Name: Spomen Dom Kumorvec (aka Memorial House of Fighters of the NOR & Yugoslav Youth)
Location: Kumrovec, Croatia
Year completed: 1974
Designer(s): architects Berislav Šerbetić & Ivan Filipčić
Coordinates: N46°04'37.9", E15°41'08.2"
Dimensions: 90m x 80m wide
Materials used: Brick and reinforced concrete
Condition: Fair to poor
The Spomen-Dom complex was originally built during the Yugoslav-era as a cultural center, memorial complex, hotel, youth complex and political school in the town of Kumrovec, which is the birthplace of Yugoslav president Jozip Broz Tito.
Josip Broz was born in Kumrovec to Marija and Franjo Broz in 1892 (who would later go on to grow up to be the lifetime President of socialist Yugoslavia under the nickname "TITO"), growing up in this village during the time that it was within a region called the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The home Josip Broz was born in was a respectable traditional cottage (Photo 1) that Franjo had inherited from his family (who had lived in Kumrovec for over three centuries). One of nine children, Josip Broz grew up learning to speak both Croatian and Slovenian, since his mother Marija was a Slovene. At the age of 15 years old, he left Kumrovec to began trying to find fruitful employment in other parts of the region of present-day Croatia.
Photo 1: An old postcard from the 1950s showing Tit's childhood home
During WWII, Josip Broz assumed the nickname "Tito", which he was familiarly known by for the rest of his life. After becoming leader of Yugoslavia after WWII, Tito established a seasonal home here in Kumrovec, which was designed by Branko Bon and completed in 1948. In addition, the small village of Kumrovec became a site of pilgrimage for people in Yugoslavia where people visit Tito's childhood home, (which was transformed into a museum in 1953), where they would learn about his life and wartime feats. The area and surrounding buildings around Tito's childhood home were also preserved and turned into an ethnographic touristic village. Over the years, Kumrovec transformed into not only a site for pilgrimage for learning about Tito's life, but efforts were also made to turn the village into a hub of socialist cultural activities as well as an epicenter for education and investigation into the political philosophy of Yugoslavia's unique brand of socialism. This resulted in the construction of massive cultural centers and schools which would work towards such efforts. The most significant of these new cultural and educational centers in Kumrovec was an expansive complex that was known as the "Memorial House to the People's Liberation Struggle Fighters and Yugoslav Youth", located on a conspicuous promontory overlooking the entire region.
In the early 1970s, a series of decisions were made by the Yugoslav leadership that efforts should begin towards the goal of transforming Kumrovec into a true center point in Yugoslavia for political thought and political education, as the symbolism of creating such a cultural hub right in the town of Tito's birth would be unmistakable. A large school was already constructed in Kumrovec in 1955 by famous architect Neven Šegvić, but this masterful work was primarily for school-aged children. These 1970 plans aimed for a complex which would not only have educational classrooms, but also combine the amenities of a hotel, library, pool, auditorium and all of the facilities needed for this to be a place of cultural/political education, youth activities, sports, leisure and much more. A design competition for selecting this new complex was held in 1972, which was subsequently won by the proposal (Photo 2) put forward by the design team composed of the two Croatian architects Berislav Šerbetić & Ivan Filipčić.
Photo 2: A photo of the concept model for the Spomen-Dom complex
The location that was chosen for the construction of this massive facility was a small hill just east of the Kumrovec center with sweeping vistas of the village, as well as the surrounding Zagorje region and Sotla River valley. Tito personally presided over a cornerstone laying ceremony for this project, during which he is reported to have said "From here, from this [memorial] house, Brotherhood & Unity will radiate because fighters and youth will come from all over our region." Construction, which was undertaken by the Zagreb firm "Interinžinering", took roughly one year (Photo 3), which was a surprisingly speedy time frame considering the size and scope of the project. The overall shape of the complex was of a pyramidal-like form. As such, the top of the hill was removed in such a way that the shape of the structure built on the site would recreate the shape of the removed hill. This innovative approach created a unique symbiosis between the building and the surrounding landscape, almost as if the building and the hill were one entity. The facility was completed on January 29th, 1974, but it was officially unveiled to the public during a ceremony on November 29th, 1974 (Yugoslav Republic Day). The official name given to the complex was "Spomen-Dom Boraca Narodnooslobodilačkog rata i Omladine Jugoslavije" (Memorial House to the People's Liberation Struggle Fighters and Yugoslav Youth), although it is sometimes also referred to as the Spomen-Dom Josip Broz Tito (Photo 4). It was Tito himself who was one of the first to enter this complex upon its completion. Not only was the exterior of the Spomen-Dom designed by Šerbetić & Filipčić, but they also designed the interior as well. After its completion, the Spomen Dom went on to win numerous awards and commendations for its innovative design, most notably winning the "Borba" Award, which was the highest award given during the era of Yugoslavia for the pursuit of architecture.
Photo 3: A photo of the construction of the Spomen-Dom in Kumrovec, Croatia
Photo 4: A photo of the Spomen-Dom in Kumrovec just after being unveiled in 1974
As mentioned above, the primary shape of the Spomen-Dom complex (which contains roughly 6,500 sq m of usable floor space spread across 150 rooms) is of a pyramidal-like structure that recreates the hilltop summit that was removed for the construction of this building. However, as can be seen in the model in Photo 2, this shape is achieved through three separate building wings that come together to create this form. At the center of these three wings (where the summit of the hill would be) sits an open courtyard with amphitheatre seating which was meant to facilitate and cultivate a "Main Street"-like community atmosphere. Each of the buildings, as well as the courtyard, are made of light-red bricks, with a facade characterized by sharp steep angles and broad unadorned walls. These walls are punctuated with large angular windows that let huge amounts of light into the complex. The Spomen-Dom's long sloping roof is set with dark brown shingle tiles that come very low to the ground, which all the more cleverly disguises the building as part of the hillside. Such architecture that integrates itself into its landscape was a newer type of modernism in Yugoslavia during the early 1970s, compared to the modernist architecture of the 1960s, which often forced itself upon the landscape in incongruous ways.
Photo 5: A vintage 1980s image of the Spomen-Dom's theatre [source]
Photo 6: A vintage 1980s image of the Spomen-Doms library [source]
Photo 7: A vintage 1980s image of the Spomen-Dom's main lobby [source]
The facility originally contained a huge amount of amenities, such as a 62-room hotel, a library, a pool, a restaurant, a 300-seat indoor theatre and many other impressive features (Photo 5 - 7). A small political school was also operated out of the Spomen-Dom, which was initiated on November 21st, 1975 with a lecture by famous Yugoslav politician and economist Edvard Kardelj called "Revolutionary Practice & Marxist Education". In 1981, the political school relocated to the newly built "Josip Broz Tito" SKJ Political School.
Meanwhile, the interior of the Spomen-Dom was adorned in a modern rustic design, with large bare-wooden ceiling beams, a considerable amount of wood-paneled walls and a color palette dominated by earth tones. Dozens of lighting clusters composed of clear glass spherical orbs constitute the majority of the illuminating elements within the complex. Meanwhile, also spread across the interior of the Spomen-Dom were originally dozens of planter boxes which contained hundreds of indoor plants that cascaded over walls and partitions within the building's space. Lastly, it is important to mention that a large outdoor amphitheatre was built just downhill from the Spomen-Dom several years after its completion.
Post-Yugoslav era to Present-Day
For many years after the creation of the Spomen-Dom, the complex was hugely popular, being visited by many thousands of people a year from across Yugoslavia. They came for education, for youth events, for celebrations, for recreation and many other activities. However, as the country of socialist Yugoslavia began to be dismantled in the early 1990s, a series of violent conflicts broke out across several parts of the newly independent country of Croatia. As a result, about 200 displaced persons and refugees (mostly from Vukovar) were given emergency housing within the hotel complex of the Spomen-Dom. While many of these seeking temporary housing returned home directly after the end of the war, some refugees stayed more than 11 years, with the last ones departing in 2003. After this point, the government of Croatia, who had inhereted this complex, made several attempts to try to sell the property to private investors, but all were unsuccessful. Even such ambitious ideas such as turning the complex into a Croatian Film Museum were explored, but, as with the others, the idea ultimately fell through. As of 2020, the Spomen-Dom continues to be managed by Croatia's Ministry of Science and Education as a "public institute".
Photo 8: "Free Forms" at the Spomen-Dom
However, despite the Spomen-Dom still being owned by the Croatian government, news reports indicate that no appreciable efforts have been made over the last two decades towards the preservation or restoration of this historical building. Very few events have been hosted here over the passing years and even its director Branko Gobac admits that it is essentially dormant. Yet, occasional art and music projects take place here, such as the experimental Croatian band "Free Forms" recording a musical session in 2013 inside the Spomen-Dom's now empty disused pool [video HERE] (Photo 8). The building sits in almost an unchanged state since it was last utilized during the days of Yugoslavia, existing almost as a time capsule. To see an excellent set of photos showing the present-state of the interior of the Spomen-Dom, see the article at THIS link by "My Radiant City". At present, the site is technically not officially open to the public and access is strictly controlled, but sources indicate that the government has future plans to sell the complex to investors who can develop it for touristic purposes. Despite the historical significance of the site, it is not designated as a protected building or as a cultural heritage site.
As discussed above, the overall architectural form of the Spomen-Dom complex is such that it mirrors the shape of the hilltop that was removed to make way for the structure. Not only does such an architectural approach work to cultivate a visual synthesis between the building and the landscape it resides within, but it also works symbolically to communicate the idea that people and ideas held within the building are also integral parts of the landscape itself (Photo 9). Furthermore, as a significant part of the educational component of this complex was the operation of a political school, the merging of structure and terrain here can be understood as the building's creators, Šerbetić & Filipčić, attempting to convey an idea that Yugoslav socialist politics is just as much a part of the landscape as the landscape is a part of Yugoslav socialist politics. It can also be pointed out that deciding to position the Spomen-Dom on top of a hill overlooking Kumrovec is also symbolic in and of itself. Within the Spomen-Dom looking out upon and being seen by the entire community, its importance as an integral part of Kumrovec and of the landscape is further emphasized and punctuated, similar to how the Parthenon on the Acropolis looks out over Athens.
Photo 9: A vintage image of the sweeping views from the Spomen-Dom
Photo 10: A vintage image of groups of youth gathering in the courtyard of the Spomen-Dom
Yet another perspective from which to examine the symbolism of the Spomen-Dom here at Kumrovec is through looking at the central courtyard plaza of the compound. The three distinct wings of the Spomen-Dom (each with their own functions) are very carefully arranged to create a very welcoming and intimate space, around the periphery are sets of amphitheatre-like seating steps (Photo 10). In interviews, the architects themselves state that the part of their idea from the beginning of the design of this complex was to orient the various buildings in such a way as to create and cultivate a "gathering space", almost like a "Main Street", around which all of the various users of the Spomen-Dom would congregate. So, in effect, the architects aimed to replicate a village square type of environment which could not only symbolize the importance of community, but also serve as an exchange point of ideas, a site for building relationships and (via the amphitheatre elements) be a platform from which information could be communicated to the masses.
Status and Condition:
Today, the Spomen-Dom at Kumrovec very much sits in a state of 'idle dormancy' (Photo 11). While it has not been actively used for any significant purposes in the last 20 years, Croatia's Ministry of Science and Education, which is tasked with the management of the site, does its best with a small team to keep the building and its grounds in a state of homeostasis. The grass around the compound is regularly cut, wild vegetation is cut back, security is provided, however, no appreciable restoration or rehabilitation work has been done on the Spomen-Dom in many decades. The complex has suffered significant damage not only as a result of years of neglect and dormancy, but also as a result of damage done to the site during the time it hosted refugees during the 1990s and early 2000s. Through much work is needed, it must be said that overall, the Spomen-Dom is in an impressively preserved state, with a significant amount of its original Yugoslav-era furniture, fixtures, appliances, carpets and decorations still in place. This time-capusle-like state of the Spomen-Dom stands in sharp contrast to the complete devastation found at the nearby Kumrovec Political School.
Photo 11: A recent photo of the lobby of the Spomen-Dom complex
While the Spomen-Dom does currently reside in a somewhat decent condition, there appear to be few local efforts to promote or advertise the complex as a local touristic attraction. The access road off of the main highway through Kumrovec make no effort to signal or draw attention to the Spomen-Dom, while the official touristic website for Kumrovec makes no mention of the complex as a point of interest, even despite its architectural uniqueness and historical significance. However, some local news reports to indicate that efforts may be put forward in the future towards developing the site as a tourist destination. Yet, as of 2020, the site is not officially open to the public, as it is closed and often patrolled by security. However, it is possible to drive up to the parking lot and walk around the complex to examine its exterior. There is an old woman steward who lives onsite in one of the old hotel rooms on the complex's main square. Some visitors to the Spomen-Dom have related to me that if you chat with her kindly, she will show you around and allow you to enter the buildings. However, she may also turn you away and tell you to leave. She does not speak any English. If any readers here know of a local individual in Kumrovec to contact for pre-authorizing access and entry to the Spomen-Dom, please contact me!
Additional Sites in the Kumrovec Area:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Kumrovec region that might be of interest to those studying the monuments, heritage or architecture of the former Yugoslavia. The sites examined here will be the Tito's Birthplace at the Old Village, the SKJ Political School ruins, as well as Tito's summer home "Villa Kumrovec".
Tito's Birthplace at the Old Village:
In the center of Kumrovec is a preserved ethnographic folk village composed of several dozen historical structures called the "Old Village" Museum (Muzej Staro Selo). Some source say it is the most authentic depiction of a 19th century Croatian village in the country. The centerpiece of this museum complex is a small cottage which was the birthplace of Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito in 1892 (Slide 1). The cottage is of a two-story traditional vernacular design of the late 1800s. It has been well preserved and is in excellent condition. The interior of the cottage has several ethnographic displays, as well as numerous historical displays and considerable information concerning the life of a young Tito as he grew up here in Kumrovec (Slides 2 - 4). This house was restored and established as a museum site in 1953, drawing in, according to some sources, over 500,000 people a year during the Yugoslav-era. However, after Croatia gained its independence in 1991, regular visitations ceased for many years.
Tito's Birthplace Home at Kumrovec - Slideshow
Photo 12: Tito sculpture, Kumrovec
It was not until after 1997 that visitors once again started to return to visit Kumrovec to explore the Old Village and Tito's birthplace. In current times, the museum complex here at Kumrovec again sees thousands of regular visitors every month, while also playing host to tens of thousands of visitors during commemorative events like Tito's birthday on May 25th. The exact coordinates for Tito's birthplace museum are N46°04'33.8", E15°40'39.2".
An additional important landmark that is next to the cottage of Tito's birth is a 3m tall bronze figurative sculpture that depicts a WWII-era Josip Broz Tito as the battle-weary Partisan leader (Photo 12). This sculpture was created by famous Croatian sculptor Antun Augustinčić in 1948 and instantly became the most famous sculptural depictions of Tito during the Yugoslav era, with this work being recreated multiple times across the country. Augustinčić's work is unique in that it shows Tito looking down with his arms held behind his back, appearing pensive, brooding and worried as he takes on the burden of battling against a formidable adversary during a time of war. He is mid-stride as he takes a step forward, no doubt symbolizing Tito stepping forward as a leader who would lead his movement to victory. It is a thoughtful distinguished work that avoids that gaudy cliche hallmarks that often accompanied the sculptural depictions of world communist leaders of that era.
The "Josip Broz Tito" SKJ Political School:
Just north of the village center of Kumrovec are situated the ruins of the "Josip Broz Tito" SKJ Political School. This massive boarding school was unveiled in 1981 and created by a design team composed of architects Danilo Cvjetković & Miomir Lužajić. Its immense building is characterized by its long thin sloping form of streamlined modernism, almost as if it is a rocky outcrop or cliff conforming to the textures of the hillside. Standing at 4 floors tall and over 175m in length (with over 150 rooms and 6,000 sq m of floor space), its sloping unadorned facade is paneled with dark gray metal roofing tiles, giving it an imposing appearance against the surrounding greenery. The interior of the complex is dominated by sharp angels of bare concrete contrasted with huge amounts of wood-paneled walls and ceilings. Long straight corridors overlook huge communal zones and sports halls. During the Yugoslav-era, this boarding school housed hundreds of young students who were taught about Marxist political philosophy and Yugoslav socialist theory.
The "Josip Broz Tito" SKJ Political School - Slideshow
This school was built under the direct request of Josip Broz Tito himself, with sources quoting Tito complaining in 1976 that Yugoslavia had a problem where "we have a huge number of people who are good communists, but theoretically weak. That must be corrected, the basics of Marxism must be known". This may explain not only why the political school constructed it in Kumrovec, but also why it bore his name. The project was directly funded by the Yugoslav League of Communists (SKJ). A small political school operated in Kumrovec out of the Spomen-Dom as early as 1975, however, when the SKJ Political School was completed, those classes were migrated there.
However, as the dismantling of Yugoslavia began, the political school was shut down in 1990. First, the school was used to house and train members of the Croatian military, but then, as armed conflict subsequently broke out across parts of the newly independent Croatia through the 1990s, displaced refugees from the town of Vukovar were housed here just as they were in the Kumrovec Spomen-Dom. At this point, the name of the political school was changed to "Hotel Zagorje". After the last of the refugees left the school in the early 2000s, the complex was neglected and subsequently fell into a state of extreme disrepair and ruin. The building's situation worsened as vandals broke into the school, creating further damage. Some interior views of the school can be seen at THIS link. Still owned by the Croatian government, several attempts were made to sell the complex, but none were successful. However, a promising bid was made by a Chinese firm "Zhongya Nekretnine" in 2019 for 1.9 million Euros, which the Croatian government accepted. Yet, despite this promising deal, the Chinese firm failed to meet payment deadlines. As of June 2020, the current situation as far as this deal goes is uncertain. Currently, the facility is locked and no entrance into the building is permitted. The exact coordinates for the ruins of this political school are N46°04'55.1", E15°41'01.9".
Tito's home at Villa Kumrovec:
Just on the western outskirts of Kumrovec is located Tito's local residence that he used during stays here to his home village. Originally created as a hotel and designed by notable Croatian architect Branko Bon in 1948, the building is of a traditional style of local vernacular architecture. It was renovated in 1962 in order to accommodate Tito’s living needs, at which point the interior of the home was decorated in an impressive mid-century style, standing in unique contrast to its traditional exterior.
After the dismantling of Yugoslavia, the home was left vacant for many years, with all of Tito’s possessions and personal items left relatively untouched and in place. It was not until 2015 that the Villa Kumrovec was finally opened up to the public for tours. These tours present visitors with a unique glimpse into Tito’s life, as well as a preserved snapshot of the stylistic trends of the Yugoslav-era. The exact coordinates for Villa Kumrovec are N46°04'35.7", E15°40'31.6".
Tito's Home at Villa Kumrovec - Slideshow
And Additional Sites of Interest:
"Josip Broz Tito" School: As Tito came to power in Yugoslavia after WWII, he began to do significant infrastructure development on his hometown of Kumrovec. It was often that Tito remarked that his town lacked proper educational facilities, so, one of his first initiatives was to build a school for the children of the village (Photo 13). Completed in 1955 and designed by famous architect Neven Šegvić, it is designed in a mid-century modernist style with low pitched roofs, large rows of windows and wide spacious balconies. It was originally named the "Marshal Tito" School, but after the dismantling of Yugoslavia, the name was changed to the "Josip Broz Tito" School. It continues to operate as a primary school and is in excellent condition. Its exact coordinates are N46°04'40.9", E15°40'38.1".
Photo 13: "Josip Broz Tito" School
Photo 14: The Fountain of Joy
Photo 15: Augustinčić gallery [source]
The Fountain of Joy: Situated on the western edge of Kumrovec is a monument called the "Fountain of Joy" (Zdenac radosti) which is a work dedicated to Tito from all of the children of Yugoslavia (Photo 14). Built in 1987, the monument is composed of a circular stone welling fountain, around which is a courtyard containing hundreds of small stone mosaics created by children from across Yugoslavia. In addition, 88 red maple trees were planted along the street in front of the monument to memorialize the 88 years which Tito lived. The complex fell into disrepair after the 1990s wars, however, it was restored in 2013. The exact coordinates for the Fountain of Joy are N46°04'32.1", E15°40'25.1".
The Antun Augustinčić Gallery: Roughly 7km east of Kumrovec in the small town of Klanjec is the Antun Augustinčić Gallery, which is an exhibition space for the work of that famous Yugoslav sculptor, who is often credited as being one of, if not the, most famous artists in Croatian history. Augustinčić was also among one of Tito's most favorite artists, who created numerous sculptural works of Tito and many famous monuments for the Yugoslav government. The gallery was set up in 1970 when Augustinčić donated his life's work to his hometown of Klanjec (Photo 15). Constructed in a decidedly modernist design, this vast gallery was created by architect Ante Lozica and unveiled to the public in 1976. The exact coordinates for the gallery are N46°03'02.3", E15°44'32.3".
Reaching the Spomen-Dom complex at Kumrovec is a relatively easy endeavor. Firstly, as you are driving along the main road towards Kumrovec, Cesta Lijepe Naše, from the A2 Motorway, you will see the Chapel of St. Roka as you start to approach the town. Just as you pass the chapel on the right, you will see an unmarked paved road that snakes up the hill. You will be able to see the Spomen-Dom up atop the hill from the road. Drive this road up the hill and parking can be made at a dedicated parking lot right in front of the Spomen-Dom. The exact coordinates for the parking lot are N46°04'37.1", E15°41'09.8".
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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