More background info:
The historic Battle of Kosovo of 1389 would normally fall firmly outside the time bracket adopted for dark tourism by this website (see concept of dark tourism
) and it’s only covered here because of its contemporary significance in the conflict between Serbia
. So we can keep the ancient history account short. Basically, it was a clash of a Balkan army led by Serbian Prince Lazar with an Ottoman invading army under Sultan Murad I. Both leaders died in the battle and both sides suffered enormous losses, nearly obliterating each other. Longer-term, however, the Ottomans de facto “won”, as it was the beginning of an Ottoman occupation in the Balkans that was to last for the next ca. 500 years. Murad I was (partially) buried in a tomb on the Kosovo Field, the only sultan to be buried this far from the Ottoman homeland (see Turkey
) … although other parts of his remains were indeed taken back there. But the other tomb in Kosovo still exists.
In Serbian national mythology the Battle and its location in the Kosovo Field (“kosovo polje” in Serbian, meaning ‘blackbirds field’, or ‘Amselfeld’ in German) has long remained of high symbolic value and a source of national pride.
The name “Gazimestan” is a blend of Arabic “ghazi”, meaning ‘hero’ and Serbian “mesto”, meaning ‘place, location, town’ (so it’s not related to the “-stan” in the names of the Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan
!). The present monument at the site was erected as late as 1953.
On the 600th anniversary of the historic Battle of Kosovo, then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević gave a significant speech at the memorial site, known in the history annals as the “Gazimestan speech”. In this he seemed to voice premonitions of coming modern “armed battles” (he later denied having it meant that way). And these indeed did come in the break-up of Yugoslavia
, first in Slovenia
, then in Croatia
and eventually in Kosovo
too. In any case, the speech was a strong Serbian nationalistic statement, well received amongst Serbs, but viewed with suspicion by the other parts of Yugoslavia, as the country was already showing signs of coming apart at the seams.
Now the monument sits like a silent exclave of Serbia
in the middle of Kosovo
, a territory that has become an independent country since the break-up of Yugoslavia (though that independence and statehood is still contested, not least by Serbia). Gazimestan is mostly visited by Serbs – and the odd intrepid dark tourist – and is surrounded by heavy security, CCTV cameras, a fence and an armed guard who checks visitors’ IDs.
What there is to see:
not that much. I arrived with a driver-guide on my Western Kosovo Political Tour (see Prekaz
!) as a little add-on en route. We parked the car and at the gate were met by a stern looking security guard. We had to not only show ID, but even hand in our passports for the duration of our visit (something that always makes me uncomfortable). Then we were allowed in.
There were some other, Serbian visitors about. One of them claimed that the holes in the smaller stub-like concrete structures surrounding the main monument were actually bullet holes from the Kosovo War. But my guide later pointed out that they were actually holes left from screws that once held some plaques in place that have since disappeared (the monument was vandalized in the early 2000s). And indeed the holes look far too regular in shape and pattern to be bullet holes.
The main monument is a stone tower, over 80 feet (25m) high. On the front wall at the bottom, an inscription is a quote from Prince Lazar, an (in)famous curse he allegedly proclaimed before the Battle of Kosovo (see above
). In English it goes something like this: “Whoever is a Serb and of Serb birth /And of Serb blood and heritage / And does not come to the Battle of Kosovo / May he never have the offspring his heart desires / Neither son nor daughter / May nothing grow that his hands sow / Neither dark wine nor white wheat / And let him be cursed for all ages to come.”
You can enter the tower through the doorway at the back and climb the stairs that go up on the inside of the walls. Along the way there are further inscriptions in Serbian on the walls … and I even spotted a bird’s nest on the floor in one corner, with eggs in it! That I took as an indication that the monument is visited only rarely.
At the top is a plaque with an outline of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo. Other than that you just get a 360 degree view of the Kosovo Field. To the south (in the direction of Pristina
) you can see the stone tomb of Sultan Murad I. At the foot of the tower there are several masts with multiple CCTV cameras, enhancing the atmosphere of a highly contested space.
That’s basically it, and we descended the stairs, collected our passports from the security guard and drove off again.
ca. 3 miles (5 km) as the crow flies to the north-west of the centre of Pristina
just off the M2 trunk road towards Mitrovica
Access and costs: easy only by car; free
To get to the Gazimestan monument you have to have a car, be on a guided tour by car, or take a taxi. From the centre of Pristina
take the Bill Klinton Boulevard (M9) in a south-westerly direction and then get on the M2 towards Vushtrri and Mitrovica
. After a couple of miles you’ll see the tower monument on your right. There’s an approach track and some parking spaces outside the security fence.
A security guard will come out of his hut and demand ID, and will in fact collect and keep your passport for the duration of your visit. But admission is free.
I don’t know about any regular opening times, but would presume that the monument is accessible during daylight hours most days. When I went it was a Sunday and the 1st of May, which should have been a public holiday, and still the monument was open.
Time required: not long; I spent about 15-20 minutes at the site.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
I visited Gazimestan as part of an all-day Western Kosovo Political Tour with a driver-guide and the main stops on that tour were at Mitrovica
, with some short stops at other monuments en route. The tour started and ended in Pristina
- Gazimestan 1 - tower monument
- Gazimestan 2 - looking back to the entrance and security guard booth
- Gazimestan 3 - not bullet holes
- Gazimestan 4 - inscription
- Gazimestan 5 - inside the tower, looking up
- Gazimestan 6 - inside the tower, looking down
- Gazimestan 7 - battle plaque at the top
- Gazimestan 8 - plenty of CCTV
- Gazimestan 9 - view towards the tomb of Sultan Murad I