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Niš is one of the oldest cities in the Balkans and it is the third largest in Serbia and the capital of the Nišava District with about 250,000 inhabitants. It is located in southern Serbia, at the crossroads of the most important Balkan and European routes connecting Europe with the Middle East. Here, the main road, forks southward via the South Morava-Vardar valley (towards Thessaloniki and Athens), while the east road, once known as Via Militaris or Constantinople Road, runs through the Nišava-Marica valley towards Sofia, Istanbul and the Middle East.
The wider area around Niš has been inhabited since the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. The Celts, who lived here in pre-Roman period, named the town Naissus (City of the Nymphs). In Roman times, Niš was a powerful military stronghold in which one of the greatest Roman Emperors Flavius Valerius Constantinus, better known as Constantine the Great, was born in 274. The city became an important economic, military and administrative centre under his rule.
Stefan Nemanja, the Serbian Grand Prince, captured Niš in 1183. After meeting German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1189, he formed an alliance against the Byzantine Empire. Turks captured Niš in 1386. Niš began its modern development after it was liberated from the Turks in 1878 and became the centre of the Serbian government and the seat of the National Assembly of Serbia in 1914.
The most important cultural and historical attractions in Niš are the Mediana – a large 4th-century Roman estate; Niš Fortress – the best-preserved Turkish fortress in the central Balkans, built in 1723 and containing the remains of Roman Naissus in its foundations; the Skull Tower (Ćele Kula); Čegar, where a monument stands on the site of the battle between Serbs and the Turks; the Monument to the Liberators of Niš – erected in 1937 in memory of the fight for the liberation of Niš; the Red Cross Camp – a Nazi concentration camp; and Bubanj Memorial Park – one of the largest Second World War execution sites in Serbia.
The places to see in Niš surroundings include Sićevačka Klisura gorge – a 16 km-long protected natural feature with rare plants and animals; Jelašnička Klisura gorge – a special 2 km-long nature reserve with waterfalls; the Bojanine Vode holiday resort with winter sports facilities; and Cerjanska Pećina cave, 4 km long, with spacious chambers beautifully decorated in cave formations.