|Mediana, closed for renovation in Nis, Serbia|
From our little pilgrimage in Kosovo, we had to return to Skopje for the night because the next morning we would be entering Serbia from Macedonia, not Kosovo. Serbia is a country that was once a Kingdom, central to the Balkans, and to the Yugoslavia created to unite the region. After so many struggles, the Serbia of today is a landlocked country with many borders that include Macedonia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. It also claims a border with Albania because Kosovo is still a disputed territory. It was only in 2008 when the parliament of Kosovo, Serbia's former southern province with an Albanian ethnic majority, declared independence.
|the scenery on the road from Skopje to Nis|
We decided on visiting Nis, just a 2 ½ hour drive from Skopje because it is the birthplace of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor. But the drive back to our base in Bulgaria was a long 4 hours, so we had only about 5 hours in Nis. We went directly to the Tourism Office to plot the best use of our little time but, lo and behold, the Turistička Organizacija Niš was closed that day! It was a bad beginning.
We quickly asked how to get to Mediana, a luxurious suburbia of old Nis, built during the rule of Constantine the Great (306-337), later declared a saint by the Orthodox Church. He ruled both the west and the east so well that the city of Constantinople was named after him. He was also the one who called the First Council of Nicaea when the Nicene Creed began to be professed. After Constantine’s rule, the Mediana became the temporary residence of 6 Roman emperors on their journey towards the East until the 4th century. Sadly, the Old City was closed for renovation! Another bad experience!
Constantine was the first Roman emperor to claim conversion to Christianity. The Christogram Monument celebrates this. In 312, the year of the battle of Milvian Bridge near Rome, Constantine had a vision of the Christogram sign with the note "In hoc signo vinces" or “In this sign, you will conquer.” We looked for the Monument all over the city and failed. When I got back to the US, I found out that it was just in front of the Nis Fortress, just behind the Monument of the Liberators, on the bank of the Nisava River. I had taken a picture of the entrance to the Fortress but failed to go close enough to see the Monument! Our third bad experience...and the worst!
MONUMENT TO THE LIBERATORS
It was good the King Milan Square whose central piece is the Monument to the Liberators is just across from the Tourism Office. The famous statue presents the periods of wars of liberation waged against the Turks, Bulgarians, and Germans. It contains inscriptions on the struggles for liberation from the Turks (1874-7) and the occupation and the liberation of the city in WWI (1915-8).
|some of the remaining skulls in the Skull Tower|
|the Chapel that houses the Skull Tower|
we were able to locate the Skull Tower, a unique monument built after the Battle of Cegar between the Serbian revolutionaries and the Turks. Even though they had won Cegar Hill, the Turk vizier of Nis found out that the leader of the Serbian troops deliberately created an explosion that killed everyone around, Serbs and Turks alike. He ordered the collection and skinning of the heads of the Serb victims and the building of a tower to house them. They even built the horrific monument along the road to Constantinople, as a warning to anyone rising against the Ottoman Empire. The 10-foot tall tower is rectangular with 56 rows of 952 skulls. Over time, most of them were stolen; today there are only 54.
|Church of Constantine and Helena|
At the end of our day in Nis, because we could not find the Christogram monument, we proceeded to the Church of St. Emperor Constantine and Empress Helena, located in a new part of the city, Bulevard Nemanjici, Park St Sava. It was built in 1999 in honor of the most revered son of Nis and his mother, Helena. It is a beautiful church with grounds perfect for strolling.
Unfortunately, we saw only half of what we intended to see in Nis. Not walking on the Mediana and not seeing the Christogram Monument were the biggest disappointments. It was too bad that I had not planned the visit well. But we were still blessed for getting a feel of both old and modern Serbia, especially of her struggles that have haunted her past and that continues today.