Niš is a city in Nišava District, Serbia situated at 43.3° N 21.9° E, on the Nišava River. With more than 250,000 inhabitants it is the largest city of South Serbia and third-largest city in the country, after Belgrade and Novi Sad. The city covers an area of about 597 square kilometres, including the city of Niš itself, the Niška Banja spa and 68 suburbs. Niš Constantine the Great Airport (Аеродром Константин Велики) is its international airport with the destination code INI. Niš is the administrative center of the Nišava District of Serbia.
Situated at crossroads of Balkan and Central European highways, connecting Asia Minor to Europe, Niš is one of the oldest cities in the Balkans, and has from ancient times been considered a gateway between the East and the West. It is home to one of Serbia’s oldest Christian churches dating to the 4th century in the suburb of Mediana. Niš is also notable as the birthplace of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor and the founder of Constantinople, as well as two other Roman emperors, Constantius III and Justin I.
Niš is a university center. There are about 30,000 university students at the University of Niš, which comprises 13 faculties. Niš is also one of the most important industrial centres in Serbia, a center of electronics industry (see Elektronska Industrija Niš), industry of mechanical engineering, textile industry and tobacco industry. In 2013 the city will host the Ecumenical Assembly of Christian Churches, in honour to 1700 years of Constantine´s Edict of Milan
Geography and climate
Niš is situated at the 43°19′ latitude north and 21°54′ longitude east in the Nišava Valley, near the spot where it joins the Južna Morava River. It is in Niš that the trunk road running from the north down the Morava River valley forks into two major lines: – the south one, leading to Thessalonica and Athens, – and the east one, leading towards Sofia and Istanbul, and further on, towards the Near East. The central city area is at 194m altitude above sea level (the Main City Square). The highest point in the city area is Sokolov kamen (Falcon’s rock) on Suva Planina Mountain (1523m) while the lowest spot is at Trupale, near the mouth of the Nišava (173m). The city area covers 596.71 km².
The climate of the Niš area is moderate and continental, with an average temperature of 11.2°C. July is the warmest month of the year, with the average of 21.2°C. The coldest month is January, averaging at 0.2°C. The average of the annual rainfall is 567.25 mm/m². The average barometer value is 992.74 mb. There are 123 days with rain and 43 days with snow. On the average, the wind force is just below 3 Beaufort.
The city’s early name under the Roman Empire remained Naissus, which is the Latin name derived from its original name Naissos (“city of the nymphs”), a Greek colony founded in antiquity.
“When we arrived at Naissus we found the city deserted, as though it had been sacked; only a few sick persons lay in the churches. We halted at a short distance from the river, in an open space, for all the ground adjacent to the bank was full of the bones of men slain in war.’
—Priscus on Naissus in 448 A.D.
The etymology of the original name Naissos (“city of the nymphs”) was derived from a mythical creature of Greek mythology – Naiad (from the Greek νάειν, “to flow,” and νἃμα, “running water”) which was the nymph of freshwater streams rivers and lakes. At the time when Greek colony was founded, the local residents believed that the numerous surrounding ponds, bogs, and the moor on the left riverbank were inhibited by the nymphs. Niš is a possible location of Nysa, a mythical place in Greek mythology where the young god Dionysus was raised.
At the time of the conquest of the Greeks by Rome, 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 the city developed as a strategic crossroads, garrison and market town in the province of Moesia Superior.
In AD 268, during the “Crisis of the third century” when the Empire almost collapsed, the greatest Gothic invasion seen to date came pouring into the Balkans. The Goths’ seaborne allies, the Heruli, supplied a fleet, carrying vast armies down the coast of the Black Sea where they ravaged coastal territories in Thrace and Macedonia. Other huge forces crossed the Danube in Moesia. An invasion of Goths into the province of Pannonia was leading to disaster. In 268, Emperor Gallienus won some important initial victories at land and sea, but it was his successor Claudius II who finally defeated the invaders at the Battle of Naissus in 268, one of the bloodiest battles of the 3rd century. Invaders allegedly left thirty to fifty thousand dead on the field.
Four years later in 272, the son of military commander Constantius Chlorus and an innkeeper’s daughter called Flavia Iulia Helena was born in Naissus and destined to rule as Emperor Constantine the Great. The remains of the 4th century Imperial villa at Mediana are an important archaeological site located close to Niš. Mosaic floors and other traces of luxury are preserved in the archaeological museum on the site. Other aristocratic suburban villas are clustered nearby. The 4th century Christian basilica in Niš is one of the oldest Christian monuments. The Roman Emperor Constantius III (421) who was the power behind the throne during much of the 410’s was born in Naissus.
Though the emperor Julian strengthened the walls, the very prosperity of Naissus made it a target and it was destroyed by Attila in 443. Attila the Hun conquered Naissus with battering rams and rolling towers—military sophistication that was new in the Hun repertory. After the Huns captured the city of Naissus they massacred the inhabitants of the city. Years later, river banks outside the city were still covered with human bones as a reminder of the devastation the Huns had inflicted. The founder of the Justinian Dynasty, Justin I, was born in Naissus in 450, and his nephew Justinian I did his best to restore the city, but Naissa never recovered its 4th century urbanity.
The latter half of the 6th century CE saw the first major migrations of Slavs and Avars. During the 6th and 7th century CE, Slavic tribes made eight attempts to take Niš . During the final attack in 615 CE the invaders took the city, and most of the Roman population fled or perished, but some small traces survived in the local Vlach population. The city and nearby arable land were settled by Slavs.In the 9th century, the Bulgarians became masters of Naissus, followed by the Hungarians in the 11th century, during which the town’s militia fought a successful battle against the People’s Crusade on 3 July 1096. The Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus reconquered it once more in 1173, and towards the end of the 12th century the town was in the hands of the Serbian prince Stephen Nemanja, who received hospitably the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa and his crusaders.
In 1375, the Ottoman Turks captured Naissus for the first time from the Serbians. The fall of the Serbian state, conquered by Sultan Murad in 1385, decided the fate of Niš as well. After a 25-day long siege, the city fell to the Turks. After the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, the Constantinopol-Wien 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. It was during this battle that an Ottoman commander named Gjerg Kastrioti, aka Skanderbeg, deserted the Ottoman ranks with a strong following. Escaping to Albania, he mounted a semi-successful guerilla war against the Ottomans that lasted his remaining lifetime.
Niš succumbed to Turkish rule again in 1448 and remained thus for the following 245 years. In the period of Turkish rule, Niš was one of the seats of Turkish military and civil administration. Niš Fortress, built in that period, still represents one of the most beautiful and best preserved edifices in the Balkans. 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. The rampart walls are 2,100 m long, 8 m high and 3 m thick on the average. The building stone, brought from the nearby quarries, was hewn into rather evenly-shaped blocks. The inside of the rampart wall was additionally fortified by a wooden construction, ‘santrač’, and an additional bulwark, ‘trpanac’. On the outside, the Fortress was surrounded by a wide moat, whose northern part has been preserved to our days. 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 the northern Vidin gate and the south-east Jagodina gate are preserved only in remains. With a complete reconstruction of all the gates, Niš Fortress would once again become, architecturally and functionally, a closed fortification system. In 1737, Niš was seized by the Austrian army, in their campaign against the Turks. The war ended in 1739.
Monument to the liberators of Niš
At the beginning of the 19th century the crucial thing for the renewal of the Serbian state was the liberation of Niš from the Turks. The Serbian leader Karađorđe, in his talks with the representatives of Russia, as well as in his talks with Napoleon and the Turks, pointed out that Niš had to belong to Serbia. The Serbian insurrection army headed towards Niš in order to take it and go ahead towards Old Serbia and Kosovo. Karađorđe’s suggestion was to use the whole army to liberate Niš, while the rest of the commanders demanded to attack Niš from four different points. The latter was accepted. On April 27, 1809, the Serbian insurrection army with its 16,000 soldiers approached the villages of Kamenica, Gornji and Donji Matejevac, near the town of Niš with Miloje Petrović as Commander-in-chief. The Serbian soldiers made six trenches. The first and biggest was on Čegar Hill with voivoda Stevan Sinđelić at the head. The second one was in the village Gornji Matejevac (near the newly rebuilt Latin Church) with Petar Dobrnjac as the commander. The third trench was north-east to Kamenica, with voivoda Ilija Barjaktarević. The fourth trench was in Kamenica with Miloje Petrović as the chief commander. The fifth trench was in the mountain above Kamenica and under the control of voivoda Pauljo Matejić, while the sixth one was made in Donji Matejevac. Miloje Petrović’s request to attack Niš directly was not accepted. The demand was to wait and to besiege the town.
Outer wall of Skull Tower
Meanwhile, the Turkish army was reinforced with 20,000 soldiers from Adrianople, Thessalonica, Vranje and Leskovac. The Turks attacked the trench of Petar Dobrnjac on 30 May The following day, on May 31, 1809, the most prominent trench on Čegar Hill, under the command of Stevan Sinđelić, was attacked. The battle lasted all day. As Milovan Kukić witnessed, “the Turks attacked five times, and the Serbs managed to repulse them five times. Each time their losses were great. Some of the Turks attacked, and some of them went ahead, and thus when they attacked for the sixth time they filled the trenches with their dead so that the alive went over their dead bodies and they began to fight against the Serbs with their rifles, cutting and sticking in their enemies with their sabers and knives. The Serbian soldiers from other trenches cried out to help Stevan. But there was no help,” as Milovan Kukić said, “either because they could not help without their cavalry, or because Miloje Petrović did not allow it.
When Stevan Sinđelić saw that the Turks had taken over the trench, he ran to the powder cave, took out his gun and fired at the powder magazine. The explosion was so strong that all the surrounding was shaken, and the whole trench caught in a cloud of dense smoke. Stevan Sinđelić, who up to that moment had reached everywhere, helping and encouraging everybody, went into the air.” Three thousands Serbian soldiers and more than double of that on the Turkish side were killed on Čegar Hill. An important monument from early 19th century Serbian uprisings against Turkish reign is the Skull Tower (Ćele kula), a tower which incorporates human skulls (those of dead Serbian “rebels”) in its construction, a monument likely unique in its design.
University of Niš building and Memorial Chapel
The city was incorporated in Serbia as a consequence of the Treaty of San Stefano. Following the rout of the Serbian army by the Austrians, Bulgarians and Germans in World War I, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria entertained the German Kaiser Wilhelm II at Niš in January 1916. The Kaiser was greeted by the following dubious mock-Roman salutation: Ave Imperator, Caesar et Rex. Victor et gloriosus es. Nissa antiqua omnis Orientis populi te salutant redemptorem, ferentem oppressis prosperitatem atque salutem, which translates as: “Hail Emperor, Caesar and King: You are victor and glorious. In ancient Niš all the peoples of the east salute you, bringer of prosperity to the oppressed.”
During the time of German occupation in World War II, the first Nazi concentration camp in Yugoslavia was located near Niš. In 1942 an armed revolt led to an escape. The escapees were guerrillas from Josip Broz Tito’s movement who was captured by German forces during the Battle of Kozara. This escape is featured in Miomir Stamenković’s film Lager Niš, 1987. The city was heavily bombed by the Allies in 1944 along with other cities in Axis Serbia. In 1996, Niš was the first city in Serbia to stand against the government of Slobodan Milošević. A coalition of democratic opposition parties called Zajedno (Together) won the local elections in Niš in 1996. The first democratic mayor of City of Niš was Zoran Živković, who later became the Prime Minister of Serbia in 2003. On May 7, 1999 it was the site of the NATO Cluster bombing of Niš. On local elections held in September 2004. Smiljko Kostic of Nova Srbija won the mayor office. Demokratic party provoced referendum to recall Kostic in November 2005. Majority woted against recall. In local elections held im May 2008. Democratic party, G17+ and coalition assembled around Socialist party of Serbia created majority in local Assembly, so Milos Simonovic from Democratic party was elected mayor.
Three Roman emperors where born in this city
* Constantine I, the great, (Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus) – ruled 306 to 337
* Constantius III, (Flavius Constantius) – ruled 421
* Justin I, (Flavius Iustinus) – ruled 518 to 527
The city of Niš is the administrative, industrial, commercial, financial and cultural center of the south-eastern part of Republic of Serbia. The position of Niš is strategically important, located at the intersection of European highway and railway networks connecting Europe with Asia. Niš is easily accessible, having an airport – Niš Constantine the Great Airport and being a point of intersection of numerous railroad and highway lines. It is in Niš that the trunk road running from the north down the Morava River valley forks into two major lines:
* the south one, leading to Thessalonica and Athens, along the Vardar River valley,
* and the east one, running along the Nisava and the Marica, leading towards Sofia and Istanbul, and further on, towards the Near East.
These roads have been widely known from ancient times, because they represented the beaten tracks along which peoples, goods and armies moved. Known as ‘Via Militaris’ in Roman and Byzantine periods, or ‘Constantinople road’ in Middle Ages, these roads still represent major European traffic arteries. Niš thus stands at a point of intersection of the roads connecting Asia Minor to Europe, and the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.
Niš is one of the most important industrial centres in Serbia, well-known for its tobacco industry, industry of electronics, construction industry, industry of mechanical engineering, textile industry, colour metal industry, food processing industry, industry of rubber goods.
* Niš Tobacco Factory – was built and opened in 1930 at the present location at Crveni Krst. Its basic production is that of tobacco, cigarettes, filters, the elements of the tobacco machinery and equipment, adhesives etc. In 1995 a scientific – research institute was built. The Institute selects, produces and protects tobacco, and creates and designs new products. In August 2003, The Philip Morris Corporation purchased the Niš Tobacco Factory (DIN) through the privatization process. Philip Morris’ total investment of EUR 580 million makes it the single largest foreign investor in Serbia of the Year 2003.
* Gradjevinar, stock company – originated from the construction firm of Niš County called Grapon in 1961. Gradjevinar has built large structural complexes as shopping centres, department buildings, entire campuses, sections of cities which can be found in Niš, Belgrade, East Serbia, Russia, Bulgaria, Israel, Jordan, United Arabic Emirates. The company has built:
o more than 30,000 apartments, of approximately 180,000 square meters,
o clinics, health facilities and hospitals, of approximately 80,000 square metres,
o department stores, malls of approximately 50,000 square metres,
o hotels, tourist sites, banks, schools, theatres, sports facilities of approximately 50,000 square metres,
o various warehouses, factories, farms and cold storage buildings of approximately 150,000 square metres.
* Electronics Industry – Holding Corporation, stock corporation – originated from the foundation of the Institute for the Production of Radio Sets and Roentgen Machines, “RR Niš”, in 1948. The basic production encompasses acoustic equipment, electronic tubes, specific installations, printed plates, electronic machine elements, hydraulics, pneumatics, appliances, air-conditioners, medical equipment, roentgen machines.
Industry of rubber goods
* Vulkan, stock company was built and opened in 1937. Its production is large in scope and it comprises various rubber-technical articles with numerous applications in mining and construction industry (transporters and cranes).
Colour metal industry
* NISSAL – Stock corporation for aluminum produces tools, metal reproductive materials, metal, wooden and other material constructions, collects and treats for industrial refuse.
* The Pump Factory “Jastrebac” founded in 1910., produces more than 1,000 of different types and sizes of mechanical pumps.
* MIN (Machinery Industry of Niš) Holding, stock corporation founded in 1884, produces various machines, various types of equipment: chemical, petrol-chemical, mining, metallurgic, railway-transport, diesel-locomotive, pump, hydro-thermo-nuclear, water and gas treatment. In 1993 MIN got transformed into a holding company of 37 joint-stock units, 24 of which deal with the basic production, 6 of which deal with services, and 7 with specialized business.
* Nitex – Niš Textile Industry produces fabrics, knitted material, continuous embroidery, clothes.. The company was founded 1897. by Niš capitalist Mita Ristić with his sons (Dušan and Dragoljub). In 2006. Nitex – Niš was acquired by the businessman of Montenegrin origin – Đorđije Nicović.
Food processing industry
* Žitopek, stock company for the production and trade of bakery goods was established on March 3, 1947 when 14 bakers formally signed a contract by which they were supposed to join their workshops into “Žitopek”.
* The Brewery of Niš, stock company produces beer and non-alcohol drinks. The brewery was founded 1884. by Jovan Apel.
* Skull Tower (Serbian: Ћеле Кула, Ćele Kula) – A monument to 19th century Serbian rebels. It is situated on Zoran Đinđić Boulevard, on the old Constantinople road leading to Sofia.
* Čegar – The place where Battle on Cegar Hill had happened on May 19, 1809.
* Concentration camp – One rare saved German Nazis prisoner camps in Europe. It is situated on 12.February Boulevard.
* Bubanj – A place where 10 000 civilian hostages from Niš and south Serbia were being shot during World War II by German Nazis. Monument is in the shape of three clenched fists.
* Memorial Chapel in the memory of NATO bombing victims – The chapel was built by City government of Niš (lead by DS/SPO, two democratic parties) while monument was built by the State government (lead by conservative SPS/SRS parties) in 1999. They are situated in Sumatovacka street near Nis Fortress.
* Niš Fortress – The extant fortification of Turkish origin, dating from the first decades of the 18th century (1719-1723). It is situated in the city center.
* The fortress-cafes – They are situated near Stambol gate (main gate of fortress).
* Mediana – Archeological site from the late Roman period located on the road leading to Sofia near EI Nis.
* Tinkers Alley – An old urban downtown in today Kopitareva Street, built in the first half of 18th century. It was a street full of tinkers but today it’s full with cafes&restaurants.
* Kalča, City passage and Gorča – Trade centers situated in Milana Obrenovica Street.
* Niška Banja – It is a very popular spa in the summer season. It is located at 10 km from city center on the road leading to Sofia, in the bottom of Suva Planina Mountain.
* Spa of Topilo