January the 13th, 2024 – Across the country, you’ll find some strange Croatian monuments with designs reminiscent of brutalism. Here are five of them.
Croatia is full of brutalist-looking spomeniks (Croatian: spomenici). Most of the most bizarre ones are WWII Yugoslav era structures that jut out of the landscape in an imposing manner. The majority were built between 1945 and 1960, and the first ever English guidebook dedicated solely to Croatian monuments and those in the more immediate region was published by Donald Niebyl back in 2018.
the Monument to the Revolution of the People of Moslavina – Podgarić
Built back in 1967 and dedicated to the WWII struggles faced by the people of Moslavina in central Croatia, this utterly strange construction looks almost like a Biblical angel, with its “wings” and what could easily be interpreted as an “eye” in the very centre. At 10 metres tall and 20 metres wide, it certainly stands out.
According to the 2021 census, the little village of Podgarić, in which this odd structure is located, only had 26 inhabitants. That somehow makes the fact that this most dramatic of Croatian monuments being situated there all the more unusual. I certainly found it to be rather unsettling when looking up at its formidable size in the silence of a village where, at least to me at that moment in the dead of winter, there appeared to be no people at all.
The stone flower – Jasenovac
Another of the most poignant Croatian monuments is the one on the grounds of the former Jasenovac concentration camp. It is dedicated to the victims of a former regime and to those who perished in the camp. Resembling an enormous concrete flower sticking out of the ground and reaching up towards the sky, it is perhaps the most well-publicised spomenik in all of Croatia.
The precise history surrounding the former Jasenovac concentration camp is contested, still drawing plenty of debate, hostility and controversy to this very day. The fact that this topic is still very much a part of Croatian historical discourse in the modern day hands itself to the Stone Flower’s almost constant publicity.
Bašćanska ploča (Baška tablet) – Krk
Depending on who you talk to, many consider this to be the most important of all Croatian monuments – as it is a monument to Croatian literacy itself. Found back in 1851 in the church of St. Lucy (Sveta Lucija) in Jurandvor, not far from Baška on the island of Krk, this piece of hefty stone bears an inscription written in the ancient Glagolitic script.
King Demetrius Zvonimir is also mentioned for what is believed to be the first time in the Croatian language. It is believed that the plaque was carved in approximately the year 1100. With the discovery of this astonishing stone, research into the history of the Croatian language and literature truly began.
Weighing in at around 800 kilograms, the stone’s text first recalls how the King Zvonimir donated land to the Benedictine monastery of St. Lucius. It then talks about the completion of the construction of the small church that belonged to the monastery of St. Lucius.
The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija – Petrova Gora
This is one of those Croatian monuments that looks neglected. This is in part due to its genuinely odd design, and in part due to being left to the mercy of the cruel hands of time. It has unfortunately been left to go to rack and ruin.
Built in 1981 following Vojin Bakić’s design, this strange structure can be found on Veliki Petrovac, Petrova Gora’s highest point. Usually referred to as the Petrova Gora Monument, it was constructed in dedication to the WWII struggles faced by the people of Banija and Kordun in central Croatia.
An ode to the uprising of the local people against fascism, this monument celebrates not only their bravery and eventual triumph, but also marks the lives of those lost to fascism, be they civilian or otherwise.
Vojin Bakić took to designing this monument after completing another, which was once the largest postmodern sculpture of its kind in the world – The Monument to the Victory of the People of Slavonia. This, another unsettling-looking structure, was demolished during the Croatian War of Independence. It was one of a number of Bakić’s works on the list to be demolished.
The Monument to the Victims of Fascism from Podhum- Platak
On the 12th of July 1942, fascist Italian forces massacred the ethnic Croatian inhabitants of the village of Podhum. This brutal mass murder was allegedly carried out in retaliation for a Partisan attack which had happened previously.
In 1941, Podhum, a very small village, became part of the Province of Fiume – which belonged to Italy. The inhabitants of Podhum were Croats. The prefect of the region was the formidable Italian fascist activist Temistocle Testa, who had earned a reputation for making threats against anyone who refused to collaborate with the Italian occupiers.
When March 1942 rolled around, and with Podhum having been forced under Italian control for over a year by that point, Testa stated that anyone withholding any information about local Partisans from the Italian authorities would be sorry and face severe punishment. This sort of punishment typically involved the burning down of villages and towns and executions, among other things.
On that fateful July morning, 250 Italian soldiers who were part of the SS, entered Podhum. They rounded up all the men they could find between the ages of 16 and 64 and kept them captive. Several of them were executed on the spot, with the remaining individuals then being forced to march to an open field, then to stand along the edge of a readily dug pit, and shot dead. The precise number of those murdered in the Podhum massacre hasn’t been officially established, with different records claiming different numbers.
According to Testa, the reason for the Podhum massacre was because 16 Italian soldiers “had been killed by Partisans from Podhum”, but this has been contested, with many believing that the bloody massacre was in retaliation for the killing of four Italians. The precise reason for the horrendous massacre of Podhum’s citizens has never been proven.