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Finding the Spomeniks

Pre-Trip Research

During the initial planning stages of my trip, one of the decisions I made from the start was that I was NOT going to go to the former Yugoslav region blindly. I wanted to be able to know where to go and where to find each spomenik site once I got over there in order to avoid struggling through getting lost in a part of the world I did not know and attempting to communicate with people whose language I did not speak. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of spomenik sites, little to no information existed online describing their exact locations. As such, I was forced to be more creative in my search for them.

I started my sleuthing using Jan Kempenaers late-2000s photo-set. While Kempenaers did not describe the exact location of the spomenik sites in his book, he does, however, name them by the town or village which they are most closely settled near. These were my first clues. With this information, I then examined each of these regions via satellite view on Google Maps, then, I scoured the landscape looking for traces of them. Thankfully, most of them are quite large and uniquely shape, so, on satellite imagery, they tended to stand out quite prominently with the shadows they cast on the ground. Using this method, over the course of about 3 weeks of diligent meticulous searching, I was able to pinpoint the exact location and coordinates for about 40-50 of the spomenik sites which I intended to visit.

Google Maps aerial view of Kozara

In the years since my first trip, I have gone on to pin-point and verify the exact location hundreds of spomenik sites across the former Yugoslav region, all now being meticulously cataloged and accessible via the Interactive Map page here on Spomenik Database. Furthermore, I have since gone on to include markers on the map for figurative memorial markers, Yugoslav-era museums, memorial houses, cultural centers, and other similar objects.

My car stuck in a dirt road near Kozara, Bosnia.

Navigating On the Ground

Once I arrived in the region of the former Yugoslavia, it was my hope that finding the spomeniks would be as easy as typing the GPS coordinates I had collected beforehand into my car's satellite navigation system and that I would be easily led directly to them. While this admittedly worked very well in some circumstances, to say it was ALWAYS that simple would be an extreme over-statement. While GPS may work very well in some developed areas and in some cities, I cannot stress enough that it will NOT work in all places as much as one would hope. Many spomeniks are in extremely remote areas, far off the beaten path, and in many of these places, the GPS cannot be relied upon. In many cases, it will try to direct you on non-existent roads, dirt-road 2-track 'shortcuts', unnecessarily long routes, etc, etc, etc. I found it was extremely important to review your route in detail before following it, and never to follow a suspicious-looking road simply because my GPS said to follow it.

In many instances, the spomenik sites exist on unmarked roads, in the middle of forests, on the tops of mountains, or far away from any developed area. Simply finding them can be an experience, so properly doing your homework and research before attempting to visit them can mean the difference between success and failure. One of my most notable navigation experiences for me happened while attempting to find the Kozara spomenik in the northern BiH region... my GPS routed me from the highway onto a smaller road, and I naively followed. After not too long, the road turned to muddy dirt and followed a stream through a steep valley -- however, on the GPS map, it looked as though the monument was SO CLOSE, so I stupidly pushed on further. Before you know it, I got my little Toyota stuck in the middle of nowhere in the forest in the hinterlands of Kozara National Park. I thought I was doomed. I seriously considered giving up all hope and just abandoning the car and leaving the country. However, walking back down the road several kilometers, I spotted a family eating dinner at a picnic table in front of their home. With my fingers crossed, I approached. To my delight, two of them spoke English amazingly well. They were able to assemble for me a rag-tag team of locals who, with the help of a what looked like a 70 year old tractor, pulled my car out and I was saved. The situation turned from near disaster to one of the most memorable moments of my time in Bosnia, if not the entire trip. I was extremely lucky, as not only could I have slid into the stream and died, I could have continued even deeper into the forest, stranded and unable to find help.

While I found using GPS on my trip to be invaluable, I tell this story as a testament of what can happen if you blindly follow your GPS without first verifying your route. In addition, there are many labyrinthine type cities in the former Yugoslav region such as Sarajevo, Priština, Mitrovica, etc, with many narrow unmarked roads, which can be especially difficult for someone who is unfamiliar driving in the region. As such, in these places, GPS might not be sufficient by itself to guide you through optimal routes, road closings, dangerous areas, etc, so, I found it useful to always ask lots of questions of my hostel and hotel hosts before attempting to navigate through a complicated city. Gathering that essential on-the-ground local knowledge and advice is something all the GPS navigating and pre-trip online map research will never be able to compare to or equal. Also, if you can have a buddy with you along on the trip to do secondary navigation, that would more than likely double your success rate!

One of the main purposes behind making this website was so that other people wanting to find these spomenik sites for themselves will never have to go through all the trouble, time and turmoil I had to go through the first time I tried to find them. If you are so ambitious as to explore the spomeniks on your own, I very much hope you use and employ the navigation and map information I have compiled here on this website so you can have the most optimal, relaxed and enjoyable spomenik adventure possible! And if you ever have any questions, always feel free to email me and I will always respond!