Name: Mausoleum of Struggle and Victory
Location: On the slopes of Jelica Mountiain in Čačak, Serbia
Year completed: 1980 (4 years to build)
Designer: Bogdan Bogdanović (profile page)
Coordinates: N43°52'34.8", E20°20'05.0" (click for map)
Dimensions: 12m tall megaron on 36ha memorial park
Materials used:Gabbro stone blocks and wood
Condition: Fair, neglected and degraded
Click on slideshow photos for description
This spomenik at Čačak commemorates the over 4,600 Partisan fighters and civilians who died during the National Liberation War (WWII) in battles on the front-lines and during the liberation of Čačak.
World War II
Not long after the initial German occupation of the city of Čačak in April of 1941 after the Axis conquering of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the citizens of the city began to rise up against these foreign occupiers in an armed revolt. In July of 1941, in response to this occupation, the first fully armed and mobilized Čačak Detachment was formed, organized by the communist resistance group called the 'Partisans' -- it began with only 50 fighters, but within a few weeks, it grew to over 500. These communist Partisan rebels were viciously targeted by the German occupiers, with most of these rebels being summarily executed upon being captured by German forces. In late September of 1941, these Partisan rebels, along with their Serbian nationalist Chetnik allies, fought against Axis forces in western Serbia to create what would become the short-lived liberated region called the Republic of Užice (in which Čačak was a part), making it one of the first liberated regions in all of Europe during WWII.
Photo 1: Several executed Partisan fighters in Čačak, July 1941
Photo 2: Ratko Mitrović giving a public speech in liberated Čačak, 1941.
However, in early November of 1941, a rift began to develop between Partisans and Chetniks in Čačak over strategy decisions, mostly concerning the Chetnik reticence to attack German forces as a result of the Serbian civilian casualties which often came as a retaliatory consequence. The rift grew so great that on November 6th, the Chetnik supreme commander Draža Mihailovic ordered Chetniks to attack the Partisans. After this change of allegiance the Chetniks joined sides with the Germans with the common goal of defeating the Partisans. Not long after this conflict, the entire newly liberated Republic of Užice was very retaken by German and Chetnik troops during Operation Užice in December of 1941. After Germans and their new Chetnik collaborators had re-taken Čačak together, the Chetniks were able to capture the famed political commissar of the Čačak Partisan Detachment, Ratko Mitrović (Photo 2), well known in the region for his fiery and passionate speeches to the public about the idea of 'freedom' in liberated Čačak. He was hanged in the center of town on December 11th, 1941. However, despite this loss, the Čačak Partisans continued fighting German occupation forces. The arrival of divisions of the Partisan Strike Force to western Serbia in the spring of 1944 brought renewed energy to local Partisan detachments and on December 4th, 1944 the city of Čačak was finally liberated from German control by the 16th Serbian Partisan Brigade. This victory came great loss of life for both Čačak civilians and soldiers, with over 4,600 perishing by the end of the war.
From the most early years directly after WWII, the city of Čačak was working towards solutions for creating a memorial space to honor the fallen Partisan fighters of WWII. Through the 1950s there was a memorial crypt housing their remains at Uprising Square in the city center. However, with the urban redevelopment of Čačak in the early 1960s, a new modest complex was built on Lazović Hill, a greenspace at foothills of Jelica Mountain on the south edge of town overlooking the city. The first memorial crypt consisted of a modest viewing platform at the center of which was a inscribed stone block housing an eternal flame (Photo 3). However, while the city authorities liked the new setting of Lazović Hill, they felt that the small monument was too small and insufficient to house the remains of Čačak's WWII fighters. As a result, a public call in 1965 for architects and designers from across Yugoslavia to submit proposals to for a new memorial complex for Lazović Hill to replace the old one for the housing of these remains.
Photo 3: The first monument complex at Lazović Hill, 1960s-1970s
Photo 4: Krković standing in front of his Čačak monument concept proposal
The facilitation of the project was to be overseen by a newly created Memorial Committee which was presided over by notable local Čačak Partisan veteran Ratko Tripković. Over 20 groups submitted proposals in this monument competition, with the Memorial Committee's selection jury initially choosing the proposal submitted by the Belgrade design team Momčilo Krković and Aleksandar Đokić (Photo 4). However, due to conflicts and disagreements arising over the several subsequent years of planning (and contention over Krković using the same design in other competitions), the Memorial Committee abandoned the Krković & Đokić concept in 1970. Krković implored with the committee to reconsider, but they held firm. As a result, the Committee invited two of the competitions other participating artists, Belgrade designer Bogdan Bogdanović & local Čačak sculptor Živorad Maksimović, to each individually submit a design concept for a head-to-head competition to decide the final winner. The results of this competition, made by a special selection jury from Belgrade in April of 1974, granted the final win to Bogdanović's proposal.
After this final decision was announced by the Memorial Committee that Bogdanović would lead the construction of the monument project, Živorad Maksimović began a fierce negative campaign against Bogdanović and his winning submission. Maksimović accused Bogdanović of creating "concrete ghosts of undefined decorative content", while also lambasting his design for the Čačak memorial for using "elements of mythological content from ancient Eastern civilizations, as if this region does not have its own centuries-old heroic symbols". Maksimović further went on to condemn what he described as the 'corruption' and 'cronyism' of the Belgrade elite who would choose one of their own over a native Čačak artist. However, Memorial Committee head Ratko Tripković, among others, fired back, writing off such criticisms by Maksimović as simply a result of bitterness over his design submission receiving zero votes by the Memorial Committee's selection jury. The whole affair of this contentious debate led to a decades-long rift between Maksimović and Bogdanović.
Photo 5: Monster face conceptual sketch by Bogdanović, early 1970s
Photo 6: A row of completed monster face granite blocks, 1977
Meanwhile, upon presenting his proposal to the Committee, sources report that Bogdanović interestingly never offered any specific executions plans or schematics for his project, only rough models and sketches of his ideas. However, construction proceeded regardless. As a result, during the actual construction phase of his monument, Bogdanović continued to make changes and alterations to his design as it was in the process of being built. Looking at a series of early schematics Bogdanović drew for this Čačak monument (available HERE at Arhiva Modernizma), it can clearly be seen that he diverged greatly from these drawings. One major change made during the construction process was in regards to the number of carved 'monster faces' that would be included on the structure (Photos 5 & 6). Initially, Bogdanović had only planned for roughly a dozen monster faces to be adorning the monument. However, when the local carvers completed the few he had set out for them to produce, the carvers asked Bogdanović if they could produce more monster faces, as, otherwise, they would be left unemployed if they were to simply return home. Bogdanović then agreed allow them to continue to work -- as a result, by the end of construction on the complex the carvers had produced roughly 620 monster faces. The vast majority of these carvings were attached to the structure. In fact, such an abundance of monster faces were carved that extra unused not-needed carved faces were used for the Slobodište Memorial House project at Kruševac, Serbia (another Bogdanović project).
As a result of such decisions, costs for the project spiraled out of control. Only as a result of Bogdanović's notoriety and reputation was he given the latitude in time and money to complete the monument himself. The inaugural opening for the complex was celebrated on December 4th of 1980, a date which marked 36 years since the liberation of the city during WWII. The primary element of the memorial complex is a 12m tall stone and wood triple-megaron monument, adorned with the 620 carved heads of mythological beasts. A long stone-paved pathway runs through the middle of the monument. Just downhill from the megaron, there is a much smaller dolmen-like structure sitting in front of a 5m tall mass burial mound, where hundreds of the fallen soldiers and civilians killed in Čačak during the war are interred.
For many years, this memorial complex at Čačak was very well respected, maintained and visited. However, after the fall of Yugoslavia, maintenance of it began to be neglected, and the majority of the elements here have now been defaced and vandalized with graffiti and spraypaint. While the park itself see regular visitors walking and picnicking, the spomenik elements themselves continue to be neglected, with it apparent that no efforts by any city officials have been made to remove all of the vandalization here. However, in December of 2016, the Serbian Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Policy granted several million dinars for the conservation and restoration of the Čačak spomenik complex. By the summer of 2018 much of the graffiti around the complex had been cleaned off, however, vandals quickly proceeded to deface the monument yet again.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There are several engravings and inscriptions that exists here at the memorial park at Čačak. Firstly, as you are walking to the top of the hill, you will see a dolmen-like shaped structure (Slide 1) on the hillside below the main spomenik complex. On the west-facing side of this structure, there is an engraving (Slide 2) which translates from Serbian to English as:
"To the glory of 4,560 fighters who fell in the People's Liberation War and Revolution, 1941-1945."
At the top of the hill where the main spomenik is, there are two granite platforms just a few meters to the east of the monument along the paved trail (Slide 3). As you are walking towards them, the left-most one has an engraved quote by Josip Tito on it (Slide 4). Translated from Serbian to English, it reads:
"The greatness of people of one country is measured by how it actsin the days of greatest adversity."
Finally, at the bottom of the hill at the north entrance to the park, there is another granite platform which is engraved (Slide 5). When examined closely (Slide 6) it can be read, when roughly translated from Serbian to English, as:
"Memorial Park of Battle and Victory"
Nearly all the memorial elements of this spomenik complex are covered in years and years of graffiti and vandalism (Slides 7 & 8). While I did find some instances of it which bore the signs of nationalist and fascist symbols, I was not able to find any notable or significant examples of writings or scrawlings.
Many of the elements at the Bogdanović's mausoleum spomenik complex here at Čačak have deep symbolic meaning and are meant to hearken back to the human pre-history of the Čačak region, while also having references to much broader historical symbolism from other parts of the globe. Firstly, the design philosophy which Bogdanović used here in the layout and organization of the Čačak spomenik was discussed by him in an interview, where the creator is quoted saying:
"I have always held to the great Adolf Loos' idea, that every good architectural design can be described in words... [for the Čačak memorial,] these words can be exhausted in the following semantic chain: a gate, a small gate in a large gate, three long gates in a long axial plane, three gates in a single megaron."
This central megaron or 'triple gate series' at the top of the hill which Bogdanović refers to here operate on multiple symbolic levels. In a paper by Vladimir Vuković, it is asserted in one context these three 'gates' can be seen as a sort of 'temple'. As you enter this temple, you become struck by the darkness of the space. Yet, in this darkness, you see through the thin spaces between the gates the bright light of the sky. Perhaps with this effect, Bogdanović wished to relate that while in a place of darkness or 'evil', light or 'hope' can be seen peering through. In fact, when looking through these spaces between the gates from within the temple, a beautifully framed view of the city of Čačak can be seen. This is what Vukovic describes as 'scenographic architecture', which suggests that Bogdanović purposefully designed and positioned the structure itself to capture and frame to surrounding landscape for the viewer. Interestingly, not only does the structure frame the city in an attractive fashion, but using the smaller dolmen memorial just downhill to complete the line-of-sight (Photo 7), the view points directly along the route of Kneza Miloša Street, one of the primary roads through the center of Čačak.
Photo 7: A line-of-sight to Čačak
Photo 8: An aerial photo of the monument site showing the mausoleum's alignment
When further examining the idea that this mausoleum temple was oriented by Bogdanović in such a way as to actively engage with the surrounding landscape in some context of "alignment", interesting results can be found. For instance, when a straight azimuth line is drawn through the triple gates of this mausoleum, one finds that they point at 123 degrees and 303 degrees (Photo 8), respectively. When checking these two azimuth readings against sunrise and sunset dates, it is found that from the perspective of standing within the mausoleum that 123 degrees is the exact location from which the sun rises on the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21st or 22nd). This occasion has deep symbolic meaning across many cultures, with the Winter Solstice often being associated with the symbolic death and subsequent rebirth of the sun. Thus, Bogdanović orienting this mausoleum with the Winter Solstice could be a way of him directing the souls of the fallen Partisans interred here towards their place of rebirth and eternal life.
Meanwhile, when looking at the other azimuth of 303 degrees from within the mausoleum, this perspective would perfectly align with the setting sun on the Summer Solstice (between June 20th to 22nd), the longest day of the year and also known as Midsummer. The occasion of Midsummer is an event recognized and celebrated since the stone age, operating as one of the oldest human holidays. While these alignments certainly may be a coincidence, taking into consideration Bogdanović's deep interest in the idea of physical/celestial alignment and his history of writing about ancient traditions, it would seem a coincidence is unlikely.
Photo 9: Initial sketches of Čačak memorial by Bogdanović, exploring doorway theme
Meanwhile, another way in which Vuković suggests the triple gates of this mausoleum can be understood as a series of 'portals' which lead the viewer through a journey into the afterlife to experience and explore the 'horrors of war' (Photo 9). Each of these portals, Vuković explains, is constructed of stone carved creatures topped by a clay-tile roof, giving the appearance that the portals are destroyed homes infested by demons. These features all the more communicate that one is entering a place of darkness and horror. Yet, as you are led along the path through the darkness of these portals, the light of hope and freedom can be seen beckoning from the other end. Bogdanović often explored this concept of using his monuments to take visitors on a journey through the afterlife in order to facilitate their connection with the dead, with it most notably seen in his monuments at Mostar and at Kruševac.
Further exploring the symbolism of this monument as an analysis on the 'horrors of war', in a 2016 paper by researcher Aleksandar Joksimović, it is suggested that Bogdanović may have been attempting to make a connection with his mausoleum here at Čačak with the 'Temple of Janus' from ancient Rome (Photo 10). This temple, which is described in ancient text as having two entrances at either end, is well known for standing as a barometer for the state of the Roman army. When the gates of the two doors of the Temple of Janus were closed, Rome was at peace, while the doors being open meant Rome was at war. In the case of the Čačak mausoleum, there are no gates, with the doors in a state of being permanently open. As such, perhaps Bogdanović meant this perpetual openness (with no gates to close) to stand as a symbol for Yugoslavia being in a state of constant revolution, always vigilant against the forces of fascism. This symbolism is reinforced in that Janus is a symbol that Bogdanović has referenced before, such as at his monument at Prilep, N. Macedonia. Continuing his analysis on the mausoleum's reference to eternal war, Joksimović also comments on the carved beast-heads adorning the monument. These heads appear to be lined up devouring one after the other after the other, chasing each other into the ground, almost as if depicting some state of endless perpetual war and death. Joksimović suggests this is Bogdanović's effort to remind us to "fear the beast within ourselves", and to always look towards triumph and liberation.
Photo 10: A drawing of the Temple of Janus from the 1500s
Photo 11: An 8th century Mayan carved stone serpent head from the Temple of Kukulcan at Chichen Itza, Mexico [source]
Lastly, one of the most fascinating and unusual aspects of this monument is its series of hundreds of wild beast and demons heads carved of stone which are set into the side of the megaron/temple. These head carvings can be potentially understood to represent the mythology and mysticism of the ancient people of this region. Meanwhile, thinking about the historical practice of adorning temples with carved animal heads, one might think of the temples of southeast Asia, specifically Angkor Wat, or even MesoAmerican temples of the Mayans, with the most famous example being the Temple of Kukulcan at Chichen Itza, which is adorned with a series of serpent heads (Photo 11). Interestingly, the Kuklucan example is a notable comparison not only because of its serpent heads, but also because the Mayan temple is a structure which, like the Čačak mausoleum, is designed around the idea of alignment with surrounding landmarks and celestial events.
The Čačak mausoleum referencing sites such as these seems all the more likely being that Bogdanović wrote at length about MesoAmerican temples and Angkor Wat specifically in his 1966 book "Urbanističke mitologeme", which is available for viewing at the 'Spomenik Database Digital Library' at THIS link.
Status and Condition:
The overall condition of this spomenik complex here at Čačak is fair, however, it is still extremely neglected and is in desperate need of rehabilitation, as graffiti and spray paint cover most reachable parts of nearly all the monument elements. Furthermore, the complex is not under any national protection, which leaves the complex in a constant state of potential risk. While the park is regularly patronized by locals, visiting to picnic and walk the trails, it does not appear the monument is paid tribute to or honored in any visible way, as no wreaths, flowers or offerings were found here at the time of my visit. There is no promotional or directional signage leading anyone to the site, nor does the local municipality promote it as an attraction. However, there do seem to be an annual wreath-laying commemorative events (Photo 12) held by small groups at the spomenik every July 7th on the Day of Uprising Against Fascism, despite the holiday being unofficial, as it was abolished by the Serbian government in 2001. Several other smaller commemorative events are also held here at other times of the year. While the Serbian Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Policy granted several million dinars in December of 2016 for the conservation and restoration of the Čačak spomenik complex, it is not clear if any such work has begun at this site yet.
Photo 12: A 2016 commemorative event at the Čačak memorial park
Additional Sites in the Čačak Area:
This section will explore additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Čačak region that might be of interest to those studying the monuments of the former Yugoslavia. Here we will examine the Dom Kulture in Čačak, as well as the Peace Hill Memorial Park and Monument to the Partisan Uprising, both in nearby Gornji Milanovac.
Dom Kulture Čačak:
In the center of the city of Čačak, situated in the Square of the Uprising (Trg ustanka), is the Čačak House of Culture (Dom Kulture Čačak). Designed by Zagreb architect Luja Šverer and unveiled in 1971, this massive 4,000 sq m complex was built to act as a hub of civic, political and cultural activity for the city. It housed a massive theatre, a library, studios and classrooms, while hosting numerous workshops and festivals throughout the year. The complex was built in the international style of architecture, reminiscent of the work of Le Corbusier, and is characterized by a 100m long glass curtain of windows dominating the building's front facade. Interestingly, when the complex was built, a ficus tree was planted in the atrium. This ficus tree has now grown to be the largest in the Balkans. Presently, the Dom Kulture is still widely used within the community for a whole host of activities and stands in a good state of repair. The official website for the complex can be found HERE, while the exact coordinates for it are N43°53'31.1", E20°20'59.3".
Dom Kulture Čačak - Slideshow
Peace Hill Memorial Park:
When driving 21km NE of Čačak you will come across the town of Gornji Milanovac. Situated on the NW edge of town is an urban greenspace known as Spomen-Park Brdo Mira or Peace Hill Memorial Park. This 4.5 hectare park contains numerous memorial elements dedicated to a wide range of local historical events. The primary monument within the park is a bronze memorial sculpture (Slides 1 - 4) dedicated to local Partisan fighters who were shipped to detention camps in Norway during WWII, while it also is meant to honor the Norwegians who aided and assisted the Partisans during their detention. This monument was unveiled in 1963 by Josip Tito himself and was created by local Čačak sculptor Živorad Maksimović. The monument consists of an abstract bronze tower roughly ~7m tall, characterized by a tangle of organic-like sharp tendril elements with two sun-like circular plates attached to opposite sites of its upper portion. On both of these plates are raised-letter inscriptions (Slides 5 & 6), which read in English as follows:
Peace Hill Memorial Park in Gornji Milanovac - Slideshow
Slide 5 [southeast facing plaque, in both Norwegian & Serbian]
"No one is named, no one is forgotten."
Slide 6 [north west facing plaque, in Serbian]
"No! Let not one lament fall on our graves. Where the avalanche roars and frost reigns. Let only the whirlwind circle above the dead in the dreary polar night that is falling."
The above poetic verse from Slide 6 are the first set of lines from the work "Bela grobnice" (White Graveyard) by author Dušan Azanjac, who himself was a local survivor of the WWII detention camps in Norway. The second set of this poem's verses are continued on an additional plaque set into the northwest side of the limestone base of the monument (Slide 7), just below the one seen in Slide 6. This poetic inscription translates into English roughly as:
"But if ever our brothers be willing to visit the fallen in the midst of frost and dark, let them at least bring a handful of soil from our homeland to scatter over our white graveyard."
Photo 13: Monument to Fallen Fighters at Prince Mihailo Square
In addition, set into the ground front of the monument on its southeast side are two small engraved stone tablets. The top one relates details about the many Partisans who were shipped off to the Norway camps by the German Army (Slide 8), while the lower tablet bears an inscription in both Norwegian and Serbian that says "A piece of Norwegian land from a Norwegian friend" (Slide 9). Several other memorial elements exist around the park, such as a visceral monument of ten grasping hands dedicated to local victims who suffered at Mauthausen concentration camp (Slide 10), the monument commemorating the victims of the 1999 NATO bombings of Serbia (Slide 11), as well as a monument and memorial crypt honoring the 842 local Partisan fighters and 295 civilian victims from the area (as well as Soviet fighters who fought in the region) who perished during WWII (Slide 12). Overall, the monument complex has been kept in reasonable shape over the years and continues to host official annual commemorative events. In 2017, an extensive restoration and rehabilitation project for the park began funded by the Serbian Ministry of Economy and the European Investment Bank, which was completed in the summer of 2018. The exact coordinates for the Peace Hill Memorial Park are N44°01'48.0", E20°27'09.0". Some historical images of various elements of the park can be seen in Slides 13 - 16.
Finally, an additional notable WWII monument in Gornji Milanovac is the Monument to the Partisan Uprising (Photo 13), located in the city center by Gradski Park in Prince Mihailo Square (Trg Kneza Mihaila), just across from the Church of the Holy Trinity. Unveiled in 1955 and created by Serbian sculptor Radomir Stojanović. The monument consists of a ~8m tall bronze zig-zag spire next to a marble block sculptural relief of Partisan fighters. The exact coordinates for this monument are N44°01'25.2", E20°27'35.2".
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Čačak National Museum: In the city center of Čačak is the town's National Museum. It houses a large collection of hundreds of exhibits that detail the region's history, culture and ethnography, including exhibits regarding the local resistance movements during WWII. The museum's official website can be found HERE, while its exact coordinates are N43°53'35.1", E20°20'56.2".
Norwegian House Museum: On the east end of Gornji Milanovac is an unusual building called the Norwegian House Museum (Muzej Norveška kuća), which contains exhibits about the history of the thousands of Serbs who were sent by the Nazis to concentration camps in Norway during WWII. This unique wooden building, which slightly resembles a viking-like ship, was built in 1987 by Belgrade architect Aleksandar Đokić. A photo of the museum can be seen in Photo 14, while more information about this site can be found HERE. The exact coordinates for the museum are N44°01'10.9", E20°27'56.8".
Photo 14: A view of the Norway House Museum in Gornji Milanovac [source]
Ovčar-Kablar Gorge: Roughly 17km west of Čačak is the beautiful Ovčar-Kablar Gorge, a massive geologic formation cut over tens of thousands of years by the West Morava River. Around the park area dedicated to the gorge are numerous overlooks to view this massive deep snake-like gorge, while many dramatic monasteries exist in its immediate vicinity. More information about the gorge can be found HERE, while a photo of the gorge can be seen at this Wiki link. The exact coordinates for the Ovčar-Kablar Gorge tourist information center is N43°53'54.6", E20°11'15.7".
From the city center of Čačak, drive south along Kneza Miloša (Кнеза Милоша) road. Take this for about 1.5km, and you will then cross over Hwy 23/E761. As you cross straight over that road, it will change names to Jezdinsko Polje (Јездинско поље) road. Follow this road about 300m and you will see an entrance to the Monument Park on the left (see Google StreetView here). Take note that there is no signage or directional markers alerting you to the presence of this park at that left turn (so be ready and prepared for it). Follow the park entrance access road up the hill and you will come to a small parking area. Park here and walk up the hill to the spomenik complex. The exact coordinates for parking are N43°52'38.5", E20°20'02.4".
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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