The House of Flowers: Tito’s Myth and Mausoleum

The House of Flowers and its accompanying museums dedicated to the memory of Josip Broz Tito offer visitors a glimpse into both the life and times of the man and his conflicted legacy.

Lucy Moore, Nicholas Comrie
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More than fifteen years have passed since the end of Yugoslavia, and even more since the death of its leader Josip Broz, better known as Tito. But the House of Flowers, Tito’s mausoleum, continues to remain a strange yet popular destination for locals and foreigners alike.

Today the people of the former Yugoslavia share a love-hate relationship with both the man and the country. Yugoslavia is remembered for its relative prosperity and its border-opening red passport, and Tito as the man who, on one hand made it all possible, but on the other left it all to crumble in his wake. Yugo-nostalgia, a yearnful affection for the lost country and its cultural icons, has emerged in the states of the former Yugoslavia and its diaspora, and the House of Flowers has become a point of pilgrimage for those who fondly remember the days gone by.

The House of Flowers and its accompanying museums, dedicated to the memory of Josip Broz Tito, offer visitors a glimpse into both the life and times of the man and his conflicted legacy.  Located on Tito’s former residency in Belgrade’s wealthy neighborhood Dedinje, this peculiar historic sight is only a bus ride away from the center of town.

In its prime, the Tito Memorial Center offered nine separate sights including Tito’s presidential home, a memorial park, the House of Flowers, and several museums. Today, only the House of Flowers, the Museum of the 25th of May, and the Old Museum remain open to the public.

As the memorial center has been reduced in size, so too has public interest. But despite the drop in attendance, the center is still frequented by both international and former Yugoslav visitors, who leave behind messages such as:

“It was wonderful to live in your era”

“With great respect from an American soldier, ‘Long Live Tito’”

“Comrade Tito,

Well wishes from my family and I -Your Pioneer (Yugoslav Boy Scout)

The House of Flowers

The House of Flowers (Kuća cveća), built in 1975, was originally designed to serve as Tito’s winter garden. Filled with exotic plants and complete with a view overlooking the capital city, the indoor garden was Tito’s favorite retreat.  Due to his affection for the house, he requested that his body be placed there after his death.

Tito, the one time leader of the anti-facist Partizans, emerged from World War II as the president of the second Yugoslavia, a position he tightly held until his death on May 4, 1980.

As president, Tito broke from Stalin and the Soviet bloc early on, developing Yugoslavia as a non-aligned, socialist state in communication with both Cold War powers.  Under his rule, the country prospered, but his presidency was not without flaws. He suppressed anti-Yugoslavian sentiment, quickly removed all potential political opposition, and ammassed a huge foreign debt which has now fallen on all the countries of the former state.

Although controversial even in his day, Tito’s funeral was a tremendous affair, and his death was mourned by the citizens of Yugoslavia and contemporary world leaders alike.

Following the service, Tito’s coffin was taken to the House of Flowers and laid in a white marble tomb, marked with the simple epitaph:

Josip Broz

Tito

1892-1980

In the days following his death, Tito’s body was ceremoniously carried by train from Ljubljana, through Zagreb and finally to Belgrade.  In the capital of Yugoslavia, his coffin was first displayed in front of Parliament, then taken to his personal estate (now the grounds of the House of Flowers) and placed on the fountain outside the main entrance.

Tito’s funeral was attended by the likes of Leonid Brezhnev, Margaret Thatcher, Saddam Hussein, and Yasser Arafat. American President Jimmy Carter, however, was not in attendance but sent his mother Lillian Carter in his place, a decision met with much criticism at the time.
Notably, his tomb bears no symbol. In particular, the absence of a red star has led to rumors questioning Tito’s loyalty to Yugoslavia and its Communist Party.

In addition to the tomb, the House of Flowers displays a recreation of Tito’s personal office and Chinese Salon, including the original furnishing used by Tito himself. The House also contains an exhibit of battons carried throughout Yugoslavia by representatives of the country’s youth in the days leading up to Tito’s birthday on May 25th.  The battons were specially designed each year to highlight Yugoslavia’s greastest achievements, providing visitors today with insight into the development of the country under Tito’s rule.

Strangely the House of Flowers provides little information about the man whose body rests within its walls; however, employees of the house seem happy to share what knowledge they have, though they do so more freely in Serbian than in English. 

While this lack of information may leave the average visitor somewhat unsatisfied, the sense of grandeur and secrecy conveyed by his tomb reflects the cult of personality Tito inspired as a leader, more myth than man.

Museums

The Old Museum and The Museum of the 25th of May both contain exhibits dedicated to Tito and his presidency.

The Old Museum opened in 1965 as an archive and display room for the range of gifts given to Tito by Yugoslav citizens and foreign diplomats.  Today the museum displays only a small portion of the gifts Tito received during his presidency.

The first section of the museum includes hand stitched blankets and rugs which messages to “Comrade Tito,” while the second displays gifts from foreign diplomats and members of the Yugoslav diaspora.

The Museum of the 25th of May, named for Tito’s official birthday (the real date of his birth is unknown), currently has no permanent collection.  Instead it hosts rotating exhibits, often drawing upon the large collection of gifts and letters sent to Tito over the decades of his rule.

For those in search of Yugo-nostalgia and an insight into one of the twentieth-century’s most enigmatic figures, the House of Flowers is well worth a visit, although a visit may raise more questions than it answers. However, it is this very mystery, emblematic of the depth and complexity of Tito’s character; that in part accounts for the continuing interest in the man who epitomized Yugoslavia: Josip Broz Tito.

Getting There:

The 94 bus from New Belgrade and the 40 and 41 from the center all stop at the base of Tito’s residency (second stop after the highway). The ride should take no more than 15 minutes from town.

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