Spomen-Dom at Tjentište
Name: Spomen-Dom (Memory House) or "Spomen kuća bitke na Sutjesci"
Location: Tjentište, Republic of Srpska, Bosnia & Hercegovina
Year completed: 1974
Designer: Ranko Radović
Coordinates: N43°20'38.0", E18°41'18.2" (click for map)
Dimensions: 3000 sq meter building
Materials used: Concrete
Condition: Fair but with some deterioration
The Spomen-Dom Museum complex is a massive memorial center which commemorates the events of the 1943 Battle of Sutjeska, with its primary element being a collection of 13 massive frescoes painted on its walls.
Adjacent to the fractal-wall "Valley of the Heroes" monument in the Sutjeska Valley of Tjentište, Bosnia, just down the hill to the south, there is a museum complex called the 'Spomen-dom' or 'Memorial House'. Created in 1975 by then 40 year old architect Ranko Radović, one of the greatest post-modern Montenegrin architects of his day. When commissioned to create the Spomen-Dom, he was teaching architecture at the University of Belgrade. The Spomen-Dom stands as a tribute and commemoration to the victims of the Battle of Sutjeska. It is a massive angular building (roughly 3000 sq meters) comprised of a series of connected grooved-concrete pyramid-like towers or 'hipped roofs' (Photo 1). Its design was pioneering for its day, integrating into it not only impressions of abstract austerity and meditation, but the building also very interestingly attempts to achieve a homeostasis within its environment as its form echoes and flows with the surrounding granite mountains and forested landscape.
Photo 1: A early model & drawing of the Spomen-Dom, 1970
Photo 2: The Spomen-Dom under construction, 1974
Within this museum-like building is a massive open area only interrupted by a few flat concrete structural walls. On the walls around the inside of the entire museum, there are engraved exactly 7356 names of fallen Partisan soldiers who perished during the Battle of Sutjeska. Meanwhile, on the outer walls of the museum are 13 frescoes depicting visceral scenes of the battle which were a collaborative effort between Croatian artist Krsto Hegedušić and historian Dusan Plenča. All of the frescoes together cover an area of roughly 124 sq meters. There are no lighting systems in the building, as the structure is only illuminated by a series of dramatic overhead skylights. In the lower levels of the building there was originally included a large underground amphitheatre for presentations and cultural events. In addition, the original plan intended for the wide concrete drainage basin surrounding the structure to be filled with water, an element which was hoped to impart the illusion that the entire building is floating through space. However, this extravagant addition was never realized.
Construction on the Spomen-Dom project began in 1971 (Photo 2), the same year as the completion of the primary "Valley of the Heroes" monument by Miodrag Živković. The finished product was finally completed and officially opened to the public during a grand ceremony held on July 27th, 1975, a date chosen as it was the Yugoslav holiday of the Day of the Uprising of the People of the SR of Bosnia. After the completion of the building, Radović went on to win several Yugoslav awards for excellence in architecture for the creation of the Spomen-Dom, as well as having it featured in several prestigious European architectural publications.
During the years of the Bosnian War during the 1990s (as well as the proceeding years), this spomenik structure faced severe neglect and was subject to considerable vandalism. Most notably, the series of 13 frescoes by Hegedušić experienced a significant amount of defacement and graffiti. Meanwhile, the amphitheatre in the lower level of the building has fallen into a completely derelict state and currently sits in an advanced state of decay. In recent years much work has been put forward by the authorities of Sutjeska National Park, the current managers of the property, who have added improved security and monitoring of the site. In November of 2018, a six month restoration of the frescoes within the Spomen-Dom were unveiled.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
Within the interior of the Spomen-Dom structure, there are two primary engraved inscriptions present. Each one of these inscriptions is located on either side of the main interior concrete support wall in the center of the building, situated among the wall's many thousands of inscribed victim names. The first inscription, seen in Slide 1, is made directly into the south-facing side of this center wall and is a poetic stanza from Serbian poet Branko Miljković (who was one of the most famous Serbian poets of the 20th century). This inscription reads roughly as, when translated from Serbian to English:
"Will freedom be allowed to sing just as the slaves sang about it?"
Meanwhile, the second inscription is located right at the entrance to the Spomen-Dom and is engraved within the north-facing side of the interior wall (Slide 2). The inscription recounts segments from a speech which Josip Tito gave during the first session of the 15th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Sutjeska in May of 1968. When translated into English, the inscription reads as:
"...across these land there were many battlefields on which bloody conflicts occurred, but Sutjeska, which has always been an enduring symbol in our fight for fredom, is suited best to be a place on which our people will always proudly think on and remember that great price that was paid for this freedom to be possible. This spot is intended to be a rememberance, for us and for our future generations, that the victims who have fallen there, and all across Yugoslavia, need to be respected, because our country, which has been very much like Sutjeska on a grander scale, for which so many of our countryman's sons have fallen, very much needs and deserves to be respected, even by generations that are yet to come."
Then, in Slide 3 you can see another small engraved panel that is located just to the right against the wall after you pass through the main entrance double doors. This inscribed plaque simple communicates all of the artists, architects, craftsman and construction agencies that were involved with the creation of the Spomen-Dom. Finally, in Slide 4 you can see a view of some of the 7,000 names on the walls around the entire interior of the complex. The names are written in both Latin text as well as Cyrillic text and are hand painted directly onto the concrete. The lines of names are painted in a variety of colors, an effect which helps the viewer to easier follow the names as they read them or search through them for ancestors or loved ones.
Finally, during 2018 restoration efforts conducted at the Spomen-Dom, a new plaque was installed on the exterior of the building above the main double-door entrance (Slide 5). This plaque explains how the Spomen-Dom was damaged during the conflicts of the 1990s in this region, while then going on to list all of the many people, groups and government entities that helped in this most recent restoration and rehabilitation of the Spomen-Dom.
Within the Spomen-Dom there are 13 large frescoes painted on the outer interior walls by famous Croatian artist Krsto Hegedušić. It also must be pointed out that while Hegedušić painted these frescoes, the conceptual ideas and compositions for them were planned out by notable Belgrade-based historian Dr. Dušan Plenče. In this section we will look at each fresco individually, exploring their meanings, symbolism and historical context. In the following slideshows I will present images of the frescoes in the condition as they existed in the spring of 2018, just before their fall 2018 restorations. Since that restoration, they are now fully restored. Each fresco here in this section is presented in no particular order.
Fresco 1: "Tito at Sutjeska":
In the fresco which is titled "Tito at Sutjeska" you can see a prominent depiction of Josip Tito posed thoughtfully looking over the landscape of the Sutjeska (Slide 1). The mountain-scape appears similar to that of Trnovačko Lake, but I'm not certain. This fresco is located at the rear far end of the building directly opposite the main entrance. The immense size of Tito within the scene is certainly meant to communicate a sense of power of strength, not just of his army at Sutjeska but over the country of Yugoslavia. As such, Tito's depiction here almost takes on the aura of a mythical savior or 'Christ figure', emanating indestructibility, righteousness and optimism. In Slides 2 & 3 you can see some close up detail of the fresco. In these detailed images you can notice the fresco has been subject to a great deal of graffiti and vandalism. The original condition of the fresco can be seen in Slide 4.
"Tito at Sutjeska" - Slideshow
Fresco 2: "Occupier":
In the fresco titled "Occupier", you see an depiction of five uniformed officers from various Axis armies facing the front while hanged bodies dangle from gallows in the background (Slide 1). From right to left, it appears that the officers depicted are Ustaše, Chetnik, German Army, Italian Army and Germany Navy (I might be mistaken, so message me if you have corrections). Details of the officers faces can be seen in Slides 2 - 6. In the foreground to the left is a common German Army soldier with his back to us staring at the grisly arrangement of hanged victims. This scene is certainly intended to communicate the viciousness and brutal quality of these occupiers who waged war against the Yugoslav region. Because of the nature of what is depicted here, this fresco has been especially targeted by vandals. The original state of the fresco can be seen in Slide 7.
"Occupier" - Slideshow
Fresco 3: "Dance of Death":
In the fresco which is titled "Dance of Death" we see a scene of marching uniformed skeletons and morbid bodies tossing themselves into a deep dark pit (Slide 1). These skeletons are representative of the Axis oppressors and occupiers just after their defeat by Allied and Partisan forces during WWII. This is evident as the bodies are dressed in the uniforms and carrying the flags of their respective armies. Furthermore, the skeletons tossing themselves in the black pit could be understood as representing the death of the Axis vision and ideology. Being trampled at the feet of the skeletons you can see broken and scattered remains on the ground of the symbols and emblems of these Axis fascist armies (Slides 2 - 6). Similar to the other frescoes here, this one has been subject to extreme vandalism. A photo of the fresco in its original condition can be seen in Slide 7.
"Dance of Death" - Slideshow
Fresco 4: "Children & Dogs":
In the fresco which is titled "Children & Dogs", we see a scene where several young children are surrounded by a pack of dogs, all taking place within the forbidding red rock formations of the Miljevina (not far from Sutjeska) (Slide 1). This is fresco is meant to be an artistic depiction of orphans from the local Children's Home, who were the youngest victims of the Battle of Sutjeska. Unable to keep up with the retreating Partisan units, the children lagged behind. Hiding at the advancement of pursuing German troops, the children hid but were discovered by the German soldier's trained hunting dogs. It is estimated that roughly 150 orphan children were killed in such ways during Battle of Sutjeska. Like the rest of the frescoes here, this one has also experienced considerable defacement and graffiti. An image of its original condition can be seen in Slide 2.
"Children & Dogs" - Slideshow
Fresco 5: "Sutjeksa - Bloody River":
In the fresco which is titled "Sutjeska - Bloody River" depicts a Partisan soldier clutching a small child as they both walk along the rocky the banks of the Sutjeska River (Slide 1). Within the river a number of maimed bodies can be seen floating in the currents and perched along its banks. The Partisan soldier here walking through this morbid scene can most certainly be understood as a compassionate mother-figure (symbolizing Yugoslavia) taking the young innocent child (symbolizing Yugoslav citizens) away from the horrible scene to safety. Furthermore, the child can also be understood as an embodiment of the rebirth of Yugoslavia itself after the war, leaving behind it the horrors and death is was forged within. As with the other frescoes, this one has also been subject to graffiti and vandalism. The original state of the fresco can be seen in Slide 2.
"Sutjeska, Bloody River" - Slideshow
Fresco 6: "Fight at Ljubin Grob":
In the fresco which is titled "Fight at Ljubin Grob", you see a depiction from the June 1943 Axis assault on Partisan forces at the strategic Zelengora mountain pass of Ljubin Grob. During this battle, Axis forces attempted to box in the Partisans at the pass. Fighting was so intense during this confrontation that it often led to bloody and visceral hand-to-hand combat between soldiers of the two sides, a scene visible in the fresco. However, they were able to successfully evade this offensive and continue their withdraw towards Jahorina mountain. During the height of the fighting at Ljubin Grob, a famous letter was sent by unit commander Vladan Đuranović to the Central Committee of the Communist Party in which he speaks of his unit's unwavering resistance to Axis forces. A depiction of this letter is included in the fresco in the lower right corner (Slide 2). The letter roughly translates into English as:
"Fight at Ljubin Grob" - Slideshow
"As long as you hear shots coming from Ljubin Grob, the Germans will not be allowed to pass. When you hear shots no longer, then know that there are no Communist Proletarians left alive there."
Meanwhile, in the foreground of the fresco you can see a Partisan fighter overcoming a writhing German soldiers on the ground, while an additional German soldier stumbles to the center of the scene holding his bleeding wound. This most certainly alludes to the decline, downfall and eventual defeat of Axis forces as WWII comes to a close. Finally, it is interesting to point out that this fresco has much less graffiti and defacement than some of the other images. The original condition of this fresco can be seen in Slide 3.
Fresco 7: "Diaspora":
In the fresco which is titled "Diaspora", a group a civilians is seen fleeing their war-torn village through a harsh landscape (Slide 1). This scene most certainly is meant to testify to the hardships and terror inflicted upon local peasants and villagers across the Sutjeska River and Zelengora mountain region during the National Liberation War. Some sources estimate that over 2,500 civilians died during the Battle of Sutjeksa (for the crime of allegedly collaborating with the Partisans). As their village burns in the background, the fleeing civilian group in the foreground can be seen containing not only women and children carrying as many earthly belongings as possible, but also emaciated livestock just barely struggling along. Interestingly, this fresco contains only a small amount of vandalism and graffiti on its surface. A view of the original condition of this fresco can be seen in Slide 2.
"Diaspora" - Slideshow
Fresco 8: "Impassible":
In the fresco that it titled "Impassibe", a unit of Partisan fighters can be seen engaged in the midst of an explosive battle, with civilian causalities seen in the foreground (Slide 1). This scene is intended to be a representation of the fighting that would have taken place by Montenegrin and Dalmatian Partisan units at Ljubin Grob and at Donje Bare. One interpretation of this scene is that it illustrates that how through the fire of battle, rebirth and renewal can occur, not just for the soldier, but also for the country that is being fought for. Again, the civilian casualty seen in the foreground here is testament to the thousands of peasants and villagers who were executed by Axis forces for collaborating with (or simply aiding) the Partisans. At the lower left hand corner of the fresco you can see a depiction of a letter sent to Tito at the Supreme Headquarters by the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Dalmatian Brigade (Slide 2). This letter translates into English as:
"Impassible" - Slideshow
"Over half of our battalion has been ejected from this 'machine' [battle], however, still count your tasks with us as if we were in full force. While one of us is still alive, the Germans will not pass."
This final statement in the letter "While one of us is still alive, the Germans will not pass" is very reminiscent of ancient Battle of Thermopylae during which King Leonidas of Sparta similarly faces a massive army with a much smaller force. This romanticized concept of a much smaller grassroots force facing up to(against all odds) a much larger 'machine-like' adversary became an integral component of the post-Yugoslav war mythology. Finally, when looking at this fresco it is clear to see that is has been subjected to a considerable amount of vandalism and graffiti defacement. The original condition of this fresco can be seen in Slide 3.
Fresco 9: "Lie Down":
In the fresco that is titled "Lie Down", you see a scene dominated by a large red stone wall upon which are three German posters, while in the foreground you see a rock-strewn dirt sitting littered with other small pieces of paper (Slide 1). These posters and flyers are representations of the type of warnings the German Army posted in the lead up to the the Partisan uprising and to the subsequent Battle of Sutjeska, which acted as cautions to local citizenry of the dire consequences which would result if they attempted to rise up against Axis occupation or take up arms against German forces. The scene can be symbolically interpreted as a foreboding omen of the deadly war ahead. A close up of all three posters can be seen in Slide 2. Starting with the poster on the far left, it translates roughly into English as:
"Lie Down" - Slideshow
[German] troops will, according to the populace, show themselves hostile to any brutal ruthlessness by seizing their existing reserves and destroying the abandoned settlements of the enemy while taking away any possibility of survival. Then execution, after hearings, of whoever participates actively in the fight against the German Army and, as such, is captured.
This proclamation is illustrates the brutal and heavy-handed tactics used by the German Army to suppress any resistance or challenges to their occupation of the Yugoslav territory. The German Army author of the proclamation, General Major Josef Kübler, was captured by Partisan forces at the end of the war and hanged for war crimes on February 26th, 1947 in Ljubljana.
Meanwhile, the second poster to the far right of the scene is an alert to German soldiers regarding important concepts to keep in mind during approaching Sutjeska offensive against Partisan forces. The message reads roughly in English as:
The hour of the complete destruction of Tito's army has come - I am ordering: no man capable of military service should be left alive within the circle... check that women are not simply dressed-up men... Tito and his followers are allegedly wearing German uniforms. Check all military booklets.
This notice was included within the fresco certainly to act as an example of the considerable precautions that the Germany Army was taking in order to ensure that the the Partisan threat was utterly and completely vanquished. It is important to point out that where the notice says "...within the circle", the 'circle' refers to the offensive ring created by Axis forces meant to trap the Partisans while they were encamped on Vučevo Mountain (just east of Sutjeska Valley). However, as we know, Tito and his Partisans did manage to escape this offensive 'circle'. The German Army author of this notice, General Rudolf Lüters, was captured by Soviet forces towards the end of the war in May of 1945, during which time he died in captivity on the following December.
Finally, at the upper center portion of the fresco you can see a smaller middle poster which is meant to allude to the flyers which German airplanes dropped out over Partisan fighters on the eve on the Battle of Sutjeska. Such flyers were intended to scare or intimidate the Partisans into giving up the fight or surrendering. This particular flyer reads in both Serbo-Croatian (top) and German (bottom), which translates roughly into English as:
"This leaflet is a valid pass"
Photo 3: A German pass, 1943
These distributed passes, which were dropped by German planes in massive quantities, could purportedly be used by the Partisan soldiers who collected them as a 'pass' to have ones life spared if they surrendered themselves to a German unit. Generally these passes were bright red (for visibility) and were mass-dumped as leaflets in huge number over assembling Partisan brigades. Such red leaflets are depicted in the fresco as (not surprisingly) discarded trash on the ground in the image's lower right hand corner which has the German word "passierschein", or "pass" in English, written on it in black text. An image of what one of the actual passes from the Battle of Sutjeska looked like can be seen in Photo 3.
Interestingly, this is the only fresco devoid of human figures. The symbolic reason for this human absence may be to illustrate that the Partisan fighters were not swayed or deterred from their mission of uprising or rebellion by such taunts, temptations or intimidations. Finally, it should be noted that this fresco too has on it considerable amounts of graffiti and vandalism. The original state of the fresco can be seen in Slide 3.
Fresco 10: "Typhus Victims":
In the fresco which is titled "Typhus Victims" we see a grisly scene in front of a red rock wall populated by gruesome dead and dying people infected with typhus fever (Slide 1 & 2). During the Battle of Sutjeska many thousands died simply from the scourge of typhus. Then Germans routinely killed any disabled/unarmed Partisan fighters who were found suffering or debilitated from typhus. In the lower left hand corner of the scene, a snake can be found slithering through the rocks. The snake here is most certainly a symbol for death, an apt one most certainly because, like a snake, typhus sneaks up on its victims slowly and kills painfully. This fresco is covered in a significant amount of graffiti and vandalism. I have yet to obtain a photograph of this fresco displaying its original condition.
"Typhus Victims" - Slideshow
Fresco 11: "Breakthrough":
In the fresco which is titled "Breakthrough", you see a darkened gloomy setting with its central element being a destroyed German tank with two dead German soldiers in the foreground (Slide 1). This scene is intended to represent the defeated Axis foes the Partisan forces left behind in the process of breaking out of the Sutjeska Valley through the "Iron Circle" in their push northwards towards safety. One of the last obstacles in this flight north away from Sutjeska was a set of German tanks which were disposed of in a dramatic fashion just at the last moment my members of the 2nd Serbian Partisan Brigade. In the background of the image you can see a pair of ruined houses that appear to be flying white flags of surrender. This scene could perhaps be a representation of the inevitable Partisan victory and Axis surrender at the end of the war.
"Breakthrough" - Slideshow
Alternatively, the scene of the ruined homes flying the white flag might also a symbol of the savagery of the Nazi soldiers upon the region's civilian population. For example, in the situation put forward in the fresco, perhaps the civilians who had lived there had surrendered or signaled non-aggression during the Axis offensive (by flying white flags), but had suffered their homes being burned to the ground regardless of this concessionary action. This fresco's surface has been victim to an appreciable amount of graffiti and vandalism. An image of the fresco's original condition can be seen in Slide 2.
Fresco 12 & 13: "Column" & "Wounded":
The final two frescoes are titled "Column" (left) and "Wounded" (right). In the "Column" fresco, you see a large unit of Partisan troops crossing over the Zelengora mountain pass of Dragoš Sedlo as they head north away from Sutjeska towards safety. Meanwhile, in the fresco titled "Wounded", we see a group of wounded Partisan fighters from the Central Hospital hiding out among the steep canyons of the Sutjeska Valley. However, a great number of the hiding wounded and sick Partisans were found and executed by Axis forces during the aftermath of the battle. The pairing of these two frescoes together could be contrasting the fighters who escaped Sutjeska against the sick and wounded who perished. Both of these frescoes are significantly damaged with graffiti and vandalism. An original view of these two works can be seen in Slide 2.
"Column" & "Wounded" - Slideshow
Interestingly, of the many individual people which are depicted in this vast scene of sick, wounded and fleeing Partisan fighters, one might assume that they are all fictitious and created persons from the mind of the artist. However, many of the people depicted in these murals are real people, most of whom are former Sutjeska National Park workers and managers. In addition, there is one person depicted in this mural that is of extra significance... seen on the left mural here on the lower right-hand side of the scene can be seen the face of Ranko Radović (Photo 4), the Montenegrin architect who designed and built this Spomen-Dom building. Hegedušić, the artist who painted these murals, and Radović were close friends and even closer collaborators through the creation of the Spomen-Dom, so perhaps it was a tribute to that collaboration that Hegedušić included a likeness of Radović here. This is one of the few Yugoslav monument works where a likeness of the work's author is contained within the work itself.
Photo 4: Two views of Ranko Radović, in the Hegedušić mural [left] and in a photo [right]
When evaluating the symbolic qualities of the Spomen-Dom by Ranko Radović, the first quality of the structure to observe are the dramatic rooflines which dominate its architecture. In a paper by Nina Stevanović, she recounts a 1976 interview with Arhitektura magazine where Radović discusses his views about his architectural approach in creating the Spomen-Dom complex:
The building was intended "to have a symbolical spatial merit", reﬂected in "stateliness, stillness and unobtrusiveness, austerity almost" but as well "the plasticity and the richness of the form". Furthermore, the design was to respect "the speciﬁc natural ambient" as it was not to impose on, but emerge from the landscape... The building is formed through an interplay of hipped roofs whereas "the hipped roof is duplicated, grouped, expanded, pervaded, with diverse proportions turned into a special architectural assembly... "[I wanted an] abolishment of the wall, while keeping just a roof which grows from the ground, to convert the roof surfaces and thus pick up an architectural energy from the soil and throw it along slantwise, sloping roofs to the world and in the world, to the people and in the times."
Photo 5: Katuns in Bosnia
So, as Radović describe here, he wanted it to appear as though the roof complex of Spomen-Dom effortlessly rose from the ground in a way that it almost appears to be itself bursting from the earth, as if to emphasize its 'belongingness' to the landscape. Meanwhile, the rooflines also echo local culture and heritage in the way they resemble the Zelengora 'katuns' (sheepherder huts) (Photo 5) which can be found around the region. Yet, despite this apparent influence from traditional design, the Spomen-Dom's shape very much takes on a highly modernist and futuristic appearance, right down to the building's massive concrete double-doors which appear like unexplainable relics pulled from some unknown universe. As a result of this strange synthesis of the natural, traditional and modern elements, the viewer, looking upon the Spomen-Dom for the first time, is left feeling drawn in (maybe even a bit bewildered) by what could be described as an energetic radiance of sacredness.
Meanwhile, the interior of the structure continues to carry on this idea of 'sacredness'. The inner space of the Spomen-Dom only contains one interior wall towards the front of the structure. This leaves the interior vastly open for the most part, with high vaulted ceilings and massive sky-lights pouring in tons of natural light. This whole effect gives the building a very church-like and exalted atmosphere. The concept of the Spomen-Dom acting as a sort of 'church' or 'holy-space' is continued in the placement of the Tito fresco at the far end of the central space (opposite the double-door entrance), very much as if this is meant to be the 'altar' of the building. Tito's positioning and stance in the fresco is also very Christ-like, as he is overtly being held up here as the 'savior' of Yugoslavia. Furthermore, the way all the frescoes together are arranged around the perimeter of the Spomen-Dom very much seems like an imitation of the 'Stations of the Cross' (Photo 6), where the struggles and redemption of Yugoslavia (via Tito) are laid out in a successive pictorial arrangement clearly meant to inspire and humble the viewer. All of this alludes to the idea of the Spomen-Dom, and other similar structures, being sacred spaces where the 'religion' of Yugoslav socialism can be freely practiced and celebrated.
Photo 6: Stations of the Cross paintings in a Catholic church in Columbus, OH
Photos 7 & 8: The Tito fresco at the Spomen-Dom (top) and Dali's 1955 'Last Supper' painting
An additional artistic comparison that reinforces the 'Christ-like' symbolism in the depiction of Tito in the art-work and architecture of the Sutjeska Spomen-Dom is in juxtaposing the central Hegedušić fresco of Tito next to the 1955 Salvador Dalí work titled "The Sacrament of the Last Supper" (Photos 7 & 8). Observing the two scenes together reveals a convincing set of similarities which lead one to possibly entertain the theory that both Radović (through his architecture) and Hegedušić (through his painting) were both jointly inspired by Dalí's 1955 'Last Supper' to such a degree that they collaborated to create a scene heavily influenced by the painting. Firstly, the dodecahedron shape within which Christ is shown at the center of in the Dalí painting seems to be echoed by the placement of Tito amidst the angular architecture of Radović's concrete structure. Meanwhile, the Spomen-Dom's overhead windows flooding light onto this spot seem to roughly correspond with the 'heavenly light' seen in Dalí's work. Furthermore, Dalí's background mountain scene shown in the painting also appears reflected in Hegedušić's depiction of the Zelengora Mountains within the center and surrounding frescoes. Hegedušić spent much of the WWII years doing religious painting while under the protection of Archbishop Stepinac, while after WWII he was heavily influenced by the surrealist movement. As such, Hegedušić would have been highly versed in not only religious symbolism. but also the surrealistic work of Salvador Dalí.
An additional artistic element to these murals that even further reinforces the idea that Hegedušić is attempting to insert Christian imagery within them can be seen in the "Sutjeska - Bloody River" mural (situated directly to the right of the Tito mural). The central figure in this mural is a Partisan fighter holding a child (Photo 9). While it is easy to mistake this fighter for a male upon first glance, however, upon closer inspection, details reveal that it is clear that Hegedušić intended this figure to be a woman. As such, understanding this figure as a woman immediately leads one to interpret her as a 'Mother Mary' style figure, especially considering the way in which she is cradling the child in her arms (which can then obviously be understood to represent the baby Jesus). Meanwhile, the proximity of this mural directly next to the Tito mural even further reinforces the idea of Hegedušić depicting Tito as a Christ-like figure.
Photos 9: An image from the "Sutjeska - Bloody River" mural [left], and an image of Mother Mary and Jesus [right]
A final potential similarity to Christ and the Last Supper within the Spomen-Dom could exist in the fact that in addition to the central Tito fresco, there are 12 additional frescoes around the interior walls of the building... which perhaps could be a reference in Jesus and his 12 apostles.
Status and Condition:
Overall, the condition of the Spomen-Dom structure is fair, but there are considerable spaces within the building which are still significantly deteriorated and certain interior elements (most notably the frescoes) which are still plagued by graffiti and vandalism. During and after the 1990s, the structure fell into considerable disrepair, with it being taken advantage of by vandals. At one point there was a fire in the basement-level whose blackened residue can still be seen in one of the staircases. However, during the late 2000s and 2010s, the National Park of Sutjeska made considerable efforts to reclaim and rehabilitate the structure. Proper locks have been put on the doors and much work has been done to repair damage. However, the basement amphitheatre space is still completely devastated, currently sitting in a dark and dismantled state. While the frescoes are still largely defaced and vandalized, funds for protection and rehabilitation of the site and of its frescoes were put forward in 2012 by UNESCO, with more commitments being added to this by the United States Embassy in Bosnia in 2016. In November of 2018, a six month restoration of the frescoes within the Spomen-Dom were unveiled. Done at a cost of roughly 100,000 BAM and implemented by the Institute for Protection of Cultural-Historical and Natural Heritage of the Republika of Srpska and Sutjeska National Park, the restoration of frescoes was performed by conservation-restorer Vanja Sotra Dursun with the help put forward by Foča painter Njegoš Miletić. More restoration work is planned for the structure for the near future, such as work to the windows, roof and basement.
The Spomen-Dom at Tjentište, Bosnia is located just a few hundred meters south downhill of the central 'Valley of the Heroes' monument. This whole memorial complex is located roughly 1km south of the village of Tjentište along Hwy M20. These days the Spomen-Dom is kept locked nearly 100% of the time for security purposes. If you want to gain access to the Spomen-Dom, you can either stop by Hotel Mladost upon arrival, as they generally have a key or at the least can arrange you access ( their phone number is +387 58/233-118). Also, you can make plans ahead of time with the Đorđe Vuković, the Sector Development coordinator with the Sutjeska National Park. He can be reached at or by phone at +387 58 233-130 or +387 65 719-035.
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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