Name: 'Partisan's Necropolis' (Партизанската некропола) or 'Memorial to Fallen Fighters of the Revolution'
Location: Štip, Macedonia (aka: Shtip)
Year completed: 1974 (5 years to build)
Designer: Bogdan Bogdanović
Coordinates: N41°44'18.2", E22°11'14.8" (click for map)
Dimensions: ~2m tall monoliths
Materials used: White marble blocks
Condition: Fair, some neglect and vandalism
Click on slideshow photos for description
The Partisan Necropolis here at Štip commemorates the fallen Partisan soldiers and civilians from this area who perished during Axis occupation and the cities liberation during WWII.
World War II
After the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded in April of 1941, region of present-day Macedonia was broken up into two regions: Vardar Macedonia, which was occupied and administered mostly by the Bulgarian 5th Army and made up of the eastern two-thirds of the country, while the western one-third was administered by the Axis italian Army. Initially, the Royal Yugoslav Army in Štip attempted to resist this invasion, but much of this resistance was eliminated when Germans planes waged a bombing campaign against the town on April 6th, 1941. During these bombings of Štip, over 200 people in the city were killed, but not just soldiers... many everyday citizens of the city were killed as well, with the Jewish quarter of the city being especially hard hit. Not long after the bombings, Axis-aligned Bulgarian forces descended in and occupied the city. While many across Vardar Macedonia initially welcomed the Bulgarian armies as 'liberators' from what was felt to be the Serbian-oppression imposed upon the region after their annexation in 1912, the Bulgarians soon became oppressors themselves. In the city of Štip, which was within Vardar Macedonia, the people here experienced brutal and oppressive conditions after these Bulgarian occupation forces entered the city in April, 1941.
Photo 1: A view of Isar Hill in Štip just before WWII in the late 1930s.
In response to these conditions, in October of 1941, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia began to aid in organizing the young people of the city into armed resistance units who were set out to repel and overthrow the Bulgarian occupying forces. However, despite these efforts, Bulgarians maintained control of the region and continued to abuse and oppress the city's local population. For instance, on March 11th, 1943, Bulgarian forces rounded up over 550 of the city's Jewish residents (from over 151 families) and deported them via cattle-car to the Treblinka death camp in occupied-Poland. For much of the war, these Bulgarian forces held Štip until the Soviet take-over of Bulgaria in September of 1944, at which point it was given up to surrounding German forces. However, as Josip Tito's Partisan Army quickly aligned itself with the new pro-communist leadership in Bulgaria, a renewed military push in Macedonia was made, with Štip finally being liberated by the Macedonian People's Liberation Army on the 8th of November, 1944. During the course of the war, over 9,000 citizens across the city were killed and of those, over 800 were people from Štip who perished fighting against Axis forces in defense of the city. Of Štip's entire pre-war population, which was roughly 18,000, about 2,000 actively participated in the Partisan struggle against Axis control.
In the late 1960s, it was felt that a new, more grand memorial crypt for the fallen fighters of the Liberation War from Štip, along with amonument to the city's fallen citizens, should be built as an act of commemoration. As a result, a design competition was held in order to establish a suitable and appropriate form for this spomenik complex. The first prize for the competition was ultimately awarded to famed architect Bogdan Bogdanović (Photo 2). It took roughly 5 years to complete, having its inaugural celebration on November 8th, 1974. Bogdanović situated the memorial on the hillside below Isar Fortress, set into two separate terraces. The bottom-most terrace was composed of three marble slabs standing upright, roughly 3m tall, carved with curtain-like patterns, standing as a sort of entrance portal. From there, you walk up a set of steep stairs lined on either side with cenotaphs engraved with the names of fallen soldiers. At the top of second terrace, 12 cenotaphs (~2m tall) surround an equally tall engraved stone urn under which is situated a crypt that contains the victim's remains.
Photo 2: Some concept sketches for the Štip necropolis by Bogdanović
For many years, the Partisan Necropolis stood as an important cultural and historic symbol for many in the city (evidenced by the monument being prominently featured on many of the towns Yugoslav-era postcard), but since the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, its local significance and use have declined, with the site slowly succumbing to neglect and vandalism during the 1990s and early 2000s. However, some modest commemorative events continue to be held at the memorial complex and international interest in the site is increasing. Furthermore, recent restorations and repairs to the site indicate that the local municipality is working to reverse the monument's precious years of decline and improve its stature within the community.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There are several examples of engravings and graffiti at the Partisan Necropolis here at Štip. In front of the 12 cenotaphs, there is a ~2.5m urn-shaped pillar (Slide 1) engraved on two sides with verses of a Ace Šop poem. Translated from Macedonian to English, it reads
"Here is that flame beneath those crazed waters, under that spring that gives birth to them, under this wreath of sunbeans, under this wave that is drowned by rocks. With him, the beauty of flowers is greater, without him, the whole world is destitute. The cross is light, the ashes are darkness. The dead live with us and within our songs."
Walking up the stairs to the 12 monoliths from the base of the monument (halfway up on the right side of the stairs) there is an engraved stone slab (Slide 2) nearly overgrown by brush and limbs. It translates from Macedonian to English as:
"During the war in Štip, there were roughly 9000 people. Of them, 814 gave their lives for freedom. From the citizens of Štip, eternal gratitude is offered."
As far as graffiti goes, there is a great deal of it covering many monoliths and elements in this memorial spomenik complex. While I found no overt political or nationalistic graffiti, I did find one bit of graffiti on one of the monoliths (Slide 3) that was notable. It translates roughly from Macedonian to English as:
'Sometimes, it is a blessing to die."
It is interesting to imagine what exactly the person who wrote this graffiti it was thinking about and referring to.
As far as additional engravings, I thought it was interesting to note that on the rear face of every single monolith, it was simply a pure white flat marble surface, except for an engraved design element (about 0.25m wide) of a unique geometric shape on every single monolith. I included two examples of them in Slides 4 and 5. Finally, along the stairway up to the monoliths from the base of the complex, the stairway is lined with marble markers (Slide 6) engraved with the names of fallen Partisan soldiers from the Štip area who died fighting in the National Liberation War. Towards the base of the stairs, some markers have been recently replaced (Slide 7) with much more crude and poorly made engraved markers
The main elements of this spomenik complex here at Štip are 12 carved marble cenotaphs (roughly 2m tall) configured on the ledge of a hillside sitting on trapezoidal pedestals. Each of the 12 monoliths are very similar in shape and design, yet each is of a unique design and carving (Slides 1 thru 12) - they are numbered in the order they appear at the site, from left to right when standing in front of them. It is not immediately clear what each of the individual designs mean (if anything), however, the monolith's overall motif has several reminiscent elements. Firstly, the horn-shaped protrusions at the top of all the monoliths are most certainly meant to be 'Horns of Consecration' (Photo 2) derived from the Minoan civilization. In that culture, tombs and shrines which bore these horn designs, symbolic of the sacred bull, were meant as a sign that the structure was sacred or holy. Meanwhile, the spherical indentations at the center of each monolith may possibly signify 'solar emblems', an element hearkening back to the region's strong jewelry-making artisan history, while also being, of course, the main symbol of Macedonia (as evidenced by the country's flag) (Photo 3).
At the same time, the circles may also be representative of the one-eyed cyclopes, a creature in in Greek mythology which stood as one of the most destructive forces of nature, with Bodgonavic perhaps thinking of these figures as symbolic of the forces of fascism which once plagued this land. Finally, the circles might also be interpreted to be figurative poppy flowers (Photo 4), which are also one of the primary symbols of Macedonia.
Monuments - Slideshow
Photo 2: Minoan Horns of Consecration at Knossos, Crete, circa 1100BC
Photo 3: Macedonian flag
Photo 4: Poppy flower
On the reverse side of each monolith, there is a complete smooth blank stone surface except for a unique circular engraved geometric emblem in the center of each monolith (roughly 1/3m wide). They are all depicted in Slides 13 - 24. It is not clear what, if any, specific meaning or symbolic significance each of them hold.
Finally, there is within a February 1975 issue of the newspaper "Нова Македонија" an article by architect Dragan Bošnakoski which describes the symobolic qualities of Bogdanović's monument at Štip in the following terms (translated here into English):
"Bogdan Bogdanović, through his own accomplishments, and through this Memorial, communicates the nature of his own artistic expression, which has one primary goal, and that is: the research and the discovery of the essence of the Slavicism, Slavic culture and its life through the centuries on this soil and within this region, as well as the connection of the mentality and cultures of the peoples and nationalities that inhabit this land. The warmth of the sun, which is presented as the primary symbol of the twenty marble blocks, itself here is expressed as the freedom that is deeply rooted in the wisdom of the people from this region. This symbol is depicted through artistic experiences, whose sources are the Old Slavic ornaments developed over the centuries, and the author of this monument relates to us the characteristics of the ornament, but now is now transcended through his creative and artistic culture which comes as an exemplary enhancement via his innovative visual artistic insights. By revealing this path through the power of his own vision, the author Bogdanović, unique in his artistic expression, shows us the potential within our modern world for creating a personal mark which will be characteristic of this country and this time we are living in today, while also giving us a glance into the future."
Status and Condition:
The current state of the Partisan Necropolis at Štip is fair, yet it has experienced some neglect and vandalism. Unfortunately, reports indicate that this spomenik complex is not officially protected on either the local or national level. The monoliths, along with the entrance portal slabs, are in a reasonably good physical state, yet a few of them are defaced with small amounts of graffiti. Photos of this spomenik complex from several years ago showing graffiti that is now gone attests to the fact that the local municipality is indeed removing some gratuitous graffiti.
The cenotaph name markers along along the stairway to the monoliths are also in a fair state. A few of the cenotaphs at the base of the stairs have been replaced with crudely done replicas (which were presumably struck by parking vehicles). Furthermore, at the plateau in which the monoliths sit on, there are clear signs that some elements of the memorial at the edge of the plateau have been destroyed and removed, yet it is not clear what they were or what happened to them. The large engraved stone urn in which the monoliths are situated around is in excellent shape.
Photo 5: A 2016 ceremony at the Štip memorial complex
When I was at this site, I did encounter a few visitors -- however, it is not clear how many are coming to visit or honor the spomenik, or are coming simply for the panoramic view or to visit Isar Fortress (which sits at the top of the hill). There is no directional or promotional signage anywhere in the area or advertisements leading visitors or tourists to this monument. While I saw no flowers or offerings left here at the time of my visit which would indicate locals are utilizing this space, records do show that annual commemorative events are held at this site (Photo 5) during the following memorial celebrations:
Additional Sites in the Štip Area:
This section will explore additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Štip area that might be of interest to those interested in the WWII monumental heritage of this region. The first work that will be examined here is the Monument to Deported Jews, which is located right on the town's riverfront, and the Brotherhood & Unity Memorial Park in Probištip, as well as the city museum of Štip and the NOB Monument of Sveti Nikole.
Memorial to Deported Jews:
Located in Museum Park along the north bank of the Otinja River (next to the Museum of Štip) is a monument which commemorates and honors the Jews from the city of Štip who were deported from here during WWII. The monument, created in 1985 by artist Metodi Andonov, is characterized by a long sloping white concrete wall which is punctured with a roughly 1m-sized circular opening at its tallest end (Slides 1 & 2). Inside that circular opening is a metal sculpted menorah shape (Slide 3). Around the base of the sculpture are black marble panels engraved with the names of those Jews who were deported from the area, in addition to one inscribed panel (Slide 4) relating how in March of 1943, over 550 Jews were deported from Štip, at which point they were killed at the notorious concentration camp at Treblinka in modern-day Poland. The exact coordinates for this site are N41°44'11.0", E22°11'25.7".
Monument to Deported Jews - Slideshow
Brotherhood & Unity Park in Probištip:
After about a 36km drive north of Štip you will come across the small town of Probištip. At the north end of town next to the "Aqua Park" is the Brotherhood & Unity Memorial Park (спомен парк "Братство и единство") (Slides 1 - 4). Built in 1986 by Macedonian architect Borislav Matevski, this monument was created to commemorate local NOB fighters who perished during WWII, as well as miners killed by occupational forces at the nearby Zletovo Mines. The mines at Zletovo are significant because of April 3rd, 1944, fighters of the 3rd Macedonian Partisan Brigade attacked the mine, which was under the control of Axis forces in order to supply their war effort. Over 100 of the miners joined the Partisan cause after that. This monument's form is composed of two primary elements, with both consisting of groups of white concrete monoliths formed into triangular pointed shapes (roughly 5-6m tall). Both of these monolith groups are location along a paved pathway through the park.
Brotherhood & Unity Memorial Park in Probištip - Slideshow
In Slide 5 you can see that one of the southern-most monolith group contains several inscribed plaques. Most of these list the names of fallen fighters during WWII, however, the highest hung plaque on the overhang contains a poetic verse by famous Macedonian poet Aco Šopov, who was born in the nearby town of Štip. This poetic verse roughly translates into English as follows:
"In the dark midnight of Probistip's suffering, a fire smolders secretly in the city,
With a fiery flame, In a fiery city,
A young avalanche roared, the Third Brigade, upon the mine's buildings.
Fascists are frozen, their bloodstains are cooled,
The brave fighters in their rooms have come of age."
The monument sits in relatively good shape, but has continued to be subject to graffiti attacks by local vandals. Commemorative events are still regularly held at this memorial park, generally on April 3rd, to commemorative the 1944 Partisan attack on Zletovo Mine. A historical image of the monument from the 1980s can be seen in Slide 6. The exact coordinates for this monument complex are N42°00'15.1", E22°10'39.0". Also, I wanted to thank Nikola Milosavljevski for providing the photos in this section!
And Additional Sites of Interest:
The Museum of Štip: Within the city center of Štip right along the Otinja River is the city's central museum, housed inside a restored traditional 19th century Macedonian building complex. The museum covers the cultural, historical and ethnographic history of the town and the region, while also including exhibits about the WWII history of the area. The official website for the museum can be found at THIS link, while the museum's exact coordinates are N41°44'11.4", E22°11'23.1".
The NOB Monument of Sveti Nikole: Roughly 25km north of Štip is the small town of Sveti Nikole. Within the town's main park is located a monument which commemorates local heroes, fighters and victims from the People's Liberation Struggle (NOB/WWII). The monument consists of an elevated platform (~4m tall), atop which is bronze sculpture of a man with a hand extended optimistically towards the sky. It was created by Skopje artist Aleksandar Jankulovski in the 1950s. It is in a fair condition. A photo of the monument can be seen at THIS Wiki link, while its exact coordinates are N41°51'53.1", E21°56'19.7".
The Partisan Necropolis at Štip is relatively easy to find, but the city's narrow streets make following directions necessary. Coming from Veles on the A3, once you enter the city of Štip, follow R1204 into the city center. Once you've crossed the bridge over the River Bregalnica, in ~700m take your first major right onto Stiv Naumov road, immediately turning right again so you are heading north on that road. After about 300m take a left onto 4th Macedonian Brigade road, following this twisty road all the way to a small parking lot on the side of the hill. This road up the hill is narrow and the parking lot is small and tight, so be careful. Once you park, take the stairs up to the spomenik. If you continue following the steps to the top of the hill, you will reach Isar Fortress (Тврдината Исар), which is a fun little visit in itself.
Click to open in Google Maps in new window
Selected Sources and More Information:
Please feel free to leave a message if you have any comments, if you have any questions, if you have corrections or if you have any additional information or insight you feel might be appropriate or pertinent to this spomenik's profile page.