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Gevgelija (Гевгелија)

(gev-GELL-ee-ah)

Click on slideshow photos for description

Brief Details:

Name: Monument to Freedom or 'The Flower of Freedom" (Цветот на слободата)

Location: On Mrzenski Hill in Gevgelija, Macedonia

Year completed: 1969

Designer(s): Jordan Grabul (profile page) & architect Blagoj Kolev

Coordinates: N41°09'29.6", E22°30'02.1" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~12m tall structure

Materials used: Steel frame and aluminum plates

Condition: Relocated (2003), neglected, damaged

 

History:

This monument complex at Gevgelija commemorates the struggle for freedom of the people of the Macedonian region over the centuries, including such pivotal moments as the 1903 Ilinden Uprising against Ottoman rule, as well as the fight against occupying Axis forces during the National Liberation War (WWII).

 

Ilinden Uprising

In August of 1903, an popular revolt began among peoples of the present-day Macedonian region against oppression from their Ottoman rulers. The main driving force of this revolt, which came to be known as the Ilinden Uprising, was a group of revolutionaries known as Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO). In the region of Gevgelija, local peasants eagerly joined the fight against the Ottomans, especially as years of promised Ottoman reforms had gone unrealized, while peasant grievances continually went unrecognized. One notable fighter from the Gevgelija region was Leonid Jankov (Photo 1), born in the nearby village of Mačukovo (present day Evzonoi, Greece). During his time with the IMRO, he engaged in numerous sabotage actions against the Ottoman Army. However, ultimately the Ilinden Uprising was unsuccessful, with the Ottomans violently suppressing the revolt by November of 1903. Jankov returned to Gevgelija, where he continued his anti-Ottoman efforts, which were closely monitored by Ottoman authorities. In August of 1905, a letter was intercepted by Ottoman police which confirmed suspicions against Jankov. At that point, he was surrounded by Ottoman troops at a ravine called Ǵurov Dol in the hills just north of Gevgelija. A shoot-out began, with Jakov killing many troops, however, when he was being closed in on, he used his last bullet to shoot himself rather than be taken alive. Jakov became an instant folk-hero among the population of Gevgelija.

Photo 1: Leonid Jankov

 

World War II

After the April 1941 Axis invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the eastern two-thirds of modern-day Macedonia was turned into a new administrive district called 'Vardar Macedonia', and was under the control of Axis Bulgarian forces. Towns and cities across Vardar Macedonia were occupied by and suffered greatly at the hands of these Bulgarian Nazi collaborators. However, after the September 1944 invasion and defeat of Axis-aligned Bulgaria by the Soviet Red Army, Bulgarian occupation forces in Macedonia were replaced by what was considered an even more oppressive German Army occupation. Consequently, hundreds of Jews across the region were deported and any opposition to German presence in Gevgelija was quickly eliminated.

Photo 2: A view of the Gevgelija Partisan Detachment, "Sava Mihajlov", 1944

As a result of this amplified violence, aggression and conflict which precipitated from this new German occupation, young men from Gevgelija and the nearby village of Bogdantsi began to band together to form an armed resistance movement. In May of 1943, about 50 rebels convened on the foothills of Kožuf Mountain, just west of Gevgelija, to form the Gevgelija Partisan Detachment (Photo 2). The detachment was given the honorific nickname "Sava Mihajlov", who was the former Duke of Gevgelija and was a Macedonian revolutionary who participated in the 1903 Ilinden Uprising. This Partisan detachment was the very first organized and armed resistance unit in this southern region of Macedonia. Over the next few months after forming, the detachment grew to 95 soldiers, at which point they engaged in numerous skirmishes with Bulgarian forces across the region, while also disrupting Axis troop movement and sabotaging Bulgarian supply lines. After these successful demonstrations of resistance and rebellion, in September of 1943, all 95 of these resistance fighters were integrated into the much larger People's Liberation Battalion "Strašo Pindžur", where they fought until the end of the war. The city of Gevgelija was finally liberated from Bulgarian forces on November 7th, 1944.

 

Spomenik Construction

In the mid-1960s, the city of Gevgelija made the decision that a memorial complex should be built to commemorate history of struggle across Macedonia, most notably the Ilinden Uprising of 1903 and the fighters and fallen soldiers of the Gevgelija Partisan Detachment during WWII. The plans for the complex dictated that this new memorial complex was to be situated on Vardar Hill (Vardarski Rid), just near the banks of the Vardar River. The monument project was award to the concept proposal (Photo 3) put forward by famed Macedonian artist & designer Jordan Grabul (assisted by Macedonian architect Blagoj Kolev). Up until this time, Grabul had created many memorial works across Yugoslavia, however, this project would be his first to create a fully abstract and non-figurative work. The complex was completed and opened to the public on November 7th, 1969, a date which commemorated 25 years since the liberation of Gevgelija by Partisan forces. The event was accompanied with a large ceremony and celebration. The the central element of the complex was a ~12m tall monument of a stylized flower blossom covered in polished aluminum plates, as well as three large mosaics panels depicting various moments of Macedonian history. During the years of Yugoslavia the complex was a very popular attraction for both locals, tourists and Young Pioneer student groups.

Photo 3: Concept proposal

 

Present-Day

However, during the onset of the Yugoslav wars and the fall of Yugoslavia, the spomenik complex began to fall into disrepair and neglect. Most notably, one of the primary forms of destruction of the monument were pieces of the polished aluminum being stripped from its skeleton. Then, the situation declined further for the memorial site when the decision was made to excavate the Bronze Age/Roman ruins which were initially discovered early on in the monument's construction -- furthermore, plans were also made to construct the major E-75/A1 motorway just a few dozen meters east of the complex. As a result of these actions, the municipality decided in 2003 to relocate the spomenik from its original location on Vardar Hill to Mrzenski Hill, approximately 2km away to the northwest. At the time of relocation, and most recently during a 2013 speech by the mayor of Gevgelija, promises were made to local veteran groups that the monument's new site on Mrzenski Hill would be developed into a grand memorial complex -- however, as of now, such plans have not been realized. Since the monument has been moved to its new location, it continues to be damaged and stripped of its aluminum plates, to the point where nearly all of them have now been removed. At this point, all that remains now of this structure is its bare exposed skeleton.

 

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

When this monument complex originally existed on Vardar Hill, there were many significant plaques and inscriptions. However, currently, the Gevgelija spomenik complex on Mrzenski Hill contains no plaques or engravings anywhere on its site. All original ones which existed at the site at the monument previous location on Vardar Hill have since been removed, lost or stolen. However, documentation of one of the central plaques at the monument's original Vardar Hill location can be see in Slides 1 & 2. From what is decipherable, the inscription on this plaque roughly translates from Macedonian to English as:

"His freedom comes after years and centuries of struggle. His freedom comes after years and centuries of spilled blood."

Slideshow

This plaque's former location on Vardar Hill, as it exists today, can be seen in Slide 3. It is unclear what ever became of this plaque, but when the monument was moved to Mrzenski Hill, there do not appear any indications that it was brought along to this new site.

While the existing aluminum plates of this monument are indeed destroyed and covered in graffiti (Slides 1 & 2), none of it seems to be of any interesting note or consequence. I was not even able to find any nature of nationalistic or fascist graffiti anywhere on this site, even despite its defacement and destruction.

 

Symbolism:

I was not able to find any specific information on the symbolic nature that was related directly from the monument's creator, Jordan Grabul. However, the spomenik certainly has many floral and plant-like features (as a number of Yugoslav monuments do), a symbolic quality which is reinforced by the name of the sculptural work "Flower of Freedom". The image of the flower is generally meant to symbolically communicate not only the end of life, but also rebirth and new beginnings, which would in this case overtly be a reference to the fallen fighters of the Gevgelija Partisan units who perished during World War II. Meanwhile, the polished metal exterior of the monument, in its original form, would have originally given off a luminous reflective light. It is safe to assume that Grabul, through this material, would have intended to create an atmosphere of pensive reflection, as well as conveying the idea that light (the Partisan fighters) can overcome and persevere over even the deepest depths of darkness (Axis occupiers). In a 1972 article discussing this monument, artistic and architectural writer Boris Petkovski makes the following observations about the monument's symbolism (which are translated here roughly into English):

"In this arrangement of multi-media structures we find a composition derived from an organic and inorganic repertoire of forms: plant, decorative and folklore, all mixed with mechanically/technologically conceived sculptural details, giving complexity to symbolic information. It expresses not so much a specific topic as an associative, allusional-and-metaphorical "message", which is complemented by specific material grandeur and emotional expression."

 

Vardarski Rid Site - Slideshow

Vardarski Rid Site:

Jordan Grabul's sculptural work titled "Monument to Freedom" was originally located on a hilltop location called Vardarski Rid, situated at the east side of Gevgelija along the Vardar River. A historical picture of what the monument looked like in its original setting can be seen in Slide 1. In its initial layout, the approach to this monument was made along a long series of concrete stairs originating from the base of the hill (Slide 2). Along this stairway, there was originally a series of three tall free-standing mosaic walls line the path. The first mosaic along the path depicted the free Macedonian people (Slide 3), while the second depicted the Ilinden Uprising (Slide 4), and the last mosaic along the path depicted the victory of the Macedonian Partisan movment against Axis occupiers (Slide 5). In Slides 6, 7 & 8 you can see the original drawings created by Jordan Grabul from which these mosaics were designed.

After the decision to route the newly proposed E-75/A1 motorway just a few dozen meters from the monument site in the early 2000s, the monument was moved to Mrzenski Hill, roughly 2km away to the northwest. After the removal in 2003, all that was left of the monument at the Vardarski Rid site was its original concrete pillar (Slide 9). In addition to the removal of the monument, the Bronze Age ruins discovered underneath the site during the complex's original 1969 construction went through a more rigorous excavation. This excavation resulted in many of the original elements of the memorial complex being removed or destroyed, including a large chunk of the large staircase. Some of the new excavations can be seen in Slides 10 &11. It addition, this excavation was subsequently developed into an touristic attraction named the Vardarski Rid Archeological Park. Interestingly, despite the removal of the central monument, all of the mosaic walls were left intact in their original locations (yet without any nature of interpretive signs within the new park explaining to visitors what they are or why they are there).

Photo 4: The 2015 viewing platform

Meanwhile, despite the fact the monument was removed from its setting within Vardarski Rid, the concrete pillar it was once constructed around sat idle and unused for many years (not being dismantled as one might anticipate). It was not until 2015 that the concrete pillar was re-purposed as a viewing platform for the surrounding archeological ruins (Slides 9, 10 & 11). The construction of the viewing tower around the remains of the original monument raises the obvious question as to why was the original monument was removed under the auspices of the excavation when the monument's original setting was NOT excavated but simply re-purposed into a different object. Reports indicate that the viewing platform (Photo 4) was unveiled by the Gevgelija municipality on November 7th, 2015 as a tribute the Partisan liberation of Gevgelija which occurred on that date in 1944, however, what relation, if any, this structure has to that event is not clear (especially as such events are mentioned nowhere around the site, either in signs, plaques or engravings). Curiously, even this new viewing tower structure endures significant amounts of graffiti and vandalism, as can be seen in Slides 12 & 13. The exact coordinates for the Vardarski Rid Archeological Park are N41°08'52.0", N22°31'22.2".

 

Status and Condition:

Since the relocation of this spomenik from Vardar Hill to Mrzenski Hill, it has been even further severely damaged beyond the point of any reasonable repair. In fact, the damage is so severe, all that now exists is a steel skeleton of the former monument with a few odd pieces of inaccessible aluminum plates still hanging on here and there. This damage has surprisingly occurred only within the last decade, as photos of it on Vardar Hill just before relocation show the aluminum plates nearly fully intact. From my observations, the destruction here seems to be mostly a result of locals scavenging for scrap metal, rather than defacement and destruction for any sort of political or nationalistic reasons.

This site is not protected either on the national level or on the local level. It is not advertised or promoted as a touristic, historic or cultural site by the local municipality, despite it being readily visible to passers-by from the nearby motorway. In addition, at the site itself, there are no informational or educational placards or signs in any shape or form which might inform visitors or tourists about the site's historic or cultural significance. Furthermore, I found no information on any annual remembrance ceremonies or events are held at the ruins of this memorial. From what I could tell, the few visits it receives are largely from vandals and scavengers attempting to take advantage of it. All indications point to the further destruction of this monument until it is completely wiped from the landscape. However, as recent as 2016, a small group of locals brought wreaths to lay to this spomenik on Macedonia's October 11th 'Revolution Day' public holiday in an effort to being attention to the monuments neglect and degradation (Photo 5). Yet, in 2017, a brand new communications tower was built on top of Mrzenski Hill within just a few meters of the decaying memorial sculpture, which could potentially even further hasten the site's descent into neglect and abandonment.

Photo 5: A small flower laying ceremony at the monument site in 2016

 

Additional Sites in the Gevgelija Area:

This section will explore additional Yugoslav-era historic, cultural and memorial sites in and around the area of Gevgelija that would be of relevant to those already interested in the WWII events or heritage of the former Yugoslavia. Here we will examine the Monument to Fallen Fighters in the Gevgelija city center, as well as a brutalist stle lakefront resort hotel located on Lake Dojran near Nikolić, Macedonia.

Monument to Fallen Fighters:

At the south end of the Gevgelija city center commercial district is a small park square at the center of which is a monument commemorating local fighters of Gevgelija who participated and perished in the People's Liberation Struggle (1941-1945). This monument is a stone block monolith, with a small figurative relief sculpture installed in its front depicting a Partisan fighting waving the Yugoslav flag. On the rear of the monument is installed a insribed stone panel. The inscription on the stone reads as follows (translated into English): "The work of the immortal success of the Revolution and People's Liberation Struggle live within us as the embodiment of unyielding Macedonian humanism." Then, after a listing of the names of fallen WWII fighters, at the bottom it says "Eternal Glory". It is not clear who the creator of this work was, or when it was built, but it appears to be from the 1950s. The exact coordinates for this monument are N41°08'24.5", E22°30'18.7".

Monument to Fallen Fighters - Slideshow

Nikolić Youth Pioneer Camp at Dojran:

About 29km east of the town of Gevgelija on the northern shores of Dojran Lake along Macedonia's border with Greece lies the abandoned ruins of the vast 6,000 square meter Youth Pioneer Children's Resort (not far from the village of Nikolić) (Slides  1 - 5). This expansive facility is a unique artifact of Yugoslav-era brutalist concrete design and architecture, while also standing as a testament to the socialist concept of state-owned resort complexes designed specifically for children. Even despite the touristic draw of Lake Dojran, the resort sits in a fully derelict and dilapidated state (completely opened to the elements). Most of the windows in the comples are broken, while overgrown vegetation is overrunning the site. Such resort complexes were often operated by self-governed socialist collectives (SIZs), so, the facility more than likely fell into abandonment with the disillusion of such collectives after the dismantling of Yugoslavia.

The Ruins of Nikolić Resort Hotel - Slideshow [photos by Zoran Angelkovikj]

Of the seven primary Pioneer Youth Resorts in the SR of Macedonia, the largest was the Nikolić resort (одморалиште "Николиќ"). Other similar Pioneer Youth Resorts in Macedonia included the "Gorno" Resort at Vodno, the "Ǵurište" Resort at Sveti Nikole, the "Pelister" Resort at Bitola, the "Suvi Laki" Resort at Strumica, the "Šula Mina" Resort at Kruševo and the "Maleševo" Resort at Berovo. All of them met similar post-Yugoslav-era afflictions of abandonment and degradation. In 2014, the Macedonian government, who still owned these sites (under the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare), attempted to sell all these properties off to private investors in order to convert them into touristic resorts. However, while such conversions and investor transformations have been successful in the past with such properties, reports indicate that the Nikolić resort was not successfully sold to an investor. In the summer of 2017 it was reported that the Nikolić resort would be used to house 500 Middle Eastern migrants and refugees. In response to this announcement, local communities along Lake Dojran actively opposed any plans to move migrants into the area. As of 2019, the site is still derilict and unoccupied. The exact coordinates for this site are N41°15'07.6", E22°44'16.0". Such abandoned ruins are often dangerous, so I would personally advise against entering the site if you choose to visit it.

 

And Additional Sites of Interest:

  • Gevgelija National Institution Museum: On the east side of Gevgelija (about 200m west of the tran station) situated along Marshal Tito Street is the National Institution Museum of Gevgelija. House in a historic structure from 1900, the museum contains hundreds of exhibits related to the history, culture, ethnography and archeology of the region. The museum's official website can be found at THIS link, while the exact coordinates for the site are N41°08'32.3", E22°30'32.7".

Directional Info:

Heading south on the A1 motorway towards the border of Greece, get off on the exit for the city of Gevgelija. This exit brings you off directly onto Bulevar Gevgelija. Follow this road west about 1km, then turn right onto 7-mi Noemvri (7th of November) road. Before crossing the Sermeninska River, just before the Javor Agapi restaurant, take a right onto a newly paved road. You will pass by an olive tree orchard on your on your right, and just a few hundred meters past the orchard, you will see a sharp turn for a dirt road that heads up hill (Photo 7). If the road is in good condition (and you are driving a 4x4 vehicle) you can drive to the top. If not, park there on the side of the road. Follow the dirt road uphill past the church (Photo 8), and follow the tracks and trails to the spomenik (it will be visible from a distance), which is just west (~100m) of the group of antennas at the top of the hill. The exact coordinates for the dirt road turn-off are N41°09'48.1", E22°30'01.4".

Map to the location of the monument at the spomenik complex at Gevgelija, Macedonia.

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Antennas

Photo 7: Curvy dirt road heading uphill to spomenik

Photo 8: Church along the dirt path to the monument

 

Photography Info:

This sub-section details information related to the directional/spatial orientation info for elements of the Mrzenski Hill monument complex at Gevgelija, as well as local and seasonal lighting conditions, all primarily geared towards those wanting to photograph the site. The memorial sculpture can be photographed successfully from just about any angle within the grassy field atop the hill in which it resides, but it is important to note that the dramatic mountains seen in some photos lay to the north of the monument. Late evening photographs make for dramatic mountain-lined sunset photos from this perspective. For month-by-month data on sunrise and sunset times throughtout the year at this location, check out the profile page for Gevgelija, N. Macedonia on the TimeAndDate.com website.

Comments:

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