This undulating concrete giant, clad in scales of stainless steel, is the Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, a memorial that rises 120 feet high at the mountain’s peak. In most any other town or city in the world, it would make for an extraordinary landmark, a truly unique structure both in size and design. But here, lost in a sea of rolling green mountains and forests, the building is all the stranger for its loneliness.
-AtlasObscura.com describing the monument known as Petrova Gora, "The Misunderstood History of the Balkans’ Surreal War Memorials"
The assistants glance nervously at the operating table, pretending to be puzzled by the figure before them. "Be careful! This a critical stage, now!" the doctor barks over his chart into the Eero Saarinen-inspired hospital room, thick-rimmed glasses, creeper mustache, and D-list acting skills reminding us to cringe because this is a Woody Allen film. Half a dozen hands respond by reaching in and gingerly peeling back a flimsy layer of Good Housekeeping-approved aluminum foil to reveal Miles Monroe. Oh, the future imagined by 1970s Hollywood.
When contemporary Yugoslav sculptor Vojin Bakić sat down in the 1970s to design the Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, either he had just seen Sleeper and thought a building clad in aluminum was a brilliant idea (hey, it did sustain Woody Allen for 200 years, did it not?), or he merely found inspiration in the roll of foil in his kitchen drawer, because, wow, this building is aluminum. (Actually, he built the monument based on his earlier series of "sliced segments" abstract art, so the design wasn't particularly meaningful to the event or location.) The structure, more sculpture than building, officially opened in 1981, its shiny-paneled exterior and reinforced concrete frame offering visitors 3,000 square meters of floor space with "a 250 person congress hall, a library, reading room, a cafe and a museum which housed hundreds of documents, relics and artifacts related to the battle and the history of ethnic-Serbian struggles in the region." Just another gloriously futuristic monument commissioned to celebrate Yugoslavia, anti-fascism, and the end of World War II, now left standing "like children of a vanished state now scattered as memory markers across a post-Yugoslav Balkan landscape."
When I visited Petrova Gora ("Peter's Mountain") last month, the last stop in my mini-Croatia road trip, the timing couldn't have been better. It was a crisp autumn day of pillowy blue skies and colorful leaves, a day that makes a visit to the mountains of Petrova Gora National Park that much more spectacular. As I approached the 12-story building abandoned in 1991 along with Yugoslavia, I noticed a sag in the building's once-firm face, its bold beauty slowly being stripped away by time and locals; in the past decade or so, with no protection or clear owner, neighbors have plucked aluminum panels from Petrova Gora's shapely facade, careless gestures unlike the delicate precision of the fictional medical team in Sleeper. The aluminum sheets that remain are still in good condition thirty years later, with only a few signs of corrosion here or there.
Inside Petrova Gora, the sculptural theme continues and gentle lines define balconies and stairwells. The building was designed to have no windows, lit instead by electricity and round skylights scattered across flat, black roofs like marbles (oh, how I'd love to see interior pictures of the monument in the 1980s!). The wood frame walls that once proudly held aluminum panels are now exposed to reveal amazing views of the mountain range. Stalagmites have begun to form on the floor and a room full of moldy flannel military uniforms poses more questions than answers, but overall there isn't much to see inside the building beyond the stairwell and views. Going down into the basement was a bit of an eery surprise, and my light source was too weak to properly illuminate the massive underground space that once was a hall for large functions.
In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Petrova Gora and other deteriorating "spomeniks". Critics claim these structures have evolved from monuments to atrocity and resistance into concrete clickbait, visionary artwork reduced to a Willow or Valencia filter, masterpieces cheapened with every Facebook share. But interestingly enough, and despite most monuments being abandoned or in less than stellar shape, people still travel great distances to see them, a sort of modern day pilgrimage, an homage to Tito's Yugoslavia. People are curious about these monuments, and they are worth the international community stepping in to preserve them. Most monuments still serve their communities and Petrova Gora has found a new use in recent years as a broadcasting tower for Croatian Television and T-Mobile service. So when you visit Petrova Gora, you will not only hear the soft booms of trees being felled in the distance and possibly the faint ghosts of Yugoslavia, but you will also hear the electrical hum of television and media being broadcast in the region. Let's just hope no one is watching a Woody Allen movie.
What did the monument look like when it opened?
Stairwell like a conch shell