Name: The Memorial Ossuary of Fallen Fighters (Спомен костурница)
Location: Kavadarci, Macedonia
Year completed: 1976
Designer: Peter Muličkovski (profile page)
Coordinates: N41°25'57.8", E22°01'22.5" (click for map)
Dimensions: ~13m high and ~7m wide
Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar with iron gates
Condition: Fair, neglected
Click on slideshow photo for description.
This spomenik at Kavadarci is in commemoration to the fallen Partisan liberators and fighters of the National Liberation Army who battled against the occupying Axis powers of Germany and Bulgaria during World War II in defense of Kavadarci.
World War II
On April 6th, 1941, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded by Axis forces, with these Axis troops (Germans, Italians and Bulgarians) reaching Macedonia by the end of that same month. After invasion began a brutal occupation waged against Kavadarci and all the rest of the people of Macedonia. By October of 1941, armed resistance movements organized by Partisan communists were amassing across Macedonia. Initially, military success was slow and arduous during those first few years for Macedonian Partisan detachments, especially as Bulgarian forces were particularly vicious and unrelenting in their fights against the rebels. One particularly notable demonstration of their tenacity by Bulgarian occupational forces to root out any and all Partisan resistance was an occasion on April 7th, 1944 when a Bulgarian military unit stumbled upon the notable Partisan leaders Dimče Mirčev (Димче Мирчев) (Photo 1) & Kiro Atanasovski, known better by his nickname Kiro Krstev (Киро Крстев) (Photo 2).
Photo 1: Picture of Dimče Mirčev
Photo 2: Picture of Kiro Krstev
When the Bulgarian forces came across them, Krstev and Mirčev were in the process of arranging a meeting for newly recruited rebel youths in a small house in Kavadarci. Determined to eliminate the threat of these two notorious Partisan rebels, the Bulgarian unit called in backup of nearly 700 additional troops to surround and lay a siege upon the house. The two Partisan leaders refused to surrender, and a gun-fight of over seven hours subsequently ensued. After running out of ammunition, Krstev and Mirčev attempted to make a run through the troop siege in the early morning hours in hopes of escaping under the cover of darkness. However, after only several dozen meters, they were both gunned down by masses of Bulgarian troops. Both Krstev and Mirčev were posthumously awarded the recognition of Yugoslav National Hero.
Photo 3: Photo of executed Vataša youth, 1943
Then, as Italy capitulated in 1943, success for the Partisans against the remaining Germans occupation forces dramatically increased. One of the most significant Partisan units from the area of Kavadarci was the Tikveš Partisan Detachment ("Dobri Daskalov"), formed in May of 1943 in nearby Negotino and led by local resistance fighter Nikola Minchev. Bulgarian Axis authorities in the region were relentless in their efforts to dissuade locals from enlisting in the Partisan rebel groups, for instance, just a month after the Tikveš Partisan unit was formed, Bulgarian troops entered the Kavadarci village of Sivets on June 13th and executed several of the Partisan fighters parents. Then, three days later on June 16th, an even more brutal retaliatory killing took place when the Bulgarian troops executed 12 children from the Kavadarci village of Vataša (Photo 3). However, as Bulgaria switched to the Allied side in 1944, Partisan forces were again given renewed hope. In the spring of 1944, the 2nd Macedonian Partisan Assault Brigade waged an all-out assault on Kavadarci in an attempt to liberate the city. However, German troops (who had replaced the Bulgarians) held onto their positions within the town for months. However, after continued pressure by Partisan units, the city was finally liberated from this occupation on September 7th, 1945, by the 9th Macedonian Brigade.
In the mid-1970s, a tender was extended by the city of Kavadarci, along with local and regional veterans groups, for the construction of a memorial complex which was to honor local fighters and veterans from the People's Liberation Struggle, as well as the region's civilian victims who suffered under fascist terror and occupation. After a monument committee examined artist submissions put forward during a public design competition for the project, the commission to create the complex was ultimately awarded to Macedonian artist Petar Muličkovski. The spot chosen to locate the monument was a hill symbolically overlooking the city of Kavadarci, as well as the rolling landscape of the Tikveš plains. Part of finalization process for the completion of this complex was the relocation of remains of over 300 local fighters from Kavadarci's Church of St. Dimitrij to a new underground crypt created beneath the monument (Photo 4). The complex was officially opened to the public during an official ceremony on September 7th, 1976, a date which celebrated exactly 31 years since the Partisan's liberation of Kavadarci from Axis control.
Photo 4: Remains being transferred during 1976 ceremony
Photo 5: Courtyard & monument
This complex is situated on top of a +300m tall hill in the middle of Gradski Park (Градски парк), one of the largest city parks in all of Macedonia. The composition of the central monument is divided into separate elements, the 'house' and the 'courtyard'. The house element is a ~13m tall, three level concrete structure with two wrought iron 'grape-vine' shaped entrance gates and a spiral staircase in the center. Within the 'house' structure, on its first level are a series of granite plaques engraved with the names of those who are buried in the tomb beneath. Directly adjacent to the house monument there is a concrete 'courtyard' (Photo 5). It is roughly 20x20 meters and is comprised of recessed amphitheatre-like steps in the center with numerous concrete pylon elements (of varying heights) around its periphery. In addition, in the northwest corner of Gradski Park there is a smaller separate memorial (composed of a small wall with bronze relief and ~10m tall monolith) dedicated to the Kavadarci native hero Kiro Krstev and Veles native Dimče Mirčev (this monument will be examined more closely in the Additional Sites section below).
After the fall of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, this monument complex has fallen into extreme neglect and disrepair. Many elements of this memorial are either falling apart, degrading or completed vandalized/graffitied. Within this monument once resided the collective bone-tomb (ossuary) where the remains of 328 Partisan fighters were interred -- however, after the neglect of the 1990s this monument endured, these remains were moved to the City Museum and Gallery of Kavadarci (Photo 6) in recent years for their protection. There are few signs that any sort of preservation or rehabilitation efforts are being made to restore this monument, as much of the graffiti on and destruction to the monument (especially within the interior of the tomb complex at the top of the hill) has clearly been present for years, if not longer. Whether or not any annual remembrance or commemorative events are still held here is unclear.
Photo 6: Kavadarci City Museum
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There are a number of engraved and inscribed elements at the monument complex here at Kavadarci. Firstly, when you enter inside the ground level entrance to the central monument tower, you will find along the inside of the walls well over a dozen granite plaques engraved with the names of fallen Partisan soldiers from the Kavadarci area (pictured in Slide 1). No other interpretive plaques or plates are still existing within the tomb memorial area. As far as graffiti goes, a great deal of the monument complex is covered in graffiti, with much of it having clearly been present for many many years. The vast majority of the graffiti is simple youth vandalism and little of it appears to be any sort of politically motivated vandalism. The only bit of graffiti I found remotely interesting was one instance (Slide 2) that reads, when translated from Macedonian to English, as:
I may not know how to draw graffiti, but I do know how to write 'I love you'.
For whatever reason, I found that sweetly endearing. I saw a few areas of the monument complex where a meager efforts were made by officials to remove graffiti, but the vast majority of it has been left as is, especially on the interior of the tomb complex.
The shape and form of the main tomb/ossuary memorial is intended to be reminiscent of a traditional Macedonian house of the Ohrid region from the late 19th and early 20th century (Photo 7), with its inverted verandas, stylized windows and spiral staircase. The designer of this spomenik, Peter Mulichkoski, pioneered the concept of employing this stylized form of the traditional Macedonian house many of his sculptural works. Furthermore, continuing the 'house' motif, the amphitheatre area in front of the monument is meant to symbolize a Macedonian home's expansive and enclosed courtyard area. Meanwhile, at the entrance to this 'house' monument, there are two wrought iron gates in the shape of grape vines, which are meant to be representations of the traditional Macedonian trade of vineyard grape farming, a particularly important pursuit in the Kavadarci region.
Photo 7: A traditional Macedonian house
Photo 8: A 2014 photo of damage to engraved stone tablets
Status and Condition:
The condition of this monument is moderate to poor. Overall, the structure of the main tomb monument complex is stable, as I saw few indications that the concrete facade or foundational components were in any immediate threat of failing. However, much of the concrete facade itself was covered in graffiti and paint, especially inside and on the upper levels of the tomb complex; but it is clear that some efforts have been made by officials to remove graffiti from the outer facade and from the courtyard amphitheatre. Around 2014, a significant number of the engraved stone tablets bearing the names of WWII fighters buried here were destroyed and defaced (Photo 8). However, these were subsequently replaced in a 2015 restoration effort. On that note, this monument has been such under threat in recent years that the remains of the Partisan soldiers who used to be housed in this tomb here were required to be moved for their protection to the City Museum and Gallery of Kavadarci... an event which stands as testament to the state of preservation and protection of this monument complex.
Meanwhile, the landscaping and grass have overgrown many parts of the monument and the courtyard. As Gradski Park is still an active and well used city park, some areas of grass is cut and maintained around the monument, but it is not clear that any overt effort is being made to manicure or enhance the bushes/grass directly in and around the monument structure.
Photo 9: A 2017 photo of May 14th events at the Gradski Park monument
As I stated above, Gradski Park is very active with many visitors each day, but it appeared that few if any were coming to the monument area of the park with any intention of honoring or viewing the monument itself. While there was some indications of wreaths and flowers left at the granite plaques bearing the fallen soldiers names, it seemed more that the monument was being used as a 'hang out' place for kids and as an object to vandalize and graffiti. I saw no evidence of measures to prevent this rampant degradation and destruction. In addition, I saw no indication that the city was interested in promoting or advertising this monument, as I noticed no signage or directional markers anywhere in town (or even in the park itself) alerting visitors to the monument's presence. Modest commemorative events are still held at this site (Photo 9), generally around September 7th (Kavadarci liberation day) as well as on May 14th, which is the founding day of the Tikveš Partisan Detachment. Interestingly, yoga classes have also been held at the monument in recent years.
Additional Sites in the Kavadarci Area:
This section will explore additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Kavadarci area that might be of interest to anyone interested in the monuments or history of the former Yugoslavia. The sites that will be examined here are the Monument to Kiro Krstev & Dimče Mirčev, the Memorial to 12 Vataša Youth, just south of town, the Monument to the Revolution in the Kavadarci city center, as well as the Negotino Memorial Ossuary.
Kiro Krstev & Dimče Mirčev Monument:
At the northwest corner of Gradski Park in Kavadarci is a monument which honors the two Yugoslav national heroes Kiro Krstev and Dimče Mirčev. It was near this site of this monument that the two Partisan unit leaders were killed during a long shoot-out with Bulgarian forces on April 7th, 1944. The monument consists of a tall concrete pillar (~8m tall) (Slides 1 - 3) next to which is an elevated concrete wall roughly 6m long upon which is mounted a bronze relief (Slide 4) of what appears to be Partisan fighters collapsing in pain (presumably after being shot down by the Bulgarian soldiers). This work was created in 1959 by Skopje sculptor Tome Andreevski. A few meters behind the monument along the paved courtyard is a short maryble pylon (Slide 5) which bears an engraved inscription on top of it that translates into English as: "April 7th, 1944 - In unequal fighting against the Bulgarian occupier, Kiro Krstev died on this spot."
Kiro Krstev & Dimče Mirčev Monument - Slideshow
The monument is a slightly degraded in certain spots (with graffiti and cracking concrete), but it is clear that recent efforts have put forward to make repairs. I was unable to find any articles or reports about commemorative events being held here. The exact coordinates for this site within Gradski Park are N41°26'01.0", E22°01'10.0".
Memorial to 12 Vataša Youth:
There is an additional monument in the Kavadarci area which recognizes events of WWII. Located roughly 4km south of town, a memorial was created on October 11th, 1963 by Macedonian designer Jordan Grabul which commemorates the 'Massacre of Vataša', in which 12 male youths (aged 15 to 28) from the nearby village of Vataša who were shot to death at this spot on June 16th, 1943 by Bulgarian Axis forces. The execution, which occurred in the area known as Moklište (Моклиште), was in retaliation for incursions upon Axis troops by local Partisan fighters. This monument consists of two curved ~5m tall concrete walls next to which is a small altar (Slides 1 - 3). Originally a large bronze abstract relief sculpture was attached to one of the walls, but this was slowly destroyed by vandals over the course of several years and has now been completely removed. During the 2000s, the concrete walls fell a advanced state of deterioration, along with being heavily stained and degraded.
Vataša Memorial - Slideshow
On the outer side of the south-facing wall is a black stone plaque (Slide 4) which bears an inscription. Translated from Macedonian to English, this inscription reads as:
"Death has become powerless against our youth as they stand before our gazing eyes, on this morning and into the future"
Meanwhile, attached to the altar is an additional plaque (Slide 5) which notes the year the executions took place, "June 16th, 1943", while next to the altar affixed to the wall is another plaque which is engraved with the names of the 12 male youths executed. In Slide 6 you can see a individual photos of the 12 youths who were executed that day. Meanwhile, in Slide 7 you see a photo of the deceased remains of few of the youths moments after their execution. Despite the neglect and degradation of this memorial site, regular commemorative ceremonies are still held here (Slide 8). In addition, in the late 2010s, the monument damages to the monument's concrete facade were repaired and painted bright white, however, the stolen and damaged bronze reliefs were not replaced. Finally, in Slides 9 & 10 you can see historic photos of this monument in its original condition. The exact coordinates for this monument are N41°24'05.1", E22°01'42.6".
Monument to the Revolution:
In the town center of Kavadarci is a tall figurative bronze monument which is known as the "Monument to the Revolution" (Споменикот на Револуцијата). Built by Croatian sculptor Petar Palavičini (one of the last works he created before passing away), this memorial sculpture was inaugurated on September 7th, 1958 (Kavadarci Liberation Day) and honors the city's resistance fighters who rose up against occupation during WWII, as well as commemorating the roughly 500 city residents that died during the conflict. On the front of the monument's pedestal is an inscription which translates from Macedonian to English as: "For the freedom of our people". The sculpture consists of three figures, the central being a woman holding one arm high into the air while she drags a wounded child. On either sides of the monument's pedesal are two wide bronze relief panel strips depicting 12 heads, symbolizing the 12 killed children at Vataša (created by local Kavadarci artist Mino Stoyanov).
Monument to the Revolution - Slideshow
The memorial site continues to be honored with annual official ceremonies, while the sculpture also standing as one of the central symbols for Kavadarci. This monument is located in Gradski Trg (City Square) in the center of town, right in front of the Kavadarci municipal building. The exact coordinates are N41°25'59.6", E22°00'44.3".
Memorial Ossuary at Negotino:
Roughly 12km northeast of Kavadarci is the town of Negotino. On top of Tumbe Hill at Negotino's north end is a small hill atop which is a memorial ossuary (or crypt). The monument's form is of a 6m tall obelisk characterized by its interesting reverse-tapering flared shape. On each of the obelisks sides are stone panels which have relief carvings of figures in various scenes of daily life and battle. It was created in the 1970s by Skopje sculptor Ilija Handžiski. This monument is meant to mark the location of where the Tikveš Partisan Detachment ("Dobri Daskalov") was formed on May 3rd, 1943. Daskalov was a IMRO revolutionary leader from the area who died in 1912. Many of the fighters from this unit who perished during WWII are interred at the crypt under the monument. As of 2018, the monument is in very poor condition, with many lower panels missing, lots of graffiti present and trash litted around the site. Its exact location is N41°29'26.3", E22°05'56.3".
Photo 10: Image of the Memorial Ossuary at Negotino [photo by Austin Fast]
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Kavadarci Museum-Gallery: Near the city center of Kavadarci is the municipal gallery and museum. At this institution are a wide variety of exhibits of the art, culture and history of the Kavadarci region, as well as exhibits that directly relate to its WWII heritage. The official homepage for the museum can be found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N41°26'03.4", E22°00'59.8".
Ancient Stobi Ruins: Roughly 18km north of Kavadarci are the ruins of the ancient town of Stobi. Widely considered to be the most significant archeological site in N. Macedonia, this town, situated on the Vardar River, spanned both the pre-Roman and Roman period. Excavations on this site began in 1924 and have continued until the present day. The official website for the archeological site can be found at THIS link, while a photo from one location at the site can be seen at THIS Wiki link. The Stobi site can be reached directly off of the A1 motorway, and its exact coordinates are N41°33'02.0", E21°58'29.1".
This monument is located on the east side of Kavadarci, right in the middle of Gradski (City) Park, which is right off Disanska Street. There are pull in parking spaces along the north side of Disanska Street just a few dozen meters west of City Stadium (Photo 11). The exact coordinates for parking are N41°26'06.5", E22°01'19.2" (click for map). Then walk into the park and to the top of the hill to access the monument.
Photo 11: Gradski Park entrance along Disanska Street
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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