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Mirna

(MEER-nah)

Brief Details:

Name: Monument to the Fallen on Roja Hill (Spomenik padlim na Rojah)

Location: Mirna, Slovenia

Year completed: 1965

Designer: Janez Lenassi (profile page)

Coordinates: N45°57'15.7", E15°03'53.7" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~11m tall triple obelisk

Materials used: Poured concrete, rebar and stainless steel

Condition: Good

History:

This monument at the spomenik complex in Mirna, Slovenia commemorates the 106 resistance fighters from the region who perished during the National Liberation War (WWII).

World War II

When the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded by Axis forces in April of 1941, the entire region around the town of Mirna was besieged by an occupation force of Italian troops and then subsequently annexed by the fascist Italian government. The occupation waged by these Italian occupiers was brutal and oppressive, with all local Slovene's former rights and privileges as citizens stripped away. Meanwhile, any speaking of the Slovene language or engaging in Slovene traditions was highly discouraged -- instead a mandated program of 'Italianization' was forced upon residents of Mirna and all Slovenes across this Italian-annexed territory. Those found violating these Italian-imposed regulations were either imprisoned or sometimes even executed. Towards end of 1941, many Slovenes in Mirna and across Slovenia began to organize themselves into armed communist-led resistance groups (called the Slovene Partisans) in an effort to defend against and drive out occupying forces. These Partisan resistance forces in Mirna initially operated as guerilla units, using a local medieval fortification, Mirna Castle (Photo 1), as a hideout and sanctuary. However, the Italians quickly drove the Partisans out of the castle during a series of confrontations in late 1941.

Photo 1: A view of Mirna Castle before its destruction in 1942

Photo 2: Tomšič Brigade fighters near Vrhnika, Slovenia, 1942

Through 1942, the Mirna Partisans became more organized and began operating as a coordinated army, launching several attacks against the Italian occupiers which resulted in the Partisans being able to take control of Mirna from the Italians during the winter of 1942. While possessing Mirna, members of the Tomšič Partisan Brigade (Photo 2) made the choice to burn town their former refuge of Mirna Castle on Christmas Day of 1942, fearing the Italians themselves might attempt to use the castle as a strategic location. Meanwhile, a few days later on New Year's Day, January 1st 1943, a fighter of the Tomšič Partisan Brigade on patrol in Partisan-controlled Mirna encountered and stopped a man walking into Mirna from the direction of Trebnje. This patrolman felt this mysterious man was an Italian informant, at which point the suspect was taken to a nearby inn, interrogated, given a short trial, found guilty, then executed. It turned out this executed man was 19 year old Lojze Grozde, a notable Slovenian Catholic poet, and was reportedly walking to visit family. This killing by Partisans caused significant outrage in the local Catholic community, who were already distrustful of the Partisans.

When the Italian Army surrendered to Allied forces in September of 1943, Italian occupation forces left Mirna, however, they were soon replaced with German occupation troops. But then, in 1944, Tito's Partisans began to breakthrough towards Mirna into the Lower Carniola region, which allowed for greater cooperation and coordination between the Slovene Partisans (who until then had been fighting autonomously) and the primary Partisan anti-Axis resistance movement in central Yugoslavia. Mirna was finally liberated from German control in February of 1945. By the end of the war, over 100 soldiers from Mirna died defending the city and Slovenia from Italian and German occupation forces.

Spomenik Construction

In the early 1960s, plans were made by local communist party representatives and veteran groups to create a memorial complex in Mirna to commemorate the local fighters who perished during the National Liberation War (WWII). The monument was to be located on Roja Hill, where crypt to fallen Partisan soldiers was already located (built just after WWII). A design competition was organized to choose the best concept for the spomenik complex, with the selection committee ultimately deciding on famed Slovenian designer Janez Lenassi as the person to spearhead the project's creation. After about two years of planning and construction (Photo 3), the monument was officially unveiled to the public only July 25th of 1965, honoring 20 years since the liberation of Slovenia from Axis forces. The ceremony was presided over by the Slovenia Interior Minister Riko Kolenc, who had also been a Partisan fighter at Mirna during WWII. The primary sculptural element of this complex is a ~11m tall concrete triple-obelisk which contains a faceted stainless-steel sphere held within the top of the three obelisk towers. Meanwhile, underneath this memorial sculpture is a crypt in which the final remains those 106 Partisan fighters honored by this monument are interred -- of the remains of these 106 fallen fighters, 68 are known and identified while 38 are unknown and unidentified persons.

Photo 3: Monument at Roja Hill under construction, 1964

Photo 5: Lojze Grozde

Present-Day

This spomenik complex remains in excellent shape, with little visible degradation or vandalism to any of its sculptural elements while residing within a park setting which is pristinely manicured and landscaped. No indication of neglect by the municipality is evident and no signs of damage from the Yugoslav War conflicts is visible, which is not surprising, as those conflicts had little impact in this region. There seem to be regular visitors to the site, which also plays host to numerous commemorative and remembrance ceremonies each year. Meanwhile, the restoration work Marko Marin which began back in 1962 on Mirna Castle came to a relative conclusion in 2014, with the vast majority of the structure restored and rebuilt. Marin died the following year at the age of 84, after working on the castle for nearly 50 years. On a final note, Lojze Grozde (Photo 5), who was killed by Partisans in Mirna on January 1st, 1943, was authorized by Pope Benedict XVI of the Catholic Church to be canonized as a saint in March of 2010, which was a result of reports that the suffering he experienced was tantamount to religious 'martyrdom'. The beatification of Grozde took place on June 13th, 2010 in Celje, Slovenia.

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

There are several inscriptions here at the WWII monument in Mirna. Firstly, at the inner sides of the three pillars of this spomenik are engravings made directly into the concrete itself. The first can be seen in Slide 1. The inscription is a heroic epitaph by famous Slovene poet Oton Župančič, who was one of the most significant Slovene writers during the Yugoslav era. This verse roughly translates from Slovenian to English:

"...is raised into life, who falls to death."

Meanwhile, the engraved inscription on the second concrete pillar can be seen in Slide 2. The text of this inscription reads as, when roughly translated from Slovenian to English:

Slideshow

"106 Fallen Soldiers, November 1941 - 1945"

Finally, the last of these three engraved inscriptions can be seen in Slide 3 in the above slideshow. This final inscription reads, when translated from Slovenian to English, as:

"Union of Fighters (ZB) of Mirna, on the 20th anniversary of liberation"

Meanwhile, just a few meters south of the monument, there is a short six sided altar which serves as a covering for the crypt. On each of the edges of this crypt covering are engraved a long red-lettered inscription (Slides 4 - 7).  This inscription is a line from the popular Partisan song titled "Padlim tovarišem" (Fallen Comrades). When translated from Slovenian to English this song verse reads as:

"Let the song of love be given and be everlasting thanks to you, but the day will come when the people will awaken, rising after your victory to the freedom of your brother."

Finally, at the base of the monument obelisk itself, there is a small inscription pressed into the concrete (Slide 8 & 9), which is simply the signature of the creator of the monument and the date it was unveiled: "LENASSI 1965".

Symbolism:

It seems that the most obvious interpretation of the symbolism of the design of the memorial sculpture at Mirna, which is three concrete pillars encasing a metal sphere at its top, is more than likely each pillar representing some specific ethnicity or religion, while the sphere at the top being held up by these pillars symbolizes the cooperation of these groups 'holding up' the world, so to speak. However, if that is indeed the symbolism intended here by this sculpture's creator, Janez Lenassi, it is not immediately clear which groups were intended to be represented by these three pillars... perhaps Slovenes, Italians and Croats, or maybe Serbs instead of Italians (as there are more Serbs in Slovenia than Italians). An additional interpretation regarding this monument is that the metal sphere is supposed to represent a 'bullet', which, in this analysis, is meant to symbolize the Slovene Partisan's fight for freedom against Axis forces. Meanwhile, the interpretation continues, proposing that the three pillars holding up the 'bullet' shape are meant to symbolize the three forces which supported this 'freedom': the Slovene uprising, their fight against fascism and post-war reconstruction which built the modern socialist republic of Slovenia.

Status and Condition:

The overall status of the spomenik complex here at Mirna, Slovenia is very good. Firstly, the landscaping, grass and vegetation around the grounds of this site are very well kept and expertly manicured, while the structure of the monument itself is also in extremely good condition, with the monuments facade having no visible cracks, chips or degradation. Even the red lettering of the engravings inside the monument are clearly regularly maintained and refreshed. As you approach the spomenik, there are directional signs pointing visitors and tourists towards it. The good condition this monument currently exists in is a result of the restoration effort put forward by the Mirna Union of Fighters (as well as the local community) in the early 2000s. However, I was not able to find any information on the official website for Mirna promoting or advertising the spomenik as a point of interest or tourist attraction. Furthermore, the memorial complex does not contain any nature of multi-lingual interpretive or informational signage indicating to visitors the historical or cultural story of the site or of the monument.

Meanwhile, the memorial complex here at Mirna sees a significant number of visitors each day, as this place also serves the local community as a functional park for recreation and leisure. In addition, it appears as though this site also sees a fair number of local community members paying tribute to and commemorating the memory of this monument, as evidenced by the honorific wreaths, flowers and candles I found left here upon my most recent visit. However, from my observations and research, it does not seem as though many tourists from the outside community visit or patronize the memorial. Finally, annual commemorative events are still held at the site, commonly on October 31st (Reformation Day).

Additional Sites in the Mirna Area:

This section will explore additional historical, cultural and memorial sites significant to the Yugoslav era that might be relevant or interesting to those studying the monuments of the former Yugoslavia. In this section we will look at the monument adjacent to the elementary school, as well as the history of Mirna Castle.

Elementary School Monument:

In front of Mirna's elementary school in the is a modest memorial sculpture which commemorates fallen fighters from the local community who fought during WWII (NOB). The monument consists of five concrete pillars (less than 2m tall), with four being outwardly bent arranged around a straight vertical one in the center. This center pillar bears an inscription that says "To the fallen fighters and activists of the People's Liberation Struggle from the community of Mirna". Above this inscription on the pillar is a small bronze relief sculptural plate depicting four marching Partisan fighters with a large hand guiding the path. The four outer pillars have bronze plates on their outside faces bearing lists of names of those local fighters who took part in the war effort. The work was completed in 1983 by a local Mirna artist Sandi Leskovec. The site is in good condition and appears well patronized. Its exact coordinates are N45°57'06.5", E15°03'40.9".

Elementary School Monument - Slideshow

The Mirna "Sleeping Beauty" Castle:

Built on the ruins of a Roman fortress around the 1000s by the local nobility class of the region of Mirna in the then territory of Countess Ema of Gurk, the Mirna Castle (Grad Mirna) (today often referred to in Slovenian as "Speča lepotica" or "Sleeping Beauty" castle) is one of the most striking and picturesque castles in the central Slovenia. From the 1000s to the 1500s, the castle passed through many families and groups, such as the Patriarchate of Aquileia, the Counts of Celje, the Hapsberg family and the Auersperg (Turjaški) family. In 1515, the castle was partially destroyed as a result of several peasant revolts in the region. In the 1600s the castle was rebuilt and fortified by Baron Rafael Coraduzzi into Renaissance palace that we recognize today, most likely in an effort to protect against potential Ottoman invasion. In the 1850s, the castle passed into private ownership of the landowner class, in which it remained until WWII.

After Mirna Castle's destruction during WWII, it was not immediately rebuilt. It was not until the early 1960s that Slovene art historian Marko Marin began the painstaking work of restoring the castle. Interestingly, Janez Lenassi worked closely with Marin on these rehabilitation efforts. In fact, it was the Mirna Castle project which very possibly brought Lenassi to Mirna in the first place, with ambitions and ideas of his own to help in the reconstruction the castle. Furthermore, it was Lenassi who made some of the very first conceptual sketches regarding technical issues in the structures rehabilitation. It possibly was only after this presence in Mirna during his focus on the castle project that Lenassi formulated the idea of creating the Partisan monument at Roja Hill. Marin worked on rebuilding the castle for nearly 50 years, and was doing so up until his death in 2015, at which point he had accomplished a near full restoration and reconstruction of the castle, a feat which is a rare occurrence among such ruined medieval castles in Slovenia. The castle it free to visit by the public and is part of Ema's Pilgrimage Route. The exact coordinates for Mirna Castle are N45°57'29.8", E15°03'13.3".

Photo 6: Various views of Mirna Castle from the 1600s to present day (images courtesy of Kamra.si)

And Additional Sites of Interest:

  • Monument to the Gubec Brigade: Roughly 8km south of Mirna within the town of Trebnje is a small metal monument dedicated to the 4th Slovene Partisan Strike Brigade "Matija Gubec". This unusual memorial sculpture is a 7m tall pillar constructed of 150 rifles, 20 machine guns and over 2,300 other weapon parts. The work was created in 1973 by Slovene sculptor Tone Svetina. It is located in a small narrow park in front of the Trebnje Center for Education and Culture. Its exact coordinates are N45°54'31.7", E15°00'23.3".

  • Monument to the Rade Končar Brigade: Roughly 5km north of Mirna within the town of Šentrupert is a small carved stone monument dedicated to the 13th Proletariat Strike Brigade "Rade Končar". The monument consists of a ~2-3m tall rectangular stone slab with its two broad sides adorned with relief carvings of classical-like romanic figures, while its edges are inscribed with names of fallen fighters from the brigade. The work was created in 1958 by Slovene sculptor Stane Keržič. Photos of the monument can be seen at the Spomeniki blog. The monument is located a few meters east of the Šentrupert town center, with its exact coordinates being N45°58'33.9", E15°05'31.5".

Directions:

Getting to the monument at Mirna is a little tricky, so it is important to follow these directions. Firstly, from the city center of Mirna, head northeast out of town on Road 215 towards Mokronog. Travel about half a kilometer, then, right as you are about to pass outside of the town limits of Mirna, take a left onto Gubčeva Ulica (see HERE for Google StreetView). Then, after about 50m, take the left fork onto Rožna Ulica as the road splits. Follow this road about 100m and then, as the road begins to curve to the right, you will see a sign on the right that says "Spomenik" pointing to down the hill along a footpath (see HERE for Google StreetView). There is no formal parking area, so park off to the side of the road somewhere out of the way. From here, the monument can be easily walked to. Exact coordinates for parking are N45°57'19.1", E15°03'51.1".

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Historical Images:

Photo 7: Mirna memorial on its opening day, 1965

Photo 8: Mirna memorial in the 1970s

Comments:

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