Name: Vraca Memorial Park (Spomen-park Vraca/Спомен-парк Враца)
Location: Sarajevo, FBiH & RS, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Year completed: 1981 (1 year to build)
Designer: Vladimir Dobrović and Alija Kučukalić
Coordinates: N43°50'40.6", E18°23'58.4" (click for map)
Dimensions: 78,000sq meter monument park
Materials used: Poured concrete, rebar, stone blocks, bronze and granite
Condition: Poor, neglected
The Vraca Memorial Park (Spomen-Park Vraca), located on the slopes of Trebević Mountain in Sarajevo, commemorates the thousands of the region's fighters and civilians victims who perished during the National Liberation War (WWII) at the hands of Axis aggression
The occupation of Sarajevo by the Austo-Hungarian empire began in 1878 as part of the Treaty of Berlin. During this time, the Austro-Hungarians built a considerable amount of fortifications on the mountain ridges around the city in order to more efficiently secure in the event of an invasion. One of the more significant of these fortifications was a large stone castle-like structure built on the slopes of Trebević Mountain in 1898 at an area which was referred to as 'Vraca' (pronounced: VRAH-tsah) -- the fortress was built to act as a type of 'blockade', as it was located near one of the primary south entrance to the city (hence the name 'Vratca', which means 'small door' in Serbo-Croatian). On June 28th of 1914, Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated on the streets of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip (Гаврило Принцип) (Photo 1). This action effectively began WWI, an event which brought an end to the Austro-Hungarian state and its rule over Sarajevo. After WWI, Sarajevo became capital of the Drina province in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The fortress at Vraca would later become a central element of the memorial park which was to be built there in 1981.
Photo 1: Artist depiction of Archduke Ferdinand being murdered by Princip, 1914
Photo 2: Vladimir 'Valter' Perić
World War II
On the 6th of April, 1941, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded by German-led Axis forces, with the city of Sarajevo being subsequently taken over and occupied a week later by the German Army's 16th Infantry Division. After the city was taken, Sarajevo was integrated into the Axis-created puppet-state called the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), which was under the military control of the nationalist Ustaše militiamen. A few weeks later, on July 23rd, 1941, the Ustaše issued an order calling for the "emergency arrest of all Jews and Serbs who were known as communists or who seemed to be suspicious". The situation then escalated even further as the mass execution of these prisoners began just nine days later. One particularly notable execution site in the city was at Vraca, on the slopes of Trebević Mountain -- it was a place where significant groups of prisoners were routinely brought to be executed during the war, while also being used as a disposal site for those executed elsewhere in the city. All of the dead who were either killed at Vraca or brought there were buried in the area directly around the Austro-Hungarian fortress. As Vraca is right at one of the primary entrance routes to Sarajevo, the Ustaše also used the site as a deportation hub where prisoners were sent to additional death camps across the region.
In response to these brutalities committed upon the people of Sarajevo, dissidents and rebels opposed to Axis occupation and NDH control organized themselves into a formidable resistance movement. This movement was led by Vladimir 'Valter' Perić (Владимир Перић) (Photo 2), a Serbian communist aligned with Josip Tito's Partisan rebels. In 1942, Perić began recruiting and enlisting people across Sarajevo to join the Partisan resistance efforts to undermine the NDH's control of the city. As resistance forces grew, Perić even went so as far as to directly involve himself in the training, formation and deployment of Partisan units around the city. As Sarajevo was on the brink of capture by the Partisans in the spring of 1945, the Nazi and Ustaše leadership began to flee the city, but not before executing dozens of civilians as they left as a final grisly act (Photo 3). These killings were coordinated by the notorious Ustaše general Maks Luburić, who had been terrorizing Sarajevo with similar such killings for months. The city of Sarajevo was finally liberated on April 6th, 1945 after the last of the German 181th Division was driven from their strongholds, during which time Perić was killed when a hand grenade was thrown at him by a German soldier.
Photo 3: Mass execution of civilians and antifascists in Sarajevo, 1945 [source]
Perić was designated by President Josip Tito as a National Hero in July of 1953. During the course of the entire war, researchers believe that over 100,000 people passed through Sarajevo's prisoner camps and detention centers, with around 24,000 of those being executed. At Vraca, it is estimated that over 11,000 people were executed at that site over the course of the entire war.
Photo 4: Momčilo Krković concept
During the Yugoslav era, the execution site at Vraca became a sacred spot, transforming into a symbol for the resistance and sacrifice many across Sarajevo made for the liberation of the city. Plans were made by Sarajevo's government and veteran groups to construct a large memorial park on Vraca to commemorate the site as early as 1965, a project which was initiated by Sarajevo Partisan war hero and politician Ratomir Dugonjić. However, a lack of available funds pushed construction of the project into the late 1970s. An open design competition was initiated for deciding what form and shape the complex would take. Exactly 13 notable design teams contributed proposals for consideration, including notable Belgrade artist Momčilo Krković (Photo 4). At the end of the day, the selection jury for the competition did not find that any of the 13 submissions fulfilled the monument's design prerequisites to the fullest extent they had hoped. As such, no first place was awarded. However, it was the concept that came in second place in the competition, created by Serbian architect Vladimir Dobrović, which was subsequently was chosen to proceed with construction.
In addition to the architectural layout conceived by Vladimir Dobrović, the project would have sculptural work done by Sarajevo-born artist Alija Kučukalić, while landscape work coordinated by Croatian architect Aleksandar Maltarić. After a prolonged planning process that took nearly 10 years, construction on the spomenik complex finally began in April of 1980. Interestingly, Tito passed away just one month after construction at Vraca began, so he was never able to visit this monument personally.
On November 25th, 1981 a grand unveiling ceremony was held to commemorate the official opening of the memorial to the public. This date was chosen for the unveiling as it was not only Bosnia's 'Day of Statehood', but it was also the day of the first meeting of Bosnia's Anti-Fascist Council Meeting for National Liberation in 1943. The inaugural address during this ceremony was given by Partisan war veteran Dane Olbina, who was the former mayor of Sarajevo from 1948 to 1955, as well as being a significant politician in Bosnia. In the 2006 book "Sarajevo: A Biography" by Robert Donia, he recounts Olbina making explicit reference in his speech to the many Jews who perished here at Vraca: "when one reads the names of the murdered children, old people, and particularly information about the horrible fate of our fellow Jewish citizens, does one get a true sense of fascist savagery."
Photo 5: Image of Vraca Park from the early 1980s, just after opening
This spomenik park, which covers an area of over 78,000 sq m, consists of several memorial elements, most notably: a pyramid fountain with an eternal flame, a bronze sculpture honoring women fighters, the Josip Tito Memorial, a granite cube sculpture marking the tomb of the city's National Heroes, walls engraved with the names of thousands of the city's fighters and war victims, as well as a museum housed within Vraca's old Austro-Hungarian fortress. Each of these individual memorial elements will be examined at length in the subsequent sections of this spomenik profile page.
Upon its opening in 1980, the Vraca Memorial park immediately became one of the most significant sites of commemoration in Sarajevo for marking and remember the events of WWII/NOB. Not only was it used as a site for mass gatherings to celebrate anniversaries and holidays, but it was also a place for listening to speeches and to coordinate political functions, as well as a site for the gathering of the Young Pioneer political youth group (who would often gather here in the thousands) (Photo 6a). In addition to all of this, Vraca also operated as an urban greenspace for people to come and congregate, walk, explore and enjoy the site's amazing views of the city of Sarajevo. Despite it only being open ten years before the subsequent dismantling of Yugoslavia, Vraca without a doubt transformed into a cultural landmark for the city and stood as one of Sarajevo's enduring and unifying symbols during this time period.
Photo 6a: Young Pioneers gathering at Vraca, 1981
Photo 6b: English language poster for 1972 Yugoslav film 'Valter Brani Sarajevo'
As an interesting side-note, in 1972 a Yugoslav film directed by Bosnian filmmaker Hajrudin Krvavac explored the search for Vladimir 'Valter' Perić in Axis-occupied Sarajevo, being released under the title 'Valter brani Sarajevo' ('Walter Defends Sarajevo' in English language markets) (Photo 6b). You can watch this film in its entirety in the Video Archive section of this website. As a testament to the social power of the 'Valter' tale, this film is considered to be the most watched Yugoslav film of all time, as well as becoming an extremely popular cinematic hit in China. In a famous scene at the end of the film, the German investigator 'von Dietrich' who has spent the film searchering for Valter looks out over Sarajevo from a hillside overlooking the city (very much like the Vraca site) and is discussing with his fellow officers about why he was never able to find his nemesis. One of them asks von Dietrich whether he has any idea who Valter was. At this point von Dietrich has a realization and exclaims to them, "You see the city there", gesturing towards Sarajevo, "That is Valter". Such an ending was most certainly meant to communicate the universalist and inclusive nature of the people's uprising against German occupation in Sarajevo. A similar style ending was used in the 2005 Hollywood film 'V For Vendetta' [YouTube link], directed by James McTeigue, in which the hero character 'V' (prehaps a reference to Valter) dies and Natalie Portman's character answers the investigator's question, "Who was he", with a similar universalist message, essentially saying "He was all of us", as they both look out wistfully over London. The idea of Valter is still popular in the former Yugoslav region, with a museum about the 1972 film set to open in Sarajevo in 2018, as well as there being a cevap restaurant in Belgrade named after Valter and with decor dedicated to the film.
As the early 1990s brought the beginnings of disintegration for Yugoslavia, the spomenik complex at Vraca began to fall into neglect and disarray. Then, as relations began to break down even further between Bosnian Serbs and the newly independent Bosnian government (led by Muslim leader Alija Izetbegović) in the spring of 1992, the Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces (VRS) began an all-out siege of Sarajevo, which was an attempt by Bosnian Serbs to take the city as part of their own territory and push out the Bosnian government and their supporters. A VRS siege line surrounded the entire city, fortified by barbed wire, tanks and troops, with the Vraca memorial itself being used by the siege forces as a tactical position (both for artillery and snipers), due to its high position and excellent sight-lines across much of the city. From Vraca, VRS artilery and tanks fired onto Sarajevo (Photo 7), while the site also took much fire from opposition forces.
Photo 7: The UNIS Towers after being struck by VRS tank fire, 1996
Over 15,000 people were killed during the Siege of Sarajevo, with over 5,000 of them being civilian victims. Sadly, among those killed during the siege was Alija Kučukalić, one of the Vraca Memorial Park's three primary creators. As the siege came to an end in early 1996 after the signing of the Dayton Accords, VRS forces fled their positions at Vraca, destroying much of the memorial during their retreat and leaving a significant amount of it in ruins.
Post-Yugoslav-era to Present-Day
For many years after the end of the Bosnian War, the Vraca site lay in a very poor condition of decay and destruction. Many of the elements were severely damaged (Photo 8), many segments of the memorial walls listing the names of victims and fighters were destroyed, while the museum in the old fortress was completely ransacked and dismantled. In the 2006 book "Sarajevo: A Biography" by Robert Donia, he recounts visiting the Vraca Memorial Park a few years after the end of the war, describing the scene he found: "When I visited the park in 1998, tens of thousands of letters in relief that once spelled out the names of fascism's victims had been peeled from the walls and lay on the ground in desecration of the monument to valorize war's victims. Children playing at the site were using some letters in a game of dominoes."
Photo 8: A 2009 photo of damage done to Vraca Memorial Park [source - Ajla Imamovic]
While the BiH Commission for the Preservation of National Monuments declared that the Vraca site was to be designated as a National Monument in 2005, little work was immediately done in the wake of this designation to restore or rehabilitate the damaged complex. Today, as of the late 2010s, the memorial complex here at Vraca sits in an extremely degraded state. Nearly every single sculptural and memorial element of the spomenik is covered in graffiti, while the fortress museum has been completely looted and destroyed. While the site does see many visitors, due to the excellent views and vistas of Sarajevo which can be had here, there are no longer any official commemorative ceremonies or remembrance events held here (however, some non-official smaller scale ones are known to occur). Furthermore, while a great deal of the complex is neglected and ruined, there are some groups advocating for conservation and restoration efforts in order to try to save the site from total destruction and abandonment. Finally, due, in part, to the nature of the location of the memorial right on the border of the Republic of Srpska and the Federation (the border actually passes right through the park) set out by the 1995 Dayton Accords, the area is plagued by a significant amount of ethnic contention, vandalism and criminality.
Around 2009/2010 sources report that the Cantonal Institute for the Protection of Cultural, Historical and Natural Heritage Sarajevo did put forth efforts to rehabilitate and restore this memorial complex, however, the work they put forward was quickly undone by vandals. However, recent efforts at the site as of 2018 indicate that restoration work on the fortress is currently underway. As of the spring of 2019, much work on this site had been completed, including the re-lighting of the eternal flame for the first time since the Bosnian War.
Vraca Memorial Elements:
Situated around the spomenik complex at Vraca there are a number of memorial elements dedicated to various aspects of Sarajevo's history and involvement in the People's Liberation Struggle (WWII). The following section examines the six primary memorial elements which exist at the Vraca site that have endured until the preset day.
Photo 9: Memorial Fountain/Eternal Flame
Memorial Fountain/Eternal Flame:
The central memorial element found here at the Vraca Spomen-Park is a pyramidal fountain and eternal flame sculpture located right at the main entrance to the park (Photo 9). The fountain's terraced stair-step mountain-like form may have been built to stand as a symbol for the entire Vraca memorial complex as a whole. In addition, while the cascading fountain was surely intended to create a serene and calming atmosphere for the memorial, the eternal flame on top of the fountain (at Vraca's symbolic summit) most certainly was meant to symbolize that these victim's sacrifices would never be forgotten. Currently, the fountain portion of the work is still not operational, however, the long inoperable eternal flame element of this memorial fountain was repaired and renewed during 2019/2020 restoration efforts on this work. In addition, these rehab efforts also included the removal of the graffiti which had formerly covered this fountain.
Photo 10: Tomb of the City's National Heroes
Tomb of the City's National Heroes:
Located on the east end of the upper plaza, just at the top of the stairs, there is a cube-shaped granite monument which marks the tomb of 26 fallen Yugoslav National Heroes of the National Liberation War (WWII) from the Sarajevo region (Photo 10). Originally, these remains were interred at Sarajevo's Great Park (Veliki Park), but they were moved for the construction of this new memorial in 1981. The names of these 26 fallen fighters are engraved directly into the granite of the outer ring of the monument. Also, there appears to have once been some nature of a fountain element at the base of the cube sculpture (which no longer functions). Currently, the memorial is defaced and derelict, being severely damaged, completely covered in graffiti and exists is an extreme state of neglect. Several attempts have been made to clean off this graffiti in the past, but it always returns very quickly.
Photo 11: Monument to Women Fighters & Victims
Monument to Women Fighters & Victims:
At the far east end of the memorial complex, there is a monument which commemorates the female fighters and victims of Sarajevo who fell during the People's Liberation Struggle (WWII) (Photo 11). The monument consists of a 4m tall bronze sculpture depicting a woman with her arms defiantly raised to the sky. While the sculpture is meant to be representative of all fallen women victims, many believe the sculpture specifically depicts Radojka Lakić (Радојка Лакић), a female leader of the Sarajevo underground communist resistance who was executed at Vraca in September of 1941. Her remains are interred at the Tomb of the City's National Heroes there at Vraca. Currently, the sculpture sits in very poor condition, most notably because the sculpture is defaced and its right arm was broken off by vandals in 2013. Authorities later recovered the bronze arm and there are plans to have it soon reattached.
Photo 12: Memorial Wall
Victim's Memorial Wall:
In the center of the spomenik park, there is a memorial area consisting of a wide stairway leading up to a series of seven terraces, with each terrace containing several stone walls engraved with the names of victims from Sarajevo of the National Liberation War (WWII) (Photo 12). There are exactly 9,091 names engraved on all the walls together in total. Yugoslav General Džemil Šarac calculates that of the 9,091 names, they break down into the following categories: 1,100 children, 7,092 Jews, 1,427 Serbs, 412 Muslims, 106 Croats, and 55 of other nationalities. Also within many of the walls are carved abstract sculptural forms. Currently, many of the wall sections are covered in graffiti, while some wall's stone panels are completely destroyed or missing. Some efforts have been made to restore and rehabilitate the memorial wall, however, it continues to degrade and be neglected.
Photo 13: Austro-Hungarian Fortress
At the time of the construction of the Vraca spomenik complex in 1981, the distressed Austro-Hungarian fortress was integrated to be part of the memorial itself, as it was restored and turned into an expansive visitors center and memorial museum (Photo 13). Upon its opening, the museum contained over 750 historical exhibits, including enlarged photographs, documents, maps, artwork and other artifacts (Photo 13a). In addition, the atrium courtyard at the main entrance to the museum had the names of over 9,000 of the city's victims of fascist terror from WWII spelled out in tiny stone-block letters (Photo 13b). However, after the fortress was used as a strategic location by the VRS during the Siege of Sarajevo, the entire building, including all exhibits contained within, were damaged and destroyed. The wall of names in the museum's atrium was also completely decimated.
Photo 12a: A 1980s photo of the interior of the museum [source]
Photo 12b: A vintage 1980s photo showing the memorial wall bearing the names of victims of fascism in the museum's entrance atrium [source]
Currently, the fortress now sits as an abandoned ruin, completely gutted and open to the elements. It is covered in graffiti and seems to be mostly used as a place of mischief for local vandals and drug users. Every year it falls into further decay and towards complete unsalvagable ruin. Over past years, the fortress was completely open and accessible to any who wished to enter and explore its ruins. However, as of spring of 2018, authorities overseeing the park have completely gated and locked up the entire fortress complex, leaving it completely inaccessible to visitors. Current plans by Sarajevo cultural organizations are to restore and rehabilitate the building.
Photo 14: Josip Tito Memorial
Josip Tito Memorial:
Just west behind the Austro-Hungarian fortress (downhill at the sharp curve in the pathway) there are dual carved marble pillars engraved with a youthful depiction of President Josip TIto, as well as an inscription engraved onto the pillar underneath the Tito carving of a statement he had on the day of liberation of Sarajevo in 1945 (Photo 14). The pillars, roughly 5m tall, sit within the center of a stone paved circular courtyard. Currently, the physical structure of the pillars are in reasonable condition, however, the pillars are significantly covered in graffiti and spray paint. Judging from the dates sprayed onto the pillars in some of the graffiti, some of it has been left there untouched for nearly a decade. Furthermore, the small circular courtyard the pillars sits within is extremely overgrown with grass and vegetation. No signs exist that any effort is being made to restore it or rehabilitate this site.
Meanwhile, on the paved path to the Josip Tito Memorial from the Hungarian fortress, there are a series of carved stones with raised inscriptions bearing the names of the various Partisan military units that were involved in the liberation of Sarajevo from Axis forces during WWII. Their condition is good, but many of them are significantly overgrown with vegetation.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
A few meters southwest of the spomenik's pyramid element, there is an inscription made directly into the stone wall (Slide 1). It reads, roughly translated into English, as:
"Our glorious past will be an example to new generations, of how the peoples of a small country were determined to defend their country and freedom at the price of the heaviest casualties, ready to perish rather than slavishly kneel before the fascist occupiers"
Continuing walking southwest up the stairway, you see many stone panels with thousands of names (Slides 2 & 3) of the soldiers and civilians who died during WWII in Sarajevo... 9,091 names in all. Among the inscriptions on these panels are various abstract carved stone shapes protruding from the walls -- these can also be see in Slides 2 & 3. In addition, many of the inscribed stone panels bearing these victim's names are in poor shape, with many defaced, damaged and even destroyed (Slide 4).
At the far east side of the spomen-park, there is a large bronze statue of a woman with her arms raised to the air (Slide 5), which is named Monument to Women Fighters & Victims. It was created by artist Alija Kučukalić and is dedicated to the women who took part in and aided in the liberation of Sarajevo. Roughly 10m to the east of this statue, there is a large roughly hewn stone inscribed with a verse (Slide 6). It reads, translated into English, as:
"The fascist villains at Vraca have executed Communist and patriotic participants in the National Liberation Struggle and Revolution. They died for the freedom of present and also future generations. Here lie the bones of those were found. Vraca has since become the inspiration and pride for all of Sarajevo."
Further up the hill, near the top of the stairs, there is a fountain with a ~2m tall cuboid element at its center (Slide 7). It is defaced with a significant amount of graffiti. Around the outer and inner rim of the fountain are engraved the names and lifespans of some of the victims who were killed during the struggle for the liberation of Sarajevo (Slide 8).
At the top of the hill is an old Austro-Hungarian fortress from the late 1800s. In front of the fortress to the left of the stairs is a tall upright flat stone inscribed with the words that Tito spoke at a session of the Communist Party Congress (Slide 9). The inscription reads as, roughly translated into English:
"...Our entire country has always been the scene of a battle between life and death - because the fight was on our home territory, among our towns and villages. Conflict with the enemy was always in the background of people's lives, or rather - enemy conflict was at the heart of all Communist youth, workers and all other true patriots. In Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Sarajevo and other cities, people's lives are constantly besieged by underhanded enemy attacks, and this struggle has taken the lives of many members of our Party and members of the Young Communist League, and thousands of other true patriots, workers, youth and intelligent citizens. "
Next, on the Josip Tito Memorial sculpture (located downhill behind the fortress), there is another engraved inscription of a statement made by Tito concerning the liberation of Sarajevo, which occurred on April 6th, 1945 (Slide 10). The inscription reads, when translated into English, as:
"In several days of fierce fighting in the wider area of Sarajevo, under the very difficult conditions of mountainous terrain, our troops broke the external defenses of Sarajevo's fortified sectors and tightened itself into a ring around the city. Today, on April 6, 1945, during the campaign to capture and liberate Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I express my gratitude to all the fighters and leaders of the units who have aided in this great victory. Glory to the fallen heroes of the liberation of our fatherland!
Death to fascism - Freedom to the people!"
Supreme Commandant, Marshal of Yugoslavia
Josip Broz Tito
Finally, as can be seen in Slide 11, the entire spomenik complex here at Vraca is completely covered in graffiti. Some of it is just gang tags and ill-spirited spray paint scrawlings, however, there are some examples of vandalism which are very ornate murals and designs, which is unique to the style of graffiti I have found at most spomenik complexes across the former-Yugoslavia. I was not able to find any graffiti here, upon my most recent visit, that appeared to be political or nationalistic in nature.
Most of the memorial elements within this spomenik complex at Vraca seem to be of a purely abstract geometric style, thus, they do not seem to be making any overt attempt to convey any specific symbolic or representational message. The only memorial that seems to be overtly engaging in symbolic communication is the Monument to Women Fighters & Victims, which consists of a bronze-cast depiction of the upper half of a female form defiantly raising her arms to the sky. This sculpture appears to be, in a very straightforward way, a symbol for the power and influence women had during the People's Liberation War (WWII), overtly stating that sacrifice that these fallen women made will not be forgotten by the Yugoslav state.
Photo 15: Historic photo showing various levels of the complex
Meanwhile, some sources I have examined state that the layout and arrangement of memorials within the Vraca memorial park are intended to communicate a sort of hierarchical importance of each memorial element (Photo 15). This hierarchical concept is said to begin just as you walk into Vraca park through its primary entrance -- after passing the welcoming fountain/flame element in the middle of the plaza, the first commemorative memorial element you encounter at the bottom of the hill are the walls bearing the engraved names of the victims of fascism. While certainly impressive, these walls are a basic and simplistic mass commemoration of a large number of people. However, as you reach the top of the stairs which pass through the walls, you approach the granite prism commemorating the National Heroes of Sarajevo. This is a much more specific and targeted commemorative element which obviously elevates the importance of the names of the 26 Yugoslav heroes listed here. Finally, as you reach the top of the hill, you reach the Austro-Hungarian fortress, an impressive historical structure which is used here for the purposes of the Vraca memorial to symbolize the power of Tito, which is evidenced by the massive boulder in front of the fortress bearing his words engraved directly into the stone. In addition, behind the fortress is a memorial consisting of two stone pillars bearing Tito's likeness and another engraved inscription of his statements on the liberation of Sarajevo. Thus, this spatial arrangement of memorial elements around the park very much appears as though it was an attempt to display the supreme importance and dominance of Tito as a figure for not only Sarajevo, but all Yugoslavia itself.
A further element of the Vraca park that holds significant symbolic qualities is the eternal flame fountain at the park's entrance. The first symbolic observation to point out that this sculptural work creates a unity out of the two opposing elements of Greek antiquity: fire & water. These were considered opposites as water flowed downwards towards the earth, while fire rose upwards towards the sky. Greek temples to epic heroes and gods often included altars that created synthesis and unity out of what they considered at that time to be the four basic elements: earth, air, water and fire. As such, this fountain could be understood as a modern recreation of Hellenistic tradition in the worship of the hero figure. Even the site itself, with the stone fortress on top of the hill, has a very Acropolis-like atmosphere (the most famous Greek temple) (Photo 16), which itself was a construction project instigated as a result of ancient Greek victory against the 'barbarians'. Understanding these various elements of the site as a sort of Acropolis-like Greek temple manifestation of 'hero worship' not only ties this site to ancient European architectural tradition, but it also ascribes to the defeated foes (in this case the German/Italian Army, Ustaše, etc) the implication that they were an inferior barbaric people who were duly vanquished by the 'righteous' warriors (the Partisans).
Photo 16: The Acropolis in Athens, Greece
Finally, with this understanding of the site as a sort of an 'Acropolis', we can then think of the fortress-like a 'sacred temple' (or even 'treasury') that becomes the ultimate repository (or symbolic 'storage space') of memories for the Vraca Memorial Park, or, in other words, a symbolic manifestation of a "Lieux de Mémoire". This French term, which literally means 'place of memory', is a concept coined by historian Pierre Nora that refers to any object which symbolically operates as a receptacle imbued with a culture's historically significant and valued collective past. As such, a fortress becomes a perfect symbolic vehicle to operate as such a receptacle. The destruction of the fortress in violence in Sarajevo that proceeded the dismantling of Yugoslavia can then be interpreted as the process of "Damnatio memoriae", an ancient term from the Roman era which essentially meant an erasure of the past or of an unwanted history.
Status and Condition:
Up until recently, the condition of the Vraca Memorial Park here in Sarajevo has been generally very poor. Firstly, much of the landscaping and vegetation across the complex was overgrown and out of control. Even despite improvements made over recent years attempting to tame it, the state of overgrown vegetation plagued the complex through most of the 2000s and 2010s. It is only with extensive restoration work in 2019 and 2020 that the site's vegetation problem finally started to come under control. The structure and condition of the various memorial elements across Vraca are variable and some are improving, but many are still in a dilapidated state. Most notably, the Austro-Hungarian fortress is completely destroyed and gutted, sitting now in complete ruins, while the Women Victims Monument had one of its arms broken off by vandals in 2013. Many plans have been discussed over recent years to initiate a major restoration and rehabilitation effort to bring the memorial complex back to a more complete and restored state, but as of yet, efforts have been small or lacking.
Photo 17: Volunteer clean-up at Vraca, 2016
Furthermore, the rehabilitation work that is done, such as the 2009 efforts by the Cantonal Institute for the Protection of Cultural, Historical and Natural Heritage of Sarajevo, is often soon undone by vandals and thieves, as the site has no guards, security or surveillance. Annual clean-up projects are coordinated by the Historical Museum of Bosnia (Photo 17), however, it is said that millions in additional euros are needed to accomplish meaningful or lasting repairs.
Photo 18: A photo of an April 6th, 2018 commemorative event at the Vraca memorial
There are no directional or promotional signs leading visitors or tourists to the Vraca memorial complex, nor are there are any sorts of interpretive or informational signs at the memorial itself communicating to visitors the history or significance of the site. In the past, the city of Sarajevo put little effort into promoting or advertising Vraca as a local attraction or point of interest, however, recent efforts have been made by Sarajevo travel sites to promote Vraca as a touristic site of significance. Even the official Sarajevo tourism website now lists the monument as a local historical attraction. Meanwhile, the park still does see a significant amount of visitors, especially as the site's hillside bluffs make for breathtaking views of the entire city of Sarajevo. Yet, to what degree or to what amount these visitors are here to honor or pay tribute to the memory of the memorial is not clear. Upon my most recent visit in the spring of 2018, I found a great many commemorative wreaths and flowers at the base of the memorial wall, which stand as an indication that many in the community still come to honor this site.
Furthermore, reports indicate that annual commemorative events are held at Vraca every April 6th (Photo 18), which is the WWII liberation day for Sarajevo, as well as on July 27th, which marks the Bosnian Day of Uprising. These events are often attended by high ranking government officials and politicians. In 2005, the government of Bosnia designated the site to be a National Monument of superior cultural importance. However, despite this designation, the site still exists in an extremely dilapidated condition. While efforts have been put forward in 2017 & 2018 towards restoring the site (with over 50,000KM/27,000 euros being spent on the project), much work is still necessary to bring the complex to a fully restored and protected state. In May of 2019, the eternal flame fountain element was re-lit for the first time since the Bosnian War (Photo 19) -- however, the fountain is still not operating. Also in May of 2019, the front of the fortress was used as a theatrical performance space by a group called the "Sarajevo War Theater" (Sarajevskog ratnog teatra), who put on their rendition of the play "¡Ay Carmela!" about the Spanish Civil War. However, event despite these recent renovations, the site is still a constant target of vandals.
Photo 19: A view of the re-light eternal flame fountain element
Additional Sites in the Sarajevo Area:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Sarajevo region that might be of interest to those studying the monuments, history and architecture of the former Yugoslavia. The sites examined here will be the Monument to the Igman March on Mt. Igman, the Eternal Flame Monument, as well as the Monument to Đuro Đaković in the Sarajevo city center.
Monument to the Igman March:
Adjacent to Veliko Polje (Big Fields) along the road that goes over Mt Igman, just west of Sarajevo, is situated the Monument to the Igman March (Photo 20). The Igman March was a significant WWII event in the region of Sarajevo where the Partisan fighters of the 1st Proletariat Brigade escaped the encirclement of Nazi and Ustaše Axis forces. This assault against Partisans in the greater Sarajevo region began in January of 1942 with an Axis offensive called "Operation Southern Croatia". As the 1st Proletariat Brigade Partisans became encircled on the 25th of January, they suffered heavy defeats. Thus, plans were made to escape this offensive ring by marching over the inhospitable Mt Igman. The brigade's march, led by famous Partisan commander Koča Popović, began on the evening of January 27th, 1942 and its roughly 1,200 soldiers walked over the cold mountain. At dawn on the 28th they arrived at Veliko Polje where they found shelter at a mountain house. Eventually, the brigade found their way across the mountains to the liberated area of Foča a few days later.
Photo 20: A photo of a memorial ceremony at the monument to the Igman March on Igman Mountain, Sarajevo, BiH [source]
Photo 21: A cold snowy image from the Igman March in late January of 1942
During the march, six soldiers perished from the cold which reached as low as -30°C and nearly 200 suffered from hypothermia and frostbite related injuries (Photo 21). In Yugoslav history, the Igman March was widely known as among the most heroic marches of the war, typifying the idea of Partisans braving the elements in the most brutal of conditions in their fight for freedom in the face of overwhelming oppression. It was so significant that a Yugoslav Partisan film named "Igmanski marš" was created about the event in 1983. While numerous markers dedicated to honoring the Partisan fighters of the Igman March were created during the Yugoslav-era across the region where the march occurred, the most significant monument to the march was erected at Veliko Polje where the brigade arrived the morning of the 28th. The monument was built at Veliko Polje along the new road constructed on Mt Igman for the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. The monument consists of a 5m tall flat stone wall which contains a large inscription at its center (Photo 20) which reads, when translated into English, as:
"At dawn on January 28, 1942, the 1st Proletarian Brigade arrived at this area in its legendary Igman March. The Igman Partisans gave the frostbitten proletarians wholehearted support."
-Fighters and citizens of Sarajevo. 1984
Photo 22: A photo of the recently built Hotel Igman from 1984
Extremely large commemorative events were held at this site during the Yugoslav-era to honor the Igman March, part of which includes a large collective march of participants up the mountain to symbolically honor the Igman Partisans. However, such events were interrupted by the Bosnian War in the early 1990s. Yet, it was only a few years after the end of the war that memorial ceremonies began once again here. As of 2019, official ceremonies organized by numerous local governments and groups continue to be held here, which often attract upwards of 10,000 people from across the region. The exact coordinates for the monument are N43°44'52.9", E18°16'18.4".
It is also worth mentioning that a museum dedicated to the Igman March was housed within "Hotel Igman" (Photo 22), which was a large modernist complex built on Mt Igman by local Sarajevo architect Ahmed Džuvić in 1983 to house visitors for the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. The hotel stood less than 800m away from the Igman March monument to the southeast along the Mt Igman road. As a result, this huge visually ambitious hotel also operated as a sort of monument itself to the Igman March. However, the hotel was completed destroyed during the Bosnian War. All that remains of the hotel today is its concrete ruins.
Monument to Đuro Đaković:
Situated in the middle of the plaza which is currently named Square of the 1st Army Corps of the BiH Republic, one can find the Monument to Đuro Đaković. Standing roughly 5m tall, this figurative stone-carved work was created in 1973 by Novi Sad sculptor Ljubomir Denković & architect Dragan Kiridžić. Đuro Đaković was a Croatian metalworker who lived in Sarajevo during the 1910s who was actively involved in union organizing and striking against unfair working conditions. During WWI, he openly opposed Austria Hungary declaring war on Serbia, at which point he was arrested and sentenced to death, but was later pardoned by a subsequent court review. After the war, during the era of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Đaković began to take part in political leadership efforts and activities within the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. After several arrests, he was deported out of Sarajevo back to his home region. However, he was soon thereafter quoted publically denouncing the dictatorship of Yugoslav king Alexander I. He was then summarily executed in Zagreb as a result on April 25th, 1929.
Photo 23: A photo of the Monument to Đuro Đaković located at the Square of the 1st Army Corps of the BiH Republic in Sarajevo [source]
This monument park, which is located just across from the Eiffel footbridge over the River Miljacka, has this stone sculpture of Đuro Đaković as its central element. Next to the sculpture is a small engraved stone plaque which has Đuro Đaković's name inscribed onto it. Around the park complex are several fountain elements (now in disuse) which are composed of carved abstract amorphous stone shapes in Ljubomir Denković's trademark organic-like sculptural style. The exact coordinates for this monument are N43°51'23.8", E18°24'49.0".
The Eternal Flame Monument:
In the city center of Sarajevo on Marshal Tito Street is the Eternal Flame (Vječna vatra) monument, which is a memorial site that honors the Partisan fighters and civilian victims of Sarajevo who perished during WWII. Created by famous Zagreb architect Juraj Neidhardt, this work was unveiled on the 6th of April, 1946, exactly one year after the liberation of Sarajevo from fascist forces. The primary element of this monument is an eternal flame, behind which is a semi-circular niche (an 'exedra'), roughly 5m tall. On the wall within the niche is a carved inscription which translates into English as: "With courage and the jointly spilled blood of the fighters of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian brigades of the glorious Yugoslav Army; with the joint efforts and sacrifices of Sarajevan patriots, Serbs, Muslims & Croats on April 6th, 1945, Sarajevo, the capital city of the People's Republic of Bosnia & Herzegovina was liberated. Eternal glory and gratitude to the fallen heroes for the liberation of Sarajevo and our homeland, on the first anniversary of its liberation, a grateful Sarajevo."
Photo 24: A view of the Eternal Flame Monument located in the city center of Sarajevo
The building in which this monument exists as part of was originally the "Hotel Grand", built by the architect team Josip Vancaš and Karlo Paržik in 1892 when Sarajevo was part of Austria Hungary. Today the building is the FBiH Payment Bureau. The Eternal Flame Monument is in very good shape and continues to host official commemorative and remembrance ceremonies. The exact coordinates for this monument are N43°51'31.8", E18°25'18.6".
The Sites of Sarajevo's 1984 Winter Olympics :
The city of Sarajevo hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 1984 was among the most significant events in the history of Yugoslavia. Being not only the first Olympics to be held in the country, it was also the first time any Winter Olympic Games had ever been hosted in a socialist state or in a nation which spoke Slavic languages. Furthermore, the Sarajevo Olympics were unique in that they were not boycotted by any nation in the world and were instead a shining moment of global unity centered around sports, standing in stark contrast to the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics (as well as the subsequent 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics), which were both heavily protested by numerous countries. As such, Yugoslavia, and Sarajevo specifically, felt a tremendous personal responsibility to exceed in every way imaginable in its role as host nation and host city. And for such a historic event, it should come as no surprise that Yugoslavia aimed to populate the city of Sarajevo with equally befitting historic and transcendent architecture to match and mark the importance of this moment when an attentive world would be closely watching them.
Photo 25: Views of scenes which include architectural examples from Sarajevo's 1984 Winter Olympic Games
To achieve such an architectural marvel of constructing a wholly new built environment for these Winter Olympic Games, some of the most innovative and accomplished architects from across Yugoslavia were brought together to work towards this collective goal. To read my full article on the many architectural works created to satisfy the infrastructure needed for Sarajevo's 1984 Winter Olympic Games, you can access it through the following link:
However, while many other articles in the past which explore Sarajevo's Olympic sites excessively dwell on the post-Bosnian War ruined condition of many of these locations (while ignoring other aspects of their history, as well as ignoring other non-ruined Olympic sites), this article aims to instead operate as a more holistic historical survey of ALL major architectural works which were created as part of the infrastructure of the Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games.
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Bust of Vladimir 'Valter' Perić: Located just across Hamze Hume street from the Monument to Đuro Đaković is a memorial bust sculpture of the famous Sarajevo WWII revolutionary Vladimir 'Valter' Perić (Photo 26) (who is mentioned in the 'WWII History section' of this profile page. This sculptural bust honor Perić was created by sculptor Predrag Furtula, most likely in the 1950s or 60s. When the Vraca monument complex was created, his remains were interred here. Perić was designated as a People's Hero of Yugoslavia in 1953. The exact coordinates for this monument are N43°51'21.3", E18°24'45.7".
Photo 26: Bust of Vladimir 'Valter' Perić
Photo 27: The former Museum of the Revolution
Museum of the Revolution: Located in the city center of Sarajevo along "Zmaja od Bosne" street is the "Historical Museum of Bosnian & Herzegovina", what was originally called the "Museum fo the Revolution" when it was built in 1963 (Photo 27). Designed by famous Croatian architect Boris Magaš, the central element of the building is a large elevated rectangular-shaped box that appears to float as a result of its well-engineered cantilevered modernist design. Walls of glass curtains are hung from the top of the box which creates an open room of immense spatial freedom. During the Yugoslav era, this was among the premiere museological institutions in the country. However, the complex began to fall into a poor condition after the 1990s, both as a result of the Bosnian War and as a result of general neglect. It was also after the 1990s that the institution changed its name to its current designation. The museum contains a large array of exhibits that relate to the history, art and culture of the region, particularly its WWII history, but also ethnographic, medieval and 1990s history as well. The official website for the museum can be found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N43°51'18.3", E18°24'03.8". Also, while you are at this museum, make sure you check out in the museum's rear courtyard "Caffe Tito", which is a laid-back coffee shop and bar dedicated to former Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito.
Photo 28: Monument to the Revolution [source]
Monument to the Revolution at Ilidža: Located in the western Sarajevo suburb of Ilidža is situated a modest memorial work known as the Monument to the Revolution, which operates as a memorial ossuary or crypt for the remains of local fighters and victims of WWII (Photo 28). Created in 1961 by Sarajevo sculptor Petar Krstić, the complex is located among the woods and trails of Veliki Park (just south of Park Banjska). The central element of this memorial sculpture is a rectangular black granite wall (roughly 6m tall) which has fixed upon it a white Brač stone sculptural relief depicting three distinct stacked rows of Partisan soldiers fighting against fascist forces. Tot he right of this sculpture is a large flat tomb slab which is inscribed with the names of 99 local fighters killed during WWII. The monument continues to host commemorative events, however, the monument has routinely been a victim of vandalism and spray paint defacement in recent years. The exact coordinates for this monument in Ilidža are N43°49'28.3", E18°18'19.0".
The "Valter Defends Sarajevo" Museum: Located within the Sarajevo Film Center is a museum dedicated to "Valter brani Sarajevo" (Valter Defends Sarajevo), the famous 1972 Yugoslav-era film which details the WWII exploits of Sarajevo Partisan revolutionary Vladimir 'Valter' Perić. The museum was opened in April of 2019 and contains a large array of props and set pieces that were used as part of this cult classic film. The ticket cost for the museum entrance is 10KM (~5 euro). The exact coordinates for this museum are N43°51'35.8", E18°25'25.6".
Antun Augustinčić's Sculpture of Tito: Located just across "Zmaja od Bosna" street from the Historical Museum of BiH (and 200m to the west) in a small park in front of one of the faculty buildings for the University of Sarajevo can be found a large bronze figurative sculpture of Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito (Photo 29), which was cast from a design created by Croatian sculptor Antun Augustinčić. While the first incarnation of Augustinčić's Tito statue was erected in 1948 in his hometown of Kumrovec, this version was cast and installed some years after that (but it is unclear when exactly). The placement of the statue was in honor of the area of what is now the University of Sarajevo and that was formerly used during WWII as a barracks for Tito's Partisan Army. Having weathered the Bosnian War intact, Tito's monument here in Sarajevo continues to host ceremonies up until the present day. The exact coordinates for this Tito monument are N43°51'21.0", E18°23'53.6". A duplicate of this statue also resides within the inner courtyard of the Historical Museum of BiH in Sarajevo.
Photo 29: A photo of Antun Augustinčić's Tito sculpture
From the city center of Sarajevo, head across the River Miljacka and get on Zagrebačka Street heading west. After several hundred meters, turn left onto Derviša Numića Street and follow it all the way to the top of the hill where the road comes to a 'T' with Road R446. Take a left onto R446 and follow it several hundred meters until you see a parking area on your left for the Vraca Memorial Park. The exact coordinates for parking are N43°50'40.8", E18°24'00.6". It is also possible to walk to this memorial from the Sarajevo city center, a trip that takes roughly 45-60 minutes.
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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