Veles spomenik (Denkoviḱ 1979)
Veles spomenik (Denkoviḱ 1979)

This is a side view of the Veles spomenik, looking towards the south.

Veles spomenik (Denkoviḱ 1979)
Veles spomenik (Denkoviḱ 1979)

This is a rear view of the Veles spomenik, looking down in the valley at the city of Veles below.

Veles spomenik (courtyard)
Veles spomenik (courtyard)

This is part of the courtyard that is at the base of the stairs that lead up to the Veles spomenik.

Veles spomenik (Denkoviḱ 1979)
Veles spomenik (Denkoviḱ 1979)

This is a side view of the Veles spomenik, looking towards the south.

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Veles (Велес)

Brief Details:

Name: Memorial Ossuary/Tomb to the Heroes of WWII (Споменик Костурница)

Location: Veles, Macedonia

Year completed: 1979 (3 years to build)

Designer(s): Ljubomir Denković (profile page) & Savo Subotin

Coordinates: N41°43'24.0", E21°47'21.4" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~10m high and ~15m wide

Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar

Condition: Fair, neglected

(VEH-les)

Click on slideshow photo for description.

 

History:

This Spomenik Kosturnica (Memorial Ossuary) at Veles was built to commemorate the Partisan soldiers who fought for the freedom of Veles and Macedonia during the National Liberation War from 1941 to 1945 against the fascist German and Bulgarian forces. In addition, this monument serves as a resting place (in the form of an underground crypt) for the remains of roughly one hundred fallen Partisan soldiers from the Veles area.

 

World War II

On April 6th of 1941, the city of Veles underwent a relentless bombing campaign by the German Luftwaffe as Axis forces began to wage an invasion and occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The Royal Yugoslav Army soon capitulated and Veles was over taken by Axis Bulgarian forces. The eastern two-thirds area of modern Macedonia, where Veles was situated, was handed over by Axis leadership for administrative control to Bulgaria, who designated the region as Vardar Macedonia. As the Bulgarians began their occupation of Veles, they pursued a relentless series of brutal tactics to subdue and oppress the native population of the city, during which they engaged in looting, torture, deportation and, in some cases, murder. Those often most targeted were the town's Jewish and Roma populations, along with any communists, dissidents and those opposing Bulgarian occupation.

In late 1941, some small groups of anti-fascist rebels attempted to organize armed resistance units in Veles, however, they were quickly discovered by Bulgarian forces, being either imprisoned or executed. Through the spring of 1942, tensions began to rise higher among the population of Veles, with high school students and women's groups taking to the street to protest the heavy-handed Bulgarian occupation. Due to these and other resistance efforts, that same spring, several new Partisan detachments were organized in the Veles region. Of these newly formed Partisan units, one of the most important and accomplished was one named "Pere Toshev", formed in 1942. This detachment was successful in three separate battles against Bulgarian police squads in Mount Lisec, in Kriva Krusha, and Vojnica. These crucial victories led to the creation of the Veles-Prilep Partisan Detachment on April 23rd, 1944, nicknamed the "Trajče Petkanovski" unit, consisting of roughly 30 resistance fighters. However, by September of 1944, the unit counted over 500 fighters within their ranks. Then, in early November, the Veles-Prilep Partisans descended on Bulgarian forces in Veles.

Photo 1: Partisan soldiers fighting during the battle for the liberation of Veles, 1944

Over the course of two days, a battle ensued between these two adversaries, with the city finally being liberated by Partisan forces at 4 o'clock in the morning on November 9th, 1944 (Photo 1), when all Bulgarian occupying forces were expelled from the city. To thank Partisan's commander Josip Tito for their liberation, the city of Veles renamed itself 'Titov Veles' directly after the war. This remained the name of the city until 1996, when it was changed back to 'Veles', in order to establish and identify itself within the newly formed independent state of Macedonia (FYROM).

 

Spomenik Construction

While the idea of constructing a monument memorializing the WWII events of the city of Veles was put forward almost as soon as the region was liberated, fully committed work on the monument did not formally begin until almost 30 years later. When a design competition was called in the early 1970s, artists from across Yugoslavia submitted proposals, among them notable Belgrade sculptor Momčilo Krković (Photo 2). However, the design that was ultimately selected for the monument complex upon the competition's conclusion was the proposed concept put forward by Novi Sad creative duo sculptor Ljubomir Denkoviḱ and architect Savo Subotin (Photo 3). On-the-ground construction began in 1976 (Photo 4). The monument's creation, which was coordinated by Veles veterans organizations, was largely financed through public donations from people across the Veles region. The official public unveiling of the complex, named 'Spomenik Kosturnica' or 'Memorial Ossuary', was made during a elaborate commemorative ceremony on October 11th, 1979, with an inaugural address given by Yugoslav General Kosta Nađ (Коста Нађ), president of the "Association of Yugoslav Fighters".

Momicilo Krkovic concept for Veles.jpg

Photo 2: Momčilo Krković concept

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Photo 3: Model of the Veles monument

The shape of the monument is described to be in the shape of an upside-down open poppy flower, with half the inside area open air vestibule, while the other half houses a small museum and mosaic art installation (which is among the most expansive in Macedonia). The vestibule half of the monument originally contained many copper plaques listing the names of fallen soldiers and interpretive descriptions of the history of Veles (however, most are now currently missing or stolen). A long steep staircase would lead up to the monument. Around the base of the staircase was built a large courtyard at the middle of which was a circular sunken amphitheatre area. To the north of the amphitheatre was built a long promenade landscaped with rose beds. Originally lining the promenade was a series of sculptural busts sitting on pedestals depicting many Macedonian heroes and revolutionaries. However, at some point, presumably during the 1990s, all of these busts and pedestals were removed from the promenade.

Within the underground ossuary or 'crypt' portion of the monument are interred the remains of 87 fighters from Veles who fought in the Partisan resistance and in the battle for the liberation of Veles. The remains of these fighters were originally interred at the Church of St. Panteleimon (Црква Св. Пантелејмон) in Veles before they were moved to this current location during the spomenik's construction. One of the notable fighters buried here at the Veles monument is poet Kočo Racin (Кочо Рацин) (Photo 3), who is considered one of the fathers of modern Macedonian literature. At a centralized location within the monument a 3m tall bronze tree sculpture was created and dedicated to these fallen fighters and civilians. Also within the enclosed area of monument's structure was created a massive series of colorful mosaics relating the history of the Macedonian people's struggle. Created by Skopje artist Petar Mazev in a very modernist style, the 220 square meter sized mosaic series was considered the largest of its type in all of the SR of Macedonia. Yet, while great effort was put into the construction of this complex, issues with water damage compromising the structure began almost immediately.

 

Photo 4: A view of the monument at Veles under construction, 1978

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Photo 5: Poet Kočo Racin

Present-Day

With the dismantling of Yugoslavia during the 1990s, the monument began to fall into disrepair and neglect. While the art and mosaics in the museum were more or less protected, all the copper plaques in the outside open-air sanctum of the monument have all been removed or stolen. It is not clear whether these stolen memorial elements have been recovered by the authorities, but if they have, they have yet to be restored in their original locations. Furthermore, due to years of neglect, the monument's structure and facade had become stained and discolored, the roof had begun to leak and the exterior concrete was chipping, cracking and being vandalized with graffiti. Then, in 2003, the city received 100,000 euros in funds from the Macedonian Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments to renovate the memorial complex and install an updated security system. While this fixed many of the problems, making the present state of the monument look much more presentable, much more work needs to be done in restoring this to its original condition, as it has been reported that water damage is still compromising parts of the interior of the monument. From 2013-2016, further rehabilitation efforts were made, such as painting the exterior and new attempts to fix the concrete facade and internal leaks. In 2015, the annual poetry event called the "Racin Meetings" (Рацинови средби), which honor poet Kočo Racin (Photo 5) were held at the Veles monument for the first time. In 2019, the Swiss-based rap duo 'Mozzik x Loredana' released a rap video 'Romeo & Juliet' that is partially filmed inside the Veles Memorial Ossuary.

 

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

Upon the opening of the Veles Memorial Ossuary in 1979, there were a number of engraved and inscribed elements. Firstly, in the open-air vestibule section of the monument, there was there were a set of six circular bronze plaques lining the courtyard walls set atop short pylons (Slides 1 & 2). In addition, there was a large rectanular plaque attached to the north wall of the vestibule. However, with the dismantling of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s up until the mid-2010s, every single one of the plaques and plates within the monument's vestibule were stolen from their settings by looters, vandals and thieves (Slides 3 & 4). Yet, over subsequent years, local police were able to recover a number of these plaques and plates from the theives who had stolen them. As such, in the spring of 2019, local authorities were able to replace four of the six circular plaques that had been recovered from theives (Slide 5).

Veles spomenik plaques
Veles spomenik plaques

A photo from about a decade ago when nearly all of the Veles spomenik plaques were still intact on their pylons. They are all now missing.

Veles spomenik plaques
Veles spomenik plaques

Another photo from about a decade ago when nearly all of the Veles spomenik plaques were still intact on their pylons. They are all now missing.

Veles spomenik graffiti
Veles spomenik graffiti

A photo from several years ago depicting some graffiti on the rear side of the Veles spomenik. This graffiti has since been removed.

Veles spomenik plaques
Veles spomenik plaques

A photo from about a decade ago when nearly all of the Veles spomenik plaques were still intact on their pylons. They are all now missing.

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Slideshow

Close up photos of each of the recovered and recently installed circular plaques can be seen in Slides 6 - 9. From right to left as they appear within the courtyard, they translate from Macedonian to English as:

[SLIDE 6]

"The courage of the immortal fighters who are interred here does cease outside the walls of this crypt. It is directly woven into our own freedom."

[SLIDE 7]

"Their [sacrificial] death - the most beautiful constellation of our heaven."

[SLIDE 8]

"May the struggle be as eternal as death itself."

[SLIDE 9]

"Rejoice!... this day of our first step into our first century!"

As far as the last two plaques (located on the far left of the set of six), it is not clear if authorities are still in possession of these and if they do, whether they will be re-installed as well, but if the location of these final two missing plaques are unknown, whether new copies of them will be made. The location of the large rectangular panel which was attached to the north wall of the vestibule is also unknown. This 2018 article seems to infer that the panel still does exist, but that it will be re-installed at some future date. The article also says that the panel contained names of the fallen fighters interred within the memorial's crypt, while the article also contains a list of those names.

During the time the monument fell into disrepair (as mentioned above), much of the structure was covered in graffiti (Slide 10). However, at the time of the 2003 renovation of the structure, all graffiti removed and painted over. Even to this day, I found no graffiti on the monument during my most recent visit. Slide 10 in the slideshow above shows the state of the exterior covered in graffiti before the 2003 renovation. Security cameras have recently been installed around the monument complex as of 2015, so, hopefully this will go a long way to protect the site from further theft and vandalism.

 

Mosaic Museum:

Within the rear half of the monument, there is a small museum displaying the mosaic work of artist Peter Mazev. Surrounding the museum interior, Mazev has covered the majority of the wall space with a series of five massive mosaic works. Covering an area of 220sq meters, the work is considered to be the single largest mosaic installation in the country of Macedonia. Across this series of mosaics, Mazev depicts the history of Macedonia, from the Ilinden Uprising against the oppression of occupation by the Ottoman Empire, to the devastation during the Balkan Wars, World Wars I and II, to the liberation from and conquest over fascism and then, finally, to the freedom and the rebuilding of Macedonia. This work is often referred to the as the "Guernica of Macedonia", in reference to Picasso's famous masterpiece.

Veles spomeik mosaic museum
Veles spomeik mosaic museum

A view of the interior of the Veles spomeik museum mosaic hall depicting mosaic works by Petar Mazev. The large bronze tree blossom sculpture can be seen in the background.

Veles spomeik mosaic museum
Veles spomeik mosaic museum

A view of the interior of the Veles spomeik museum mosaic hall depicting mosaic works by Petar Mazev.

Veles spomeik mosaic museum
Veles spomeik mosaic museum

A view of the interior of the Veles spomeik museum mosaic hall depicting mosaic works by Petar Mazev.

Veles spomeik mosaic museum
Veles spomeik mosaic museum

A view of the interior of the Veles spomeik museum mosaic hall depicting mosaic works by Petar Mazev. The large bronze tree blossom sculpture can be seen in the background.

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Slideshow - Mosaic Museum (images via mahr.mk)

The following subsections here will explore each of the four mosaic walls within the Veles Kosturnica complex in detail. Fully clear (and interactive depictions in some cases) versions of these artistic works will be presented with analysis and exploration of these mosaics and their contents.

Mosaic 1: Macedonian Struggle

As you enter the inner sanctuary of the monument through the central glass doors off of the courtyard, you will find on your right a large room that contains a circular room with a long thin mosaic that snakes around nearly the entire perimeter of the space. In the interactive image below, you can see a composite image of several photos which I stiched together to show the entire mosaic in one panoramic view (Photo 6). These photos were provided to me graciously by Stefan Tonevski. Click on the image below to explore the mosaic in full.

Photo 6: Interactive image of "The Macedonian Struggle" mosaic at the Veles Kosturnica

This first mosaic which Petar Mazev created here depicts a visual narrative telling the story of the struggle of the Macedonian people over time. The mosaic starts the narrative on the right-hand side of the work, beginning with the region's oppression by the Ottoman Empire. An Ottoman fighter, seen wearing the traditional red fez, slices his sword down through the scene, with the tip of the sword starting the mosaic's action, which no doubt symbolizes that it was the Ottomans who instigated the violence and oppression upon the people of Macedonia. Suffering children and babies are seen in the beginning segments of the scene, elements which tell of the suffering the region's children underwent during the Ottoman practice of 'Devshirme' or 'Blood Tax', where children were forcibly taken by the Ottomans to be raised in Istanbul and serve in their army. Links of chains are also seen weaving through the scene, symbolizing the slavery and subjugation of the local people. Through this suffering, which even includes wailing animals, the people's rebellion against such forces is depicted by a red flag waving across the top of the background, an element which represents build up to the 1903 Ilinden Uprising (a movement which was represented by such a red flag (Photo 7) symbol). This is crystallized by a blue figure with a knife cutting the head off of a fez-wearing Ottoman fighter, with black mountains shown below, an action symbolizing the start of the uprising. The Ilinden Uprising is an event which is central to the identity of the Macedonian people, as it was a period that gave birth to the short-lived creation of the Kruševo Republic at the mountain town of Kruševo, seen in the mosaic with the black mountains underneath the slain Ottoman figher. However, the dead body underneath the mountains and flames proceed the struggle both illustrate that the uprising was ultimately repressed by Ottoman forces.

Further struggle is seen in the next scene to the left with a blue figure laying over top and vanquishing a colorless (i.e. lifeless) fez-wearing Ottoman, an action which represents the end of the Ottoman era brought about by the Balkans Wars and WWI. What follows next in the mosaic is a large red and yellow explosion, an element which symbolizes the start of the inter-war period between 1918 and 1941 which is characterized by an explosion of rebellion and revolutionary thought within the people of the region of Veles and Macedonia. Elongated figures are seen here floating across the top of the scene, representing working class people coming together and rising up against oppression. Broken chains below them indicate that the age of them accepting the oppression of their people is over. Yet, a dead figure laying underneath these broken chains with a woman weeping over them signifies that this action of defiance was accompanied by a significant loss of human life.

Photo 7: Flag of the Ilinden Uprising

As the scene progresses to the left, we see a baby sitting alone at the bottom of the scene, an emotional symbol that marks the beginning of WWII and parents going off to fight the war against fascist occupation and oppression. From here, you see a blue haired woman charging forward with her fist held out bravely in front of her, ready to serve and face off against the enemy alongside her male comrades, one of whom is seen lying dead below her. In the last section, we see a scene of tangled bodies and guns firing, signifying the struggle and violence of WWII. Broken Nazi helmets are seen littering the bottom of the scene. What looks to be a bright red Partisan flag flies beneath them. Through this vast chaos of war and violence, the final figure we see stretching out of the final far left corner of the mosaic's scene is a Partisan fighter seen wearing his dark green Partisan cap with a red star. This final figure symbolizes the victory of the communist Josip Broz Tito's Partisan Army and the pathway to freedom and prosperity.

Mosaic 2: The Victory Over Oppression

In the same room as the large Macedonian Struggle mosaic, directly adjacent to the last scene of that work, is located the second mosaic in this narrative series about the history of Macedonia. This work depicts the people's victory over fascist oppression at the end of WWII in 1945. This mosaic can be seen in Photo 8 and was provided to me graciously by Stefan Tonevski.

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Photo 8: A photo of the Victory Over Oppression mosaic at the Veles Kosturnica

The central element of this mosaic by Petar Mazev is a large woman standing at the center of the scene with her left arm raised high into the air with her fist clenched tight. While the figure may initially look to be a man, her long blue hair trailing off of her right shoulder is clearly visible. All around this victorious woman people cheer, while a excited horse gleefully leaps into the air behind her. Furthermore, she is surrounded by flowers, which are being handed and thrown to her, which all symbolize the people's thankfulness and gratefulness at her sacrifice, her return and her victory. In essence, this victorious woman can be understood as a depiction of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, who is almost always portrayed in a similar fashion as seen here, stepping forward with one arm raised high in celebration of a successful battle. Interestingly though, she appears to be reaching down with her right hand turning the pages of a book, but what symbolic meaning this might have is not clear. Meanwhile, to the left side of the scene, a small exuberant boy is jumping for joy towards its father in the background who can be seen reaching out to him and leaning down to kiss the child, all the while the father uses his second arm to hold high in the sky a red Partisan flag.

Mosaic 3: Post-War Reconstruction

From the right-hand side room where these first two above-mentioned mosaics are found, heading back towards main atrium will lead you into the second mosaic room on the left-hand side of the memorial house. Here you will see the next mosaic in the narrative story of the history of Macedonia, which is a long thin mosaic wall depicting the post-WWII reconstruction of Yugoslavia. In the interactive image below, you can see a composite image of several photos which I stiched together to show the entire mosaic in one panoramic view (Photo 9), which was provided to me graciously by Stefan Tonevski.

Photo 9: A photo of the Post-War Reconstruction mosaic at the Veles Kosturnica

Starting on the right-hand edge of the mosaic, this narrative by Petar Mazev exploring Yugoslavia's post-war reconstruction begins by showing a happy worker holding some nature of machinery, all while a billowing factory can be seen over his shoulder in the background. These elements all symbolize Yugoslavia's crucial industrial build-up during the 1940s and 50s, all helmed by thousands upon thousands of diligent factory workers. From here, the action proceeds to the left showing a farm worker kneeling down picking up a sheath of grain, while above him can be seen a smiling mine worker with a pick axe slung over his back. These two figures further pay tribute and homage to the working class laborers of Yugoslavia who were hailed as central component to the nation's rebuilding efforts. From here, the scene progresses to the left showing the fruits of this labor, which includes, firstly, the arts, embodied here by a female ballet dancer twirling around with her arms stretched out, and, secondly, finishing the scene off with the all-important leisure, depicted here in the mosaic with a man laid back in repose with his arm slung over his head with a large smile on his face. Green leaf fronds surround him, indicating that he may be laid back on one of the sunny beaches of Macedonia, such as those found at the lakes of Ohrid or Prespa. The two horizontal figures flanking the right and left sides of this mosaic (work on the right, leisure on the left), very much seem to be symbolically emphasizing the relationship between the two ideas cultivated within the socialist system of Yugoslavia... with your work comes your mandated right to leisure, and with this leisure comes your responsibility to work towards the prosperity of the nation.

Mosaic 4: Yugoslav Prosperity

In front of the "Post-War Reconstruction" mosaic is the fourth and final mosaic wall of Petar Mazev's narrative series on the history of Macedonia. This final mosaic is a huge installation on the rear wall of the room that reaches from floor to ceiling, standing easily as the most imposing and dominating work in the entire memorial house. In the interactive image below, you can see a composite image of several photos that I stitched together to show the entire mosaic in one panoramic view (Photo 10), which was provided to me graciously by Stefan Tonevski.

Photo 10: Interactive image of "Yugoslav Prosperity" mosaic at the Veles Kosturnica

Mazev's last piece of his narrative mosaic series here within the Veles Kosturnica ends with a gigantic work showing the prosperity and 'Golden Age' of Yugoslavia that resulted after the arduous post-war reconstruction. The scene here depicts what appear to be two children happily playing and running around, all while a flock of doves circle around them. While the doves unquestionably represent the peace and prosperity enjoyed by the people of Yugoslavia during the 60s and 70s, the children would seem to stand as a contrasting foil to the suffering children at the hands of the Ottomans depicted at the beginning of the mosaic series. This poetic contrast of starting and ending with scenes of children (from suffering to playful joy) no doubt is meant to illustrate how far the region has come towards achieving peace and freedom through the creation of Yugoslavia. At the center bottom of the scene, a bright red patch can be seen with what faintly appears to be an abstract star drawn within it. Though it isn't completely clear, this may represent the flag of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, which was composed of a red flag with a gold outlined star at its center. If this is indeed a representation of the flag, it would certainly be operating as a symbol saying that all of this prosperity and freedom was made possible as a result of the Socialist Revolution and the Partisan Army battling against fascism. Finally, the last element of this mosaic to note is that it was on this final scene that Mazev decided to include his signature, which can be seen at the top written in red "Mazev P. 79-80".

The Tree of Life Sculpture

In addition to the many mosaics found within the inner sanctum of the Veles Kosturnica, also included within this complex is a large bronze sculpture (Photo 11) which depicts a blossoming tree, created by sculptor Ljubmir Denković (who is also the creator of the shape of the Kosturnica itself). Sources indicate that it is meant to represent a 'budding' tree of freedom and symbolize the triumph of Partisan forces over fascist aggression and occupation. Underneath this 'tree' sculpture is the crypt where the remains of fallen Partisan fighters are interred, allowing these remains to act as the 'roots' of this tree of freedom.

However, it must be noted that this stylized tree form that Denković creates here is nearly identical to other memorial sculptural works he created and proposed for other locations, with one very similar to this created at a Partisan cemetery at Primaporta, Italy, while it was also used in Denković's submitted proposal for the design competition for the Battle of Batina monument at Bezdan, Serbia.

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Photo 11: Tree of Life

Analysis & Commentary

In the 1984 book "Macedonian Monumental Painting on the Themes of the NOV & the Revolution" (Македонското монументално сликарство на теми од НОВ и Револуцијата) by Boris Petkovski, much commentary is made on the artistic style and cultural significance of Mazev's mosaic murals here at Veles, such as this excerpt for example (translated here into English):

"In his mosaics, Mazev also accepted some suggestions for his work from [Petar] Lubarda and Picasso, as well as from some aspects of the region's medieval art. But at the same time, the artist sought to free himself from the allure of the Byzantine mosaic technique, applying instead more emphasized primal forms: sometimes they were observed within mosaic systems as forms that were close to Byzantine but whose texture was more expressive and less meticulous (similar to mosaics from Tunisia and Israel). Combining natural stone found in Macedonia with Venetian mosaic tiles, Mazev managed to highlight their physical features to achieve modern, colorful and stylish effects. Particularly noticeable is the interweaving of linear, zonal lines & strips (often grouped together) with more solid, pointed forms and separate colorful loud accents. This mosaic complex of Mazev in the Memorial-Ossuary at Titov Veles is undoubtedly a new turning point in the development of Macedonian monumental painting, and especially of what is related to the People's Liberation Army and the Revolution."

Meanwhile, in a 2019 interview with Evaz Asanov, who was one of Mazev's assistants during the three year construction of the mosaic, he describes the process of its creation in the following terms (translated here into English):

"The [mosaic] was made back in the studio, being created in sections. We worked with Petar Mazev together with colleagues and students, and when we finished with each mosaic section we loaded them on a TAM truck and we carried everything to the monument, then anchoring them in place on the wall. Mazev oversaw work, creation, and fitting... it was physically hard work. He was a very neat, cultured man, working in a calm and quiet atmosphere, without saying many words and more often than not using head gestures to communicate as far as when and what to do. The project was always fully in his hands. When the mosaic was completed, General Kosta Nađ personally came to see the mosaic during the complex's opening. The tiles from which it was created came from Italy and were imported specifically for this purpose. When he finished the mosaic, Mazev stopped Nađ and said that this is his biggest success in life."

Present-Day Issues

However, since the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the monument complex has fallen into dereliction and disrepair, which has had considerable negative effects on the mosaics and the roof structure of the museum. In many locations on the mosaics, apparent water damage and staining is evident. Furthermore, additional staining can be seen on many locations on the museum's ceiling. A project to restore and fix these water damage issues was made in 2003, with 100,000 euros being spent on the effort. However, even despite these restoration efforts, the water damage and ceiling leaking issues have not been fully resolved, with the city already desperately looking to procure additional funds to initiate further repairs and renovations.

When visiting the monument, the doors into the mosaic museum will be closed and locked the vast majority of the time. If you wish to gain entrance into the museum to explore it, the best way to do this is to make an appointment ahead of time with its curators at the National Museum of Veles. They can be contacted via email at muzejveles@yahoo.com or by phone at +389 43 231 434.

 

Photo 12: Poppy flower

 

Symbolism:

The shape of the Kostunica (crypt) monument here at Veles, Macedonia is said by multiple sources to represent the inverted petals of an opened poppy flower (Photo 12). In Macedonia, the blooming poppy flower is a widespread and extremely common plant that has come to symbolizes life and rebirth across the region. In fact, thousands of these flowers bloom naturally all around this memorial complex every spring. In this instance, such a symbol as a poppy flower would be a celebration and recognition of the fallen soldiers interred at the tomb within this monument. However, other sources I have found refer to the symbolism of this monument to represent the fractured helmet of a German soldier broken into pieces. I have not been able to determine which meaning was the intention of the sculpture's artist Ljubomir Denkoviḱ or if, maybe, both are equally appropriate (or neither). Perhaps the shape is up for the viewer themselves to interpret and internalize as they see fit.

Status and Condition:

The overall state of the monument here at Veles could be classified as fair to poor. As has been mentioned in other section in this article, the condition of this monument has been deteriorating since the early 1990s, with severe issues with vandalism, water damage, neglect, theft, concrete damage, etc. Furthermore, additional problems not mentioned above which have been occurring in recent decades have been under-funding, a lack of sufficient staffing, extended periods without electricity and roof damage.

Extensive renovations were funded in 2003 to facilitate repairs to roof damage and water leakage, however, these problems have persisted and the municipality of Veles is seeking new funding for additional repairs and renovations. While I was there, I did see evidence that some wreaths and flowers were left at the bronze tree statue inside the museum area. As such, it is clear that some in the community come to pay homage and respects to this site, but it is not clear to what extent this happens. In addition, there was no road signage or directional markers from the main road, either in town or from the motorway, leading visitors or tourists to the monument. Interestingly, upon my visit to the site in 2018, I found stacks of old pedestals piled in front of the old visitors center which were inscribed with the names of local Yugoslav WWII heroes (Photo 13). Bronze busts of these fighters originally adorned these pedestals. A news article explains that the busts were removed and the remaining busts stored in a safe place, with the pedestals left onsite, after a series of thefts which occurred in 2011. The article states that the intention exists by local officials to restore these busts in their original location around the monument complex, but as of 2020, this still has not yet occurred.

Photo 13: A pile of disused pedestals at the monument site

Photo 14: A view during the 2015 Kočo Racin Meetings event

Meanwhile, much of the courtyard and amphitheatre at the base of the monument's stairs were overgrown and falling into disuse, with the ornamental fountain in that same area being in complete disrepair. While some landscaping work is undertaken at the site, much of the grounds are left untended and overgrown. However, a serious government effort was put forward in December 2013 to repaint the entire structure and make renewed attempts at fixing the leaking roof and water seeps, as these issues have been ongoing problems for the structure. The restoration was completed in early 2016 at a total cost of 4.5 million denars (roughly 73k euros), provided by the country's Ministry of Culture. Regular commemorative events are still held at this memorial site which are often attended by many notable local personalities and politicians. Meanwhile, in 2015 the annual poetry event called the "Racin Meetings" (Рацинови средби) (Photo 14), which are intended to honor poet Kočo Racin, were, for the first time, held here at the Veles monument during early June. The event includes poetry readings, musical performances, a book fair and an awards ceremony, all of which are often presided over by regional and national dignitaries.

 

Directional Info:

The Veles monument complex is relatively easy to find. As you are approaching Veles along the highway coming from the north (heading south), the monument can easily be seen on the hillside from the M1/E-75 motorway as you are approaching the 'East Veles' exit. As you get off on the exit, take a left onto road R1312 at the bottom of the exit ramp. Unfortunately, the ramp exists in such a way that a left might not be possible to make (as it only lets you head south towards downtown Veles, so, if you find it difficult, simply turn back around at the large traffic circle less than 1km down the road. Then, you'll take your immediate right onto a paved road (Photo 15) that will take you right to the memorial complex, with parking available along the road in front of the circular courtyard (Photo 16). The exact coordinates for parking area are N41°43'21.6", E21°47'17.0". Additionally, parking can be made at or near the LukOil petrol station, then walking up the winding stairs to the monument courtyard.

Veles spomenik monument map location

Click map to open in Google Maps in new window

Turn off of main road towards Veles spomenik
Parking area photo of the Veles spomenik monument

Photo 15: Sharp turn off main road towards monument

Photo 16: Parking area in front of monument sign

 

Photography Info:

This sub-section details information related to the directional/spatial orientation info for elements of the monument complex at Veles, as well as local and seasonal lighting conditions, all primarily geared towards those wanting to photograph the site. Firstly, the primary stairs that lead up to the monument are oriented in a rough east-west configuration. The front facade of the monument at the top of the stairs points in a western direction. For information on sunrise and sunset, you can obtain a detailed reports on yearly conditions at Veles by visiting the profile page for that location at TimeAndDate.com.

Historical Images:

Veles spomenik (1980s)
Veles spomenik (1980s)

A historical view of Veles kosturnica spomenik complex in the 1980s.

Veles spomenik postcard (1980s)
Veles spomenik postcard (1980s)

A historical view of Veles spomenik in the 1980s.

Veles spomenik (2003)
Veles spomenik (2003)

Photo from the 2003 renovation of the Veles spomenik.

Veles spomenik (1980s)
Veles spomenik (1980s)

A historical view of Veles kosturnica spomenik complex in the 1980s.

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