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Prilep (Прилеп)

(PREE-lep)

Click on slideshow photos for description

Brief Details:

Name: Burial Mound of the Unbeaten (Могила на непобедените) or Partisan Necropolis

Location: Park of the Revolution (aka: Mound Park) in Prilep, Macedonia

Year completed: 1961

Designer: Bogdan Bogdanović (profile page)

Coordinates: N41°20'03.6", E21°33'16.2" (click for map)

Dimensions: 8 monoliths, 3-5m tall

Materials used: White marble blocks (Bianco Sivec variety)

Condition: Very good, well maintained

 

History:

This spomenik at Prilep commemorates the roughly 800 fallen Partisan soldiers who fought for the liberation of Prilep from German and Bulgarian forces during WWII.

 

World War II

Prilep was occupied by German Army and Bulgarian Axis-aligned forces early in the People's Liberation Struggle (WWII) during April of 1941 -- with the onset of this occupation, resistance groups, which were often organized by the communist Partisan rebels, almost immediately began planning for an armed uprising. In the Prilep area, rebel Partisan units began organizing in mid September in the mountains to the south town, most notably at Selečka Mountain, where the notable 'Goce Delčev' - Prilep Partisan Detachment was formed.

The first shot of the region's occupation were fired by rebel fighters of the Prilep Partisan Detachment on October 11th of 1941, when 16 young people from the unit attacked and took over an Bulgarian run police station in the town's center, cutting phone lines and collecting weapons. One Bulgarian guard was reported to have been killed during the confrontation. Some assert that this incident was the first act of Partisan resistance to occupation in the Macedonian region. Records indicate that Bulgarian Army and police reacted by arresting nearly one thousand residents across Prilep, with many being beaten, tortured or executed. As a consequence, the entire city of Prilep began to rise up against the Axis occupation. Many angered citizens joined up with the "Goce Delčev" Prilep Detachment (Photo 1). Throughout 1941 this resistance movement waged a fierce battle against the occupying Bulgarians, coordinating direct attacks and repeated acts of sabotage. However, with the approach of a severely harsh winter in 1941 and increasingly insurmountable pressure from occupying forces, most members of this Prilep Partisan unit disbanded in December of 1941, mostly deploying to smaller scale covert and guerilla operations across the region.

Photo 1: A group of fighters from the 'Goce Delčev' Partisan Brigade, 1943

Photo 2: An image of the casualties from the Dabnica massacre, 1942

In September of 1942, a new Partisan detachment named 'Dimitar Vlahov' was formed with local fighters just outside the town of Prilep on Mukos Peak in the Babuna Mountains. A few days after forming on September 14th, this new Partisan unit clashed with a division of Bulgarian occupation forces in the area of Mukos Mountain. After repelling the Partisans, that very same day the Bulgarian troops took retribution for the Partisan incursion on civilians of the Mukos Mountain village of Dabnica (roughly 6km north of Prilep). Reports indicate that roughly 64 men were arrested by the troops on suspicion of aiding and abetting the Partisans and were then brought back to the Bulgarian barracks at Prilep and detained. Five days later on the 19th, nineteen of the male prisoners were taken to a isolated location along the road to Dabnica and they were all executed (Photo 2). The bodies were then buried in a mass grave at the site. This killing came to be known as the 1942 Massacre Near Dabnica.

As a result of the continued Bulgarian offensives against ever increasing numbers of Partisan units, many Partisans held up and took shelter in various locations in the mountains around Prilep. Notably, one such Partisan unit, named 'Đorče Petrov', was taking refuge in a monastery called St. Nikola in a small settlement named Prilepec, nestled in slopes of Dren Mountain just a few kilometers south of Prilep. However, on December 19th, 1942, a Bulgarian unit laid siege to this location, which ultimately sent the Partisan unit fleeing deeper into the mountains. Nine Partisans were killed during that skirmish. Meanwhile, through 1943 and 1944, the Bulgarian occupational forces were extremely heavy handed with any civilians suspected of helping the Partisans or cavorting with them, with the punishment of such actions generally being execution.

On August 2nd, 1944, Prilep was liberated from the Bulgarians by the 5th Macedonian Partisan Brigade. However, it was only nine days into the liberation that German soldiers arrived and re-took Prilep from the Partisans. However, the Germans were driven out by the Partisans in just a few weeks, with the final liberation of the city being made on November 3rd of 1944 (Photo 3). During the entire length of the war, nearly 700 Prilep resistance fighters died at the hands of Axis forces (along with many civilians), both by conflict and execution. Of these fighters who fell in combat, 15 were posthumously named Yugoslav National Heroes. Of the 25,000 residents of Prilep at the time of the war, over 8,000 of them directly participated in the armed resistance against occupation. Because of the fierce fighting and pioneering rebellion efforts put forth by Prilep during WWII, on May 7th of 1975, Prilep was named a "People's Heroes" city, the highest honor any Yugoslav city could be granted.

Photo 3: Scenes of celebration after the liberation of Prilep from Axis occupation, 1944

 

Spomenik Construction

In the early 1960, the city of Prilep was designated by the Yugoslavian government as a 'Partisan Town', as a result of the fierce resistance fighting by the town's citizenry against Axis occupation. To commemorate this honor, the Mayor of Prilep at that time decided that a special memorial should be granted to those who fought and fell for the liberation of the city. The mayor contact famed designer Bogdan Bogdanović and commissioned him to spearhead this project, however, the mayor wished that it be completed the following year, 1961, to coincide with Prilep's jubilee celebration of 20 years since Macedonia's anti-fascist uprising (which was instigated in Prilep). As a result of this condition, this would be the fastest completion of a project Bogdanović would ever accomplish in his career.

The site chosen to construct the monument was a serene park-like setting on the southern end of Prilep, a location which was especially attractive to Bogdanović because of its clear sight-lines towards Dabnica and the Babuna Mountains (two areas whose historical importance are pivotal to the WWII heritage of Prilep) (Photo 4). During the planning phase, there was contention between the vision of Bogdanović (as far as how he thought the memorial complex should look) and the vision of the town council of Prilep, who felt Bogdanović's design wasn't 'victorious' enough. Bogdanović reconciled this conflict by adding what he designated to be a 'Goddess of Victory' element to his central memorial element (Photo 5). All carving work of the marble for the memorial elements was done by Prilep stonemasons, who Bogdanović felt were more physically and spiritually connected with the local stone -- as a result, he believed this would then yield a sculpture which could more physically and spiritually connect with the viewer.

Photo 4: A view from the monument towards Dabnica and the Babuna Mountains

Photo 5: A sketched plan for the Prilep memorial complex drawn by designer Bogdan Bogdanović in the late 1950s

The complex was completed and opened to the public in 1961, with its initial inauguration occurring on October 11th, marking 20 years since the Prilep Uprising, however, later elements to the park were also added in 1962. Once fully completed, the park contained four major parts: a burial mound, a small amphitheatre, the 'Alley of Heroes' and 8 monolith 'urns' (or 'dancers' as they are sometimes referred). The burial mound is a semi-circular raised embankment which contains the remains of 462 Partisan resistance fighters who died during the occupation and liberation of Prilep, while the set of 8 'urns' are a collection of carved 3 - 5m tall shapely marble monoliths which are set around a stone-paved platform in front of the burial mound. Finally, the 'Alley of Heroes' is a long row of 10 bronze bust sculptures on podiums lining the main entrance to the park, which was named 'Revolution Park'.

 

It is also important to point out that this monument here at Prilep was created within a pre-existing park. Before this point, such monuments as these were not often configured or integrated as center-pieces within city green-spaces or natural park settings. As a result, this complex became almost a pioneering blueprint for what would later become the standardized 'Memorial Park' (Spomen-park) concept later popularized across Yugoslavia (and elsewhere) in the late-1960s and beyond.

Present-Day

Ever since the days of Yugoslavia, this spomenik complex has been a popular and well maintained facility, attracting many locals and foreign visitors alike. However, while the days after the fall of Yugoslavia brought some degradation and neglect to this site, overall, it has been well taken care of. In 2007 and 2008, a large €70,000 rehabilitation and restoration efforts at the site were undertaken, where all elements of the memorial were cleaned, refurbished and repaired. Today, the site remains well visited and popular with the local community, with many annual celebrations and commemorations being held here. The monument continues to stand as a symbol for Prilep. Meanwhile, in 2012, Novi Sad artist Aleksandra Domanovićs created a full-scale size blue-colored replica of one of Bogdanović's 'dancer nymph' sculptures as part of an artistic installation called "From Me to Yu" hosted at the Kunsthalle Basel contemporary art museum in Switzerland (Photo 6).

Photo 6: View of Domanović's sculptural installation in Switzerland [2012] (Photo by Tanya Leighton)

 

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

Here at the Mound of the Unbeaten at Prilep there are are no engraved plaques or plates I found located anywhere around the memorial site, however, against the wall of the inner circle of the burial mound there are numerous marble panels (Slide 1 & 2) which are engraved with the names of the fallen Partisan soldiers who perished during the liberation of Prilep during WWII. Exactly 462 names (along with their lifespans and places of local origin) are engraved onto these panels. A 360 degree interactive view of these engraved panels can be found at this link.

While the 'dancers' or 'urn' sculptural elements of the memorial, along with the burial mound, are free of graffiti or vandalism, the amphitheatre complex within the park was covered in graffiti during my most recent visit in 2018 (Slide 3). However, none of it seems to be noteworthy or significant.

 

Slideshow

Symbolism:

When looking upon the symbolic meaning of the series of 8 monolith sculptures here at this spomenik complex in Prilep, created by Bogdan Bogdanović, there are multiple theories. Some sources describe these sculpted shapes as 'urns' or 'amorphas', being representative of the soldiers coming together and transforming into the very first Macedonian Partisan units. Researcher Rubinčo Belčevski asserts that the variance in height of the sculptures is symbolic of the growth in size of subsequent Partisan detachments over time as WWII progressed. Meanwhile, other sources describe the monoliths as feminine figures, styled after Ionic columns, who are dancing around one taller 'goddess' figure, engaging in a traditional dance of the Macedonian people. When evaluating these various theories, especially when scrutinizing the way the sculptures are arranged and positioned, it appears to have the qualities much more evocative of a frozen dance than a military formation. To support the idea of these sculptures being 'dancers captured in motion', sources relate that Bogdanović had a fascination with the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (Photo 7). This interest in dance lead him to explore the ideas of the "hidden comparisons between human gestures and architectural forms". So, with the combination of the stacked marble column shape combined with the wide-hipped curvy 'feminine' features of the monoliths engaging in a Macedonian dance, it could be argued that Bogdanović has created a synthesis of the classical, the traditional and the primitive all at once.

Photo 7: Anna Pavlova

Photo 8: The Roman god Janus

Many of the works of Bogdanović stress the idea of 'continuity', which is why, it is argued, so much of his work is imbued with feminine archetypes (femininity being an age-old symbol of continuity via reproduction). Even at this complex in Prilep, Bogdanović overtly states that this monument is entirely feminine, which, for him, epitomized the very essence of continuity. Further evidence of the symbolism of continuity can be seen in the faces of these monoliths, as each of them seem to have two faces (which Belčevski describes as goat like, a symbol for courage and determination). Each has one long wide face that can be seen from the front along with a slim narrow face which can be seen from the side. Such an effect is argued to be an allusion to the Roman mythological god Janus (god of time, duality, transitions and beginnings & endings) (Photo 8), who has two faces so they can always be looking at the past and the future simultaneously. In fact, when many people see the memorials of Bogdanović for the first time, they often note how they are able to look ancient and modern all at the same time, which is an observation that cuts to the very heart of those feelings of 'continuity' which Bogdanović is attempting to convey with his work.

 

Finally, another facet to the idea of 'continuity' is 'universality'... that what is now is forever and what is here is everywhere. The work of Bogdanović rarely (if ever) directly caters to religious, nationalistic or ethnic sentimentalities, an effect which very much creates an air of inclusiveness in their appearance and interpretations. In fact, at this monument at Prilep, Bogdanović overtly made the decision NOT to include within this work any flags, eternal flames or communist stars. As such, his monument was able to communicate to visitors entirely outside of any specific nationality or religion... even outside of the symbolic forces of the communist governmental forces which commissioned the memorial.

Additional Monuments at Revolution Park:

In addition to Bogdanović's Mound of the Unbeaten memorial element at Revolution Park, there also exists within the park a few other memorial elements that bear noting and describing. This following section will describe two in detail, the Alley of the People's Heroes and the Women Fighters Memorial.

Alley of the People's Heroes:

Along the main entrance to Revolution Park, there is a row of 10 bronze bust sculptures called the 'Alley of the People's Heroes' (Slide 1), which was unveiled at the spomenik complex's opening in 1961 (Slide 2). The people depicted in these sculptures were Prilep WWII fighters posthumously designated to be Yugoslav National Heroes after the end of the war. Each bust can be seen in Slides 3 - 12. The fighters honored here are as follows:

 

Alley of the People's Heroes - Slideshow

Alley of the People's Heroes - Slideshow

Women Fighters Memorial:

Hidden among the trees and gardens within the center of the Park of the Revolution is a small marble memorial sculpture commemorating the women fights of the People's Liberation Struggle (WWII). This small marble sculpture was created in 1963 by Dragan "Dada" Poposki, just two years after the park's opening. The sculpture depicts two scenes, one on each opposing side, of women waving goodbye to those going to war, as well as women embracing family members as they themselves head to war. Of the over 460 fighters entombed at the complex here at Prilep, over 20 are women. Furthermore, of the 154 Partisan fighters from Prilep who were given 'high recognition' after the war, 33 of those were women. This monument is still regularly maintained and honored by local residents here at Prilep. Annual ceremonies are held at this monument on March 8th, which is International Women's Day. A small stone vase is set in front of the monument for flowers to be placed during ceremonial events.

Women Fighters Memorial - Slideshow

Women Fighters Memorial - Slideshow

 

Photo 9: Prilep seal

Status and Condition:

The Mound of the Unbeaten spomenik complex at Prilep is in very good shape overall, with the primary elements being well preserved and maintained. Part of the reason this site may be kept in such good condition is because it was officially designated as a site of cultural importance in 1989. Neither the burial mound or the collection of 8 'urns' have any significant damage on graffiti affecting them. The grounds and landscape of the park complex surrounding the elements are excellently maintained and taken care of. Furthermore, there is good directional and promotional signage for this complex, while the municipality openly advertises it as a place to visit. In the years after the fall of Yugoslavia, the monument experienced some neglect and degradation, as a result, a €70,000 rehabilitation and restoration effort was undertaken to completely restore the three major elements of the spomenik: the amphitheatre, the 'urns' and the burial mound. While the last two have remained in good condition after this renovation, the amphitheatre has since been totally destroyed and vandalized all over again, and currently sits in disrepair and covered in spray-paint.

Many locals and out-of-town visitors spend a great deal of time at this park complex, as it is a central park of the Prilep community. In fact, the spomenik at Prilep is such a fundamental and cherished part of the community that a depiction of Bogdanović's monoliths was added to the town's flag and official seal not long after the completion of the memorial (Photo 9). Furthermore, a great many annual celebratory and commemorative wreath-laying ceremonies are held at this spomenik complex (Photo 10). Their schedule is as follows:

 

Photo 10: A view of a 2015 memorial ceremony at the Prilep monument complex

Additional Sites in the Prilep Area:

In addition to the collection of monuments at Revolution Park, there exists a few additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites around the Prilep area that would be relevant to anyone interested in Yugoslav monuments and design. This following section will explore two of these monuments, first the monument located at St. Nicholas Monastery at Prilepec, the Dabnica Massacre Monument located just outside Prilep along the road to Dabnica, as well as the Mausoleum to Fallen Fighters at Mažučište.

St. Nicholas Monastery Monument - Slideshow

St. Nicholas Monastery Monument:

To honor the nine Partisan fighters from the 'Đorče Petrov' detachment that were killed by Bulgarian forces at Prilepec (near Prilep) while hiding out at the St. Nicholas Monastery [Манастир Свети Никола] on December 19th, 1942, a small memorial sculpture was built in 1977. The monument, which is composed of a series of nine marble pillars (roughly 3m in height) which each represent one of the killed fighters, is located in an open field roughly 40m south of the monastery complex. Various views of the sculpture series can be seen in Slides 1 - 3. In front of the monument is an engraved marble slab, seen in Slide 4, whose inscription translates from Macedonian to English as:

"With your heroic death on December 19th, 1942, you showed the Bulgarian thugs that you are fighters who will die for the freedom of you homeland."

Beneath that inscription are written the names of the nine fighters who were killed on that day: Borka Veleski, Kiro Fetak, Bosko Josifovski, Mende Boshkoski, Goga Jankuloski, Stevan Bazerko, Dimce Mirceski, Stevan Dimeski and Trajce Najoski. In my research, I was not able to determine the author of this monument, however, they did leave an inscription left on one of the pillars "B.N. 1977", but I am unsure who this refers to. In Slides 6 - 8 you can see some current and historic images of the St. Nicholas Monastery complex. Built in 1872, the monastery is still regularly used and is host to significant community events. The exact coordinates for this monument are N41°17'22.3", E21°35'45.7". Keep in mind that if you plan on visiting this site, it is necessary to drive across several kilometers of very rough dirt roads in order the access the location, so normal passenger cars are not recommended.

Dabnica Massacre Monument:

In order to honor the 30th anniversary of the 19 victims of the September 1942 massacre of civilians which occurred along the road between Prilep and the village of Dabnica, a memorial complex was created in 1972 at the site of the executions. The central element of this memorial complex was a ~2m tall figurative bronze sculpture (Slide 1 & 2) created by Macedonian artist Dimo ​​Todorovski. A large engraved plaque also exists at this memorial site which bears the names of those nineteen victims who were executed at this location. The plaque can be seen in Slides 2 & 3. After the fall of Yugoslavia, the site began to fall into neglect. In 2006 the bronze sculpture was stolen and it has not yet been recovered. Today, the area around the memorial is often used as a dumping ground, as can be seen in this news clip. The coordinates for this memorial site are N41°22'20.9", E21°33'37.7". This location is roughly 1km north of Prilep, along the dirt road to the village of Dabnica.

Dabnica Massacre Monument - Slideshow

Mausoleum at Mažučište:

Roughly 6km northwest of Prilep is the small village of Mažučište. On the southern outskirts of the village (between it and the large cemetery) situated on a small grassy hillside known as 'Pejsobrdce' is the Mausoleum to Fallen Fighters from the People's Liberation Struggle (WWII). A collective underground crypt houses the remains of fallen fighters from the surrounding area who participated in the war, specifically the "Borko Taleski" Partisan Unit, among others. The central element of the complex is a 5m tall bronze figurative sculpture on a pedestal which depicts a man with his arms raised to the sky and his head hanging low (Slides 1 - 4). This work was created in 1978 by notable Macedonian sculptor Branko Koneski, who himself was born there in the village of Mažučište. The complex is in reasonable shape and continues to host commemorative events. A historical image of the monument can be seen in Slide 5. The exact coordinates for this monument site are N41°22'25.8", E21°30'09.3".

Mausoleum at Mažučište - Slideshow [photos by Wiki user Tashkoskim]

And Additional Sites of Interest:

  • Ruins of Derven Mountaineering House: Located high in the Babuna Mountains, just above Prisad Pass and roughly 16km NE of Prilep, are the ruins of the Derven Mountaineering House (Planinarski dom Derven). This impressive Yugoslav-era stone-block building was created in 1955 by the volunteer work of local Prilep mountaineers as a base camp for many of the high-peaks of the Babuna highcountry. It could house over 70 hikers and had numerous amenities. The mountain house was set ablaze and destroyed on March 1st, 1997, with only the stone exterior remaining today. A photo of the ruins of the Derven Mountaineering House can be seen at this Wiki link, while its exact coordinates are N41°26'26.6", E21°37'04.2".

  • Memorial Museum "October 11th, 1941": This museum is located in the city center of Prilep and is dedicated to the 1941 Macedonian uprising against Bulgarian soldiers which occurred in the town during WWII. Opened in 1952, this museum is housed within the old police station (Uchastok) that Bulgarian Axis forces used as their primary base, while the complex itself contains many exhibits and artifacts related to the events which took place here. One of the main attractions of the museum is a massive mural called "The Liberation Struggle of the Macedonian People", created by famous Prilep artist Borko Lazeski. The Memorial Museum's official website can be found HERE, while the exact coordinates for the complex are N41°20'42.1", E21°33'08.5".

  • Marko's Tower Ruins: Roughly 2km north of the Prilep center situated on the sharp hills overlooking the city is the 13th century ruins of the fortress known as Marko's Tower (Markovi Kuli). The fortification is named after the Serbian medieval Prince Marko Mrnjavčević. When Prince Marko died in 1395, the complex was subsequently overrun by invading Ottoman armies. During the subsequent centuries, it fell into disrepair and ruin. Information and photos of Marko's Tower can be found at this Wiki link, while the exact coordinates for the site are N41°21'44.3", E21°32'21.6".

Photo 11: A Yugoslav-era view of the Derven Mountaineering House

Photo 12: A Yugoslav-era view of the Library and Cultural Center in Prilep

  • City Library & Cultural Center: This massive library and cultural center complex is contained within a large creatively designed Yugoslav-era glass and concrete structure designed in the international style. The complex also contains a large theatre complex, which is still in use to this day. In 1991, famous Prilep-born artist Borko Lazeski recreated his renowned "Fresco of the NOB" mural in the foyer leading into the theater, The original work, which spanned over 100m, was often referred to as the "Yugoslav Guernica" and stood among the largest murals in the country. It was contained within the old Skopje train station, which was destroyed during the 1963 Skopje earthquake. This library and cultural center complex is located near the center of the city, with its exact coordinates being N41°20'43.0", E21°33'03.4".

  • Monument to Taleski & Filiposki: Roughly 11km east of Prilep (near the village of Pletvar at place called 'Čaška') is a monument which marks the location where two young Partisan fighters named Borko Taleski & Lazo Filiposki were killed by Bulgarian occupational forces on March 2nd 1942. They were both later named as Yugoslav national heroes. This small abstract white marble monument, created by local Prilep sculptor Dragan Poposki-Dada, can be seen in a photo at THIS Wiki link, and it is located along the highway next to a BM Oil petrol station at the coordinates N41°22'12.7", E21°40'43.4".

  • The Prilep Faculty of Economics campus: This university complex is housed in an impressive 1970s era modernist campus on the north edge of Prilep. The exact coordinates for this location are N41°21'14.9", E21°32'29.2".

 

Directions:

To reach the Revolution Park from the city center of Prilep, take the road Sokta Georgioski (Сотка Георгиоски) south over the Prilep River. After about 200m past the river, the road changes names to Samoilova (Самоилова) (which was formerly Ivo Lola Ribar Street). Once you pass a small orthodox church on the right (seen here in Google StreetView), you will begin to see the park complex just past it ahead on the right. Then, drive about 200m and park your car along the road on the right (just across from the KrkAm Bar), then walk west up the embankment and you will see easily see the monument in front of you. From Google StreetView, you can see the monument from the road. The exact coordinates for parking are N°20'03.1", E21°33'19.0". Alternatively, the park can also be easily walked to from the Prilep city center is roughly 25 minutes.

A map to the location of the monument at the Prilep spomenik complex.

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

 

Comments:

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