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The Iconic Concrete Transmission Towers of Yugoslavia

As Yugoslavia went through its era of incredible development and modernization through the post-WWII era, it created, in just a few years, a massive output of infrastructure projects across its landscape. Because of their sheer size and impressiveness, the Yugoslav infrastructure projects that often best captured the imagination of the public were the construction of several massive concrete transmission towers on the hilltops just outside of several major cities: Sarajevo, Zagreb, Novi Sad and Belgrade. With the majority of radio towers around the world being of a thin metal frame construction, Yugoslavia stood out among the few countries who used hulking concrete forms to create architecturally sophisticated towers which often went well beyond being just utilitarian structures, as they often included observation decks and other public facilities for enjoying the splendid views and vistas the towers offered. Meanwhile, in many cases, the construction of these formidable projects pioneered innovative architectural and engineering techniques that pushed the envelop of concrete tower design and creation.

A look at the four major concrete transmission towers created during the Yugoslav era

Each of these towers became instant icons and symbols for their region and their cities, not only because of their captivating visual appeal, but also as a result of the technological and architectural prowess that went into creating them. As the towers were often located in forest parks on mountains just outside of major cities, these sites would often attract thousands of tourists and visitors a year who came to witness these gigantic concrete pinnacles. However, as these towers were highly conspicuous and strategically important infrastructure objects, they also came to play significant roles in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s as well, with each of these towers bombed to various degrees during those conflicts. In this article we will examine each of these four towers, looking at their creation, their employment, their wartime fate, and finally their present-day state.


Avala Tower, Belgrade, Serbia

A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard of Avala Tower not far from Belgrade, Serbia.

Name: Avala Tower

Location: Avala Mountain, near Belgrade, Serbia

Height: 204m

Year unveiled: 1965

Architect(s): Uglješa Bogunović & Slobodan Janjić

Located on the Avala Mountain summit area just south of Belgrade is the Avala Tower complex. Unveiled in 1965, the tower was designed by Serbian architects Uglješa Bogunović and Slobodan Janjić, along with engineering intervention by Milan Krstić. It reached a height of 204m tall. This tower was designed to operate as a radio/TV transmitter, while also containing a public observation deck. The concrete tower was unique in its design, standing upright upon a tripod base (one of the few towers in the world with such a design) (Slides 3 & 4). Some sources assert that the tripod base was meant to be a symbolic cultural reference to the traditional three-legged small Serbian chair which is known as the "tronožac". This unique design and contemporary styling led to many considering the tower to be a modern marvel. Its height is so great that some sources assert that on a clear day, one can see over 100km across the landscape from the tower's observation deck.

A close up photo of the upper observation decks of the Avala Tower. Credit: Reuters/Marko Djurica

The creation of the tower acted as a poignant symbol for Yugoslavian technical achievement and capability, while also acting as a landmark for the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade, from which the tower could easily be seen. However, as the tower relayed TV and radio transmissions, it was seen as a strategic target upon the onset of the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999. On April 29th, 1999, towards the end of NATOs bombing campagain of the region, two of NATOs GBU-27 Paveway III laser-guided bunker buster bombs hit one of the tower's legs, bringing the structure to the ground. In 2006, a reconstruction effort began to recreate the tower exactly how it once was. This reconstruction was completed in 2010. In the late 2010s, the tower was fitted with an array of lights which could fully illuminate the tower in various color schemes, imbuing it with impressive night-time visual effects even from great distances. The tower continues to be among one of the most popular tourist attractions in Serbia and still exists as a significant landmark for the country. See 'Architectuul' for more info about the tower at THIS link.


Sljeme Transmitter, Zagreb, Croatia

Two different views of the Sljeme Transmitter near Zagreb. Credit: [left] Tomislav Miksa, [right]

Name: Sljeme Transmitter

Location: In the Sljeme mountains near Zagreb, Croatia

Height: 169m

Year unveiled: 1976

Author(s): Krešimir Šavor

Positioned on top of Medvednica Peak in the Sljeme mountains just outside of Zagreb, Croatia is the massive radio tower known as Sljeme Transmitter. Standing at nearly 170m tall, this impressive structure was unveiled in 1976 (after three years of construction) and designed by Croatian engineer Krešimir Šavor. The appearance of this tower is quite unusual, with its body split into a fat section near its base, with a smaller set of decks at its upper levels. This variegated arrangement of structure gives the tower a unique and almost disorienting appearance, as this layout is unlike many other towers of its type. Initial plans for the tower included an ambitious setup of multiple observation decks, cafes, a rotating restaurant and much more. However, such ideas never manifested, and the primary use of the tower was relegated to TV and radio transmissions. Yet, a touristic complex, restaurants and a recreation area were created on the site clustered around the base of the tower.

The forested mountains of Sljeme just outside Zagreb have always been a popular touristic destination for the people of the city, as such, many thousands of people would visit the tower each year, making it an iconic feature of the city. However, as Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, conflicts began between Croatian forces and the JNA. As a consequence, JNA planes struck the Sljeme Transmitter with missiles on October 4th, 1991, destroying several levels of the complex and leaving the tower unable to transmit signals. However, despite this significant damage, Zagreb authorities were able to repair the tower's electronics and resume transmissions within just three months of the air attacks. Presently, the tower has no observation decks or facilities within the tower open to the public, yet plans as of 2019 indicate that work is in progress to complete such facilities to make the tower publicly accessible in the coming years.


Hum Tower, Sarajevo, BiH

Name: Hum Tower

Location: Hum Hill in Sarajevo, BiH

Height: 78m tall

Year unveiled: 1980s

Author(s): [unknown]

Situated on the peak of Hum Hill on the northwestern outskirts of the city of Sarajevo, BiH above the Pofalići and Velešići suburbs is the Hum Tower transmitter. This spot has contained a radio transmitter since the early 1960s, however, as the widespread broadcast of television and radio became ever more crucial for Bosnia, an impressive new concrete tower was built atop the hill at some point during the 1980s. Unfortunately, very little information is available about the creation of this tower, as I was not even able to define its exact unveiling date or even who the engineer/architect was who designed the tower. The form of the Hum transmitter is characterized by a thin concrete pinnacle which pierces a large spherical body. As far as available information indicates, this tower was never host to any nature of public observation deck or similar facilities. Yet, this tower instantly became one of the most significant symbols for the people of Sarajevo upon its completion. Even to this day, the tower is depicted on the coat of arms of the city of New Sarajevo. The tower took on additional importance as it operated (and still does to this day) as the central broadcasting conduit for all transmissions across Bosnia & Herzegovina.

While the Hum Tower acted as a significant symbol and attraction during the Yugoslav-era, the structure of the tower suffered intense attacks and damage during the Bosnian War during the early 1990s. In conflicts between the JNA and Bosnian forces, particularly during the Siege of Sarajevo, the tower absorbed many artillery rounds and other similar style attacks. By the end of the war, all of its windows were destroyed, much of the spherical body of the tower was destroyed and transmission capabilities were left inoperable. However, within a year, the tower's transmissions were restored, but the tower itself was still sitting in a ruined state. While some repairs have been made to the structural stability of the tower in recent decades, it still remains in a condition of relative ruin. Many efforts have been made to organize repairs and a full restoration of the site, but a lack of funds for the immense amount of work needed has continually been a problem. Access into the tower's ruins are off limits and strictly prohibited.


Iriški Venac Tower at Fruška Gora, near Novi Sad, Serbia

Various views of the Iriški Venac tower at Fruška gora, near Novi Sad, Serbia

Name: Iriški Venac tower

Location: Fruška gora mountains near Novi Sad, Serbia

Height: 170m tall

Year unveiled: 1975

Author(s): Gliša Stajić

Located within Fruška Gora National Park near the Iriški Venac mountain pass (roughly 10km south of the city of Novi Sad) are the ruins of a massive 170m tall concrete TV tower. Unveiled in 1975 and created by Serbian architect Gliša Stajić, this tower was constructed to be the primary transmission aerial for the entire Srem region, with it built in conjunction with the establishment of the TV Novi Sad complex. When completed it was the second largest tower in Yugoslavia after the Avala Tower. The Iriški Venac tower was made with an unusual construction of a 50 tall metal antenna fixed upon a 120m tall concrete tower. During the Yugoslav-era, this was a supremely important site, not only because it transmitted TV airwaves across the city of Novi Sad and much of the Srem/Vojvodina region, but it was also a significant monument testifying to Yugoslav innovation and modernization. The tower contained observation decks from which views across the entire Vojvodina region could be seen, while a hotel complex was built at the tower's base. However, as the country of Yugoslavia was dismantling in the 1990s and Serbia became embroiled within a violent conflict with Kosovo, the tower additionally became a site of strategic importance as a critical information outlet.

A distant view of the Iriški Venac tower. Credit: Bojan Perc

As a result, during NATOs bombing campaign in Serbia in 1999, the tower was struck repeatedly (with some sources asserting it was hit by over 50 missiles). However, despite the intense bombing, the structure did not collapse, unlike the Avala Tower, which toppled during a similar bombing campaign the same year. Today, the bombed out ruins of the Iriški Venac tower still reside much as they did after the 1999 attack, though, transmission capabilities of the tower were restored not long after the bombing. Efforts towards restoring the tower have been discussed as far back as 2005, however, while Avala Tower was rebuilt and opened in 2010, as of yet no solid projects towards reconstruction have materialized for the Iriški Venac tower. Estimates of the costs for reconstruction exceed several million euros. Access to the tower ruins is closed and strictly prohibited.

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