Vučedol Culture Museum
The one dark site in/near Vukovar
, eastern Croatia
, that is not related to the Homeland War and the Battle of Vukovar. Instead it is about an ancient culture of the people who settled in this region some five millennia ago. That would normally make it fall way outside the usual time frame relevant to dark tourism (see concept of dark tourism
), but I've included it here for some visually stunning elements in the exhibition that fall into the category
More background info: The Vučedol Culture followed the Baden Culture of what is today South-Central and Eastern Europe. It was an old Indo-European people who settled in the region, and the place the museum is located next to was once one of the largest single settlements of its time, with around 3000 inhabitants.
Going by the archaeological finds in the area, it was a pretty advanced culture for its time too, in terms of the organization of the society, housing, arts and crafts, clothing and pre-scientific achievements (e.g. including the earliest astronomical calendar in Europe).
They were great copper smiths and good at ceramics too: the symbol of Vukovar
is actually an ancient Vučedol ritual ceramic vessel in the shape of what is now believed to be, a partridge, though it is still better known as the “Vučedol Dove” (it's not at this museum, though, but in the Municipal Museum of Vukovar at Castle Eltz).
The archaeological site of Vučedol suffered damage during the Homeland War when it was used by the Yugoslav Army as an artillery base to fire on the town of Vukovar
during the three-month siege of the town in 1991.
Much of the site of the former settlement on a Loess plateau is today used by a vineyard. But there is still ongoing research at archaeological digs nearby.
The Vučedol Culture Museum, which was built partly into the hillside, is one of the newest and most celebrated additions to the region's cultural and touristic portfolio. It opened its doors in 2015 and in 2016/2017 won the national museum prize, and in 2018 was a nominee for the prestigious European Museum of the Year award (which it did not win, though).
What there is to see: Lots, but not so much that is of special interest from a particularly dark perspective. But there's one surprising and pretty dark part in there ...
I actually came to this museum by chance when I was visiting the area in March 2018. I just saw the sign by the road coming from the east, was curious what “Vučedol” means (I had no idea about that culture before) so I just followed the sign to check it out.
When I did find out what the museum's theme actually was I was at first a bit reluctant to even go in. I'm not normally very interested in ancient culture and archaeology (I'm just a modern-history man), and don't enjoy gazing at rows of old pots, coins and such like. But the guy at the reception desk was so enthusiastic that he talked me into buying an admission ticket after all. And I did not regret it. I was in for a really unexpected surprise.
OK, the initial sections of the museum almost confirmed my picture of archaeological museums, with reconstructions of Vučedol dwellings, relics related to copper smelting, a reconstruction of a four-wheeled cart (the first one in Europe, they claim), different garments and pairs of shoes (apparently the Vučedol were also the first to make different shoes for the left and right feet) and all sorts of geological, anthropological and cultural sub-themes that I didn't find all that exciting.
But then came the section about ritual burials and the Vučedol penchant for star-gazing. The two are even linked: some skeletons were arranged in such a way as to represent certain star constellations! There was also evidence suggesting human sacrifices. And suddenly there was a really dark angle and I was in my element.
Visually it got even better in the adjacent room where a number of more or less intact skulls
are on display in perspex tubes
suspended from the ceiling. The arrangement was just screaming out for creative photography and I was having a field day. See for yourself – some examples are included in the photo gallery below
After spending some time in those burial and skulls sections, the rest of the museum was ticked off rather quickly.
Afterwards I also had a good look in the museum shop, where some interesting Vučedol-culture-related souvenirs are for sale, including even bottles of wine made from grapes growing on site just above the museum.
All in all, I was glad I had stumbled into this museum by chance. The archaeological and ancient cultural aspects weren't so exciting for me – though I have to admit that the presentation of all this is excellent and state-of-the-art. But for the burial and skulls sections alone the visit was well worth it for me.
Access and costs: Easy to get to by car (or bike), not too expensive.
Details: To get to the museum you have to drive (or cycle, or get a taxi). From central Vukovar leave the town along the main No. 2 road heading east. Shortly after passing the Memorial Cemetery on your right look out for the brown sign for the museum pointing left. From there take the approach road until you come to the museum. It's about a mile. There's plenty of parking right outside.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed Mondays and on public holidays.
Admission: 40 Kn (or 6 EUR), some concessions apply.
Time required: depends, if you want to go through everything the museum has to offer, then you might need two hours or more. If you just want to skim through and concentrate on the dark bits outlined above, you can be out again in under 45 minutes.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Vukovar
The nearest other dark site covered here is the Memorial Cemetery
, basically at the end of the museum's approach road and a short distance along the main road into Vukovar, on your left.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Much of the museum's content is not of a dark nature, so it is already a combination in itself (and it's the dark bits that are an add-on to the non-dark here, rather than the other way round).
The museum building is also worth marvelling at: it's quite an unusual structure, partly built into the cliff-side of the adjacent Loess plateau and on three levels that zig-zag up rather than being straight on top of each other. The exit is at the very top, from where a path zig-zags on the outside back down to the ground level.
- VCM 01 - modern construction
- VCM 02 - by the Danube
- VCM 03 - inside the museum
- VCM 04 - reconstruction of an ancient home
- VCM 05 - burial site reconstruction
- VCM 06 - extreme bone arrangement
- VCM 07 - according to the stars
- VCM 08 - scream
- VCM 09 - half a jaw missing
- VCM 10 - ouch
- VCM 11 - skulls installation
- VCM 12 - depth of field
- VCM 13 - back to front
- VCM 14 - death row