May 1809 – South of Serbia. The city of Niš has been under Ottoman rule since 1448 – but the Serbs are organising an uprising, led by Đorđe Petrović, also known by his nickname Karađorđe.
On a hill close to Niš takes place the terrible battle of Čegar.
On May 31, the superior Turkish army takes over the trench of Voivoda Singjelic, who, realizing that no help is coming, and that the situation is hopeless, takes out his gun and fires the powder magazine.
A dreadful explosion blows off thousands of men: about 4.000 Serbs and about 10.000 Turks are killed. Still, the Serbian forces have to withdraw.
Furious, the Turkish commander Hurshid Pasha orders his men to decapitate the dead Serbian bodies, skin off their heads, fill the scalps with cotton and so send them to the sultan in Constantinople as a testimony of the victory.
The skulls are later returned to Niš, where the Turks build a Skull Tower as a warning to future generations intending to revolt against the Ottoman Empire, as it was customary to do in Ottoman times.
Today, the tower has become a symbol of Serbian independence – of “Serbian courage against Turkish barbarism“. 54 skulls remain on the tower, protected inside a chapel.