Urban exploration in Montenegro’s second city

I must confess, creeping around abandoned buildings is not high on our list of ‘things-to-do’ at the best of times and least of all when rumours abound that the building in question is home to addicts, local gangs, stray animals, the homeless as well as the scene of several nasty deaths, all of which have earned the House of Revolution in Niksic the nickname ‘House of Death’.

But, for reasons that may or may not become clear as you read on (we are still not 100% sure why we did it!), we decided to have a poke around this Tito-era hulk of a building during our recent time in Montenegro’s second city (July 2017).

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What is the House of Revolution?

The House of Revolution dominates the centre of Niksic, a small city (even though it is the second largest in the country) about 50km north of Podgorica.

Planned as a memorial to commemorate the partisans who fought (and died) during World War II, the intention was for Dom Revolucije, to give it its Montenegrin name, to also play an important role within Niksic’s community. Just  250 square metres of the proposed 22,000 total square meterage were to be dedicated to the memorial celebrating the partisans and the remaining area was to be used for housing educational facilities, shops, theatres, a youth centre and more besides. Work commenced in 1976 on what was to be one of the most ambitious and impressive projects in the Balkans.

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The House of Revolution was never completed, however. Work continued for a little over ten years, with the project becoming more ambitious and costly as time went on (the original plan for the building was 7,000 square metres) but, like so many buildings of its generation, it became a casualty of the Yugoslav Wars and remains in a dire state of abandonment to this day. The only life within the immediate vicinity of the structure, apart from the rumoured undesirables mentioned above, is a community of prefab shop-owners who have set up their businesses on the perimeter of the buildings.

Plans were announced in 2016 for a massive renovation project that could finally bring the House of Revolution to life but during our visit in July 2017, we saw no evidence that any sort of reconstruction work was taking place or indeed would be starting anytime soon. The House of Revolution remains in a dormant state, an eyesore to some, a symbol of the past to others.

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What sparked our interest in the House of Revolution?

We had always intended to visit Niksic as part of our 2017 summer of travel in the Balkans as we wanted to see the city’s spomenik (Tito-era World War II-related monuments and memorials), the Monument to Fallen Soldiers/Monument on Trebjesa. But I also searched the internet to see if there was anything else of interest in Niksic and discovered a blog post about the House of Revolution by The Bohemian Blog. The article was so well written and informative that we decided to at least go and see the building from the outside and evaluate there and then whether it was a good idea to venture inside or not. 

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Going inside the House of Revolution?

We arrived at the eastern side of the building and assessed the situation. No security guards and no Keep Out or Private Property signs. Even the perimeter fence was a bit feeble (I later noticed a complete section of it missing, which I used to enter the second time around – see below). We hung around for a bit, scanning the scene and seeing if anyone was paying us any attention. They weren’t and I left Kirsty where she was for a minute and walked closer to the prefab shops mentioned above. They were all detached, i.e. not in a long, continuous row, and in-between each one was a space which led directly into the House of Revolution.

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I gestured Kirsty over and we both swiftly headed through a narrow alley dividing two of the shops.

That was it, we were in! Like Captain Kirk and his crew on the Starship Enterprise when they step into the transporter, within seconds we were gone from sight and standing inside the grounds of this monumental Yugoslavia-era structure.

Although neither of us said it out loud, we probably both thought that we wouldn’t get in anyway and so we could say to people that, “Yeah, we tried to get into this abandoned death-trap in Niksic, blah, blah, blah but couldn’t because there was no way in etc.” – hence, saving face and not looking like a couple of wussies. But we were in and we didn’t know quite what to do next. Instantly our voices dropped to a whisper and I started using commando-style hand signals to which Kirsty gestured back with her ‘what the bloody hell are you doing?’ look!

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We stood there for what seemed like ages (it was probably only about a minute) and the silence was deafening. We surveyed the area for any signs of life – drug addicts, gangs, angry dogs, etc. We couldn’t see anyone, although that wasn’t much comfort at this stage as the place is huge and we were only just the other side of the prefab shops. We started to walk further inside – crunch, grimace, crunch, grimace, and so it went on. We looked down and noticed that much of the floor area on the level we came in on was covered in tiny shards of blue glass. Over the years it had fallen from the roof above, and every time we took a step the noise carried for as far as we could hear. It took a bit of getting used to and if there was anyone else (or thing!) in the building, they would surely know of our presence by now?

The next obstacle to overcome was the lethal drops into the basement below. The light inside the building itself wasn’t too bad but we still only had the torches on our phones for extra assistance (as usual we came prepared!) and we had to be very careful where we walked. Getting from one side of the theatre to the other made us a little nervy as there were two dark, stagnant pits separated by a narrow walkway and the view down was extremely grim indeed. No wonder the last two people to reportedly die in this place had been missing for three months before being discovered, I mused.

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There was a lot of graffiti (or street art as Kirsty would call it) on the ground level and we spent a bit of time photographing it and exploring further before deciding to venture up to the higher levels. By this stage, we were fairly confident that there was nobody else on the ground level of the building but heading up the stairs was a different kettle of fish. I went first and was crapping myself as we inched our way up the dodgy stairway. At one point I looked around and Kirsty was some distance behind me. I asked in our, by now customary, low tones why she wasn’t keeping up and she replied she was waiting for me to see if it was OK to proceed or not. Charming, I thought!

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We explored a couple of floors above but they weren’t as interesting as the ground level. However, they did provide a great view of the city plus we didn’t bump into any undesirables so that was all good. We wanted to try and get on to the roof of the building (which was below the upper levels we had just been exploring) but couldn’t work out how to do it. It bugged me enough to make a return visit on my own later that day but again I couldn’t fathom it out (*).

(*) The second visit was a bit foolhardy. I was on my own as Kirsty was making dinner (how domesticated are we – ‘darling, I’m just popping out to take a look around the House of Death but I’ll be back in time for tea’ …) and it was about 8 o’clock at night. If anyone was going to use the joint as a place of recreation or for somewhere to sleep, there was more chance they were going to do it at this time of day rather than during our previous visit. 

Eventually, we left, exiting at exactly the same spot at which we had entered. We were back in the real world and welcomed the sight of normal life. I high-fived Kirsty (much to her bemusement) and we then spent some time looking at the building’s exterior. Our spur of the moment decision to enter the House of Revolution an hour or so earlier meant we hadn’t done that yet and we circumnavigated the structure, admiring its shapes and curves, wondering about its destiny and talking about the experience we had just had.

I’m not sure what convinced us to go inside the House of Revolution. It was our first time in an abandoned building of that enormousness and to pick one known as the ‘House of Death’ probably wasn’t our smartest move. We are far from being experienced urbexers but we survived and the natural high/adrenaline rush we got once we were out and safe and sound was immense.   

And finally, we didn’t take any photos of ourselves while there. Firstly, that’s not cool, urbexers don’t do that shit, and secondly, we were too busy keeping an eye out to pose for the camera or take stupid selfies.

Further reading

The Bohemian Blog

The reason we visited the House of Revolution in the first place.

uncube

An excellent article detailing the history of the building and what it stands for.

Dezeen

A detailed look at the renovation project in store for the House of Revolution and what it might look like in the future.


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