Updated: Feb 17
Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito was a rare character, even among other world leaders of his era. While many of the leaders and figureheads of WWII did their commanding from afar, Tito was right there down in the dirt fighting, dodging explosions and getting shot at, all as he led his Partisan Army to a seemingly unlikely victory against a formidable and much more well equipped adversary. As such, when Tito came to power In Yugoslavia through his Socialist Revolution at the end of WWII, he did so with a level of credibility and popular support almost unimaginable in today's context. Through the Yugoslav-era, Tito's name was memorialized and paid tribute to in every way imaginable, everything from children spelling it out in 100m tall letters at the Relay of Youth, to having it arranged by military fighter planes as they flew overhead during ceremonial events.
However, in addition to such celebratory occasions, Tito's name was immortalized in a myriad of more permanent ways as well. Across socialist Yugoslavia during its more than four decades of existence, hundreds (if not thousands) of examples of Tito's name populated the landscape, which included not only traditional signs and banners, but also included more over-the-top examples such as "TITO" being etched in massive 30m tall letters directly onto the landscape or written out in a small forest of planted trees. Some of these creations were official memorial creations, however, many were simply popular grassroots constructions built by local communities who wanted to express their support. When Tito passed away in 1980 at the age of 88, the creation of Tito signs and the building of these Tito "geoglyphs" grew to an unprecedented scale. However, upon the dismantling of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, many of these Tito signs were removed or destroyed in the era of new governments taking over these newly independent nations. Today it is unknown how many signs and inscriptions bearing Tito's name exist across the landscape. This article will look at 13 examples this continue to exist and endure, even decades after the end of the Yugoslav era.
1.) Belgrade, Serbia
Location: Belgrade, Serbia in the Banjica neighborhood
Type: planted trees to spell out Tito's name
Year created: 1980
Coordinates: 44°45'40.1"N, 20°28'13.0"E
Description: It was not until satellite images on the internet became widely available in the last decade or so that the residents of Belgrade finally became aware that a massive 215m long line of trees spelling out "TITO" between the Military Medical Academy and the Security Information Agency in the neighborhood of Banjica. The origin of this massive landscape project has an interesting story. While many "TITO" shaped memorial hedges and tree plantings were made after the passing of Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito in 1980, this is interestingly NOT part of that phenomenon.
As reported by the Insajder newspaper, when the Military Medical Academy and the Security Information Agency buildings were being constructed in the mid 1970s, there was a feud between the leadership of the two agencies about where the fence line and border between the buildings would be. The landscape architect who was tasked with the site's tree planting had a clever idea to remediate the situation. The architect obtained 360 pine trees and instructed his grounds workers to plant them in such a way that would spell out "TITO" in Cyrillic letters between the contested land parcels. Soon after the planting was completed, the military leadership of the two opposing agencies boarded a helicopter to yet-again survey the area of the boundary dispute. However, this time, as they rose into the air, to their surprise the military leaders saw Tito's name blazed across the landscape. At that moment, the military leaders of both agencies conceded that line as the boundary between the two agencies, because neither side dared to propose an objection which would alter or demolish Tito's pine tree name. However, being that the site has continued to be a military installation up until the present-day, the pine tree arrangement was off-limits to civilians. It was only in recent times that its existence was made aware to the public.
2.) Mravinjac, BiH
Location: Mravinjac, Bosnia & Herzegovina, near Goražde
Type: The name 'TITO' written in white stone on the hillside
Year created: 1980
Coordinates: 43°37'48.5"N, 18°56'32.4"E
Description: On the north banks of the Drina River at the village of Mravinjac, just 7km upriver from the town of Goražde, is a massive 30m wide and 15m tall inscription of the name "TITO" etched onto the hillside. Located just off the main highway between Foča and Goražde, this landmark is unmistakable for all those who pass by it. This memorial complex was created in 1980 by a community effort only a few months after Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito's passing. Above Tito's name is fittingly a big red star in addition to a meticulous planting of 88 pine trees which symbolize each of the 88 years of Tito's life (which, after 40 years, have grown quite tall). While many similar types of memorial "Tito" geoglyphs were created across the Yugoslav landscape upon Tito's passing in 1980, sources seem to suggest that this work here at Mravinjac is the very last surviving example of such memorial land art in Bosnia. Despite the occasional vandal, the local community here at Mravinjac have continued dutifully over the decades to maintain and preserve this site, even holding annual clean-up groups and remembrance events. In an interview with Aljazeera, a local journalist Slavko Klisura relates the following personal feelings towards this monument, "The Tito memorial is not just letters, not even its 88 pine trees symbolizing 88 years of Joseph Broz's life, not even a flag, it is much more than that, it is a place that invites humanity, dignity and should be visited even more and protected."
3. Barban, Croatia
Location: Barban, Croatia
Type: Concrete letters installed into the hillside
Year created: 1946
Coordinates: 45°04'28.2"N, 14°01'03.0"E
Description: On the scrubby hillsides just north of the small Istrian village of Barban, Croatia is a 22m wide inscription of "TITO" made onto the ground, its position making it visible throughout the entire valley. Sources relate that this inscription originates to just after WWII in 1946, when local sheepherders of the area rejoiced at Istria becoming part of Croatia and subsequently honored Partisan Army leader Josip Broz Tito by inscribing his name in stones onto the landscape. After Tito passed away in 1980, the inscription was renewed with a more sturdy and visible stone wall. However, after the dismantling of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the "TITO" geoglyph began to be attacked and taken apart by vandals. As a result, people in the local community came together in the 1990s to create a more permanent form for the landmark inscription in reinforced concrete, while it was also painted bright white so it could be see from a further distance through the valley. It remains intact to present day and is an important local symbol and attraction for visiting tourists to the area.
4. Kladovo, Serbia
Location: Novi Sip, Serbia near Kladovo
Type: A Yugoslavia flag and Tito name in concrete
Year created: 1980
Coordinates: 44°40'04.7"N, 22°31'09.0"E
Description: Overlooking the Danube River and the massive Đerdap (Iron Gate) Hydroelectric Dam is a substantial monument dedicated to the life of Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito that was built just after his death in 1980. The monument consists of a roughly 25m wide Yugoslav flag painted on a pad of flat concrete, above which are a set of four tall standing concrete letters (each roughly 2.5m tall) which spell out "TITO", all pointing towards the river in the direction of Romania. Some sources I have read relate that the vantage point this monument was built on was done so in a somewhat taunting way as to be visible from across the river in Romania where its notorious leader Ceaușescu reportedly had a summer villa. However, I have not been able to verify such a villa of Ceaușescu existed anywhere close to this location. This monument continues to exist in a good condition, hosting annual clean-up days and commemorative events.
5. Sabotin Mountain, Slovenia
Location: Sabotin Mountain near Nova Gorica, Slovenia
Type: Rocks arranged on a hillside to spell Tito's name
Year created: 1978
Coordinates: 45°58'52.6"N, 13°38'33.0"E
Description: The mountain of Sabotin, which is just a few kilometers north of the border city of Nova Gorica, Slovenia across the Šoca River, is divided by a border in such a way that part of it belongs to Slovenia while the other part belongs to Italy. In 1978, a set of stones was arranged near the top of the south-facing side of the mountain which spelled out "Naš Tito" or "Our Tito" in English, which was intended to operate as a monument to Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito. It was Tito himself who spearheaded the early shaping of the city after the much large urban zone was split in two with a border between Italy and Slovenia after WWII (creating Nova Gorica in present-day Slovenia and Gorizia, Italy). The inscription which resulted was massive, stretching over 100m long with 25m tall letters. However, the message more than likely also had a political underpinning as well, as it was pointed directly at Nova Gorica's neighboring Italian border-city of Gorizia and was positioned only 100m from the Italian border. Since the end of the Yugoslav-era, the message has been changed and manipulated many many times by various groups and has been a stark and divisive issue for the city. However, the message invariably was changed back to "Naš Tito". Yet, in the 2000s, the Slovene politician Ivo Hvalica, who did not approve of the message, purchased the parcel of land that contained the word "Naš" in the message and had it removed completely, leaving just "TITO" remaining. Aerial photos from Google Maps as of 2020 still depict the "TITO" message as being intact.
6.) Mihovljac, Croatia
Location: Mihovljan, Croatia, suburb of Čakovec
Type: Planted bushes to spell out Tito's name
Year created: 1981
Coordinates: 46°24'03.2"N, 16°26'58.1"E
Description: As part of the wave of popular national action of planting large-scale arrangements of vegetation to honor President Josip Broz Tito after his death in 1980, the Čakovec suburb of Mihovljan planted a series of 88 cypress bushes in 1981 at the entrance to the community. While many of similar types of vegetation memorial markers have been removed or fell into a state of disrepair and overgrowth, this shaped hedge has been well maintained over the years and continues to appear in a respectable shape up until the present day.
7. Tuzi, Montenegro
Location: Tuzi, Montenegro
Type: Stones arranged into Tito's name on hillside
Year created: 1946
Coordinates: 42°22'24.8"N, 19°20'46.1"E
Description: Located on the rocky barren slopes of Dečić Hill east of the small town of Tuzi, Montenegro is a massive 50m wide memorial inscription which spells out "TITO" in 17m tall letters shaped with white stones. Sources relate that this marker was established just after WWII in 1946, which was the year that the nearby city of Podgorica officially changed its name to "Titograd". This marker endured long into the era of Montenegrin independence and well past the name "Titograd" was changed back to "Podgorica" in 1992, maintaining its status as a local symbol and landmark. However, in 2018 the "TITO" lettering was dismantled and ruined by local activists and reportedly replaced with a large flag of Albania. The marker was restored just a few days later by a youth group of the Democratic Party of Socialists, where sources indicate that it has remained intact until the present-day.
8. Potpićan, Croatia
Location: Potpićan, Croatia
Type: Metal sign atop old mining building
Year created: 1950s?
Coordinates: 45°11'40.6"N, 14°05'32.2"E
Description: The Istrian region of Croatia was a major producer of coal from the 1700s all the way up until when the majority of the mines were closed through the 1980s and 90s. Particular expansion of this industry occurred during the Yugoslav-era, where nearly every town and village in the region built some component of coal producing infrastructure. One such example was in the small village of Potpićan, Croatia, where a transshipment facility was constructed. Atop this building was installed a sign which read "TITO" as a sort of tribute from the workers to their leader President Tito, a practice observed in many factories across the country during the Yugoslav-era. After Potpićan's mines closed in the 1980s, the sign remained. Even to the present day the sign still sits atop the long abandoned building as a symbol of a long vanished industrial era for the village.
9. Labin, Croatia
Location: Labin, Croatia
Type: A metal sign reading "Tito" atop a mine shaft
Year created: 1950s?
Coordinates: 45°05'22.8"N, 14°07'15.3"E
Description: The town of Labin, Croatia has a long historical heritage of mining, with this resource being particularly developed and expanded during the post-WWII socialist Yugoslav era. A large mining complex was constructed in Labin's town center in the 1950s, employing hundreds of people. Atop one of this complex's tall metal mining shaft towers was installed a sign reading "TITO", flanked by a hammer & chisel mining symbol, as well as the communist sickle & hammer symbol. This tower quickly became one of the symbols of the town of Labin. The tower and its Tito sign remained in place even after the end of the Yugoslav era and even after the town center mines of Labin closed in 1989. However, over the years, the sign began to deteriorate and rust from the years of a lack of maintenance. Then, as the area of the old mine complex was revitalized into a commercial zone through the 2000s, efforts were put forward in the 2010s to have the Tito sign and the tower restored and rehabilitated. Through funds provided from an European Union grant, the city authorities removed the sign in 2018 for restoration, with it finally being re-installed and refurbished at the end of 2019. Future plans call for the installation of an elevator to the top of the tower.
10. Skopje, N. Macedonia
Location: Skopje, N. Macedonia
Type: Large sign on the side of old train station
Year created: 1963
Coordinates: 41°59'27.2"N, 21°25'45.4"E
Description: On July 26th, 1963, a massive earthquake struck the city of Skopje, which was at that time the capital of the SR of Macedonia. The quake reaped massive destruction across the city, killing over 1,000 and leaving over 200,000 homeless after thousands of buildings and homes were destroyed. One of the city's major building's that was left in ruins was the city's central train station, which had been built in 1949. Within the remaining ruins of the train station, a large memorial sign was erected which recounted Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito's remarks about the earthquake's devastation upon the city, which read in English as: "Skopje was struck by an unseen catastrophe but we will rebuild it again. With the help of our entire community, it will become our pride and a symbol of brotherhood and unity, of Yugoslav and of world solidarity". Underneath the quote was signed "TITO" in large letters. This memorial sign stood for decades as an honored monument for the city of Skopje, however, it was removed by authorities in 2001, reportedly by the order of government officials. However, the sign was replaced and restored in 2018 as a form of remembrance on the 55th anniversary of the earthquake.
11. Vabriga, Croatia
Location: Vabriga, Croatia
Type: Olive trees spelling out Tito's name
Year created: 1981
Coordinates: 45°17'40.4"N, 13°37'16.7"E
Description: After Tito's death in 1980, Eđidio Labinac, resident of the small Istrian village of Vabriga just north of Poreč, decided that he was going to create a tribute to the recently deceased Yugoslav president by planting 88 olive trees on his property (one for each year of Tito's life) in the shape of Tito's name. When completed, the array of olive trees was 70m long and 20m wide. It has survived intact over the decades and is still maintained and cultivated to this day. The grove is managed by farmer Aldo Vižintin, who reports that he harvests roughly 1 ton of olives per year that produces 200 litres of olive oil, which he then sells and markets as "Tito Oil'. The grove has recently been designated as a local historic site.