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Snjezana Musa University of Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina

Milos Miskovic University of Banja Luka Bosnia and Herzegovina


Tombstones (Stecak - in native language, Stecci -plural) are medieval grave monuments scattered across the Dinaric Alps mountain range. They could be detected in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Monte Negro and Serbia. Geographically, they could be found in the whole area of the Dinaric Alps, expanding from the Velebit Mountain in Croatia towards the Sava River, up to the Durmitor Mountain and the Drina River on the east. These facts give us the right to talk on specific cultural and civilization sphere which had been developed in the Middle-Age. Some 66.663 tomb- stones were registered in the former Yugoslavia. Majority of them were registered in Bosnia and Herzegovina, around 60.000 standing monuments and the finds are still being detected. They have been concentrated in 2 988 necropolis. The hugest concentration of tombstones could be seen in the area of municipalities Nevesinje and Konjic. In Nevesinje 3.884 tombstones were recovered, then 3.018 in Konjic, 2.494 in Livno, 2.406 in Trebinje, 2.628 in Rogatica, 2.319 in Stolac etc. Unfortunately this figure has been downsized nowadays. The tombstones are most original monuments of the whole area of South-East Europe. They have been proposed for UNESCO heritage aimed at being presented to the World and preserved of destruction. The paper presents the Atlas of Tombstones Distribution created as the contribution to preservation of unique heritage.

Key words: tombstone, the Dinaric Alps, world cultural heritage, Atlas of Tombstones Distribution

Historical overview of the researches into tombstones

The tombstones were first time mentioned in a travel book of Slovene author Benedikt Kupresic in 1530. Italian author and monk A. Fortis described the tombstones as unusual monuments and the following were also researching them: Vid Vuletic Vukasovic, historian and ethnographer, Luko Zore, philologist and Slavist, Frane Radic, amateur-researcher of tombstones, as well as Father Petar Kaer, Stjepo Trifkovic, Orthodox Priest, Ciro Truhelka, scientist polyhistor, Vaclav Radimsky, Czech historian of art and Kosta Hőrmann-high Austrian Official. After II World War and upon the establishment of National Museum in Sarajevo, a systematic research into the tombstones commenced in B&H, first of all thanks to the works of Vejsil Curcic, B&H archaeologist and historian.

Figure 1. ’Stony wedding guests’ the Tombstones on Pavlovica, between Novi Travnik and Gornji Vakuf

Figure 1. ’Stony wedding guests’ the Tombstones on Pavlovica, between Novi Travnik and Gornji Vakuf towns

Renowned researchers of the tombstones after II World War were Alojz Benac, B&H archeologist and historian, Drago Vidovic and Dimitrije Sergejevski, Marko Vego, Djuro Basler and Pavao Andjelic, all working on historic and archeological issues in the B&H territory. Marian Wenzel, artist and art historian, born in the USA who worked in the Great Britain, is one of the most important researchers of tombstones originating out of ex-Yugoslavia. Yet, the highest contribution to the researches into the tombstones is credited to Sefik Beslagic, cultural historian. Nowadays, the tombstones are researched by Dubravko Lovrenovic, our most prominent mediaevalist and Ivan Lovrenovic, writer and ethnologist.

Name and shape of the tombstones

A necessary element for understanding and exploring the tombstones refers to their regional names. There are three main categories of the names. First is linked with the name derived from epitaphs: mark, stone, ill-fame, house and eternal home. Even people have most frequently linked the tombstones with certain remote time, pest, Greek graveyards, stone wedding guests; so the names were derived as mramorje (native term for marble and graveyard), infidel graveyard, Greek graveyard, giant graveyard etc. Interesting is the opinion of C. Truhelka connecting Maseta-native name for tombstones with the name meshed a term used for a grave of hero. Researching the names of stoneman in the Dinaric Alps we have found a very remarkable coincidence: the name mosù n e 1 is the term for a stony facility, so D. Lovrenovic quotes how Curcic and Beslagic have accepted that the name has been firstly derived from Italian word mossetto-meaning a big stone 2 .

1 J.Kale: Native, authentic, original, Book of works of I Croatian congress on rural tourism, Hvar, 2007. in Kvarner which usually has square ground-plan and stoneman walls height of a man, the roof is not made of stone but of diagonal wooden rafter on which straw or brushwood was piled and pressed by stones (not to be blown away by a stormy cold Bora). As per the roof construction of these combined "moš un", a newer influence of north Slavs is noticeable in construction, so they greatly reminds on the Dinaric Alps cottages or Sheppard’s’ hostiles. They are located in majority of Kvaerner’s Islands but more rarely in the coastal zone. On contrary to small hilly "komarda", these bigger "moš uns" are permanent lodgings most frequently found along fields used for occasional stay of workers while doing field works (like Zagorje klet or Slavonia salas), or they are placed along Kvarner settlements mainly as stables for donkeys (tovo)”

2 D. Lovrenovic: Stecci, (Tombstones) Rabic, Sarajevo, 2009

As per shape, Marien Wenzel 3 divided the tombstones in: chests, slabs, peak-topped, pillars, crosses and possibly sarcophagus, since sarcophagus is very rare amongst the tombstones (has empty chest and coverage). They are anthropomorphic as well as amorphous. Some of them are on pedestals like the crosses in the valley of Lasva; some are very simple, some with and some without ornaments. Not many of them have epitaphs. As to M. Palameta 4 the slabs are of oldest while the crosses are of youngest shape amongst the tombstones.

Figure 2. Radimlja in the vicinity of Stolac town is the most famous B&H necropolis

Figure 2. Radimlja in the vicinity of Stolac town is the most famous B&H necropolis of tombstones

Style and ornaments on the tombstones

Visual, esthetic, period of origin, artistic and other identity of tombstones have been up to now questionable. The origin of these monuments has been extending from the first found in the 9 th up to latest found in the 17 th century depending on author. The fact is that in all worldwide cultures, funeral is main point of religious ritual. This implies funeral ritual related to the religions exercised at that time in B&H. However, the tombstones used to be grave monuments regardless of religion, so reasonably they refer to medieval understanding of death. As per quotation of D. Lovrenovic 5 the tombstones ‘vanished with the Protestantism on the west and ruling of Ottoman Empire in B&H

3 M. Wenzel.: Bosanski stil na steccima i metalu, (Bosnian Style on the Tombstones and Metal) Sarajevo Publishing, Sarajevo, 1999.

4 M. Palameta: Draft of possible proposal for selection of the complex of tombstones necropolis, medieval grave monuments in the area of Stolac for the list of UNESCO world heritage, Motrista, 16, pg.125-131. Matica Hrvatska Mostar, 2000

5 D. Lovrenovic: Stecci, (Tombstones) Rabic, Sarajevo, 2009.

resulting in the disappearance of tombstones and replacing of grave stone with confessional symbol and expression’.

Figure 3. In the area of Bjelasnica Mountain, ornaments on the Tombstones depict the gender

Figure 3. In the area of Bjelasnica Mountain, ornaments on the Tombstones depict the gender respect

The explanation of tombstones as grave monuments and religious belief of those buried under them are still the topics of burning controversies. Many questions are still waiting to be

answered but “ancient Bogomil stereotypes and romantic plots could definitely be considered given up nowadays. “ 6 Based on the so far works, three artistic concepts of the B&H tombstones could be emphasized:

1. First concept classifies the tombstones into phenomena- B. Kupresic, A. Fortis, A. Evans and

archaeologist A. Benco but also the writer Miroslav Krleza and S. Beslagic.

2. Second is encyclopedic concept defining the tombstones as Gothic style phenomena in the B&H

territory, advocated by mediaevalist Dubravko Lovrenovic in his monograph ‘Stecci’, (Tombstones)

with religious concept in which some tombstones’ relief carvings are compared with the ornaments in the Cathedral of Ventimiglia, in the vicinity of Genoa in Italy.

3. Third concept is related to the work of Marian Wenzel classifying the tombstones amongst inter

alia the specificity of Bosnian style. The tombstones of exceptional decorative features are found in the surrounding of Stolac, Ljubinje, Bileca and Trebinje towns. All shapes could be noticed there, especially chest and slab shaped whilst distinctive tombstones amongst the cross-shaped are those whose upper vertical part is shaped as human head (around Nevesinje, Gacko and Bileca towns). In central Bosnia, the tombstones of all shapes can be observed; majority of them are chest-shaped while pillars and

6 D. Lovrenović:Stecci, (Tombstones) Rabic, Sarajevo, 2009., Preface

crosses appear in smallest number. The cross-shaped tombstones were mainly decorated, then peak- topped, pillars, chests and slab-shaped.

Figure 4. Map of necropolises for UNESCO list

Figure 4. Map of necropolises for UNESCO list

Common ornamental elements on the tombstones are the motifs of crescent, rosette (star), circle (sun) and cross, then motifs of bent tendril with trefoils, arcades and wavy twisted rope, as well as shields with swords, deer and horse images, hunting scenario, dancing ritual and tournament. Very often the motifs on the tombstones are the elements of post-mortem dance, the so called post-mortem circle, with sometimes gender elements clearly depicted. On these motifs, in a strictly regular order males in trousers and females in skirts are caught in that ritual dance. Females are often the leaders of dance or somewhere a circle made only of females could be noticed. That ritual is usually followed by tournaments, so common illustrations are hunters riding horses, hunters with spears, then dears, birds, dogs in hunting.

Epitaphs on the tombstones

The epitaphs on tombstones are written in native language in old Bosnian Cyrillic letters, the so called Bosancica. Some 323 inscriptions were recovered on the tombstones in B&H. Herzegovinian area is richer in the number of tombstones with inscriptions, so it is logical to conclude that these tombstones were the product of later period when the rate of literacy was higher. Very interesting epitaph is the one on a tombstone in Oplicici village close to Stolac town, revealing that the deceased was suspicious on God’s existence but also reading historical data on Bosnian King Tvrtko:

I lied down in bitter in 1389 Anno Domini when Tvrtko was the King of Bosnia, Serbia, Dalmatia and West Sides and I was an old man then who saw in the world what did not want to see but did not experience what his heart all the time had wanted and waited for

Atlas of the Tombstones Distribution

Many theories on the origin of tombstones are presented but all of them are mutually exclusive, so contemporary scientists and probably future ones have a task to explore but also to protect them. The facts demonstrate how the issue of tombstones should be taken seriously by science and our community should work on their preservation. A contribution to that is the creation of the Atlas of Tombstones Distribution in B&H as the work result of several researchers. It has been created in electronic format (GIS), which apart from classic analysis enables to visualize, interpret and understand data; to identify connections, patterns and trends amongst occurrences; to create graphs, indexes leading to certain validities etc. That form enables the improvement of every map by supplementing it, generalizing, creating of subsequent maps and forming of multimedia projects. The Atlas represents a symbiosis of achievements in contemporary scientific works on the tombstones and informatics possibilities-GIS technology. It has been about logically correlated set of maps thematically depicting the tombstones as per their features. Every geographic atlas represents systematically designed collection of geographic maps, made in accordance with general rules of entire work. This Atlas falls under the group of thematic atlases of historic and cultural emanation. Elements selected for composing the maps of Atlas and modelling its themes are those contributing to a possibility of analytical-synthetic mapping, inductive-deductive researching, consecutive distribution of content as per map, systematic atlas mapping, complex researching of mapped occurrences and researching of structures of mapped spatial unities and systems. Analogue maps in the Atlas have two purposes. On one side they should preserve and on the other side should pass geo-information. The scope of spatial semantics referring to quality and quantity characteristics is harmoniously organized and constructed on paper. Digital technology has released the cartography of limitations imposed by usual media. Technology and interactive maps have become available everywhere. Perhaps in the near future obstacles might be removed contained in paper and static maps in atlases possible to be only examined 7 (Ormeling 1996, Asche 2001).

Significance of national atlases

National atlas is ‘cartographic invitation (calling card) of a country“ 8 . On contrary to topographic maps of a country, national atlases also contain thematic information based on consistent sequence of map scales. This Atlas is a set of geographic maps, which as per content, intention, editorial solutions and means of realization create a distinctive core and it contains the following maps for each region:

-distribution of necropolises -number and shape of tombstones -decorated tombstones In that way, all atlas maps are mutually synchronized by content, mutually supplemented and harmonized. All maps are the result of unification of general idea on content, sheet form, unique cartography key, used colors and unified statistic-mathematical code for presenting numerical data.

7 Ormeling 1996, Asche 2001 8 Hurni 2004.

The requirement of modern atlas is equality in actuality of data. The Atlas complies with that requirement achieved by the usage of exclusively one; so far the best source of data on the tombstones, the works of S. Beslagic 9

Figure 5. Sample map from the Atlas

Figure 5. Sample map from the Atlas

The Atlas of Tombstones Distribution is a book of 142 maps. All maps by their structure and configuration could be published either as separate groups of maps related to entities, regions or as touristic maps of municipalities. The Atlas is divided into 42 sets of maps conditioned by format (A3) and scale (1:200.000) of map sheets. Each set contains at least three or at most five thematic maps. A legend is entered on every map reading territorial space, conditional signs, illustrative signs and the shape of tombstones. As Beslagic has divided motifs into three categories, the Atlas also presents them as such: ornaments, symbols and figural scenarios. The number of tombstones in Atlas is entered by a symbol to remind on the shape of tombstones. The legend reads the value of square telling about the number of tombstones, from 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000. A number is entered next to the symbol of tombstone shape and next to the very symbol there is the name of location as well. The distribution of Necropolises is enriched with data on the division of tombstones as per shape on slabs, chests, peak-topped, pillars, crosses and amorphous. In structural cartogram, on the third map, data about shape is given in color aimed at achieving certain clearness of presentation. The Atlas shows the distribution and form as well as the number and precise locations of necropolises. It has been created as an essence of intentions for more detailed and complex researching of the tombstones in the territory of B&H. It could be classified in a group of rare thematic atlases in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia. As from recently very popular are the collections of colored illustrations of certain typical landscapes, called illustrated atlases, so the authors do not consider the Atlas completed. It could be developed into a complex encyclopedic atlas of tombstones that would be worked on by a team of geographers-cartographers, historians, art historians and even of heralds.

9 Beslagic, S., 1982: "Stecci - kultura i umjetnost", (Tombstones-Culture and Art) Sarajevo, Veselin Maslesa, Sarajevo

The creation of atlas maps is based on distinct editorial postulates in regard to the selection of content as well as the character and degree of cartographic generalizing of content. Since the Atlas falls under the group of national atlases as well, it has been intended for Bosnian and Herzegovinian and other intelligence, which will have data available for recognition of terrain and inspection into the situation. The users of Atlas might apply the methods immanent to thematic maps for comprehension, comparison, analyses and syntheses aimed at gaining new and better knowledge. Intended for a certain users, the Atlas could be classified into scientific researching publication. Further work on the Atlas and enlarging the number and structure of researchers could surely result in designing of scientific encyclopedic atlas which should provide a complex presentation of overall knowledge from the distribution of tombstones findings to topographic locations, kind of ornaments, shapes and illustrations.

Figure 5. One of the most beautiful decorated tombstone, the so called Zgosca Tombstone from

Figure 5. One of the most beautiful decorated tombstone, the so called Zgosca Tombstone from the vally of the Zgosca River in Kraljeva Sutjeska, in the vicinity of Kakanj town.

The characteristic of the Atlas of Tombstones Distribution as an overall product is a wholeness determined here by fullness and internal unity of atlas, since it reads necessary and completely explained questions on the distribution, number and shape of tombstones resulted from name, intention, scale and other categories. Internal unity of the Atlas implies mutual complementary consent and possibility of comparison of the maps included in the very Atlas. That has been enabled by choosing the same symbols of legend, means and methods of graphic cartography expression.

Meaning of legend as a factor in analyses and assessment of maps

A main geography principle is that legend should not be looked at but explored with attention and logic aimed at creating formulas for far-reaching conclusions through existing, exposed and immanent content of maps. It enables the bringing of conclusions on principally important specificities, so a map is used both as a mean and method of research.

Analysis of the occurrences on a map has its methods like visual dimensions, cartometric researches, graphic analyses, mathematic-statistical analyses, mathematical modelling, theory of information, making us to conclude that the thematic Atlas of Tombstones Distribution composed like this one offers absolute possibility to be supplemented and improved.

Figure 6. Tombstone in Blidinje, rich in ornaments, located north from Mostar, B&H

Figure 6. Tombstone in Blidinje, rich in ornaments, located north from Mostar, B&H


The tombstones are certainly most significant cultural-historical monuments in the territory of today’s B&H. Their distribution by period, space and altitude could be placed in the Dinaric Alps from the 9 th to 14 th century, on the altitudes of 50 to 2000m. Epitaphs on the tombstones as well as ornaments, stone-dressing, transport and the manner of placing them on graves have not been completely researched. The tombstones are not adequately protected. Many of them sunk into ground, many were broken by a man, overturned but also taken away to inaccessible places. After the works of M. Wenzel, Beslagic and Lovrenovic, noteworthy scientific elaborations about the tombstones have not been made. This Atlas could be used as a kind of cadastre for enabling the necropolises to be better understood both by scientists and people who would like to see, learn and to show to others our treasury. The Atlas could be both analogue and electronic, so the process of entering data has not been finalized. Just that fact offers extraordinary advantages like designing of interactive electronic atlas, sorting of text, tone and graph, video excerpt, illustration, producing animation and making the atlas interesting to wide range of users; from scientists to tourists.


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