Category Archives: building

Day off the bike; bus journey to Kadinjača

Its a rare day; in other words, one on which I travel by bus, and leave the Thorn bike  behind, safely chained to a bannister in my apartment block in downtown Uzice. Kadinjača is a village about 14 kilometres from Uzice, and I board a mini-bus, carrying another 6 passengers, in the efficiently organised central bus station, and enjoy the changing view through the window as it winds its way up the valley and out of the town, heading north-west. On the last bend before my stop, I see it.

I’ve become intrigued by the spomenik phenomen since visiting my first one a few days ago. The wonderful resource that is the Spomenikdatabase, has introduced me to these architectural memorials, mostly from the Yugoslavia-era period, although strictly speaking, the word is a general term meaning “memorial”.

It’s hard to convey the scale of these wonders! Walking amongst the white-painted concrete bulky forms, it is impossible not to be in awe of them, and also what they represent. This one was finished in 1979, and as described in Donald Niebyl’s comprehensive description, was erected to commemorate the Battle Of Kadinjaca of 1941.

The imagery of the principal element of the sculpture, symbolising the bursting of a shell through a defensive shield, and in doing so ripping open a body, and creating a messy and raw puncture wound, is an apt and graphic visual metaphor for the historical period, but also a more recent past.

My walk around the memorial complex, and amongst the rearing, oblique shards, with their vaguely humanistic forms, somehow seeming to be shooting up from deep-rooted corms, is a solitary one. But the nearby carpark and visitor centre complex, indicates that at times there are large numbers of visitors here; and especially on the 29th September, the date of the original ceremonial opening of the memorial.

I cross the road, and stand next to the empty bus-stop. It’s early afternoon, on a beautiful sunny afternoon, and I’m content with waiting for the bus…whenever it will arrive. On my trip up here, I had asked a fellow passenger when there might be a return bus back down to the town. She had shrugged her shoulders, and had said, ” I don’t know “.

The valley below the monument site is verdant, and in the immediate foreground there is a group of five or six people; some of them bent over, and others standing, and slowly moving forward over the freshly-dug brown earth. A small tractor is parked at a distance from them, and attached to the back of it, is what I instantly recognise as a potato-harvester.

When I had first seen one in operation, about 40 years previously, at the time I moved to Wales, I had thought it was some infernal, autonomous machine, with a mind of its own. The rapidly spinning cast iron wheel, with its several flailing arms, suspended above the ground, rolling inexorably to its destination on the spindly, iron-spoked wheels, seemed to inevitably be the harbinger of maimed and smashed limbs. But, firmly under the control of my Welsh farmer neighbour, by magic, the potatoes that had been swelling out of sight underground for several months, were efficiently and summarily wakened from their slumber and thrown into the air, to drop onto the ground, to await collection by the group of neighbours. I raise my hand, acknowledging the toil of those who work on the land.

A young man walked across the road to join me in the bus stop. He speaks English. He begins by looking angrily at his watch, and swearing about the bus being late. He has a lecture starting at his college in an hour, and he’s expecting the bus. It doesn’t come for well over an hour, which gives me time to ask about his life, his hopes, his attitudes.

His family live on a small holding in sight of the bus stop. They grow raspberries. Everybody grows raspberries. The local Mr Big buys all the raspberries, stores them, and markets them. The price Mr Big pays his parents this year is less than the previous year, and no one is making a proper living out of growing raspberries. Except, presumably, Mr Big. I ask the young man if any of the farmers have thought of forming a cooperative, and doing their own marketing and storing. He answers that there isn’t any government help to do that, and so the small farmers carry on as they are.


 He is getting angrier and angrier, as by now the lesson he is supposed to be in, must have long since begun. Between swearing episodes, he strides off up the road, checking his mobile phone and watch, aiming to see round the hairpin bend in the vain hope the bus is coming round the corner. Interspersed between the swearing episdoes, and the angry dashes up the road, we continue our conversation. I didn’t ask his name, nor his age, but tentatively quizzed him about the Serbia/Kosovo ‘ question ‘ .

There is an idea, being proposed by Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, that there should be some kind of land-swap, between their territories. 

Kosovo, which declared itself to be an autonomous state in 2008, abuts Serbia to the north. Serbia has never recognised Kosovo’s autonomy, and continues to claim its territory. Serbians are in the majority in three of Kosovo’s municipalities, notably in the north,  whilst Albanians are in the majority in much of the south. The town of Kosovska Mitrovica, in the north, and straddling the Drina River, is a focus for tension, which lingers on. The memory of the war of the late 1990’s is still a raw, open wound. It takes the presence of the KFOR, the NATO-led international peace-keeping force, to maintain stability and prevent the outbreak of skirmishes. The land-swap would possibly swap the mainly ethnic-Albanian Presovo Valley area of Serbia, with the northern region of Kosovo. The idea’s proponents suggest this as a way of resolving the inter-ethnic tension that pervades the two regions.

 My student friend is no more than eighteen, but has well-formed views. ” Kosovo is Serbian ‘ , he says, ” and must not be separate, or join the EU “. He didn’t have many good words to be said about President Vučić, and ” his cronies “. He said,  ” if it comes to it, I’ll take up arms “. 

The bus finally arrives, and we jump on, sit together, and make small talk, about the countryside as we pass through it. We soon return to the town, and he’s missed his lecture, and I’ve also missed the main lunch hour at the restaurants. But he insists on going out of his way to introduce me to his favoured diner. We say goodbye and he rushes away smiling into the crowd of his curious student colleagues.

Down near the river, his recommended eatery is a drab and dusty workaday place, with a few plates containing unidentifiable menu choices drying out on the plate-warming shelf. I check what is on show, and risk the fish-shaped object. It comes with a couple of accompaniments; big slabs of bleeding beetroots, the size of my palm, and some oily sauce. The plate-warmer is underperforming at this hour, so I struggle to be enthusiastic about the rather tepid and greasy meal. I pay and go, and then linger at a nearby cafe on the riverside, where I stop to take in a couple of extremely strong and good espresso coffees, in order to cut through the lingering after-taste of the fish lunch.

I walk along the river, upstream, to the municipal swimming area, just out of the town-centre. The temporary sluice-gates have been lowered, and the river flows in its normal course. This will be dammed up again next summer, and the huge pool will provide enjoyment for the town’s inhabitants and visitors for the summer months; water sports, races, school swimming, and even dining in floating restaurants.

The idea of the land-swap comes back into my head. It makes sense in some respects. Why persist in trying to keep the peace between fractious neighbours? If the majority in a region feel unable to accommodate a small number of neighbours with different beliefs and culture, then why not move the unwelcome minority to another region, to join their cultural ‘ family ‘ ; and ‘ exchange ‘ them for your own family members; drawing them back to the fold? The trouble is that this idea stems from the same strident nationalism that both Thaçi and Vučić, and others, espoused during the build-up to the war in 1998/9. It promotes the idea of ethnic purity as the solution to the region’s problems, instead of dialogue and compromise and diversity. It reinforces the divides, which all reasonable voices are trying to overcome. And should the idea be allowed to be implemented, it is also very likely that the calls for Serbian-majority parts of Bosnia & Hercegovina to join Serbia would get too loud to ignore. And it wouldn’t stop there. Surely the responsibility of leaders is to promote compromise and healing and co-habitation, rather than to dwell on the past, the divisions and differences. But how would I go about persuading my tardy student travelling companion of my argument?

Advertisements

Užice and the Hotel Zlatibor.

Its about 50 kilometres from the border crossing to the town of Užice. En route, I stopped at a roadside cafe, logged onto the wifi, and sent an email to the Hotel Zlatibor in Užice requesting a booking for a room for the night. I had found a reference to this hotel on a website and was determined to spend at least one night there. I never had a response, so by the time I arrived at dusk in this town of about 60,000, I sorted myself out with some other accommodation, which, being on the 7th floor, gave me nearly unrivalled views of the town. And the view included the fabulous Hotel Zlatibor.

Built in 1981, and designed by Svetlana Kana Radević, sadly or happily, this building no longer operates as a hotel in the generally accepted sense of the word.  Some called this Montenegrin architect a  designer of the Brutalist school. Locals apparently called the hotel a ‘ rocket ‘ due to its soaring and angular, ribbed appearance.

Fortunately, although I couldn’t rest my head there, the extremely helpful receptionist on the ground floor, when I walked into the foyer the next morning, showed me to the lift, and told me to press the button with the highest number on it. Slightly heart in mouth, I pressed the button with the number 14 on it and as the doors glided shut to hide her smiling, cheery face, I headed for the nose-cone of the ‘ rocket’.

The view from the top was superb, and for the next half hour, I slowly descended the stairs, marvelling at the unique details, of finish and design, and imagined the building in its heyday, with the surly staff, taking their time to deliver the morning breakfasts to the guests in the cantilevered and jutting dining areas and balconies, dusting the gritty exposed concrete sections, or cleaning and polishing the extraordinary chromium-plated light fittings.

14 floors….Hotel Zlatibor
Interior
Feature exposed aggregate concrete in the foyer
light fittings in every room
concrete and chrome
View from the top
Svetlana Kana Radević’s stylistic design for high level dining areas
Crisp and angular concrete
more…..
Twilight view from my 7th floor vantage point.
Looking to the 14th floor.
Striking lines, boldly executed
Dining room
Full splendour

Tjentište and the Battle of the Sutjeska

IMG_3180

Sutjeska River, Bosnia

In May 1943, during the Second World War, the Battle of Sutjeska took place in this nationally revered place. By all accounts, this was a most extraordinary, but phyrric victory for the Yugoslav Partizans, led by Josp Broz Tito. Axis forces totalling over 120,000 were held for some weeks by a force of a little over 20,000 partizan troops of the Yugoslav National Liberation Army. This stalemate ultimately contributed to enabling the Yugoslav forces to drive the Axis troops out of Eastern Bosnia.

I did not find out till I got home, that Richard Burton played the part of Tito, in the movie Sutjeska , made in 1973. I mean to watch it!

IMG_3184

View from the balcony of the derelict hotel in the Park

IMG_3182

The Hotel Sutjeska; seen better days

It is impossible to imagine what took place here; nearly 80 years ago, and how the sacrifices during those events have become a part of the national psyche. To understand what is taking place in the Balkans today, one has to understand the struggles which have gone on here for hundreds of years; and The Battle Of Sutjeska is one of the most important. I had ridden eastwards from Tebinje, and onto Gacko, still in Republika Srpska, before riding into the Sutjeska gorge, and then into the Sutjeska National Park on my way eastwards.

It was here that I first came across the astonishing  phenomenon of the spomenik

IMG_3201

IMG_3204

IMG_3207

Tjentište Spomenik; Sutjeska Memorial

When I arrived in early September 2018, work was near completion to repair damage to the site around the massive concrete memorial, which had been erected in 1971. Unfortunately, in February 2018, a massive landslide had occurred which threatened the stability of the site surrounding the monument. I cycled up the muddy track to the west of the memorial and up onto the paved area between the magnificent concrete monoliths. They are truly wonderful! I was in awe of these symbolic and abstract sculptures. 

IMG_3192IMG_3195IMG_3189

Museum

Spomen Dom Museum 

Also in the same valley; The Valley of Heroes, is the museum complex. Made almost entirely of concrete ( including the main doors ) , its design borrows from the classic wooden shingle roof typical of mountain woodland cabins.

img_3209.jpg

Unfortunately, the Museum was not accessible. Because as this blog shows; the interior is a glorious and graphic depiction of the events being commemorated. 

This site in this beautiful valley, was my introduction to the spomenik(s) of Yugoslavia. The wonderful resource that Donald Niebyl has compiled, together with his beautiful and concise and informative recent book, The Spomenik Database, has opened up to me a fascinating  exploration of these extraordinary memorials; together with their distant and recent historical connections. 

 

 

 

 

 

Trebinje, Republika Srpska, Eastern Hercegovina

A small town of around 30,000, Trebinje has a lot to commend it.

 

Trebinje 1

It was a very hot day, and I walked up to the top of the prominent hill overlooking the town. At the summit, is the Gracanica Monanstery, completed in 2000. Its a Serbian Orthodox monastery, essentially a fairly faithful modern copy of a monastery of the same name in Kosovo.

As I’m a bit of an atheist, I always take a bit of an atheist’s view of religious buildings, but nevertheless admit to often being in awe of the beauty and splendour of the architecture, or the sheer weight of the presence of the ghosts of all the thousands or even millions of souls that have passed with reverence and religious devotion through the doors of these buildings. I have visited many, often seeking them out as places of quiet, for contemplation, or for refuge from a storm, or from the crowds. And I observe with interest, the trappings of the various theologies; the products of thousands of years in development. The site comprises a ‘ gift ‘ shop, and a restaurant and cafe, with a wonderful city wide vista across the river.

In Britain, the pace of building of new Christian churches is slow; it seems we have  already got enough of them, and congregation numbers are falling. In fact, where I live in Wales, I know that a lot of churches and chapels are being sold, for conversion to dwellings, as the institutions are unable to afford the funds to maintain them, and there’s only so much public money to go round to maintain the architectural essence of the few more interesting examples.  Mosques, in certain part of Britain, on the other hand, are being built, as the congregations seem be growing, albeit slowly.

In the countries of the Balkans, its a more complicated picture. 

Romania has until recently had the fastest rate of construction of new churches in Europe; ten per week. ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23420668 ) and this for a country of not much more than 25 million, with under-resourced public services. Only very recently has the Romanian Government made the decision to withdraw from its major commitment to assisting in the church building programme. ( http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/romania-reduces-funding-for-churches-12-12-2015-1 ) 

The countries of the former Yugoslavia are also booming; if you are a builder who knows how to knock up a place of worship. 

monasteryGracanica Monastery, Trebinje

monastery interiormonastery gift shopGift shop, Gracanica Monastery, Trebinje

I suppose, that after nearly 50 years, from 1945 onwards, when virtually NO churches were built, it’s only natural that the faithful would want to assert their right to worship the religion of their choice, once the prohibition had ended, and I would be among the strongest supporters of that right.  So, now its a busy time for church-builders.

I don’t know what the up to date situation is, but in 2014, researchers Milan Spasojević and Milica Milojević, wrote that in just the previous 15 years, over 200 Orthodox churches had been built, with another 100 in the final phase of construction, in Serbia alone. (http://www.ejournals.eu/pliki/art/3179/ ). 

What is also an interesting observation,  is that during the Bosnian War from 1991-5, ten of Trebinje’s mosques were completely destroyed, and that  from a situation where 5,500 out of a population of 30,000 were self-declared Muslims in 1991, by 2013, only 1000 out of a similar total population, declared themselves to be Muslim. I am not sure how many new mosques, if any are being built, although I did see a beautifully restored little stone and timber one in the centre of the old town.

What this change implies, for the longer term, is beyond the scope of my understanding after a mere two days here. But it does seem that Christian Orthodoxy is in the ascendant at the moment, in this place at least. 

Mosque

Mosque 1Mosque in the Old Town, Trebinje

At the end of this very hot day, I went looking for a place to swim. I had seen on the town’s Tourist Information board, a map, with a municipal swimming pool clearly shown. A wide slow moving river – the Trebisnjica – must surely offer a wonderful swimming opportunity. And indeed it did!

This wasn’t to be the last such municipal swimming pool which I would encounter on my bike. Around a bend of the river, and upstream of the centre of the town, is a pool of several acres! A weir and sluice gates controls the inflow and outflow from and to the river, and a grating prevents anything other than water or small objects entering the pool. The water was deliciously warm, a little muddy, and the warning from a fellow-swimmer about the slimy concrete bottom to the pool, accurate.

Surrounded by a concrete apron, extensive shady lawns, changing booths, showers and enhanced by a diving platform, this place must surely be crowded with families during the school holidays and evenings. As it was, only a handful of swimmers and sun-bathers were here, and I enjoyed a solitary swim, with my eyes on the distant, sun parched karst horizon.

poolTrebinje lido.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dubrovnik & Trebinje, and points between

Properly speaking, its only a sunny and comfortable little uphill cycle ride from the park next to the market in Gruz;  which is just along the coast to the north from Dubrovnik, and up into the interior of this incredibly narrow strip of Croatia, and then to Bosnia & Hercegovina.   I’ve been looking forward to getting away from the coast, with the cruise ships, ice-cream sellers, sun-worshippers, and planeloads of inebriated British wedding party arrivals. I’ve been looking forward to getting the pedals turning on the hills, with the heat bouncing off the tarmac. But its a longer and more complicated journey.

Within less than 15km, I’ve climbed from sea level to just about 400 metres above it,  and to the border crossing at Ivanica. At this point, to my surprise, is an apparently very sound track bed for a railway. This is the surviving evidence of the railway network that was built by the Austro-Hungarian empire towards the end of the nineteenth century; and which fell into disuse in the 1970’s. Now, parts of the network have been developed as part of the Ciro bicycle network. 

 

RAILWAY - nr IVANICA

Overlooking the rail-bed from Republika Srspka, to Dubrovnik and beyond

Mine warning

Mine presence warnings just off the roadway between Ivanica and Trebinje

BOAR

Other roadside warnings; the current gastronomic fashion for ‘ pulled-pork ‘ comes to mind; and not in a good way.

Contrary to the signage, physical hazards along the way are few, but I’m trying to understand the complexities of the territories that I slowly move between and across.

I want to get this right; for one thing, for fear of offending someone for getting it wrong, but fundamentally, because I want to try and understand what has been happening and to be able to follow the course of events that will surely unfold here in time to come.

In the period since Yugoslavia came crashing apart after Tito’s death, one of the countries that came into being was Bosnia-Hercegovina . Its also sometimes known as Bosnia and Hercegovina, and in Bosnian or Serbian, Bosnia i Hercegovina. Its sometimes just called Bosnia, but people from the region known as Hercegovina quite rightly wouldn’t be entirely happy about that.

Bosnia i Hercegovina consists of the two autonomous entities – Republika Srpska and The Federation of Bosnia & Hercegovina. And if that’s complicated to comprehend, then Wikipedia notes the detail about the ethnic groups. There are three constituent nations…and they’re all given equal recognition by the country’s constitution; are Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, not necessarily in any particular order. This is just the little thread of this earth that I am spinning along, and there is this complexity, and these differences. As anywhere else in the world, but perhaps more exaggerated here than in most places, people and societies feel the need to differentiate themselves, to gather around totems, and to note and assert their viscerally felt differences.

The more recent that wars are, it seems the more keenly the need to do that is felt. From my peaceful and safe and unthreatened little corner of the world in Wales, I do not feel this need, but I can understand its origins. What worries me is the ability and ease with which those that want to keep sorting through the entrails to find some difference to highlight,  and to rattle the nationalists’ cages about , and can raise the spectre of internecine warring again. I was struck by a footnote in the Wikipedia excerpt  which I’ve referred to here.

It refers to the study  which concludes ” A Y chromosome haplogroups study published in 2005 found that “three main groups of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in spite of some quantitative differences, share a large fraction of the same ancient gene pool distinctive for the Balkan area” . ( (1) ) Differences are human-constructs; overlaid and highlighted for all manner of reasons.

By the time I arrive in the lovely town of Trebinje, still in Republika Srpska, I’m ready for a drink. The centre of Trebinje is a very genteel looking place. Tall, poplars and pines shade shiny limestone-paved squares and avenues  and what seem to me to be an inordinate number of places to drink coffee and beer with friends. I join them, and then later walk along the river in the late evening sun. I visit the bridge which this town is renowned for, and draws both tourists and religious pilgrims to.

EVENING PRAYERS

BRIDGEBRIDGE 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dubrovnik, Gruz, and a view of Montenegro

The wonderful thing about travelling by bike is the pace; I notice so much more than if I am in a car….I’m barely off the little ferry from Zaton, arriving in Gruz port, where so much destruction took place in the early 1990’s, and I get my first puncture. Oh well, easily sorted. It gives me the opportunity to visit the market to buy a bit of fresh fruit. And then I bump into Dom!  

DOM - DUBROVNIK

He is standing near these interestingly shabby doors near the market, and I quiz him about the building I can just see through the door if I push it a little bit! ” Come in, and I’ll show you around “, Dom says as he pushes the door wide open, with authority.

ITALIANATE GARDEN 1 - DUBROVNIK

A big, delightfully overgrown garden, with semi-neglected vines, fig-trees, a vegetable patch, and shade from the midday sun lies behind the doors. And surrounded by the garden…a big house, a private chapel and beautifully mysterious, dark and half-revealed interiors, wooden panelled and furnished, of staircases, high ceilings, becomes the absorbing physical setting, for the next two hours, as Dom shows me round, making as he does so,  a valiant attempt to relate the history of the Balkans to me…..dating back to the 8th century…..

ITALIANATE GARDEN - DUBROVNIK

ITALIANATE GARDEN 1 - WATER

Italianate….is probably not the correct adjective, given the date of all this…and the fact that Italy didn’t exist as we know it until the nineteenth century, but that regional architectural influence is clear all down and up the Dalmatian coast.

Two hours later, I’m a little the wiser, and Dom certainly holds strong and informed views about the course of events over the previous centuries in the Balkans! Just then, as we begin to explore the possibility of letting ourselves into the building itself to explore it a little further, a man lets himself in through the garden gate. Its immediately very evident from the tiny amount of language exchanged between the two men, that I can comprehend, and the body language, that we are not welcome…and Dom’s evident authority as a tour guide suddenly evaporates, as we are summarily ushered out into the busy road. Its been a verdant haven, and an elementary lesson in Balkan politics.

Territories in former Yugoslavia as at 1995

1995 - former Yugoslavia territories

The situation is so dynamic in this part of the world; this is then….how is it now? What’s changed since this map….well, Kosovo and Makedonia are two examples…as I’ll discover as I head over into Republika Srpska, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece over the next month.

Looking south-east to Montenegro 

MONTENEGRO KEEP OUT.jpg

Look south to Montenegro

Standing high up and inland from the Old City of Dubrovnik, I can see for miles, into Montenegro, into the magical and mysterious Durmitor mountains, where I’ll be heading. This vantage point was the focus of a vicious armed conflict, and its obvious why.

View of Dubrovnik from The Homeland War Museum

DUB

And all the while, there is a constant reminder of the loss of life…

War Photo Ltd; exhibition. 600 coffins of victims of Srebenica massacre await burial; original photo by Tarik Samarah.

COFFINS

Well, I’m heading off now, and up and over the mountains to Republika Srpska.

CYCLIST

 

 

Addis Ababa Mercato

The ‘ New Market  ‘ – መርካቶ –  is supposedly the biggest open-air market in Africa….its Wikipedia entry says it ” covers several square miles, employs 13,000 people in 7,100 business units! ” Quite how such precise quantification can be arrived at…is amazing….because it goes on seemingly for miles in every direction!

In any case; it is huge, extensive, labyrinthine, seemingly (but actually not) chaotic…but above everything, absolutely my favourite place in Addis! The world is a market-place, where anything and everything is traded and processed….moved, and of course, valued.

Mercato 3

Roof view – Mercato, Addis Ababa

Mercato 2

Roofscape – Mercato, Addis Ababa

Mercato 1

Streetscene – Mercato, Addis Ababa

Mercato 4

Streetscene – Mercato, Addis Ababa

Mercato

Streetscene – Mercato, Addis Ababa

bearings as wheels

bearings as wheels

Street scene – Mercato, Addis Ababa