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Podgarić

Brief Details:

Name: Monument to the Revolution of the People of Moslavina (Spomenik Revolucije Naroda Moslavine)

Location: Podgarić, Croatia

Year completed: 1967 (2 years to built)

Designer(s): Sculptor Dušan Džamonja (profile page) & artist/architect Vladimir Veličković

Coordinates: N45°38'27.0", E16°46'39.6" (click for map)

Dimensions: 10m high by 20m wide

Materials used: Poured concrete, rebar, aluminum sheets

Condition: Good, occasional maintanence

(POHD-gar-eech)

Click on slideshow photos for description.

 

History:

This spomenik at Podgarić, Croatia was built to commemorate the community's rebellion and uprising against Ustaše occupying forces in the greater Moslavina and Zagreb region during the National Liberation War (WWII), while also recognizing the support structures the village created to support the war effort.

 

World War II

In April of 1941, the army of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was defeated by an invasion of Axis forces. As a result, the Moslavina region, along with the rest of present-day Croatia, was subsequently integrated into the newly created Axis puppet-state called the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). As a result this country had thrust upon it an oppressive military force called the Ustaše. Ethnic-Serbs, Jews, Roma and Croat rebels were particularly targeted by the Ustaše, who wished to create a compliant ethnically pure Croatian state. As a consequence, many in Moslavina began to rebel and rise up against this forced NDH occupation and Ustaše oppression. On June 22nd, 1941, organized rebels near the Mosalvina town of Sisak initiated an  uprising against these harsh conditions, a move which earned them the notoriety of becoming the first armed resistance movement against Axis occupation during WWII. This resistance quickly began to spread across Moslavina and large swaths of the Yugoslav occupied territories, with many quickly coalescing around the communist Partisan rebel army of Josip Tito.

Beginning in the winter of 1941 through to the end of the war, the area around the Moslavina village of Podgarić became a significant center of Partisan revolt and a hub of activity for the Croatian Communist Party's Central Committee in Northern Croatia. Deep in the wooded hillsides above the village of Podgarić, several hospital complexes were constructed, most with the two most notable ones being "Stara Konspiracija" (Old Conspiracy) and "Novo Konspiracija" (New Conspiracy). These hospitals mostly serviced the needs of the 10th Zagreb Partisan Corps (comprised of about 6,000 soldiers). The first wounded soldiers began being treated at these hospitals at Podgarić on January 27th, 1942.

Figure 1: Map of the Podgarić Memorial Area

This hospital compound at Podgarić was more than simply a modest field hospital. In fact, it was a highly complex and organized facility which housed everything from bakeries, to theatres, to schools, to shoe repair shops, as can be seen within the map of the Podgarić hospital complex in Figure 1. In addition to serving the needs of wounded soldiers, the communist Partisan leadership of Northern Croatia also used the site to host political and offensive strategy sessions. As a result, the small village of Podgarić became the cultural, political and military center for the resistance efforts of the surrounding Moslavina region. By the end of the war, the hospital complex here was so vast that it could treat over 700 wounded patients at once. However, despite the location of this hospital complex within the remote and inaccessible hills and forests of Podgarić, which allowed it to operate in relative secrecy, several Axis incursions into the area did occur during WWII that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Partisan soldiers.

 

Photo 1: Model of the Podgarić monument, 1964

Spomenik Construction

As a consequence of the significant Partisan efforts towards uprising and opposition against occupying Ustaše forces in Podgarić, local government and regional veteran groups there made plans in the mid-1960s for the construction of a spomenik complex to recognize these achievements. The commission to create the monument was awarded to the proposal put forward by notable Croatian-Macedonian sculptor Dušan Džamonja (Photo 1), who received landscape design assistance from Serbian artist/architect Vladimir Veličković. The official public unveiling for the complex was on September 7th, 1967, for which there was a grand ceremony attended by hundreds of people and personally opened and inaugurated by the President of Yugoslavia, Josip Tito, along with his wife Jovanka (Photo 2). The primary element of the spomenik complex is a large winged abstract sculpture, about 10m tall and 20m wide, with a central sphere-shaped 'eye' plated in aluminum panels. Along the approach pathway to this sculpture is a series of earthen mound crypts which houses the remains of the roughly 900 Partisans who perished at the site's hospital. Through the middle of the mounds is a concrete portal-like archway, at the center of which is an engraved bronze plaque. Sources I have read indicate that the inner walls of the concrete portal were to be installed with metal plaques bearing the names of fallen fighters, but this aspect of the project was never realized. In fact, a significant number of elements, pathways and features of the memorial complex that were initially planned were never fully realized. This can be seen in an early schematic for the monument complex (Photo 3).

Photo 2: Opening ceremony at Podgarić with Tito & his wife, 1967

Photo 3: An early blueprint schematic of the Podgarić monument site

Concurrent to the construction of the spomenik, a small artificial lake was created in the valley below the memorial complex by damming the Kamenjače River. This lake was intended to enhance the beauty of the view from the spomenik complex, while also acting as a touristic attraction for the Vila Garić resort hotel built at the lake's south end. There were further plans to develop the area around the monument into a vast recreation/cultural complex, however, these were never realized.

 

As an interesting aside, Dušan Džamonja created a type of 'sister sculpture' for his 'Monument to the Revolution' which he built here in Podgarić. This 'sister sculpture' is a large metal relief panel entitled 'The Sun' (Photo 4) and is located on the side of the Dom Omladine (Youth Center) in Belgrade, Serbia, which was created by architect Momcilo Belobrk in 1964. Džamonja installed this relief panel on the Dom Omladine in 1967, the same year he built the monument at Podgarić. This sculpture is so integral to Dom Omladine, its shape has been adapted as the official logo for the organization. Being that they were both created in about the same time frame, it is not clear if one of these works inspired Džamonja to create the other or if it was always his intention from the beginning to use a similar design concept for both works. For those interested in exploring this sculpture in more detail, a 3-D interactive model of its form can be found at this link.

Photo 4: Džamonja's 'Sun' relief on the side of Dom Omladine, 1970s

 

Present-Day

The memorial site here at Podgarić was a popular cultural, historic and touristic destination during the days of Yugoslavia, however, after the country's dismantling in the early 1990s (along with the subsequent Yugoslav Wars and independence of Croatia), the national interest and visitor-ship to this memorial dropped considerably... today, down to nearly a trickle. Thus far, I have found no evidence that any sorts of annual remembrance or commemorative events are still held here at this site. While the monument here at Podgarić was spared much of the damage and destruction that many anti-fascist WWII spomeniks in Croatia were inflicted with during and after the Yugoslav Wars, much work would be needed to bring the site back to a completely restored and rehabilitated state.

Meanwhile, in the years since the abstract Yugoslav monuments reached global popularity in the early 2010, the sculpture here at Podgarić has often stood among those whose adventurous form foreign audiences were most captivated and inspired by. This has led to many internet-based digital artists using images of the monument as a basis for their digital artwork. In addition, mainstream artists have also used the monument's shape as inspiration for their work. In 2013, Cuban-based artist group Los Carpinteros created a work which they called "Podgarić Toy" which consisted of a 3m tall recreation of the monument using the medium of Lego blocks (Photo 5). The work was exhibited in galleries in Houston and New York. Also, in the spring of 2018, the Australian company Valley Eyewear used images of the monument at Podgarić as part of a promotional campaign for their products, however, it was later withdrawn after mass public criticism.

Photo 5: Image of the 'Podgarić Toy' Lego block sculpture at Houston art gallery (photo by Sean Kelly)

 

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

At the Podgarić spomenik site, there is a tarnished bronze plaque (Photo 6) along the central concrete walkway heading to the monument. The inscription reads, roughly translated from Croatian to English, as:

"Here are buried 900 soldiers from the wider area of Moslavina who sacrificed their lives for the freedom and independence of our nation during the National Liberation Struggle from 1941 to 1945."

This plaque is intended to honor the roughly 900 fighters from this region who perished in a skirmish near this site. No other interpretive plaques or plates were present at this site; in addition, I saw no indications that there were once others that are now missing or stolen.

In terms of graffiti around this memorial complex, no discernible traces were able to be found at this site.

Photo 6: Memorial plaque on concrete walkway

 

Photo 7: Preliminary sketches by Džamonja of the memorial at Podgarić

Symbolism:

According to the designer, Dušan Džamonja, the primary intention of the monument was to represent the 'wings of victory' overcoming death and defeat, an overt allusion to the Partisan rebel's conquest over the invading Axis occupiers (Photo 7). It is interesting to note that the 'wings' of the sculpture are asymmetrical, with one wing having two edges, while the other has three. This imbalance gives the sculpture a dynamic shape, as if the wings are in motion or as if it a bird preparing to take flight. However, in a 2019 series of discussion I had with Džamonja's song Fedor, he recounted to me that each of the wing's five edges were meant to symbolize the five republics of Yugolsavia. Meanwhile, the ribbed square base which grounds the sculpture is described by some sources as representing the conduit into the landscape from which the 'wings of victory' derive their energy, as if the sculpture itself absorbs the spirit of those fighters who perished here.

In addition, similar sources I have encounter have described the honeycomb emblem in the sculpture's central circular facade, composed of square pieces of polished aluminum, as potentially acting as the physical medium in which the fallen fighter's spirit or 'light of life' is held within and from which it is reflected upon the viewer. Meanwhile, in a 1969 issue of the Belgrade architecture journal "Arhitektura urbanizam" (number 53/54), the monument's symbolism and design is described in the following terms (translated here into English):

"The basic idea of the author of the project was to make the monument as impressive and monumental as possible. The sculpture is given the primary role, it is essential, basically the most important component of the project cycle, and everything is subordinate to it. Visible from all sides, strong contours and lines in concrete symbolize dynamics, flight and power, while the metal core is a poetic transposition of firmness and unity. The location of the monument has the following important features: elevation, dominance over the rest of the landscape, visibility from all sides, along with numerous variants and possibilities for approaching it... It was a deliberate effort to guide the visitor along a circuitous route to the monument from a desire that his interest gradually grows as he approaches it, obliging him to see it and experienced from different sides, which would not be achieved along a straight direct route. After over a dozen steps, the visitor climbs onto a plateau with two strong magnetic wall, composed of alternating protuberances and pillars... [with] the last pair of pillars carrying a strong concrete beam, thus mimicking some kind of trapezoidal doorway opening, which through the access path leads the monument into the view and attention of the visitor... The pathway to the monument ends with a set of steps up to a small plateau that surrounds the monument's pedestal, a feature which allows free movement under the monument, as well as the perception of surrounding landscape, the approach path, the tomb, and enables the visitor to fully experience of sculpture's structure and dimensions."

Meanwhile, deeper symbolic meaning of element of the site can be observed which hint at various potential artistic inspirations from a range of ancient and historical world cultures. For instance, the symbolic motif of Džamonja's 'wings of victory' bear a striking resemblance to the ancient symbol of the 'winged sun', a motif which was used across a wide range of civilizations from antiquity (including Egypt, Perisa, Assyria, and other historic cultures.) Through these cultures the symbol generally employed to communicate holiness, power and supreme divinity. While there are many interesting examples of ancient sun discs that bear stylistic similarities to Džamonja's sculpture, one of the most interesting is a 9th century BC Assyrian relief carving which depicts the warrior Gilgamesh with a winged sun disk held above his head by two representations of Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven (Photo 8). The idea of a direct connection to heaven and divinity is a common symbolic thread among ancient depictions of sun discs and is a theme which directly relates to the events memorialized in the Podgarić monument. Furthermore, numerous ancient cultures use extended wings to symbolize the protective forces of heaven. Most notably, in ancient Egypt the goddess Isis, who is generally depicted with spread falcon wings, was the deity who ferried lost souls into the afterlife and had the ability to resurrect the dead.

Photo 8: A 9th century BC Assyrian relief of Gilgamesh with a winged sun disk

Photo 9: The Zoroastrian Fire Temple located in Yazd, Iran

However, one of the most interesting examples of the sun disc as it could be understood to relate to the Džamonja monument at Podgarić is the Faravahar sun-disc symbol of ancient Persian religion Zoroastrianism (Photo 9). The outstretched wings of the Faravahar symbol embody the basic tenants of the religion, 'good thoughts, good words and good deeds'. Meanwhile, the tail-wing feathers (which could be understood as the elongated pedestal of the Podgarić sculpture) represent 'bad thoughts, bad words and bad deed', which the soaring wings are meant to symbolically rise above. Thus, understanding the sculpture to be a form of the Faravahar would mean the sculpture could be seen to stand as a representation of these very universalist and all-encompassing positive ideals. As gestures of universalist ideals and  are common symbolic tools employed by sculptors within many of the Yugoslav abstract monuments of the era, this Faravahar interpretation would thus seem very fitting. Furthermore, writer Catherine Beyer relates that the disc from which the Faravahar wings emerge from can be understood to symbolize "the immortality of the soul or the repercussions of our actions, which are brought about by the eternal divine order".

Partisan Memorial Cemetery:

Roughly 400m away from the Podgarić monument is a Partisan cemetery and memorial marker. The memorial consists of a ~4m tall stone block marker on which is installed large engraved polished stone panel. The spot where this marker exists is the location of a cemetery used by the area's Partisan hospital during WWII. Built in 1983, the marker's plaque contains a list of all of those interred within the crypt under the marker, as well as an inscription which translates into English as:

In this Partisan military cemetery, which lasted from 1943 until the war's end, hundreds of fighters & leaders of the NOV & POJ who were engaged in the struggle for freedom & independence. The Partisan comrades remain on eternal guard for peace & freedom, and we will keep young people's fraternity and unity and build Tito's self-managing socialist Yugoslavia.

Partisan Memorial Cemetery - Slideshow

Meanwhile, in front of the stone marker is a stone wall enclosure that appears to be some sort of amphitheatre or presentation space for ceremonies or remembrance events. Overall, the site is in reasonable condition and is regularly visited and honored by the local community, evidenced by the many flowers and garlands visible at the site during my most recent visit. This site can be easily accessed along a dirt road just north of the main parking area for the Podgarić monument. The exact coordinates for this cemetery memorial marker are N45°38'36.2", E16°46'32.8".

 

Photo 10: President Ivo Josipović at Podgarić in 2011

Status and Condition:

Currently, this memorial complex here at Podgarić is in reasonably good condition, with there being few signs of serious or extensive damage or deterioration of the monument's structure. While there is no signage or advertising directing visitors from the road to the monument, there seems to be some degree of maintenance and upkeep going on. Current graffiti on the monument or its surroundings is minimal, but there is evidence of old graffiti being covered up and cleaned. Meanwhile, the grass in the area was getting quite tall during my most recent visit to the site, but I did see evidence that it had been cut and modestly landscaped and trimmed in the recent past. No visitors were present while I was there, however, honorific candles and flowers were set out at the site, so it is evident that some in the local community still patronize this monument and pay respects to it. While I would very much not classify this monument complex as 'derelict', the regional government and local municipality seem to put little effort into serious promotion or preservation of the site, while few official gestures are made to advertise the site as a cultural attraction or point of historic interest.

Multiple reports indicate that modest memorial celebrations and events were still being held at the Podgarić site, with the 2011 event being notably attended by the then-president of Croatia Ivo Josipović (Photo 10). These events are generally held on Anti-Fascist Fighting Day on June 22nd. Interestingly, even despite this monument's geographic remoteness, photographs of it have been widely shared and disseminated online over the last ten years or so. This attention was widely a result of public fascination in response to the 2008 photo exhibition 'Spomenik' (and subsequent photo book) by Dutch photographer Jan Kempanaers. Strangely, a 2014 CNN article classified the monument here at Podgarić as the #1 top contender among the "World's Ugliest Monuments".

 

Additional Sites in the Podgarić Area:

This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Podgarić region that might be of interest to those studying the monuments of the former Yugoslavia. The sites examined here will be the Monument to Fallen Fighters at Čazma, as well as the Memorial to NOB Victims at Garešnica.

Monument to Fallen Fighters at Čazma:

Roughly 10km as the crow flies (or 30km driving over curvy roads) you will come across the small town of Čazma. Within the ruins of a 13th century fortress just west of Čazma's central town square is situated a monument complex dedicated to the local Partisan fighters who fell during WWII (NOB) (Slides 1 & 2). Created in 1956 by Croatian sculptor Belizar Bahorić along with husband & wife design team Mira Halambek-Wenzler & Fedor Wenzler, the original incarnation of this monument was a low-profiled square crypt with a sunken sanctuary, with the upper outer faces of the square featuring stylized sculptural reliefs of soldiers in combat (Slides 3 & 4). However, by the late 1960s the work had already began degrading. As a result, in 1970, Bahorić worked with famed Croatian mosaic artist Edo Murtić on a redesign of the work. The most striking feature of the redesign was a set of four vibrant mosaics on each of the crypt's sides. These mosaics depicted many dark and skeletal bird-like creatures in a variety of surrealistic and otherworldly scenes (Slides 5 - 8).

Monument to Fallen Fighters at Čazma - Slideshow

Meanwhile, an additional aspect of the monument to mention is a sunken sanctuary area beneath the mosaic accessed by two sets of steps. Currently on the wall within this sunken sanctuary are a set of bronze abstract relief sculptures, as well as squarish medallions bearing the names of local fallen fighters and victims (Slide 9). These were created by Murtić and placed during his 1970 renovation.

 

The wars of the 1990s impacted this area of Moslavina very severely, which left the monument to fall into a state of neglect and disrepair. In addition, the monument was also targeted by vandals who left parts of the monument covered in graffiti and many mosaic tiles had been chipped off or removed. The site sat in a poor condition for many years until a team of experts from the Croatian Conservation Institute rehabilitated the site in 2012. Today the monument's mosaic has been fully repaired, but the site is still sometimes afflicted by vandals spray graffiti on the sculpture's facade. Furthermore, while I was not able to determine whether or not annual commemorative events are still held at the site, I did find that the monument is advertised by Čazma's municipal tourist group as a local attraction. Finally, it is notable to mention that directly adjacent to the monument is a old building that once housed a museum dedicated to the region's WWII events (Slide 10), but the complex is now closed and falling into decay. It is interesting to note that the original large plaque to the left of the museum's main door is the original 1956 plaque (Slide 11) that originally situated in the sunken sanctuary of the monument, and relocated to this location during the 1970 renovation. The exact coordinates for this site are N45°44'53.0", E16°36'39.3". A historical image of the site can be seen in Slide 12. If travelling along Road 26 between Podgarić and Čazma, keep in mind that this road is gravel/dirt for roughly 20km and should probably be avoided in bad weather conditions.

Garešnica NOB Victims Memorial:

Roughly 10km SE as the crow flies (or 21km driving over curvy roads) you will come across the small town of Garešnica. In the center of the park located at the town's square is a concrete memorial sculpture commemorating the Partisan and civilian victims of WWII (NOB) (Slides 1 & 2). Unfortunately my research has not been able to determine who is was that designed this monument, but plaques at the site indicate it was built in 1985 (Slides 3 & 4). The work consists of a small elevated circular platform around which is an irregular concrete wall that grows to form a roughly ~1.5m wide star-shape from negative-space on its western side. The structure itself appears fully intact, but the facade is badly weather-stained, covered in vegetation in parts and has several deep cracks across its surface, leading one to feel the site is not well maintained. I found no reports that annual commemorative events are held at the site. The exact coordinates for this Garešnica monument are N45°34'36.5", E16°56'26.2".

Garešnica NOB Victims Memorial - Slideshow

Also, it is important to point out that several raised-letters inscriptions were once affixed directly into the concrete of the monument. While the two of these inscriptions on the east side have been removed, one on the west side still remains (Slide 5). It is a poetic quote from Croatian poet Jure Kaštelan which roughly translates into English as: "Mother, do not try to find my grave. Your free land is the living image of your living son." Meanwhile, a historical image from the 1990s of the monument can be seen in Slide 6.

And Additional Sites of Interest:

  • Garić Castle Ruins: Just under 2km SW of the Podgarić monument is the ruined medieval Garić Castle, which was constructed around the year 1200. This castle is where the village of Podgarić gets its name, as the 'pod-' prefix in the name translates to 'under' in Croatian, so the name 'Podgarić' literally means the village which is 'under Garić Castle'. A photo of the castle can be found at this Wiki link, while the exact coordinates for the castle are N45°37'53.3", E16°45'25.1".

 
  • "Call to Arms" Monument in Čazma: Also in the town of Čazma, which is roughly 10km west of Podgarić as the crow flies, was a monument built in front of the town's schoolhouse which was titled "Call to Arms" and was dedicated to local fallen fighters and war heroes. This monument, which was created in 1950 by the famous sculptor Vojin Bakić, consisted of a roughly 6m tall bronze sculpture of a figurative form charging forward and pointing ahead defiantly into the distance with one hand, while holding a rifle in the other hand. This monument stood for many years as a proud symbol for the town, however, the work was destroyed by vandals in 1991 during the conflicts that ensued in the aftermath of the dismantling of Yugoslavia. As far as I have been able to determine, no traces of it remain, meanwhile, I have not yet been able to determine what its exact location within Čazma was, other that sources that indicate that it was in front of a schoolhouse. I am unaware of any initiatives to restore or rebuild the monument.

 

Photo 10: A historic photo of the "Call to Arms" monument by Vojin Bakić [1950]

Directions:

While driving east through the village of Podgarić on the main avenue, right past the small lake in the center of town, you will see see a small unmarked paved road going up the hill through farm pastures (Photo 11), with the intersection being precisely at N45°38'27.3" E16°46'29.6" (click for map). A good landmark to recognize the access road is four unused blue flagpoles located next to the road. A GoogleStreetview of the intersection can be seen HERE. Follow the road up the hill and it will curve around to the top of the hill where there is a small parking lot.

Photo 11: GoogleStreetview shot of entrance off main road

Podgaric map1.jpg

Click map to open in Google Maps in new window

 

Slideshow

Comments:

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