One of the initial inspirations for a road trip through the Balkans was a chance to visit the megalithic concrete WWII memorials that dot this region’s countryside. Photos of the “Spomenik” (this title translates into “monument” or “memorial” in the Balkan languages) sometimes pop up in social media newsfeeds and listicles due to their visual novelty. Beyond this surface level appeal there is a rich and fascinating history. These are statues commissioned by the Yugoslavian government to commemorate important battles and events of the early communist Partisans’ resistance and uprising against the fascist occupying forces of Nazi Germany. Most of these unique works of brutalist and modernist art have been left to crumble as current administrations are not interested in celebrating communist memorials or ideas. Their semi-abandoned fate adds layers to the stark, tragic beauty of these monuments. On this day of our trip we stopped to see 3 separate spomenik sites on our way from Zagreb to Zadar. Pictured above is the Monument to the Revolution of the people of Moslavina. It recognizes the town’s importance in the Partisan revolt, largely for the two hospital complexes that were constructed here and operated from 1942 through the end of the war. The site contains a crypt complex that houses the remains of about 900 Partisan soldiers who passed away while being treated in the nearby hospitals. The website Spomenik Database has gone to painstaking lengths to preserve and share the history of these monuments. The website is worth a visit, and the monuments themselves were well worth the hours-long detours it took to find them.
After our adventure hunting down various spomenik sites, we turned our attention to one of Croatia’s more mainstream destinations, Plitvice Lakes. The national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is Croatia’s most popular tourist attraction, welcoming more than a million visitors each year. The park is home to 16 lakes that are arranged in a multi-level cascade and separated by natural dams of travertine, which are basically walls of limestone that are gradually deposited on each lakes’ edge. The result is extensive swaths of waterfalls where one lake spills into the one below it over its unique sedimentary barrier. Water seems to be finding every possible route to make it from one lake to the next, sometimes spilling over mossy, vegetated areas in unusual and picturesque ways. The park is renowned for the emerald color of its water which is truly breathtaking in person. We left the park exhausted but satisfied with what ended up being one of the longest and most enjoyable days of our trip. We certainly felt accomplished in our sightseeing considering the wealth of overlooked history and natural beauty we were lucky enough to experience in one day of road tripping.