Secondments from a Bird’s Eye View Viewpoints as Places for Dictatorial Monuments
For understanding of urban history, it is necessary to see the city in wider context. It means trying to see urban space in its whole complexity, which is quite difficult without tangible visualisation. Graphs, maps, plans, pictures but also texts, all that represents the main source for our scientific work, because we are focused on history. But history is always close tight with the present. Thus, a bird’s eye view allows us to understand or at least to feel the city as a living organism constantly changing over time, but still testifying to the past. Thanks to web map services, it is not a problem to look at most of the cities in the world from anywhere, but viewpoints offer the picture of urban space in wider context and real time. That experience and feeling cannot be offered by any artificial visualisation. But if you can see the city, the city can see you. City viewpoints are thus very potential places for building monuments symbolising ideological values. I would like to show you 3 viewpoints used for big monuments during dictatorships. I have visited all of them during my secondments in Valladolid, Prague and Bratislava.
SAN CRISTOBAL HILL - VALLADOLID
Francoism was partial to monumentality. Besides the famous monument Valle de los Caídos, where the remains of Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera are buried, there were created many smaller memorials featuring fallen heroes or important personalities representing the values of the regime. Valladolid was very important city for the regime during the Spanish Civil War. It was under the power of nationalists from the beginning of the war. After their victory, the city sought to benefit from this status and presented itself as a symbol of the regime. One of the realizations of these efforts was the Monument of Onésimo Redondo on the San Cristobal hill, about 8 km from the city centre. Redondo was a Spanish nationalist politician, one of the founders of the Juntas de Offensive Nacional Sindicalista (JONS), the party that later merged with the Spanish Falange. He had been arrested by Republican forces, and he was liberated by the Nationalists at the beginning of the Civil War. Then he organized the Falange’s militias in Valladolid. Afterwards he died in combat in Labajos in July 1936. Francoist propaganda extolled him insistently as national and war hero.
In 1956, the project of the monument dedicated to him on San Cristobal Hill rising above the city, thus visible from most of its parts, was initiated. The works began in 1957 and lasted for just over 3 years. It was inaugurated in 1961 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Redondo’s death with the participation of more than 60.000 people, including about 20.000 Falangists. The inauguration was attended even by Franco himself, ministers and the widow of Redondo. The monument consisted of a set of five sculptures by Manuel Ramos. Onesimo Redondo appeared with a group of men embodied a peasant, a worker, a student and a combatant. The sculpture was placed in the center of a base that joined two vertical symmetrical concrete structures, presided over by the symbol of FET de las JONS (the only party within the regime) – yoke and arrows. The design of the structure was carried out by the architect Jesús Vaquero. The set as a whole had dimensions of 31 meters. On the base someone later ascribed Onesimo Redondo, Caudillo de Castilla y Leon [the Leader of the Province of Castile and Leon], according to the pattern of Franco, who was called Caudillo de España. It was a place of celebrations of important days for the regime and the honour-making of the fallen Nationalists in the civil war. Due to the Law of Historical Memory, the monument was removed in 2016, but you can still study its form in detail at Google Street View.
Fig. 1: Monument to Onésimo Redondo on San Cristobal Hill in Valladolid;
Photo by Ruben Ortega, Monumento de Onésimo Redondo (Valladolid) (2015, January 24). Retrieved April 30, 2019, from
Fig. 2: View of Valladolid from San Cristobal Hill;
Photo by Ondřej Jirásek
LETNÁ - PRAGUE
Letná in Prague is another example of a city viewpoint used by dictatorship for representation of its ideological values. It is the hill towering above Vltava River and offering wonderful views of the city landmarks. Building the cult of Stalin’s personality, the communist regime chose this site for the monument dedicated to him, which culminated in a view from Old Town Square via Pařížská street and beyond the Čech’s Bridge. It was the former place of SK Slavia Praha stadium, which was shortly after its completion demolished to make space for the monument. It was built between 1949 and 1955 according to the design of the sculptor Otakar Švec and architects and married couple the Štursas. Both, Švec and Štursa, had worked on the monument of the first Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk planned at the same site before WWII. At that time, the monument of Stalin was the largest group sculpture in Europe. It was composed of standing figures in a row, headed by Josif Stalin. Behind him were figures of workers, by his left hand, there were representatives of the Soviet people (a worker, a scientist, a collective farmer and a Red Army soldier); at his right, there were representatives of the Czechoslovaks (a worker, a peasant, an innovator and a soldier). Two of the figures had specific appearance, namely of Julius Fučík and Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin. The monument wasn’t really popular among people, who nicknamed it as “queue for meat”.
After the performance of Stalin’s successor N. S. Khrushchev, who condemned Stalin’s cult of personality, the Czechoslovak Communists decided to demolish the monument. It was removed by partial blast in November 1962. Since 1991, a huge metronome has been placed at that site, built there within General Czechoslovak Exhibition. However, there is still retained the original base of the monument, including the room under the monument. After 1989, it was serving as a rock club and afterwards, one of the first Czech private radio stations, Radio Stalin, was broadcasting from there. Today, there are stored remains of scrawled sculpture, but it is not normally accessible to the public.
Fig. 3: Stalin’s monument known as “queue for meat” on Letná in Prague
Picture scanned by Miroslav Vopata, (2015, January 24). Retrieved April 30, 2019, from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/df/Letna_stalin_sousosi.jpg
Fig. 4: View of Prague from Letná;
Photo by Ondřej Jirásek
SLAVÍN – BRATISLAVA
Every regime, whether it is dictatorship or democracy, commemorates fallen soldiers fighting for its ideological values. In Bratislava, you can visit Slavín, the monument dedicated to Red Army soldiers fallen during liberation of Slovakia at the end of WWII and at the same time it serves as a military cemetery. It represents a significant landmark of the city. This place is a beautiful view of the main dominant of Bratislava and at night it provides a unique atmosphere.
The monument was built between 1957 and 1960 and it was solemnly revealed on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the liberation of Bratislava by the Red Army in 1960. In 1962 it was declared the National Cultural Landmark. The author of the artwork is the Slovak sculptor and architect Ján Svetlík. The central part of the monument is a ceremonial hall, which includes a 39,5-meter-high obelisk. On top of it, there is placed the statue of a Soviet soldier by Slovak sculptor Alexander Trizuljak. The entrance cassette door to the ceremonial hall is decorated with bronze reliefs commemorating the war tribulations of the WWII. The names of Slovak cities and the date of their liberation by the Red Army are displayed on the walls. The cemetery, as part of the monument, includes nearly 7.000 Red Army soldiers in mass and individual graves who fell during the conquest of the city in April 1945. Slavín had to be visited by every official foreign delegation in socialistic Czechoslovakia. There are still paid tributes to the fallen Soviet soldiers on the anniversary of the liberation of Bratislava every April 4.
Fig. 5: Slavín - Monumet dedicated to Red Army soldiers fallen during liberation of Slovakia in Bratislava
Photo by Ondřej Jirásek
Fig. 6: The view of Bratislava from Slavín photographed by drone
Photo by tomisu, (24 November 2015), Retrieved April 30, 2019, from http://www.dronestagr.am/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Digitalizova---bratislava-slavin-furo-1200x674.jpg
The city viewpoints are great example of a common practice of semiotization of urban public space. It is natural that in all the cases viewpoints were used as a location for monuments. We cannot say that it is a typical place for dictatorial monuments, but monuments in general. We can see obvious differences using the three examples in its meanings and its consistency with the ideological values of the respective regime, which naturally influenced their further existence. Political personalities change far more often than symbols of national victims or major historical events. Stalin's monument was removed during the dictatorship, monument of Onésimo Redondo relatively long after the transition to democratic regime. Only Slavín still exists, and in my opinion it will exist for a long time, only because it does not symbolize any politician and principally the communist regime or its values, but liberation of Slovakia from the satellite regime of Nazi Germany and war heroes who sacrificed their lives for the nation freedom. This has been underlined by both, communist dictatorship and also today’s democratic government, and probably also by many future regimes.
Text: Ondřej Jirásek