Name: Memorial & Crypt to the Battle of the 1st Split Partisan Unit (Spomenik i kosturnica boraca Prvog splitskog partizanskog odreda)
Location: Ruduša forest, Sinj, Croatia
Year completed: 1962
Designer: Vuko Bombardelli (profile page)
Coordinates: N43°41'54.1", E16°37'31.0" (click for map)
Dimensions: 5m tall and 8m wide structure
Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar
Condition: Fair, neglected
Click on slideshow photos for description
This spomenik at Sinj commemorates the 24 executed fighters of the 1st Split Partisan Detachment who were executed on this spot by Ustaše forces after they were captured in the process of rebelling against Axis occupation.
World War II
In April of 1941, a movement of resistance and rebellion to Axis occupation began to grow among the angry and disaffected people of the city of Split, Croatia, organized by Yugoslav Partisan recruiters Pavle Pap Šilja and Mirko Kovačević, who had arrived in the city shortly after Split had been officially annexed by Italy. By August of that year, these recruits had been formed into an armed uprising force, which was named the Split Partisan Detachment, made up of three separate units. On August 11th, these three detachments left Split under the cover of darkness to join other Partisan units at Dinara, a mountain roughly 80km north of Split, just east of Knin near the present-day Bosnian border. However, during the course of this night-time journey, the 1st Unit of the Split Partisan Detachment, commanded by Mirko Kovačević (Photo 1), became lost and disoriented in the mountains. Though Kovačević was a seasoned veteran of the Spanish Civil War, he was a young and inexperienced commander, only 25 years old, and was unfamiliar with the territory, as his origins were of the western mountains of Montenegro.
Photo 1: Mirko Kovačević
Photo 2: Split Partisans being executed by Italian soldier at Sinj, 1941.
Weary and desperate from being lost, on August 14th, two members of the group wandered into the small village of Košute looking for directions and supplies. The locals there were hostile towards these Partisans, immediately alerting Italian and Ustaše NDH militiamen nearby. After a short battle the Partisan unit was defeated, with four Partisans dying in battle (including their commander Kovačević), while 28 were captured, with only 13 escaping. These captured Partisans were then taken to a Ustaše command post in the nearby town of Sinj, just 11km north of where they were captured in Košute. In Sinj, these 28 Partisans were put in front of a court of Ustaše military judges, specially sent from Mostar, to pass judgement on their actions. Of the 28 Partisans put on trial, 21 were found guilty of attempting to rebel against Italian occupation and for this conviction they were sentenced to death by firing squad. On August 26th, just 12 days after the initial skirmish at Košute, the sentenced Partisans were taken to an area in the woods just outside of Sinj called Ruduša, where they were lined up and executed by Italian soldiers with a gun shot to the head (Photo 2). This incident was among the first cases in Croatia of Partisan resistance fighters being executed for attempting to rise up against the occupation imposed upon them by Axis forces.
After the war Mirko Kovačević was widely hailed as a Yugoslav folk hero for his work in the Partisan resistance and for falling in action against Axis forces. On December 21st, 1951 he was declared a Yugoslav National Hero. Interestingly, two of his brothers were also declared Yugoslav National Heroes for their actions as Partisans during World War II.
In the early 1960s, the municipality of Sinj and Split, along with support from veterans groups and the RNK Split football club, organized the creation of a spomenik complex to commemorate the location at Ruduša area of Sinj where these 21 Partisans of the 1st Split Partisan Detachment were executed. The creation of the spomenik was aided by the RNK Split football club because many of the Partisans who were members of this detachment had formerly played on that team before the war. After a public design competition, the commission for creating this memorial was given to local Split artist Vuko Bombardelli. The complex was unveiled to the public during a ceremony on August 26th, 1962, commemorating exactly 21 years since the executions had occurred. The central sculptural element of the memorial is a roughly 5m tall concrete tripod-like structure consisting of three larger triangles as legs, which are all connected to a small horizontal triangle as its top.
In addition, a separate spomenik complex was constructed around the same time in the village of Košute (profile page link), where the initial battle with the Italian forces had occurred. This memorial was also created by designer Vuko Bombardelli and very much operates as a counterpart for the Ruduša monument, both stylistically and symbolically. Meanwhile, in 1972, a Yugoslav film was made depicting the events of this battle and the fate of the Partisan soldiers called "Prvi Splitski Odred" (1st Split Detachment) (Photo 3) and directed by Croatian film-maker Vojdrag Berčić.
Photo 3: Poster for 'Prvi Splitski Odred' film from 1972
During the 1990s, throughout the dismantling process of Yugoslavia and the move towards Croatian independence, the spomenik complex here at Sinj began to fall into disrepair and neglect, with commemorative ceremonies being discontinued. By the 2000s, it was mostly forgotten and abandoned, with many of its memorial elements destroyed or defaced. However, in 2008, members of the RNK Split football club came together to restore and rehabilitate the site, putting forth great effort to bring it back to its original state. On August 21st, 2009, the memorial was re-inaugurated during a ceremony attends by hundreds of citizens, along with many local dignitaries, recognizing 68 years since the original 1941 executions. Commemorative ceremonies are now held here annually during late August.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
At the spomenik complex here in the town of Sinj, Croatia, there are several engraved stones elements which are positioned around the central memorial sculpture. Firstly, if you are standing in front of the memorial sculpture facing in the southerly direction, the first inscribed stone can be easily seen on the right hand side, visible in Slide 1 & 2). This engraved inscription reads, when roughly translated from Croatian into English, as:
"To the Split football club players and their friends from the Split Partisan Unit killed and executed in August of 1941."
Worker's Football Club, Split, August 2009
However, this engraved stone is not original to the site, as obviously apparent from the 2009 date in the engraving. This was added during the 2008/2009 renovations done to the site by the RNK Split football club. The engraved stone which originally existed at this spot can be seen in a historical photo from the 1990s in Slide 3. It was destroyed at some point in the late 2000s. This now destroyed stone originally read, roughly translated from Croatian to English, as:
"You become a foundation of life and stand immortal when you sacrifice yourself in defense of your country"
There is also an additional engraved stone on the left hand side of the memorial sculpture (Slide 4). The stone is of the same size and shape as its partner of the right. The engraved inscription on this stone reads, translated from Croatian to English, as:
"You stepped the very foundations of life with your own lives. Immortal, like the land you died for."
Finally, underneath the memorial sculpture itself, sitting within a small stone paved flooring, is another stone with an engraved inscription on its top surface (Slide 5). From looking at the date inscribed on the stone, it does appear to be original to the site. The inscription on this stone reads, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
"These fighters of the 1st Split Unit lost their lives in battle from 14th to the 22nd of August, 1941, and shot on the 26th of August, 1941."
(list of names)
October 25th, 1962, the Association of Unions of Fighters of the People's Liberation War, Kotara, Split
While I was unable to find any specific analysis of the symbolic or representational being communicated here at the memorial sculpture here at the Sinj spomenik complex, some potential conclusions can be theorized. The most obvious symbolic feature present in this sculpture, created by artist Vuko Bombardelli, is the 'triangle' shape. It appears multiple times in the memorial, with the structure consisting of three triangular legs holding up a central horizontal triangle, as well as the structure's footprint making a triangle shape. Furthermore, the three-dimensional shape of the sculpture itself is similar to that of a three-sided pyramid or, more specifically, a tetrahedron. For many hundreds of years, the tetrahedron has been recognized for its 'divine proportions' (Photo 4), which often resulted it being used as a symbol for the ideas of 'godliness', 'unity' and 'perfection'. Pairing this symbolic idea of 'divinity' with the skyward facing tetrahedron shape of the structure itself, the memorial could perhaps be understood a divine gesture to a higher power to watch over the souls of those who were killed here. Furthermore, Zagreb researcher Sanja Horvatinčić suggests this triangle symbolism, through its stability and consistency, further represents the idea of the community's strength in memory and commemoration of the fallen fighters.
Photo 4: A 1400s Luca Pacioli study on divine proportions
Photo 5: A 2015 memorial event at the Sinj monument
Status and Condition:
Upon my most recent visit to the spomenik complex here at Sinj, Croatia, I found it to be in relatively good condition. Firstly, the grass, bushes and vegetation around the memorial are clearly being maintained and manicured, however, I found a significant amount of trash to be scattered around the site, more than likely left by loitering youth. The structural condition of the monument itself was quite good, with no visible cracks, breaks or chipped sections anywhere on the structure's surface, though, the anchor points on the ground were exhibiting some fractures and deterioration. On my approach to the complex, I encountered no directional or promotional signage which might lead me to the site. Even at the gravel parking lot right in front of the primary entrance, there were no indicators pointing to the monument or visible signals that a memorial site was nearby. Meanwhile, I found nothing on the official Sinj website promoting the monument or advertising it as a local tourist attraction or point of interest.
It is not immediately clear how many visitors or tourists patronize this memorial site on a regular basis. During my more recent visiting, I found no other people present, yet there were some signs that honorific wreaths and flowers had been recently left as tribute. What is clear that at least since the spomenik's 2009 renovation and restoration by the RNK Split football club, regular annual commemorative events have begun to be held here again at the site (Photo 5), which often draw in several hundred participants and many local dignitaries. Yet, despite the care and attention the site has been given in recent years, graffiti and vandalism is still a continuing issue, as I found several instances of spray paint on multiple memorial elements during my most recent visit.
Additional Sites in the Sinj Area:
In this section we will be exploring additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the Sinj area which might be relevant to those who are interested in the monumental and architectural heritage of the former Yugoslavia. Here we will look at the the Monument to the "Sinjska alka", as well as the
Monument to the 'Sinjska alka':
Near the center of the town of Sinj, just south of the Friar Pavao Vučković Primary School, is a bronze figurative memorial sculpture which honors the local equestrian competition known as "Sinjska alka". The "Sinjska alka" is a knightly jousting-like competitive event which has been preformed in Sinj every first Sunday of the month of August since 1715. The event commemorates a 1715 victory in which a small group of Croatians and Venetian soldiers single-handedly defended the town of Sinj from an Ottoman army incursion of over 60,000 troops. The "Sinjska alka" is included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. This bronze work, built in 1965 by local sculptor Stipe Sikirica, depicts a rider on a horse with a staff similar the rider in the competition and is built near the start of the event. It stands as one of the symbols of Sinj. The exact location of this monument is N43°41'52.0", E16°38'17.7".
Monument to "Sinjska alka" - Slideshow
Monument to Fallen NOB Fighters:
Not far from the Sinj town center at the center of Đardin Park is a figurative WWII monument and memorial ossuary which is dedicated to local fighters who fought and perished during the People's Liberation Struggle (NOB). Created by Croatian sculptor Ivan Mirković, presumably in the late 1950s, this work is composed of two sets of bronze figures, on sat upon a high pedestal and the other upon a low pedestal. The higher figure is of a soldier holding a flag raising his arms to the sky in victory, while the lower pedestal contains a sculpture of a soldier cradling a wounded fighter in his arms. In front of the monument is a stone slab under which are interred the remains of local fallen fighters from WWII. Since the fallen of Yugoslavia, this work has been the victim of repeated attacks by vandals. The monument can often be found sprayed with graffiti and some bronze figures have large chunchs missing.
Monument to Fallen NOB Fighters - Slideshow
In 2000, young Sinj artist Siniša Labrović wrapped in bandages the damaged section of the broken wounded soldier sculpture as a sort of political art installation called "Bandaging the Wounded". Yet, despite the poor condition this monument can often be found in, annual commemorative events are still held at the site. Recent images of the monument can be seen in Slides 1 & 2, while historical views of the monument can be seen in Slide 3. The exact coordinates for this monument are N43°42'08.3", E16°38'30.0".
And Additional Sites of Interest:
"Na Izvoru" (At the Source) Statue: Near the center of Sinj adjacent to the Church of the Miraculous Lady of Sinj is a small bronze figurative sculpture of a young girl kneeling down drinking water from a fountain. Created in 1957 by local Trilj-born sculptor Stipe Sikirica, the work is locally known by the nickname 'Luca' and stands as one of the most important symbols of the town of Sinj. A photo of the sculpture can be seen at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N43°42'04.2", E16°38'15.6".
Getting to this spomenik complex at Sinj, Croatia is a relatively easy endeavor, but due to a lack of signage, following these directions may prove useful for any visitors. From the city center of Sinj, head towards the southwest and tie in with Put Ruduše road. Follow this road about 1.5km and you will begin to see a paver-lined creek bed on the edge of the left side of the road. You will then see a rough gravel parking lot on the left where there is a small footbridge across the creek (see Google StreetView here). Park here and follow the bridge across the creek and take the trail up the hill. After about 100m, you will come across the spomenik. The exact coordinates for parking are N43°41'56.6", E16°37'33.4".
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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