31 Days of Halloween: On Atlas Obscura this month, we’re celebrating Halloween each day with woeful, wondrous, and wickedly macabre tales all linked to a real locale that you can visit, if you dare.

Skull tower (photograph by Elias Bizannes)

A macabre tower 15 feet high in Nis, Serbia, was once covered with 952 skulls; 58 still remain embedded in the crumbling edifice to bravery in the face of death.

During the 1809 Battle of Cegar, the Serbian rebels were incredibly outnumbered by the advancing Turkish forces. Yet refusing to surrender, the Serbian leader Stevan Sinđelić shot at a packed gunpowder depot, its explosion killing him, his men, and much of the enemy army.

1868 illustration of Skull Tower (via Wikimedia)

The Turkish leaders were furious, and to serve as a warning to anyone else who so brazenly went against the Ottoman Empire, the dead rebels’ heads were decapitated, and their scalps were stripped and stuffed and shipped back to the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II in Constantinople for evidence of their defiant deaths. Each of their skulls was then lodged in a tower, with Sinđelić’s skull placed at the very top.  

(photograph by Magalie L’Abbé)

Yet the brutality didn’t stop the Serbians’ desire for freedom, and years after the liberation of Niš in 1878, a chapel was constructed in 1892 around the deteriorating tower. Many of the skulls had been removed by families for burial, but many still remained, and what remained became an emotional memorial to sacrifice, and a morbid reminder of barbarism of war. 

Outside the chapel (photograph by Maxim Bonte)

Front of the chapel, with skulls carved around the door (photograph by Magalie L’Abbé)

(photograph by Maxim Bonte)

(photograph by Martijn Munneke)

(photograph by Elias Bizannes)

(photograph by Elias Bizannes)

(photograph by Athena Lao)

Skull of Stevan Sinđelić (photograph by Athena Lao)


Click here for more of our 31 Days of Halloween, where each day we’re celebrating the strange-but-true unsettling corners of the world.