Velenje

Brief Details:

Name: Tito's Square (Titov trg)

Location: Velenje, Slovenia

Year completed: 1959

Designer(s): Paul Filipsky & Janez Trenz

Coordinates: N46°21'33.3", E15°06'54.0"

Dimensions: 60mx60m, containing many monuments around it

Materials used: stone pavers

Condition: Very good

(veh-LAY-nyah)

History:

Velenje, Slovenia was completely redeveloped from the ground up after WWII in an effort to turn it into a modern Yugoslavia showcase city. At the center of the town is Tito's Square, which exhibits significant cultural, memorial and architectural works.

WWII-era in Velenje

In the years which led up to WWII, Velenje was a collection of several small mining settlements of roughly 1,700 people, all nestled in Lower Styria's Šalek Valley. Coal was the primary resource that was mined across the valley, with capacities experiencing modest industrialization during the 1920s and 30s. As the Styrian region was overtaken by occupying German forces and absorbed into "Greater Germany" in 1941, the occupying German Army began to exploit and appropriate Velenje mining resources and industries. In addition, under this "Greater German" absorption, Slovene language and culture were forbidden and efforts were made to "Germanize" the local population. As a result of these oppressive actions by occupying German forces, many local Slovenes in Velenje began to join up with the armed resistance efforts of the Slovene Partisans. As a result of joining with these rebel forces, the Axis occupying authorities would often carry out retribution attacks against the local population of Velenje. However, these initial resistance efforts were small in scale during 1941 and 1942, consisting mostly of sabotage and guerilla attacks. It was not until 1943, with the capitulation of Italy from the war, that highly organized armed offensive efforts began.

Photo 1: Photo of the 14th Division near Velenje at Paški Kozjak, with poet Kajuh at center [source]

The most significant Slovene Partisan unit to operate around Velenje was the 14th Slovenian Strike Division, which achieved many successful incursions against German positions around Velenje during 1944 and 1945. Such notable figures as famous poet Karel Destovnik-Kajuh (Photo 1) and Yugoslav national heroes Dušan Mravljak-Mrož and Miha Pintar-Toledo all fought in the ranks of this division and perished during the war in the region of Velenje. The poetic work of Kajuh, which was largely related to his time fighting with the 14th Division, went on to become some of the most widely celebrated WWII-era literature in Slovenia dedicated to the Slovene Partisan movement.

Interestingly, it is important to note that peace came to not only Velenje but the entire region when the 14th Slovenian Strike Division captured Nazi General Alexander Löhr on May 9th of 1945, who was Hitler's military commander for Southeastern Europe. Upon his capture, Löhr was brought to the small spa town of Topolšica (just 12km west of Velenje), where he signed an unconditional surrender, effectively ending WWII for the entire Southeastern European region. Löhr was later convicted of war crimes in Belgrade and executed there by firing squad on February 26th, 1947.

Spomenik Construction

Directly after WWII, the town of Velenje underwent several years of intense development of its coal mining infrastructure. As the economic importance of Velenje as a regional mining hub in the Šalek Valley became increasingly apparent, central planning authorities determined that 14,000 additional mining workers for Velenje would be needed so architect Viljem Strmecki was commissioned in 1948 by the director of Velenje's coal mine, Nestl Žgank, to draw up an urban plan for a whole new town district of Velenje, not surprisingly called "New Velenje". Along with Nova Gorica, this would be the only other brand-new purpose-built town in Slovenia. Žgank hoped to create a new community that could not only house these new mine workers, but he also wished for it to be as a beautiful environment that could be uplifting to their spirit and mental well-being. Strmecki's concept was directly inspired by the 'Radiant City' urban design concept pioneered by famous French architect Le Corbusier, which was characterized by well-ordered mixed-use low-rise buildings, wide-open park-like green spaces and ample sun. However, due to budget constraints, Strmecki's proposal was not implemented. Instead, a new plan was devised by architect Janez Trenz in 1957 that borrowed some of Strmecki's concepts, but instead of using the 'Radiant City' idea of situating a series of multiple parks across the city, Trenz proposed to, as authors Kozina & Halilović relate, "put the city in a park". Furthermore, Trenz also adopted his idea around flat-roofed modernist structures which were all zoned and organized in a highly regimented fashion.

Finally, at the center of this New Velenje project would be built a large open central plaza designed by Graz architect Paul Filipsky, which was integrated into Trenz's urban plan (Photo 2). Construction on this plaza project took roughly two years, with it being ceremoniously unveiled to the public in a large gathering of over 20,000 people on September 20th, 1959, a date which honored the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (Photo 3). However, despite the ceremony, not all the buildings were as of yet completed on this date. It would take roughly ten more years for the New Velenje project to be realized in full. However, when New Velenje was completed, it became a global showcase for the Yugoslavia's socialist-style modern architecture and urbanism which drew in people from around the world. In 1962, Trenz along with his project colleagues Franc Smid and Ciril Pogačnik were all awarded the Prešeren Award for their work in the urban planning of Velenje (the highest such professional award in Slovenia).

Photo 2: A view of Trenz's and Filipsky's combined concept model for the Velenje central plaza

Photo 3: A view of the opening ceremony at New Velenje's Tito's Square in September 1959 [source]

When completed, Tito Square consisted of an attractive paved plaza roughly 60x60m in size, which is supplemented by several expansive gardens and greenspaces. Around the square are positioned several memorial and architectural culture sites created before, during and in the decades after the construction of the square. These major sites around the square are as follows: The "Miner" (Rudar) Monument [by sculptor Alojzij Kogovšek, 1952], which was the first monument in this new town center, the "Cultural Center" (Dom Kulture) [by architect Oton Gaspari, 1959], the "Miner's Tower Block" [by architects Ilija Arnautović & Miran Mihelić, 1961], the Velenje Coal Mine headquarters [by architect Aljoša Aljančič, 1962], the "Speechless Rifle" (Onemele puške) Monument [by sculptor Stojan Batič, 1971], the "Josip Broz Tito" statue [by sculptor Antun Augustinčić, 1977], and the "Partisans" (Partizani) Monument [by sculptor Valerio Miroglio, 1977].

Photo 4: A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard of Tito's Square, with the Cultural Center on the right

New Velenje, and Tito's Square in particular (Photo 4), were intended to be symbols for a new future, not only for Velenje, but for Yugoslavia as a whole. News reports and historical documents routinely refer to Velenje as "Yugoslavia in miniature" and was hailed as a showpiece for what Yugoslavia could be as a nation, which is more than likely one of the main reasons that Tito was so involved with the city and visited it so many times (showing it off to multiple world leaders over the years). As one source points out: "The industrialization and modernization of life, as well as the brotherhood and unity of the Yugoslav nations, were the central points of Tito's vision, which is why he encouraged and supported the development of Velenje".

From the Yugoslav-era to Present-Day

From the moment that Tito's Square was completed in Velenje, it became one of Slovenia's most significant cultural landmarks of the Yugoslav-era, acting as a showcase for the country's innovative approach to urban planning and modernist architecture. Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito enjoyed showing off Tito's Square in Velenje off to visiting dignitaries and world leaders, such as he famously did upon his visit to the town in 1963 when he brought along with him Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev (Photo 5). Meanwhile, the square often played host to numerous ceremonial events, holiday celebrations, concerts and other local festivities. Most notably, Velenje hosted one of Slovenia's largest "Youth Day" celebrations, which was held annually on May 25th, Tito's birthday. Furthermore, in 1977, the largest Tito statue in the world was erected in the center of Tito's Square in Velenje (Photo 6). Upon Tito's passing in 1980, the town rebranded itself in honor of the fallen leader as "Titovo Velenje" or "Tito's Velenje" the following year in 1981. However, this new name only lasted a few years, as when Slovenia gained its independence on the 25th of June of 1991 during the initial dismantling of Yugoslavia, the name of the town was changed back to simply "Velenje", with Tito's Square playing host to Velenje's celebration of this milestone.

Photo 5: Tito and Khrushchev in front of the Cultural Center at Tito's Square in Velenje, 1963

Photo 6: A view of the celebrations during the unveiling of the Josip Broz Tito Statue in 1977 [source]

After Slovenia became an independent nation in 1991, there were several initiatives that proposed to rename Tito's Square and take down the huge statue of Tito at the square's center, however, none of these were met with success and the name and the statue remained in place up until the present day. The elements of Tito's Square (both its monuments and architectural works) remain in very good condition up until the present day and remain relatively unchanged since major development of the square ceased in the 1970s. Interestingly, the large sculpture of Josip Broz Tito is one of the town's most significant tourist attractions, as it remains the only Yugoslav-era Tito statue that still remains in its original location. Furthermore, Velenje is increasingly becoming a town renowned for its architectural heritage, as it stands as one of the only city centers in Slovenia dominated by modernist buildings laid out in a carefully crafted landscape of precise urban planning.

The Cultural Sites of Tito's Square:

Positioned in and around the vicinity of Tito's Square in Velenje are numerous memorial and architectural culture sites that were constructed during the Yugoslav-era. The following sub-sections will examine each of these sites in detail, exploring their creation, history and current status.

Statue of Josip Broz Tito

Situated at the center of a greenspace on the western edge of Tito's Square in Velenje is a large bronze status of the former Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito, standing 6.3m tall and sitting on a 4m tall pedestal. This sculptural work was unveiled on June 25th, 1977 and was based off the work of famous Croatian artist Antun Augustinčić (but carried out by Vladimir Herljević & Ivan Pavić). The statue is identical to a smaller human-sized version which Augustinčić first created in 1947 and placed next to Tito's birth home in Kumrovec, Croatia [profile page]. The date of the unveiling of this Tito monument was meant to mark 40 years since Tito becoming head of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, as well as Tito's 85th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the 1st Congress of the Communist Party of Slovenia. Tito was invited to this unveiling, but was unable to attend. The creation of this project was funded largely via a grassroots effort of donations from local individuals across the Šalek Valley.

Statue of Josip Broz Tito - Slideshow

Augustinčić's work is unique in that it shows Tito looking down with his arms held behind his back, appearing pensive, brooding and worried as he takes on the burden of battling against a formidable adversary during a time of war. He is mid-stride as he takes a step forward, no doubt symbolizing Tito stepping forward as a leader who would pave a pathway to victory. It is a thoughtful work that avoids that gaudy cliche hallmarks that often accompanied the sculptural depictions of world communist leaders of that mid-20th century era. While movements were made during the post-Yugoslav era to have this monument removed, such efforts were not successful. The Tito monument of Velenje remains not only the largest Tito sculpture in the world, but also the only major Tito sculpture of Yugoslavia that was not removed after the dismantling of Yugoslavia. It remains in good condition and is one of the most significant touristic attractions of Velenje. The exact coordinates for this monument are N46°21'32.5", E15°06'51.4".

The Speechless Rifle Monument

Located at the opposite end of Tito's Square from Tito's statue (the east side) can be found a memorial sculpture called the "Speechless Rifle" (Onemele puške) Monument. Created by Slovene sculptor Stojan Batič [profile page] and architect Vladimir Mušič, the monument was unveiled to the public on October 9th, 1971 (Photo 7) and is dedicated to 668 local fighters and civilian victims from the Velenje region who perished during WWII. The composition of the monument is characterized by three 4m tall bronze rifles pointing downwards towards the ground which symbolize peace and an end to fighting. The bottom part of the rifle sculpture morphs into various impressions of figures shown in dynamic poses of victory and anguish, illustrating both the achievements of war but also the suffering that many endure as a result of it. The work was completed with a circular fountain element surrounding the base of the monument.

The Speechless Rifle Monument - Slideshow

Photo 7: A view of the unveiling ceremony for the "Speechless Rifle" Monument in 1971 [source]

This monument's composition has undergone many alterations over the years. Firstly, the whole work was elevated over 1m in height when a circular bronze laurel wreath pedestal was added in 1976. The wreath pedestal bears the Yugoslav star symbol and the Slovene Liberation Front symbol. Meanwhile, there originally was a large square reflecting pond and fountain in front of the monument facing the center of the square, however, in 2003, the monument complex underwent a significant renovation. The first new element of this 2003 renovation was a tall black stone wall segment (roughly 3m tall and 5m wide) set directly beside the monument which had upon it engraved the names of the 688 local fighters and civilian victims from Velenje who perished during WWII. Atop the wall is a large red star. This wall was designed by Slovene architect Rok Poles. Meanwhile, the reflecting pond was removed and it was replaced with an equal-sized wooden plank platform upon which is a collection of (seemingly) randomly placed 24 stone cube blocks. It is not immediately clear what the symbolic nature of these blocks are, but they may refer to the fighters from Velenje who were awarded the status of Yugoslav National Heroes.

At present time, the monument exists in good shape and is well maintained. It is regularly visited by tourists and locals, while also continuing to host annual commemorative events. The exact coordinates for this monument are N46°21'33.5", E15°06'56.4".

The Velenje Cultural Center

The focal architectural work of Tito's Square is the impressive Cultural Center (Dom Kulture), which was unveiled in 1959 and created by Slovene architect Oton Gaspari. The Cultural Center's dynamic form operates as a backdrop for the entire square, with its engaging facade operating almost as a dramatic elevated stage for the public to draw themselves into. The front-facing facade of the center is sunken withing a temple-like frame and consists of three rectangular elements: 1.) a pattern of inlaid stone stripes on the left and right edges, 2.) a set of ground-to-ceiling colored stained glass windows done in a geometric Piet Mondrian-like design opening into the atrium, and, 3.) at the center, a tall bronze relief sculpture titled "The Muse of Art", created by Slovene sculptor Stojan Batič [profile page]. Batič's relief shows three figural scenes representing fine art [top], drama [middle] and music [bottom], symbolizing the cultural offerings which this building would offer to the masses of Velenje.

The Velenje Cultural Center - Slideshow

Meanwhile, further exterior adornments of the building are installed on both the east and west sides of the Cultural Center's facade in the form of gridded white screens of additional angular geometric designs. These geometric patterns and shapes continue into the atrium of the center's interior, where they are reflected in the floor coverings, railings and fixtures. Also within the upper lobby of the center's atrium is a large mosaic mural by Slovene artist Riko Debenjak which portrays a romantic couple going to the theatre (Photo 8). As far as the main theatre space of the Cultural Center (which has seating for about 460 people), it is of a relatively modest design in comparison to the building's lavish exterior, with its most dominant feature being its saturating color scheme of dark yellow.

Photo 8: A view of the Riko Debenjak mosaic mural inside the Velenje Cultural Center [source]

The Cultural Center in Velenje continues to exist in a very good condition and continues to be used for a whole host of cultural events, celebrations, theatrical performances, musical concerts and much more (with most engagements here organized by the local organization "Festival Velenje"). During the Yugoslav-era, the center was considered one of the most significant and beautiful examples of modernist architecture in Slovenia and continues to receive such praise up until the present day. The building was officially landmarked in 2005 as an immovable local cultural monument. In addition, the entire complex was extensively renovated and repaired from 2005 to 2006. The exact coordinates for Velenje's Cultural Center are N46°21'34.5", E15°06'53.5".

The "Miner" Monument

Located at the northeast corner of Tito's Square in the Monument to the Miner (Rudar). This work consists of a human-sized bronze figurative sculpture in the 'socialist realism' artistic style that depicts a typical Velenje miner holding a compressor drill over his left shoulder and a gas lamp at his side with his right hand. Created by Slovene sculptor Alojzij Kogovšek in 1953, this work was originally located in front of Velenje's "Kino Svoboda" being the first public monument erected in Velenje in the post-WWII period. However, the monument was moved to its current location here in Tito's Square in 1967. The "Miner" Monument here in Velenje is actually a smaller version of an earlier larger work that Kogovšek created in 1948 at Tivoli Park in Ljubljana. This monument has long been an important and meaningful landmark for Velenje, with the antique gas lamp which the figure holds becoming one of the central symbols for the town during the Yugoslav-era.

The "Miner" Monument - Slideshow

This monument exists in excellent condition and continues to be well maintained into the present day. The exact coordinates for the monument are N46°21'34.1", E15°06'55.3".

The Monument of the Partisans

In the northeast corner of the block within which Tito's Square (just in front of the 'Delavski Klub' [Worker's Club]) resides is a memorial sculpture titled "Monument of the Partisans", which is dedicated to the joint collaboration between both Slovene and Italian Partisan fighters. This monument was unveiled on June 18th, 1977 and was the creation of Italian sculptor Valerio Miroglio (who donated the work to Velenje), with it being the only monument in Velenje created by a foreign artist. The work itself is composed of silhouetted concrete figures of ten Partisan fighters in a V-shape configuration marching forward into battle. The depth and scale of the figural forms are heavily skewed and slanted in such a way that it forces an unnatural converging perspective upon the viewer. Sources describe the monument's meaning as: "a symbol of the uprising, in which the individual means only as much as he represents as part of the whole."

The Monument of the Partisans - Slideshow

The monument is in a reasonably good condition, however, upon my most recent visit to the site, I found parts of its facade marred by a small amount of spray paint and graffiti. I found no articles reporting on commemorative events or ceremonies being held at this monument. The exact coordinates for this site are N46°21'36.3", E15°06'56.8".

Status and Condition:

When visiting Tito's Square in Velenje, you will no doubt find it in an excellent pristine condition, with all of the above-mentioned cultural and memorial elements in excellent shape and in a very well maintained state. The square is kept clean and its gardens well manicured, while the elements themselves exhibit no signs of degradation or neglect. There is virtually no graffiti anywhere around Tito's Square, however, I did find a small amount marring the Monument of the Partisans upon my most recent visit in 2020 (but that was an exception). Furthermore, many cultural and remembrance events continue to be held at Tito's square, specifically honorific NOB tributes that are held around the Speechless Rifle Monument (Photo 9). Meanwhile, directional signs and placards around the town of Velenje clearly direct tourists and citizens to the square, making it an easy and accessible attraction for anyone to find.

Photo 9: A 2019 event at Speechless Rifle Monument [source]

Photo 10: A photo of an interpretive board at Tito's Square in Velenje

Within the square itself, at its northeast corner, are a series of pillars that contain information and educational boards which relate (in both Slovene and English) the history and significance of all of the memorial and architectural sites in the square (Photo 10). Such useful infrastructure has been invaluable to the growing tourist presence in Velenje which is interested in Velenje's history of socialist Yugoslav-era architecture and cultural sites. Of particular interest to tourists is the square's large Tito statue, which draws the most attention of all of the square's sites. Velenje puts a significant amount of effort in attracting tourists who are interested in this specific history, with the official Velenje tourism website having an entire webpage (with six language choices) dedicated to information about the square's memorial heritage. A contact for organizing a guided tour of Tito's Square can be found at Velenje's Tourism Board, with their guide Marija Brložnik being particularly well-known for her tours of the square. She can even be seen in a 2019 documentary about Yugoslav Tito towns, with her featured in the segment about "Titovo Velenje" [link to segment HERE].

In addition, another film was made in 2018 that documents the creation of Tito 's Square called "TITOV TRG", with a trailer available at THIS link. Meanwhile, Velenje's tourism agencies have assembled numerous informational and touristic publications about the Yugoslav-era architecutre and cultural sites around Velenje, many of which are linked in the "Selected Sources" section below.

Directions:

The location of Tito's Square is right in the center of Velenje and is incredibly easy to find. The directions to the square are well posted and the way is well marked. Once you arrive at the town center, there are several parking lots around the area, which are largely all zonal metered parking. I was unable to find any locations that had "free" parking, but some free parking options available if you are willing to park a bit outside the town center and walk a bit.

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Historical Images:

Slideshow

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