Saturday, 9 June 2012



Niš is the largest city of southern Serbia and the third-largest city in Serbia (after Belgrade and Novi Sad). Niš is the administrative center of the Nišava District. It is one of the oldest cities in the Balkans and Europe, and has from ancient times been considered a gateway between the East and the West.

Archaeological evidence shows neolithic settlements in the city and area dating from 5,000 to 2,000 BCE. A notable archeological site is Humska Čuka. The ethnogenesis of the Thracians started in the Iron Age, one of the chief towns was Aiadava, the future Roman Remesiana. The Triballians dwelled in this region, as well and were mentioned as early as 424 BC. In 279 BC, during the Gallic invasion of the Balkans, the Scordisci tribe defeats the Triballi and settles the lands, at which time the city is known as Navissos.

At the time of the conquest of the Balkans by Rome in 168-75 BC, Naissos  was used as a base for operations. Naissus was first mentioned in Roman documents near the beginning of 2nd century CE, and was considered a place worthy of note in the Geography of Ptolemy of Alexandria.

The Romans occupied the town in the period of the "Dardanian War" (75-73 BC), and set up a legionary camp. The city (called refugia and vici in pre-Roman relation), because of its strategic position (the Thracians were based to the south) developed as an important garrison and market town of the province of Moesia Superior. The Romans built the Via Militaris in the early 1st century AD, with Naissus being one of the key towns. Five roads met at Naissus, from Lissus, Serdica, Singidunum, Ratiaria and Thessalonica (through Scupi). Tombstones of auxiliary units date to the rule of either Claudius (41-54) or Nero (54-68). An auxiliary fort was based to the north, at present-day Ravna, called Timacum Minus. Marcus Aurelius (161–180) promoted the city to municipia. Overall, several family tombstones point that this was an important military region and by the 3rd century a social class of peasants and soldiers emerged. Cohort I Aurelia Dardanorum was based in the city.

In the year 268 AD, during the "Crisis of the Third Century" when the Empire almost collapsed, the greatest Gothic invasion in history took place; the Gothic alliance ravaged Thrace, Macedonia, Moesia and Pannonia. Subsequently, Claudius II managed to defeat the invaders at the Battle of Naissus that took place in the same year, in one of the bloodiest battles of the 3rd century. The Gothic alliance allegedly left thirty to fifty thousand dead on the field. In 272 AD, the future Emperor Constantine the Great was born in Naissus. Constantine created theDacia Mediterranea province of which Naissus was the capital and also included Remesiana of the Via Militaris and the towns of Pautalia and Germania. He lived at Naissus in short periods from 316-322.

The latter half of the 6th century AD saw the first major migrations of Slavs and Avars. During the 6th and 7th century, Slavic tribes made eight attempts to take Niš. In 551, the Slavs crossed Niš initially headed for Thessalonica, but ended up in Dalmatia. By the 580s, the Slavs had conquered Serbia and much of northern Greece. During the final attack in 615, the Slavs seized the city and most of the Romans and Romanized Thracian/Dacian population fled, perished, or was assimilated.

The Slavs in the Sclaviniae remained independent for some while; in 785, Macedonia was conquered by Constantine VI, and in 842, with the death of Theophilos, the region was conquered by the Bulgars.

Prince Constantine Bodin was crowned Emperor of Bulgaria in 1072, amid the Bulgarian revolts in Macedonia against the Byzantine Empire. Bodin conquered Niš, but was later captured. During the People's Crusade, on July 3, 1096, Peter the Hermit clashed with Byzantine forces at Niš. He lost a quarter of his men, but managed to march on to Constantinople.

In 1375, after a 25-day long siege, the city fell to the Ottoman-Turks for the first time. The fall of the Serbian state decided the fate of Niš as well. After the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, even though Serbia existed much weakened as a semi-independent state for another 70 years, the Constantinople-Vienna road grew deserted.

In 1443, Niš fell into the hands of Ludanjin. The town itself was given back to the Serbs, while Branković gave it over to Đorđe Mrnjavčević. In the so-called Long Campaign, Christian armies, led by the Hungarian military leader Janos Hunyadi (known as Sibinjanin Janko in Serbian folk poetry) together with Serbian Despot Đurađ Branković, defeated the Turks and repelled them to Sofia. An important battle was fought near Niš, which remained a free city for a whole year after that.

Niš succumbed to Ottoman rule again in 1448 and remained under Ottoman control for the following 241 years. During the period of Ottoman rule, Niš was the seat of the Sanjak of Niš and Niš Eyalet.  On September 24, 1689, the Austrian Army captured the city after defeating the Turks at the Battle of Niš, but the Ottomans managed to retake it the next year. In 1737, Niš was seized again by the Austrian Army, in their campaign against the Turks. The war ended in 1739 and Niš fell under Ottoman rule once more.
Čegar Monument

During the time of German occupation in World War II, the first Nazi concentration camp in Yugoslavia was located in Niš. About 30,000 people passed through this camp, of whom over 10,000 were shot on nearby Bubanj hill. On February 12th 1942, 147 prisoners staged mass escape. In 1944 city was heavily bombed by the Allies. On October 14th 1944 Niš was liberated from the Germans by Partisans and Soviet forces.

In 1996, Niš was the first city in Serbia to stand against the regime of Slobodan Milošević. A coalition of democratic opposition parties called Zajedno (meaning "Together" in Serbian) won the local elections in Niš in 1996 and protested for 88 days in the streets until Milošević`s Socialist Party surrendered power. The first democratic mayor of the City of Niš was Zoran Živković.

In the local elections held in May 2008, the Democratic Party, G17+ and coalition assembled around the Socialist Party of Serbia won and Miloš Simonović from the Democratic party became the elected mayor.

There has never been a better time to visit Niš, other than when Constantine the Great was alive of course. Serbia having been granted visa-free travel within the Schengen zone, in December 2009, the mass movement of people looks imminent. As the Serbs joyously savour the prospect of European travel, the budget airlines move in. With the advent of affordable connections out of Niš, inevitably come the inexpensive connections in. Thus the city can undoubtedly expect many more tourists in the immediate future, and realistically envisage a lot of change in the next 10 to 20 years, most of it positive. 

Though shopping will not be the principal reason for most trips to Niš, you shouldn't have much difficulty finding what you want, be it local art and crafts, a new camera, replacement moisturiser or some tired-looking Yugoslav relics from the country's quite recent past. Serbia, or Niš at least, has retained the traditional Christian working habits, the vast majority of shops being closed on Sundays. Moreover, it seems Saturday late-afternoons are reserved for coffee drinking and gossip, most places only working until 3 or 4pm. Centred around the pedestrianised 'Obrenovaćeva' thoroughfare, there's a good range of high-street outlets and several boutiques. More specialist shops are spread throughout the city. There are some great outdoor markets, worth a trip if only for the experience of wandering through the noisy, vibrant beehive of activity.

Aside from various international options, there are a couple of good fish restaurants and Italian eateries in Niš. Yes, the youth of the city like the same things as the rest of the world's youth; pizzerias are already numerous. That said, the typical and traditional Serbian restaurants do not appear to be suffering. From the simplest kafana - technically a café but often more akin to a restaurant - to mammoth-sized establishments aimed at visitors and locals alike - are equally always occupied. Furthermore, you'll more often than not stumble upon a party atmosphere, complete with live folk music and a jubilant patronage.

Cities the size of Niš are small enough so you'll not find huge crowds, but often there's still plenty going on after dark. The scene in Niš is most definitely alive; there are lots of bars, several varied clubs and many of the mass of cafes are just as popular, or even more so, at night. We stress 'night' rather than 'evening', given that coffee drinking goes on till 6 or 7pm, then the partying begins at about 11pm, on the weekend at least.

Mosaics at Mediana

                                                           Nis’ Top 5:
  1. Niš Fortress Is a complex and important cultural and historical monument. It rises on the right bank of the Nišava River, and is over two millennia old. The extant fortification is of Turkish origin, dating 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 this kind in the mid-Balkans. The Fortress was erected on the site of earlier fortifications - the ancient Roman, Byzantine, and later yet Mediaeval forts. The Fortress has a polygonal ground plan, eight bastion terraces and four massive gates. It stretches over 22 ha of land. On the outside, the Fortress was surrounded by a wide moat, whose northern part has been preserved to this day. Beside the massive stone rampart walls, the southern Stambol Gate and the western Belgrade Gate are pretty well preserved. Partly preserved are the water gates, while there are only partial remains of the northern Vidin Gate and the south-east Jagodina Gate. 
  2. The Skull Tower is a monument to 19th century Serbian rebels. It is situated on the old Constantinople Road leading to Sofia. The monument was built using the skulls of the Serbs killed by order of Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II during the 1809 Battle of Čegar.
    The tower stood in the open air until the liberation of Niš in 1878. By that time, much of the tower had deteriorated from weather conditions or from the removal of skulls for burial by relatives of killed rebels. In 1892, with donations gathered from all over Serbia, a chapel designed by the Belgrade architect Dimitrije T. Leko was built to enclose what was left of the tower. Today, only 58 skulls remain, including that of Sinđelić. Skull Tower was declared Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979, and it is protected by Republic of Serbia.
  3. Čegar Is the location where the Battle of Čegar Hill took place. It was first marked on July 4, 1878 with the following inscription:"To voivoda Stevan Sinđelić and his undead heroes who lost their lives on May 19, 1809, in their attack on Niš. Knez Milan M. Obrenović IV and his brave soldiers redeemed them on December 27, 1877 by conquering Niš."Today's monument in the shape of a tower - a symbol of the soldiers' fortification - was erected for the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Niš from the Turks, on June 1, 1927. In 1938 a bronze bust of Stevan Sinđelić was positioned in the semicircular niche of the monument.
  4. Mediana is an important archeological site from the late Roman period located in the eastern suburb of the city of Niš. It represents a luxurious residence with a highly organized economy. Excavatations have revealed a villa with peristyle, thermae, granary and water tower. The residence dates to the reign of Constantine the Great 306 to 337. Although Roman artefacts can be found scattered all over the area of present-day Niš, Mediana represents the best-preserved part of Roman Naissus. In 1979, Mediana was added to the Archaeological Sites of Exceptional Importance list, protected by Republic of Serbia.
  5. Serbian Wartime Parliament Building - Birthplace of Yugoslavia. The building of the "Youth Home" Restaurant was erected in 1890. At first, the "Bulevar" restaurant was situated in the building. The Army General Staff bought the building in 1903 and turned it into an Officers' Home, which remained there until 1941. At the beginning of World War I this building was in the focus of public attention as the center of the political life of Serbia. On December 7, 1914 a war session of the National Assembly was held there. On that occasion the Assembly made the "Niš Declaration", which explicitly stated the military objectives of Serbia - to fight for the liberation and unification of the Balkan peoples. On May 6, 1915 the Yugoslav Congress was held in this building. The Congress issued the "Niš Resolution" which once again emphasized the need for national unity.

    Remains of the skull tower

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