Name: The Battle of Sutjeska Memorial Monument Complex in the Valley of Heroes
Location: Tjentište, Republic of Srpska, Bosnia & Hercegovina
Year built: 1971 (2 years to build)
Dimensions: ~19m high and ~25m wide
Materials used: poured concrete and rebar
Condition: Fair to good, much improved (landmine warning - read below)
Click on slideshow photo to see description.
This spomenik at Tjentište commemorates the fighters and fallen soldiers of the Battle of the Sutjeska, which took place from May 15th to June 16th, 1943.
World War II
Since nearly the beginning of Axis powers taking control of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April of 1941, the armies of Germany, Italy and their other Axis collaborators had been battling against armed uprisings of local resistance forces, most notably Josip Tito's communist Partisan Army. As the Partisans in large part relied on guerilla tactics and unconventional warfare, they became a significant force for the Axis leadership to reckon with. As a result, the German Army created a set of targeted operations to take out Tito specifically, which they felt would behead the Partisan's leadership and destroyed the movement. The first attempt at subduing Tito took place in January of 1943, during what the German's called Operation Case White, which the Yugoslav's later referred to as the Battle of Neretva near Makljen. However, this operation ended in Tito dramatically escaping at the last moment.
In May of 1943, Axis powers set upon Tito again with a new operation called Case Black. The operation was initiated with 127,000 Axis forces pursuing 22,000 Yugoslav Partisans across the Durmitor Mountains, then north into the Zelengora Mountains of present day Bosnia. Then, in early June of 1943, the Partisans were subsequently boxed in and trapped within Axis lines on Vučevo Mountain on the east Sutjeska River valley, near the small village of Tjentište. As a result, a massive battled between the two sides ensued in what today is known as the 'Battle of Sutjeska' (Bitka na Sutjesci). Despite this hopeless seeming situation, Tito orchestrated a daring move where, starting on the morning of June 9th, he ordered Partisan units to begin breaking west across the open valley and over the river. Some of the Partisans were surprisingly successful in breaking the German lines, at which point they headed up a steep ravine of Ozren Mountain and were then able to break north through German lines and escape past Goražde through the mountains into eastern Bosnia.
Photo 1: A view through the valley during the Battle of Sutjeska
Despite this ambitious and daring escape Tito made during this seemingly hopeless battle, it came at a great cost of life. During the conflict, over 7,000 Partisan soldiers were killed. Tito's escape at Sutjeska is considered a significant pivotal moment is the Partisan Liberation Struggle against the German-Italian Axis occupiers, as it proved that they were a formidable fighting force which could not easily be destroyed.
Furthermore, the legacy of Tito's outsmarting and evasion of the Germans became a key component in the formation of the Yugoslavian post-war identity and mythology, as it was a demonstration of how the 'righteous cause' and 'moral firmness' of the Partisan's patriotic dedication, even in the face of overwhelming odds, were enough to challenge and subvert any opposing forces. In addition, it was just a few months after this decisive battle in November of 1943 that the leadership of the Allied powers met for the Tehran Conference where they pledged full support to the Yugoslav Partisan movement recognizing them as the sole legitimate anti-fascist fighting force in the region (at which point Allied support for the Chetnik forces of the region was ceased). The symbolic power this battle cultivated for Yugoslavia after the end of WWII was so great that the country funded the production of a film in 1971 called the 'Battle of Sutjeska' (aka: 'The Fifth Offensive' in English language markets) (Photo 2) which depicted events from the battle, starring famed Hollywood actor Richard Burton starring as Josip Tito. Not surprisingly, Tito was personally involved in various aspects of the production of the film, as it was the costliest film the country would ever produce. The film was put forward for consideration as the Yugoslav entry for the Best Foreign Language Films during the 46th Academy Awards US film competition in April of 1974, however, it was not selected by the Academy as a finalist for the category. This film is available for viewing at the Spomenik Database 'Video Archive' section.
Photo 2: The Yugoslav poster for the 1971 film 'Battle of Sutjeska'
The first memorial element to be constructed at Sutjeska was a large flat stone slab memorial altar built on the western hillside above the valley. Completed in 1958, this stone altar was not only a solemn memorial to the Battle of Sutjeksa, but it also housed beneath it a crypt which contained the interred remains of over 3,000 fallen fighters from the battle. Then, in the late 1960s, plans were made to expand this memorial complex with a much larger and substantial memorial structure. In 1964, monument selection committee was assembled, who proceeded to organize a closed design competition in which invitations for proposal submissions were extended to four notable Yugoslav artists: Miodrag Živković, Stanko Mandić, Jovan Kratohvil and Boris Kobe.
Of the four entries submitted, the commission for the monument project was awarded to proposal made by Miodrag Živković & Ranko Radović, who both personally presented their concept to President Josip Tito (Photo 3). Work on the project began in 1969, with the entire construction process taking roughly two years (Photo 4). The project was completely financed with federal funds from Belgrade. In addition, President Josip Tito himself took great interest with all matters of the creation of the Sutjeksa memorial, with the only other Yugoslav memorial it could be said he took greater interest in the construction of was the one at Jasenovac. This expansion project was unveiled to the public on September 5th, 1971, however, despite the unveiling, the monument was not yet fully completed, as work on the structure continued well after the opening ceremony. The primary element of this first expansion project was a massive concrete monument designed by Živković, with engineering assistance and intervention by Đorđe Zloković. The work consisted of a pair of two massive 19m tall white concrete fractal-walls soaring into the sky at a sharp angle. At the time, this stood as one of the largest and most complex memorial projects in Yugoslavia.
Photo 3: Tito (far left) examining a model of Sutjeska monument, with Živković on the right
Photo 4: The Tjentište memorial construction site in 1970
Meanwhile, an adjacent secondary memorial project, designed and constructed by Radović in the early 1970s, was a fresco/remembrance museum called 'Spomen-dom' or 'Memorial House'. It was officially opened to the public a few years later on July 27th, 1975 near the valley floor just below the fractal-wall monument. The frescoes on the interior of the 'Spomen-dom' museum were painted by Croatian artist Krsto Hegedušić with the assistance of historian Dusan Plenča. During the Yugoslav-era, this memorial complex was one of the most popular attractions in Bosnia, where students, youth groups, tourists and historians came in the hundreds of thousands from around Yugoslavia, Europe and the world to pay their respects and to learn about the tragic and harrowing events which occurred here. In addition, there were constructed an additional 79 smaller-scale WWII memorials across forests and mountains of Sutjeska National Park to commemorate the war.
During the era of Yugoslavia, this was one of the most popular and widely visited WWII memorial sites in the entire country, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. The biggest commemorative gathering at the site occurred in 1983, when it was reported that roughly 150,000 people attended ceremonies for the July 4th 'Fighter's Day' events. However, even by this time sources report that interest in Yugoslav Partisan heritage was already waning, as only 10,000 people were reported to have attended the subsequent 1984 July 4th celebrations. Then, by 1988 it is reported that the daily Sarajevo newspaper 'Oslobođenje' does not even mention Tjentište in their lists of National Liberation commemoration events.
However, after the fall of Yugoslavia and the ensuing Yugoslav wars, the complex began to fall into neglect and abuse. Under the control of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) from 1992 to 1995, many elements of the memorial complex was ruined and vandalized. The museum exhibits were looted and destroyed, the hotels and resorts ransacked and damaged, while many of the monument and museum installations and exhibits were stolen or looted. Some sources relate that a VRS commander was intent on demolishing the massive fractal-wall monument with dynamite, however, it was only spared as his regiment did not posses the 1000kg worth of explosives needed to bring it down. However, such accounts are conflicting and hard to verify, so always knowing which accounts are accurate can sometimes be difficult or elusive.
Photo 5: OK Fest rock music festival at Tjentište, 2016
In decades directly after the Yugoslav Wars, the monument complex went through a period where it fell into considerable disrepair and neglect. After the 1990s and the fall of Yugoslavia, no mass celebrations occurred again at the site until 1998... and they have only truly grown in any measurable popularity again from 2004 onward (yet only modestly). In recent years there have been government and private efforts to the restore and preserve the complex. In 2011, the museum and its frescoes were partially restored and rehabilitated with UNESCO funds, while the landscaping and overgrown vegetation around the fractal-wall have been cut back and reclaimed. However, much more work is needed for a complete a full restoration of this complex and its frescoes. Since 2014, a large annual summer rock music festival series called OK Fest has been held around the spomenik complex during June and July (Photo 5). Then, in late 2017, efforts have began by the caretakers of the monument to begin a process of cleaning years of staining and discoloration inflicted upon the monument due to lack of cleaning and maintenance. Cleaning was completed in 2018. Meanwhile, in February of 2018, a massive landslide destroyed part of the hillside the monument resides on. The damage inflicted to the site by the landslide was repaired by the end of that year.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
In front of the massive stone tomb slab which is just below the fractal-wall, there is a small engraved marble plaque (Slide 1) which, roughly translated to English from Serbo-Croatian, reads:
"This is the resting place of 3301 fighters of Sutjeska."
This is the only engraving on the tomb. There are no engravings or plaques on the fractal-wall monument. However, above the fractal-wall, there are stairs leading to a large amphitheatre area (Slide 2) where the long seats have engraved on them the names of the brigades who took part in the battles (Slide 3). There were no significant or notable instances of graffiti found either on the fractal-wall monolith, the tomb or the museum complex.
Meanwhile, an additional prominent inscription is one that exists just inside the main entrance of the Spomen-Dom museum complex, engraved onto the main inner wall of the structure (Slides 4 & 5). 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:
Adjacent to the fractal-wall monument, just down the hill to the south, there is a museum complex called the 'Spomen-dom' or 'Memorial House' (created in 1974 by Ranko Radović), which stands as a tribute and commemoration to the victims of the Battle of Sutjeska (Slide 1). It is a massive angular building (roughly 3000 sq meters) comprised of a series of connected grooved-concrete pyramid-like towers. As you enter this building, the first thing you encounter is a large quotation engraved on the wall made by President Tito honoring the soldiers who perished in this valley (Slide 2). Meanwhile, on the walls around the inside of the entire museum, there are engraved over 7000 names of fallen Partisan soldiers who fell during the Battle of Sutjeska (Slides 3 - 5). There are no lights in this building, as the structure is only illuminated by a series of dramatic skylights.
Slideshow - current fresco photos via m104@blogspot, click on photos in slideshow to view photo descriptions.
Among the engraved names are roughly a dozen frescoes (Slides 6 - 27), which were a collaborative effort between Croatian artist Krsto Hegedušić and historian Dusan Plenča. These frescoes depict various grisly and macabre scenes of suffering and inhuman adversity inflicted upon the region's people, its defenders and the land of Sutjeska by the fascist Axis forces during the time of the National Liberation War (WWII). Unfortunately, these frescoes were heavily damaged and destroyed during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s and the neglect which fell upon this site during the post-war period. See the above slideshow for before-and-after photos of the frescoes and its captions which explain the frescoes meaning and symbolism. However, efforts put forward in 2018 resulted in rehabilitation efforts which completely repaired the damaged frescoes, bringing them back to their original condition. In addition, this museum also once housed a large collection of artifacts and exhibits related to the Battle of Sutjeska, however, after 1992, the majority of those exhibits and artifacts were looted and destroyed by during Bosnian War conflicts. However, in 2009, the monument complex received special protection as it was declared a cultural heritage site of "Great Importance" by the government of the Republic of Srpska, while in 2011 it was refurbished and rehabilitated with a roughly 32,000 euro grant from UNESCO. To visit the Spomenik Database profile page dedicated to the Spomen-Dom, with more information, history and photos, following the below link:
Additional Monuments in the Sutjeska Park Area:
Spread across the Zelengora Mountains of Sutjeska National Park are a number of other smaller-scale monuments which honor specific battles and notable military figures of the 1943 Battle of Sutjeska. Some sources assert that there may be over 70 of such monument sites, ranging from small honorary plaques to significantly sized memorial sculptures. However, for the purposes of this project, we will focus on the six most prominent examples of these monument sites, which include those sites at Dragoš Sedlo, Borovno, Donje Bare, Ljubin Grob, Savin Grob and Ozren Mountain. Each of the memorial zones at these six sites contain a sculptural monument which were all constructed by Belgrade sculptor Miodrag Živković around 1986-87 during a significant expansion of the park's memorial infrastructure. If you remember, it was Živković who also created the central Sutjeska 'wings' monument of the Valley of Heroes complex. A set of images of these six monuments can be see in Photo 6, however, for more information on these sites, in regards to additional images, history and visitation potential, there is a separate webpage which you can visit to investigate each site individual. To visit this Spomenik Database profile page dedicated to the additional Sutjeska Park Monuments, with more information, maps, history and photos, follow the below link:
Also, clicking on any one of the monuments in the image series in Photo 6 will take you directly to the section regarding that memorial site on the Sutjeska Park Monuments profile page:
Photo 6: The six additional Živković monuments of Sutjeska Park
According to the designers of this monument, the soaring concrete monument here at the Valley of Heroes (Dolina Heroja) in Sutjeska Valley represents the 'wings of victory' which are overcoming the oppression and hate forced upon these hills by the German and Italian occupying armies. In trying to understand the symbolic qualities that Živković hoped to express with this sculpture, it helps to explore the history of 'wings of victory' sculptures through the ages. The most famous example would unquestionably be the ancient Greek sculpture called 'Winged Victory of Samothrace' (Photo 7), which has been described by famous Russian art historian HW Janson as the "the greatest masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture". As such, Živković most certainly would have looked towards it for influence to draw from its power and stature. However, a further possible connection this ancient Greek victory statue may lie in the fact that in its era, ancient Greece was seen as the civilizational crossroads between east and west. Similar such descriptions are also made of Bosnia, as the region has for hundreds of years been a cultural meeting place of Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism. So, Živković, with his winged victory monument, may not only be making references to the artistic achievements of Hellenistic Greece, but may also be culturally comparing Bosnia to this great ancient power.
Photo 7: The Winged Victory of Samothrace, Louvre, Paris
Photo 8: A mapped pathway of Tito's escape [in red] out of Sutjeska Valley through encirclement of Axis forces [in blue]. The location of the monument is the yellow star.
Meanwhile, the domineering placement and positioning of Živković's 'wings' sculpture on the foothills overlooking the valley is symbolic in itself. Firstly, the sculpture is positioned upon a man-made hillside which situates it in such a way as that the monument can be dramatically seen from across nearly the entire Sutjeska Valley. This placement creates a situation where the monument acts symbolically and physically as both a guardian over the valley, but also as a sort of 'receiver' of the souls from the battlefield's fallen fighters. These received souls would then be celestially transported through the wings into the next life, almost as if this energetic space between the two massive concrete wings was acting as a sort of portal or doorway into some higher plane of existence. However, the most crucial part of the placement of this monument is to act as a physical marker pointing upwards towards the steep ravine which the Partisans used to escape out of the valley during the Battle of Sutjeska in June of 1943. From this perspective, the wings of Živković's sculpture open westward, almost appearing to divinely usher and indicate a safe passageway for the Partisans towards freedom and salvation. Looking at Photo 8, you can see with the red arrows the ravine pathway that Tito and his Partisans used to maneuver through Axis forces (blue arrows) to escape from Sutjeska Valley. The location of the monument can be seen with the yellow star.
Alternatively, looking at the monument facing eastward, the long and craggy Sniježnica Ridge is framed elegantly within the wings of the sculpture (especially Bavan and Mitrina Usov Peaks) (Photo 9). While framing effect of Sniježnica may simply be a coincidence, it might also have symbolic relevance, as behind this ridge is Vučevo Mountain. As mentioned elesewhere, Vučevo was the location where the the Axis coalition of the 5th Offensive unsuccessfully attempted to box in and contain Tito and the Partisans. Instead, the Partisans dramatically broke out of this trap, fled south around Sniježnica Ridge and west down Perućica Creek, at which point they crossed Sutjeska Valley and up the ravine at the 'wings' monument over Mt. Ozren. As such, the monument may be acting as a framing tool to accentuate the critical locations of the journey that the Partisans traveled from and out of Sutjeska Valley.
Photo 9: An eastward facing view of the monument framing the Sniježnica and its peaks
Photo 10: Stylized faces peering out of the monument
An additional fascinating aspect of the symbolism of the 'wings' monument are hidden within the the fractal-like patterns of the structure's facade. Under close examination, one can make out the forms of highly stylized and deconstructed human faces (Photo 10). These forms act to embody the spirit of the fallen soldiers who died fighting during the Battle of Sutjeska. In addition, this broken, shattered fractal pattern of the monument itself may be representative of the breaking of the offensive circle within which Axis forces were attempting to ensnare the Partisans. Yet another perspectively to look at the monument from is to understand it as two armies standing off against one another, with each of the two opposing concrete monoliths signifying the clashing of the two opposing armies: the German forces versus the Yugoslav Partisans -- a clash so violent and powerful that from such a confict, mountains symbolically rise up from the ground. Furthermore, as historian Gal Kirn points out, the disproportionate lopsided nature of this face off (the powerful Germans versus the small home-grown Partisans) is further reflected in the asymmetrical design of the two monoliths. In other words, from a distance the monoliths appear like mirrored structures, but, upon closer inspection, they are both very dissimilar, which stands as a symbolic attempt to show that even despite the asymmetry of the two opposing sides (the Germans standing much more powerful and well equipped), the Partisans were still able to escape destruction.
In an interview with the creator of this spomenik, Miodrag Živković, in which he discusses the symbolism of this structure, he is quoted as saying:
In an alternative analysis of the shortcomings of the symbolic efforts embodied within the Sutjeska monument at Tjentište, German historian Dr. Heike Karge of Regensburg University is quoted as saying:
The 2018 Landslide:
After several preceding days of heavy rains, on February 3rd, 2018 a massive section of the hillside in which the central Tjentište monument resides on collapsed in a dramatic landslide (Slides 1 - 3). As a result of the proximity this landslide had to the monument, many local officials were afraid that the entire monument itself might be at risk if the landslide continued to deteriorate and compromise the hillside. In the spring of 2018, hydrological and geological testing was conducted to determine the extent of the hillside's degradation. Many organizations and government bodies across the region and across Europe immediately came forward offering assistance and funds for the rehabilitation of this landslide disaster. After several months of efforts put towards repairing and stabilizing the damage, the work was finally completed in the fall of 2018, bringing the hillside back to its original contoured condition. Continued efforts will help remedy the situation.
2018 Landslide - Slideshow
Status and Condition:
The condition of the Sutjeska monument is not optimal, but has been quickly improving. In years past (up until recently), the pair of monoliths were stained with a dirty patina from years of weathering. Before the 90s, the monolith was regularly cleaned to maintain a shining bright white appearance (as can be seen in the historical photo slideshow below). However, efforts from officials from the Sutjeska National Park recently fully cleaned the monument, returning it to its former white color. Meanwhile, the landscaping around the fractal monolith, and the complex itself, is greatly improved and well maintained, as photos from a decade ago show the area to be MUCH more overgrown that it is today. Recent restoration efforts also reclaimed the upper ampitheatre from vegetation, which had nearly consumed it until just a few years ago. The Spomen-dom museum complex is also greatly improved after a 2011 UNESCO-funded refurbishment. New firm locks are on the doors to prevent internal destruction and graffiti and a 2018 effort has completely restored the formerly vandalized frescoes. Meanwhile, honorific flowers, candles and wreaths left at this complex is common... existing as clear evidence of locals paying tribute to the site. In fact, in recent years, commemorative and remembrance ceremonies have been a regular occurrence here at Tjentište (Photo 11).
Photo 11: A 2017 ceremony at the Tjentište memorial
Photo 12: A 2019 photo of the newly restored museum [source: See Srpska]
Talking to Dejan Pavlovic, the director of the Sutjeska National Park, in November of 2016, I was told that the spomenik's lighting has finally been repaired, after being unlit for 25 years. Meanwhile, also in the fall of 2016, the landslide that struck the monument complex in February of 2018 was fully repaired and fortified. Efforts to repair additional elements of the monument site that were damaged by the landslide are ongoing. Then, on May 24th, 2019, the historical museum next to the Spomen-Dom which was destroyed during the 1990s war was rebuilt and rehabilitated after having sat in disuse for many years (Photo 12). Within the museum, which was originally founded in 1985, are a wide range of exhibits and artifacts related to the 1943 Battle of Sutjeska which occurred in this valley. The inauguration ceremony was attended by the author of the Sutjeska monument, Miodrag Živković.
This monument complex is located just south of the small village of Tjentiste. If you are driving south on road M20, you will see the monument on the hillside to the right just as you are passing out of the village. Parking can be made in a small gravel parking lot next to a small roadside cafe just in front of the monument complex's main pathway. The exact parking coordinates are N43°20'45.0", E18°41'28.2" (see map on right). If you have trouble getting into Spomen-dom museum, for instance if it is locked, try going north of the monument along the M20 a couple hundred meters to the Mladost Hotel on the left. They will be able to let you inside. You can call the hotel at +387(0)58/233-118 and their email is .
While the area around the spomenik is safe, if you plan to hike around and explore Sutjeska National Park, please be aware that landmines still exist in certain locations around the park. Obtain up-to-date maps and information before hiking into unimproved wilderness areas. DO NOT hike off-trail.
Click to open in Google Maps in new window
Selected Sources and More Information:
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