Name: Seagull Wings Monument (Spomenik Galebova krila)
Location: Podgora, Croatia
Year completed: 1962
Designer: Rajko Radović
Coordinates: N43°14'44.6", E17°04'13.9" (click for map)
Dimensions: ~60m tall
Materials used: Poured concrete, rebar and marble
Condition: Good condition, fairly maintained
Click on slideshow photos for description
The spomenik complex at Podgora, Croatia, built in 1962, was intended to commemorate the creation of an anti-fascist naval force on the Dalmatian coast.
World War II
In the aftermath of the Axis invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April of 1941, control of the Dalmatian coast was quickly taken up by both the Italian Army and the Ustaše militiamen of the newly created Axis puppet-state of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). However, the Italian Army negotiated with the NDH took take control of much of the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic. The Italian forces were harsh and unrelenting to any local opposition to their authority. In response to this constant oppression and violence waged upon residents up and down the Dalmatian coast by these belligerent Italian forces, communist resistance fighters called 'Partisans' (Photo 1). Initially, the Partisan rebels mostly concentrated on engaging in operating illegal supply lines and traffic between strongholds on nearby island via a makeshift navy, along with conducting some small scale guerilla attacks. However, even this amount of resistance was enough to provoke the Italians. As a result, 'Operation Albia' was organized in August of 1942, with the Italian forces (along with the Ustaše and Chetniks) waging a campaign to rid the Biokovo region of Partisans. The operation was planned by Italian General Renzo Dalmazzo of the 6th Corps.
Photo 1: Partisan Naval forces in the Adriatic, January, 1943
Photo 2: Velimir Škorpik
By the end of the operation, about 1,000 Partisan fighters across the Makarska/Biokovo region were killed, with only losses of 17 soldiers being lost on the Italian ranks -- in addition, hundreds of local civilians were killed, with innumerable homes burned to the ground. After Operation Albia, most of the surviving Partisan units fled the Biokovo area into Bosnia, however, the "Vid Mihaljević" (VM) Partisan Battalion remained in the area. On September 10th, 1942, VM Partisans established the 1st Partisan Naval detachment (Prvi Mornarički odred) out of Podgora, which was aided by the defection of NDH Corvette Lieutenant Velimir Škorpik to the Partisan cause (Photo 2). With his advanced naval training, Škorpik was able to help the Partisans use their fleet of small vessels extremely effectively to impede Italian naval efforts along the Makarska Riviera. Škorpik would later go on to command the Biokovo Partisan Detachment. In response to these successes of the Biokovo Partisans, Škorpik met with Marshal Josip Tito in December of 1942 to strategize a more coordinated plan against the Italian. It was concluded that a Partisan Naval Headquarters would be established in the close-by coastal city of Podgora, from where continued naval offenses against Italian and NDH forces would be organized.
In the beginning, this Partisan 'navy' was simply a rag-tag collection of local fishermen and their respective fishing boats, attempting to do whatever they could to battle incursions by Italian vessels. These first naval detachments consisted of just 150 sailors. However, with the help of Škorpik, by the end of the war in 1945, their navy consisted of over 16,000 organized sailors with a combined force of over 500 assorted ships spread across several units, including the Primorska (Over-seas) Fleet and the 26th Dalmatian Division. These units were all effectively organized in smuggling operations, blockade running and direct offensives against the Italian ships. Even despite many successes, during the course of the war, the Partisan Navy accrued significant losses, as nearly 600 Partisan sailors perished in struggles against the occupying Axis forces. Also, as for Velimir Škorpik, he died in battle before the end of the war but was posthumously bestowed with the title of People's Hero of Yugoslavia.
Photo 3: The inagural ceremony for the Gullwing Memorial, 1962
In the early 1960s, local veteran and communist party groups began to plan the construction of a spomenik complex which would commemorate the region's Partisan naval force. The spot chosen to create the monument was a rocky outcrop in the hills above Podgora overlooking the town and the Adriatic. After a design competition, the proposal submitted by ethnic-Serbian architect Rajko Radović was selected as the winning entry. The creation of the monument was spearheaded by Split construction company Lavčević. Tragically, on January 11th, 1962, during the construction of the monument, a significant 6.2 earthquake struck the Makarska Riviera, hitting Podgora especially hard. Hundreds of homes across the region were destroyed. However, despite this setback, work on the monument continued. Finally, on September 10th of 1962, exactly twenty years after the formation of the 1st Naval Partisan detachment, Yugoslav President Tito himself unveiled what was called the Gullwing Memorial (Krila galebova) on the hillside of Podogra during a large commemorative ceremony (Photo 3). During the era of Yugoslavia, this monument was meant to represent for the people of the Biokovo region the sacrifice and struggle displayed by their local sailors against the occupying forces of the Axis powers.
The monument, which sits on a hillside above Podgora overlooking the town, consists of two large concrete stylized 'gull wings' set on a polished-marble paneled square platform. One of the 'wings' extends straight up into the sky, towering 60m above the monument's base, while the second 'wing' is bent horizontal halfway up the sculpture. This monument is among the tallest in all Croatia and is more than likely the tallest abstract sculpture in the whole country. Up-slope from the monument, a large amphitheatre is built into the hillside, where presentations and historical lectures were once given to visitors and 'young pioneer' student groups. From the top of the amphitheatre, amazing views can be seen below of the Adriatic and coastal town of Podgora. During the Yugoslav era, it was one of the most significant WWII commemorative sites in the SR of Croatia. From the 2018 book "Landscapes of Southern Europe", a description of ceremonies at the Gull Wing monument is given by a person who grew up in the area:
"The Day of the Yugoslav Navy [Sept. 10th] was the greatest celebration of the year; ships full of sailors would arrive, there's be an orchestra, children wouldn't go to school, everyone would walk to the monument in procession, it was beautiful."
Yugoslav Wars to Present-Day
While this monument complex at Podgora sits in relatively good condition at present, the complex fell into considerable neglect during the region's wars of the 1990s. In fact, two attempts were reportedly made by vandals to destroy the monument with explosives in March of 1992, yet, because of the strong construction of the monument these attempts were unsuccessful. This attempted destruction of the Gull Wing Monument drew criticism from the local community and was decried by politicians. When Croatian president Franjo Tuđman visited Podgora in 1997 he spoke in reference to the Gull Wing memorial saying: "Thank you Podgora for saving this divine monument". As such, the memory contained within the monument was shifted within the population to no longer signify the Yugoslav Navy, but instead the Croatian Navy and the the struggle for Croatian independence. In a 2014 speech given at the monument during a ceremonial event, the president of the local veterans association SABA Makarska, Tonči Pivac, made the following statements (translated here into English):
"We stand in front of the magnificent Monument to the Partisan Navy, witnessing the courage and pride of the people with steel hearts, the fishermen and the laborers, who have been besieged with small wooden boats to attack the enemy steel ships, pushing them from our coast. As in the Second World War, so it was also in 1991, Podgora's youth gathered at these stairs and joined with their unit of the 156th Croatian Army Brigade and participated in the liberation of the country from the enemy".
In recent years with this shift in historical perception of the monument, the complex has been rehabilitated and does see some appreciable visitor traffic along with the site hosting of annual commemorative events. As such, the monument again stands within the community a symbol for the town of Podgora. Meanwhile, the shape of the monument has also been adopted as a symbol for local football clubs, while also acting as a site for the hosting of summer youth concerts and musical events (Photo 4). The site has also been adopted by the young people as a local hang-out party spot and location to engage in various hedonistic activities.
Photo 4: A summer concert at the Gull Wing monument, 2016
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There are several interesting plaques here at the Seagull Wings monument at Podgora. Firstly, to the right of the monument there is a wall with a granite plaque (Slide 1) engraved with a short stanza by poet Jure Kaštelan, which translates from Croatian to English as:
"Stop, listen to the living legend of freedom, told by the sea, under the rocks of the Biokovo, restless sea, deep sea"
In addition, there are two long bronze relief sculptures on either side of the small set of stairs leading up to the monument's wide marble pedestal (Slides 2 & 3). The reliefs depict various maritime scenes from the drama and history of naval battles which occurred in the waters around Podgora.
As far as graffiti, the majority of the monument and its surroundings are completely free of it. The only example I found on the monument itself was a small defacement on the rear of the gull-wing facade (Slide 4) which reads:
It is not clear what, if anything, this graffiti of mathematical absurdity is intended to mean or to represent. It is clear that other graffiti was present on the monument in the past, but maintenance efforts have since removed them.
By virtue of its name, the shape of the Gullwing Memorial here at Podgora is clearly meant to be a creative and stylized version of outstretched seagull wings, with one wing fully extended upwards towards the sky while the other wing is bent (or broken) in a curving arch. This configuration of the wings are meant to be representation the Partisan's struggle against fascist forces during regions naval battles on the Adriatic, with the extended wing intended to symbolize the achievements of the Partisan's victories, while the curving broken wing symbolizes fallen and lost fighters who perished during these struggles. Furthermore, it is interesting to point out that the broken wing passes through the outstretched victory wing. While this obviously preforms the function of structural support of the bent wing, it could also be understood as a symbolic of the idea that victory against Axis forces was supported via the loss of life of those who perished through this struggle.
Status and Condition:
Overall, the current state of the monument complex here at Podgora is very good. Graffiti and defacement of the monument is minimal, while very little overt destruction or degradation is immediately apparent. It seems clear that some degree of maintenance efforts and restoration of the site have been carried out in the recent past, and while there is some slight overgrowth of vegetation (especially in the amphitheatre area), for the most part, the complex is kept in a fairly good state. Meanwhile, there are a number of signs through the town of Podgora promoting the monument and directing visitors to it, with it being widely used in promotional materials for the city and for the region (both in print and online). In addition, there are several multi-lingual interpretive signs at the monument site describing the location's cultural and historical significance.
Photo 5: A 2016 ceremony at the Gullwing Memorial in Podgora
While visitorship to the site is not as common as it was during the Yugoslav era, some visitors and tourists can sometimes be found curiously exploring the site, as the monument can be easily spotted from the main highway along the Adriatic. In fact, honorific flowers, candles and wreathes can also be occasionally found left at the foot of the sculpture, attesting to the community's engagement with the memorial. In addition, annual commemorative events are still held here every September 10th to recognize the original formation of the 1st Naval Partisan detachment and are often attended by several hundred people (Photo 5). Such events as these are also often attended by high ranking regional and national dignitaries, with the 2012 commemoration ceremony, for instance, being attended by the President of the Republic of Croatia, Ivo Josipović. While the hosting of such events did result in some political controversy in the early 2000s, much of that has subsided in recent times. Interestingly, a wildland fire in October of 2011 came dangerously close to the monument, potentially threatening the entire complex. However, the fight was extinguished before it could do damage to the site.
Additional Sites in the Podgora Area:
This section will explore additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Podgora region that might be relevant to those interested in the architecture and heritage of the former Yugoslavia. We will examine here the Women of Biokovo Monument in Drašnice, as well as the sites of Biokovo National Park and Hotel Jadran at Tučepi.
Monument to the Women of Biokovo:
Roughly 4km southeast along the Adriatic coast from Podgora you will come across the seaside village of Drašnice. In the village center is located a small WWII memorial which is called the "Monument to the Women of Biokovo" (Spomenik Žena Biokovka) (Slides 1 & 2). This monument, which was created in 1981 by local Omiš-born artist Joko Knežević, is meant to honor the women of the region who fought and gave their lives during the fascist oppression which plagued this region during WWII. The central element of the monument is a small mosaic tile wall (~2m x 3m) which depicts a woman standing in front of a firing squad as she defiantly holds her shirt open in front of her executioners, with villagers in the background watching. Executions depicted in this mosaic are known to have happened in Drašnice during the war. The site is in good condition, but I wa not able to determine if commemorative events still take place here. The exact coordinates for the monument are N43°13'03.7", E17°06'35.7".
Monument to the Women of Biokovo (Photos by Carla Maruscha) - Slideshow
The Sites of Biokovo National Park:
Located just 2km north as the crow flies from the town of Podgora is the main entrance to Biokovo National Park. Declared a protected area during the Yugoslav-era in 1981, the eco-park is dominated by the Biokovo mountain range which is situated nearly right on the edge of the Adriatic. From the park's entrance, a twisting paved road snakes up the mountain over 30km ascending over 1,600m to the summit of the range. This modern road, called Sveti Jure (Saint George), was built in 1964 for the construction of a massive TV tower which was constructed at the summit and stands as the highest mountain road in Croatia. Also atop the is the small Sveti Jure chapel, built in 1646. This narrow and precarious road provides stunning and breathtaking views of the Biokovo range as well as the Adriatic Sea. Multiple historical markers related to WWII events are located around the park as well. The official website for Biokovo National Park can be found HERE, while its exact coordinates are N43°15'28.4", E17°04'51.4".
The Sites of Biokovo National Park - Slideshow
Hotel Jadran at Tučepi:
Located roughly 6km north of Podgora is the seaside village of Tučepi. One of the central features of this small scenic village during the Yugoslav-era was a grand resort called "Hotel Jadran" (Slides 1 & 2). Sources identify this complex as Socalist Yugoslavia's first major hotel project on the Adriatic coast. The project began in 1948, being constructed by German POWs and designed by Tito's favorite architect Branko Bon in the Bauhaus style. It was finally completed in 1954 (the long construction being the result of a lack of local materials). Of the hotel's many notable features, its most striking was an opulent spiral staircase snaking up its central tower (Slide 3). Originally, the hotel operated as a exclusive resort for the Yugoslav secret police (UDBA), yet, as tourism along the Makarska Riviera grew in popularity through the 1960s, it began to serve a wider range of patrons. As a result, in 1969 the complex was renovated to provide a more luxurious feel, compared to its previous stark UDBA furnishings.
Hotel Jadran at Tučepi - Slideshow
The success of the Jadran Hotel ushered in a whole new generation of dozens of Yugoslav sea-side resorts to be built along the Adriatic coastline, from Slovenia to Montenegro. However, as newer and more opulent resorts were built along the Yugoslav coast over the following decades, the Jadran began to become somewhat dated compared to many of the newly built complexes. As a result, by the late 1980s there was even discussion within the local government of Tučepi exploring the idea of demolishing the Jadran. However, such plans were interrupted when conflicts and war broke out across the region in the early 1990s. During the war, the hotel hosted many displaced Croatian and Bosnian refugees. After the war, the Jadran was privatized in 1996 and was subsequently bought by developers who also wished to tear it down. However, a resolution was passed in 2001 to temporarily designate the site as a historical landmark, which became permanent in 2011.
Yet despite its designation as a historical site, Hotel Jadan had fallen into an extreme state of dereliction and decay after having sat vacant and abandoned for so many years after the Yugoslav Wars (Slide 4). However, in 2013 the hotel was purchased by a Zagreb-based developer called the Bluesun Hotel Group for 12 million euro. It then proceeded to undergo an extreme renovation and rehabilitation project, with it finally being opened to the public in July of 2017, roughly 27 years after it was abandoned. Given the new name "TUI BLUE Jadran Hotel", it is now a very popular and desirable tourist destination (Slide 5). The official website for the hotel can be found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N43°16'23.9", E17°02'43.0".
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Monument to Fallen Partisan Fighters: In upper extents of the town of Podgora, nestled among its steep slopes, is the town's first constructed monument to the local victims of WWII (Photo 6). Created in 1948 by Croatian sculptor Ivan Mirković, this monument depicts two bronze Partisan fighters, one armed with a rifle looking up alert protecting a second sunken over wounded comrade. On the pedestal of the monument are inscriptions of the names of locals who perished during the war. A photo of the monument can be seen at this Flickr page, while the exact coordinates of the site are N43°14'29.5", E17°05'16.0".
Photo 6: A vintage image of the Mon. to Fallen Fighters at Podgora
Zalina Tower at Igrane: Roughly 9km south of Podgora along the Adriatic coastline is the small village of Igrane. The main historical feature of this village is a 17th century stone building called "Zalina Tower", which was erected as a defensive measure against invaders during the Ottoman-Venetian Wars. The tower was named after the fighter Ivan "Zale" Antičić, who was said to have fought bravely against the Ottoman in Igrane during the conflict. Such fortifications from the 17th century are rare in this area. Its exact coordinates are N43°11'50.9", E17°08'15.7".
The Gull Wing monument here at Podgora is relatively easy to access. Firstly, as you are entering Podgora from the north along the coastal Hwy 8 (from the direction of Makaraska), you will take your first left as you enter the village onto Ulica Ivana Gorana Kovacica, which is just past the main right which takes you to the Podgora city center (and is also the left-hand turn just before the start of the bridge that crosses over the town). Then after about 40m, take your first sharp left turning west heading up the hill, which you will see just before you pass the auto repair garage. This is a steep road which will take you up the hill (seen in GoogleStreetView here), past a football pitch on your left and to a parking area for the monument. It is very easy to see and recognize as you drive up the hill. The exact coordinates for parking are N43°14'44.5", E17°04'17.3".
Click to open in Google Maps in new window
Selected Sources and More Information:
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