Spomenik Database, a Stunning Research Project of 20th Century Monuments

Total Croatia News


How one man’s fascination with Jan Kampanaer’s late 2000s exhibition on the mysterious spomeniks (monuments) of the former-Yugoslavia led to a trip across the Atlantic and an astonishingly comprehensive cataloguing of a piece of Balkan history. A look at the work of Spomenik Database on January 6, 2018.

Before we start, let’s get all the Tito abuse out of our system.

There, are we good to go now?

Every so often, while researching this wonderful region, I come across something online which stands out for its surprising nature and excellence. I am not personally a fan of socialist architecture or socialism itself, but if one can put one’s politics aside (something impossible to do for a section of our readership), one can appreciate the phenomenal work that has gone into a project called Spomenik Database by an American enthusiast called Donald Niebyl, with (as far as I can ascertain) no previous connection to the former Yugoslavia, who has created an outstanding database and thoroughly researched documentation of the numerous large socialist monuments which are one architectural legacy of the former Yugoslavia. 

Rather than me prattle on, here is an explanation of how the site, Spomenik Database, came to be:


About This Project

Ever since I first saw Jan Kempenaers late 2000s exhibition on the ‘mysterious’ Spomeniks of the former-Yugoslavia, I was very fascinated and intrigued by them to the point where I became determined to travel to the Balkans so I could explore them for myself. Kempenaers stark photographs of these seemingly abandoned yet futuristic concrete megaliths instilled these ‘spomeniks‘ with a deep and haunting aura… however, Kempenaers included precious little information on what they meant, where exactly they were, what happened to them or why they even existed. Even my attempts to learn about them online in any sort of meaningful way yielded surprisingly little comprehensive information — pieces of the puzzle were found here and there, but I found no single place on the web which related the whole story of this strange network of sculptures on both the grand scale and on the individual level. Pondering upon these mysteries I felt compelled to work towards demystifying them, not just for myself, but for all those who sought to learn more and gain a greater understanding about these imposing and enigmatic historical relics. I found this especially important as many were beginning to accuse Kempenaers of being misleading with his photographs, all the while these ‘spomenik‘ photos pervaded the internet and were being boiled down and reduced to what was dubbed ‘clickbait concrete’.


My spring 2016 route through the Balkans is in red, while the 2017 route is in green.

Finally, in the spring of 2016, I was able to spend about a month and a half travelling across the Balkans by bus, train and rental car to take in as much as I could about the spomeniks and to document and photograph as much as possible. It was an unbelievable adventure, as I learned not JUST about the ‘fabled’ and ‘mysterious’ spomeniks, but also more about the history, people, culture and religion of the former-Yugoslavia than I ever imagined that I would. Also along the way, I met dozens of people who helped me along my journey, as guides, as travel companions, as translators and as friends. Then, in the spring of 2017, I spent another two months travelling across the region gathering information and documentation on another 50 monuments. I have a subsequent trip planned for the spring of 2018 as well.

Within this ambitious website, my aim is to create the definitive destination on the internet to not only view photos of these enigmatic abstract monuments, but also to have this be a place to learn their history, their meaning, their current condition and exactly how to find them. Within each spomenik profile page, I include a compilation of photographs I took of the sculpture, the translations I made of their inscriptions, the stories I uncovered and the mysteries I solved. I hope you find exploring this website as enjoyable as I did collecting the resources for it and assembling it for you! Feel free to message me with any feedback, advice, comments or additional information/data/photographs you feel would be helpful!


 Now take a tour of Donald’s impressive work so far. If you would like to assist him as he continues his project, I am sure he would love to hear from him. Visit the Spomenik Database website here.


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