Events like the Holocaust still loom large, but so many local and regional events are fresh in people’s minds as well.

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The old Nazi concentration camp in Niš, Serbia.
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Along the river outside of the Fortress in Niš, Serbia

During our travels as a family we have visited many such places. Making the decision to expose your children to the truths of the world can be difficult, but it is a necessity in my opinion. For every Eiffel Tower there is a corresponding Skull Tower. (Perhaps not, but I love the metaphor.)

My reference to the Skull Tower comes from our time spent in Niš, Serbia. We stopped there for the better part of a day on our way from Skopje, Macedonia to Sofia, Bulgaria. Niš is a modern industrial city full of ugly communist era apartment blocks and a lovely fortress that sits on the banks of the Nišava River.

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Apartment blocks in Niš, Serbia near the Skull Tower.
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Approaching the building that contains the Skull Tower.

The Skull Tower sits in the middle of a park surrounded by the previously mentioned apartment blocks. It was originally constructed by the Turks from the skulls of Serbian rebels in 1809 following an uprising. Over the years the tower has been enclosed inside a church and many of the skulls have disappeared.

To get to the Skull Tower we took a public bus well out of the center of the city. When traveling through this part of Europe in March you tend not to run into other tourists, so we were pretty much on our own. Thankfully we found someone who was able to ask the bus driver to let us know when to get off. After about 20 minutes we walked up to the church, paid the modest entry and saw the skulls.

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The entrance almost looks like it could be part of an amusement park ride.
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Many of the original skulls are missing, but the Skull Tower is a powerful reminder nonetheless.

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For some people this building may just represent a long forgotten war, but for the locals it is important. It represents their struggles to gain freedom from the Turks and to become their own nation. For me, it represents one of the almost countless sad moments in the history of mankind.

We probably only spent 5-10 minutes at the Skull Tower, but it was enough to give us some connection to the place. Following our visit we headed back to the center and rode a fake train through the fortress at sunset before eating at a cafe and spending the night on blue plastic seats in the train station while waiting for a 3am train to Sofia.

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Taking the fake train around the beautiful old Fortress in Niš, Serbia.
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The glamarous life of a backpacking family. Sitting at the train station in utter discomfort waiting for a 3am train! Thankfully we stayed at the beautiful Radisson Blu Sofia the next night, which kind of made up for it!

During this trip we were in Central & Eastern Europe for almost 3 months. On trips like that you don’t always have days packed full of amazing sights. In fact, many times you visit rather normal places like Niš, Serbia in transit from one place to another. On this day we honestly didn’t do much, but we taught our son a valuable lesson and forged a deeper connection with Serbia and its people and with humankind as a whole.


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5 COMMENTS

  1. Hey Shawn,
    You’re posts are slowly becoming my favorite to read. I love your Bourdainesque style reporting plus the great content. Two

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