Culture and history
As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Nis is a rich source of historical treasures, some of which are dating from the very beginnings of civilization.
The prehistoric finds Bubanj, Velika Humska Cuka and Mediana testify that early settlements around Nis emerged in the Neolithic, Eneolithic and the Bronze Age.
Apart from houses found on the site, whose location and construction type confirm that residents of the area were rather advanced for their times, numerous utensils were also found, now considered typical for this prehistorical period.
The etymology of the city's name remains unknown, although there are stories of the Celtic myth according to which the town was named “the city of fairies” after “the fairy river”, since, even though it was often ruined, fairies from the river kept restoring it. The name Naissus was first mentioned in mid 2nd century AD by Claudius Ptolemy, who stated, in his book Geography, that this was the biggest city in Dardania.
Antique Naissus was progressing constantly since its foundation. It was built by the end of the 1st century BC as a military base on the right Nisava river bank, the area which is today occupied by Nis Fortress.
Subsequently to the formation of Gornja Mezija province in 15 BC, it became an important trade centre apart from being a military and strategic one. During the reign of Marko Aurelius (161 to 180), the city became so significant that it received the status 'municipium' - a city with a certain degree of self-governing right.
The ancient Naissus first flourished after the arrival of the Romans. In the period in which the famous Roman emperor and military commander Flavius Valerius Constantinus (Constantine the Great) was born in AD 274, Nis became a strong and invincible “castrum”. Likewise, when Constantine became the ruler of the entire Roman Empire, was mentioned as an important administrative, commercial, and economic centre of the province Moesia Superior, whichConstantine plentifully adorned.
Constantine the Great is an important historical figure in the world and in Nis, well known not only as an emperor and wise military leader, but also as a great visionary and defender of Christianity.
His visions and dreams in which “labarum” or “The Christ Monogram” appeared, followed by the words of Christ: “With this sign you shall win” (In hoc signo vinces) led him to numerous battles, in which he defeated by far superior enemies. Such a chain of events logically led to the acknowledgment of Christianity as an official Roman religion in AD 313, by the famous “Edict of Milan”.
The history of the world and of Christianity will forever remember him as the person who took Christianity from the catacombs and gladiator arenas and brought it to the light of day, paving the way for what is today one of the biggest world religions.
His portrait – Constantine's head in bronze (4th century), found in the Nisava riverbed, is displayed as a remarkable historical and national treasure in Belgrade National Museum (a copy is available in the Archeological Hall of Nis National Museum).
Apart from the remains of antique Naissus which were found in the area of the Fortress (the remnants of antique streets, facilities with domes and thermae), what also bears witness to the richness of Roman life is the archaeological site Mediana which brought to light the discovery that the inhabitants of Naissus settled not only the core of the city but also its surrounding. Thus it is assumed that Mediana represented an important centre of both the city and the system of distribution on the level of Empire for the distribution and supply of basic food products.
The Slavic tribes started attacking Nis in mid 6th century and finally took it over in mid 7th century. This marked the beginning of the medieval era in the town. A historically important period for the city began again in the 9th century and continued through the 12th century, when Nis became a part of the Serbian state under the well-known Serbian ruler, Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja.
In 1386 Nis was conquered by the Turks. With short interruptions (the Austrian conquer in the 17th century), they held on to Nis by 1878. During the five centuries of the Ottoman rule, Nis was the seat of the military and administrative authorities in this part of the Balkans. Nis Fortress, built between 1719 and 1723, is one of the most beautiful and best preserved Turkish constructions in the Balkans.
When the Serbian population decided it could not put up with the subjugation any longer, in 1804, an uprising broke out, led by Karadjordje Petrovic. One of the famous battles in the First Serbian Uprising took place on Cegar, a hill nearNis, on 31 May 1809. On that day, duke Stevan Sindjelic, failing to defeat the numerous Turkish army, fired a shot into a powder magazine and died a dignified death, along with his fellow soldiers. This story of magnificent heroism is remembered today by The Skull Tower and the Cegar Monument.
Upon liberation from the Turks, Nis finally ceased to be an oriental settlement, and began to be constructed in accordance with town planning principles. The city also flourished culturally and developed politically so as to become a real European city.
From October 1915 to October 1918, Nis was occupied by the Germans, Austrians, and Bulgarians. It was liberated by the Serbian-French army commanded by Duke Petar Bojovic.
In Nis, there is an old military cemetery from this period, which is situated in the present-day settlement Delijski vis, where Serbian soldiers from the Balkan wars, World War One and partially German soldiers from World War One were buried.
During World War Two (1941-1945) Nis was an important strategic point on the road to Thessaloniki and the Black Sea. It was heavily bombarded and suffered significant repression by the German occupational forces. Testifying to this, one may find today Nis Concentration Camp and Bubanj Memorial Site. Nis was liberated on 14 October 1944.
Unfortunately there are no tour offers at this location at the moment.