Bosnia and Herzegovina is the heart shaped land that lies in the heart of southeast Europe. It is here that eastern and western civilizations met, sometimes clashed, but more often enriched and reinforced each other throughout its long and fascinating history.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a long name for a country that measures just over 50,000 km2. Bosnia covers the north and centre of the country with its name probably derived from 'bosana', an old Indo-European word meaning water, which Bosnia has no short of.
The southern region of ancient Hum, ruled by Herceg Stjepan (Duke Stjepan),was later named Herzegovina after the region was conquered by the invading Ottomans. Perhaps what is most important for the visitor to know today, though, is that Bosnia and Herzegovinais a stunningly beautiful country with a vast array of landscapes, cultures, traditions and people. And as the old cliche goes 'people make the place' – and BiH prides itself on its hospitality and treating our guests as if they were family members. And family we take to heart.
There are many fascinating destinations throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina for every type of tourist. In BiH, one gets the best of both worlds. Here, the most interesting and attractive sites are a wonderful mix of this tiny country's cultural and natural heritage. It is almost impossible to separate them, for it is from this pristine nature that its cultures and traditions evolved.
Sarajevo's Bascarsija (Old Town)
The Old Town 'Bascarsija' may be hard to pronounce but it is certainly one of the most impressive and charming market centers in the country. Bascarsija has been a trading and meeting place since the 15th century as caravans from Asia minor, Dubrovnik and the west met here to trade their wares.
Sarajevo is a city in which even strangers can feel at home. Neither geographically expansive nor characterised by large buildings, the city retains a particular, arresting charm with its abundance of busy café's and abiding tradition of hospitality.
The city's breathtaking backdrop of seemingly endless hills and towering mountains have in a sense always isolated the city, creating a timeless world, which despite its seclusion has always kept its doors open to the rest of the world. Although Sarajevo is a capital city typified by the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it also possesses a unique ambience that seeps into the soul.
This city epitomizes a partial centuries-old struggle against outside influences combined with the absorption of these influences into one of the most diverse cultures in Europe. Indeed, few places on earth feature an Orthodox and a Catholic church, a mosque and a synagogue within easy walking distance of each other. If there were any city in Europe that effortlessly straddles east and west, it is Sarajevo. Here the Byzantine and Ottoman empires of the east and the Roman, Venetian and Austro-Hungarian empires of the west left an indelible mark through culture, traditions and religions.A walk through Sarajevo is a walk through its past. From the oriental Ottoman quarters lined with sweet shops, café's and handicraft workshops, to the administrative and cultural centre of Austro-Hungarian times, Sarajevo encompasses the very best of both worlds.
In Sarajevo, people have time for family and friends. It is often said that a man's wealth here is not measured in his material belongings but rather in his friendships.
Mostar's Stari Most (Old Bridge)
The old bridge is perhaps the finest example of Ottoman ingenuity and Dalmatian masonry in the western Balkans. Not only does this precious stone structure bridge the east and west banks of the emerald Neretva River, it also symbolizes the crossroads of eastern and western civilizations.
When the Stari most, or Old Bridge, collapsed from tank shelling in 1993 it was like the heart was ripped out of most Mostar natives.
Even mentioning the bridge for years after it fell to the bottom of the Neretva River could invoke tears as it symbolized both the city and the country as a whole. Now, more than a decade later, the beautiful stone structure that had spanned the Neretva River for over four centuries once again arches across its raging waters. The bridge is Mostar's core and its reconstruction means that life is slowly but surely returning to normal in what is most certainly the most beautiful city in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Neum - the sunny Adriatic
Although its only a tiny strip of the gorgeous Adriatic, Neum has become a major seaside resort. Ideally located between Split and Dubrovnik and just a short distance to Mostar and Medugorje, Neum is an inexpensive holiday spot for fun and the sun.
The Adriatic Sea from Split to Dubrovnik is gorgeous, very clean, and includes 22km of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The closed bay at Neum is protected from the strong open sea winds by the Peljesac Peninsula, and wonderfully calm.
Neum is the only exit of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the coast. It was first mentioned in 533 (under the name Neunense), but was developed as a maritime retreat in 1965. The Old Town of Neum is 2 km inland.
Scuba-diving, parasailing, boating and jet skiing can all readily be arranged in any of the major hotels. It all costs a little less than what it costs in Croatia. During the season, it is wise to book in advance. There are over 7000 beds in hotels, B&Bs, guest houses and private accommodation.
Sutjeska National Park
Locally famous for the great battle of WWII when the partisans defeated a massive German army this park is also home to one of Europe's last remaining primeval forests in Perucica. Also home to Bosnia's highest peak (Maglic Mt. 2,386 m) its a paradise for hikers, walkers and nature lovers.
Sutjeska is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina's oldest parks. It is famous for the Partisan victory over the Germans in WW II and there are large stone monuments commemorating the event. The park itself is 17,500 hectares of magnificent and untouched wilderness.
It hosts one of the last two remaining primeval forests in Europe, called Perucica. Beech trees tower over 60 metres high and endemic black pines stem from the rocky faces that protect the ancient forest. Skakavac waterfall can be seen from the look-out point – this seventy five metre plus waterfall is dwarfed by the massive blanket of green trees that cover the valley. The Sutjeska River has carved a stunning valley through the middle of the park and divides Zelengora (Green Peaks) Mountain from Maglic and Volujak Mountains.
Bosnia and Herzegovina's highest peak, Maglic at over 2,386m, is located in the park, directly on the border with Montenegro. It presents a challenging climb for even experienced hikers. Zelengora Mountain is great for hiking and walking and there are several newly renovated mountain huts on the mountain. Bear and wolf sightings are common.
In the early 1980's several teenagers saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. Since then this sleepy Herzegovina village has been transformed into one of the largest Catholic pilgrimages in the world.
The story of Medugorje is well known to most Catholics. In 1981 six teenagers were playing together in the hills between the villages of Medugorje and Bijakovici.
It was on this barren hillside that Mother Mary appeared and spoke to them. When the children told their parents the first reaction was scepticism. The apparitions, however, did not cease. She appeared again and again and soon made believers out of even the most vocal of critics. Since then it is estimated that over 15 million people have visited this tiny place. Medjugorje has become the one of the largest Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world.
There has been much controversy over the legitimacy of the visions, so much so that the Pope has not recognized it as an official pilgrimage site. Nonetheless, millions of faithful Catholics from all over the world visit this sacred spot, and the many amazing accounts suggest that miracles are a regular occurrence here - the Virgin Mary is said to still appear every day to three of the teenagers and once a year to the other three.
Citluk is the centre of the Brotnjo Hill located on the right bank of the Neretva River. Brotnjo region is famous for its excellent wine and tobacco products. There are many wineries which are enlisted as the project “Vinske ceste” (vine roads of Herzegovina) where you can taste and buy some of the popular local wines (Zilavka and Blatina).
This 16th century dervish order monastery epitomizes the harmonious existence of man and nature. This stunning structure was built at the mouth of the largest source in Herzegovina which gushes from a cave at the base of a 200 meter cliff.
This region characterizes the diversity of its above-ground and underground waters. The source of the Buna is one of the largest and most beautiful in Europe.
It is the finest example of an underground karst river. It flows out of a 200m cliff wall and single-handedly creates the Buna River. Unsurprisingly, the Ottoman sultan was impressed, and ordered a tekija to be built right next to it. This 16th century house/monastery was built for the Dervish cults and is still one of the most mystical places in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is open to visitors all year round and serves cold drinks, tea and Turkish coffee in a beautiful garden overlooking the source of the River.
The region is also known for the diversity of its flora and a number of endemic species. At lower altitudes there are many evergreen plant and deciduous thicket species, while at higher altitudes in the hills there is sparse forest. Fertile cultivable land is suitable for the agriculture typical of the Mediterranean climate.
The XIV Winter Olympics are long gone, but the slopes still remain, and so does olympic style skiing. Jahorina has made a great comeback as southeast Europe's best ski resort. Great skiing. Great accommodation. Great fun. All just a short ride from the capital Sarajevo.
Jahorina is the mountain range to the southeast of Sarajevo. Its ideal geographical position more or less guarantees three to four months of good ski snow.
Its highest peak reaches 1,910m. The ski lifts climb to 1,894m with fabulous views towards Sarajevo. The slopes of Jahorina are covered in tall pines till about the 1,500m mark.
From there the mountainside is relatively bare with some thick patches of klek, a high-altitude pine that doesn't grow higher than 2m.
This Olympic mountain is also making a steady comeback. It was the site of the men’s slalom and is by far the most challenging ski trails in the country. Off the beaten track are ideal spots for cross country and tour skiing, as well as year round hiking, biking, and village tourism in the ancient highland villages.
These two names are synonymous with the 1984 Winter Olympic Games. The war damage to the Bjelasnica and Igman Mountain ski centers has largely been repaired, and new hotels and apartments are built.
There are currently three lifts operational on these mountains. Bjelasnica has the better infrastructure and most challenging slopes while Igman is a bit easier and also has a children's lift with soft hills to practice on. Bjelasnica has the steepest of all slopes – racing from almost 2,000 meters to the base at 1,200 meters. It's quite a rush – no lines, no waiting.
Famous for its Nobel Laureate writer Ivo Andric this Ottoman town still best represents what was once called the European Istanbul. This ancient mosque's and fortress that dot the skyline are as impressive as the original style Bosnian architecture that gives this town its charm. Not far from Travnik is the mountain ski resort of Vlasic - a paradise for snowboarders and a great nature break spot.
Travnik is situated in the valley of the Lasva River and bordered by Vlasic Mountain to the north and Mount Vilenica to the south. The early Slav settlers gave little evidence of their presence until 500 years after their arrival to the area around Travnik.
The valley reappeared in 1244, in terms of primary historical records, when the Hungarian King Bela IV gave one of his notables a piece of land in Lasva. By that time, the area was a feudal estate of the Bosnian state.
Although remains from these centuries do not show the wealth the valley had known in Roman times, the era did have its share of castles and mansions. The Travnik Fortress was the most impressive fortress at the time, and still stands out as the best preserved of them all. This era gave Travnik its name.
The Ottoman era renewed the glory of Travnik. It was the principal city and military centre of the Ottoman Empire. It was from here that the Ottomans planed their invasions further towards the southwest. They brought mosques, religious schools, roads and water systems. They fortified the medieval fortress and built a mini-city within its high stone walls. For over 150 years, the vizier – the Ottoman Sultan's representative in Bosnia - had his headquarters in this town, attracting both consulates and trade. Travelers visiting Travnik in this era were impressed by the town and called it the European Istanbul and the most oriental town in Bosnia. Ivo Andrić's brilliant 'Travnik Chornicle' gives you a feel of this period.
The Trebizat River creates a wonderful green belt amidst the dry landscape of western Herzegovina. This stunning waterfall runs over 100 meters long and drops an impressive 25 meters. Kravica is an ideal place for a picnic or a swim and definitely provides one of the most picturesque sceneries in Herzegovina.
The oldest museum in the country, established in 1884, is at the Humac Franciscan Monastery (built in 1869) just outside the town of Ljubuški. The Humac Museum hosts one of the finest collections of ancient relics, all found in the vicinity of the monastery.
The oldest script ever found in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Humacka ploca, is exhibited here. This stone-carved slate written in Glagolithic is said to date back to the 10th century. The museum has a significant collection of relics from the Roman settlements including jewellery, weapons, helmets and hand carved tombstones. Many of the excavated items come from the ruins of a Roman military camp, Bigeste, near the monastery.
This quaint museum is an interesting stop. The village of Vitina is a bit off the beaten path to the north of Ljubuski. There is a great traditional restaurant at the source of the River Vriostice and sitting there is a good way to beat the summer heat. Kocusa Waterfall, a mini version of Kravica in Veljaci, is situated just a few minutes outside of Vitina.
The gem of this region is the crystal-clear water of the Trebizat River. Southeast of Ljubuski are the Kravica Waterfalls. Stretching over 120m across and tumbling down 25m, Kravica is one of the largest waterfalls in Herzegovina and certainly the most impressive one. The waterfalls have a natural pool dug out at the base of the falls by the constant rush of water. It is a favorite local swimming hole with picnic area, café and even a place to pitch a tent if you like. The best time of year for visiting is springtime when the waterfall is at its fullest and the arid landscape turns a bright green.
The area is famous for delicious figs, grapes, high quality tobacco and cheese.
Ljubuski winery is the oldest winery in Bosnia and Herzegovina (established in 1882) and has some of the finest sorts of Zilavka, Blatina, Merlot, Sauvignon and Zweigelt. More information about wineries in Herzegovina are available at www.vinskacesta.ba.
Crkva uznesenja blazene djevice Marije (Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) in Siroki Brijeg was built in the late-Romance style. The Monastery also hosts a gallery with over 1,500 art works. In the village of Mokro, Siroki Brijeg, you will find remains of the 5th century basilica, and 2.5 km from Mokro there is a necropolis with medieval tombstones. One of the first references to this area was in the 10th century (records of the Emperor Porphyrogenitos). The Kocerinska ploca, a stone-carved slate dating back to 1404 is found in the village of Kocerin. The slate is an epitaph to Viganj Milosevic written in Bosnian Cyrillic Script (Bosancica). In a beautiful natural surrounding of the Borak valley there are several sources forming the Listica River. According to a legend, Illyrian Queen Teuta was so impressed by the beauty of the region, she ordered her summer residence to be built here.
The Old Church of St. Stephen the Martyr (Stara crkva sv. Stjepana Prvomucenika in Gorica), near Grude, was built in 1856. This is the oldest operating church in west Herzegovina. Surrounding area bears traces of 3rd and 9th century church foundations. Franciscan Archaeological Collection has artefacts from prehistoric period until the 19th century. The source of the Tihaljina River, in the village of Pec, Milin (Drinovci, near Grude) forms the shape of a horseshoe. Looking above you will see the Ravlica Cave (Kostresova Cave) where findings of human life from the Neolithic Age were found. The cave is 95 meters long.
This southernmost city in Bosnia and Herzegovina is only 28km from the famous city of Dubrovnik. Trebinje ranks with Mostar and Stolac in terms of beauty but fortunately escaped the fates of these two towns and was not heavily damaged during the war, leaving its old town intact.
The Old Town of Trebinje was established in the 18th century and soon developed into a trading & crafts centre named Kastel.
There is barely a town in Herzegovina that was not erected alongside a freshwater river. Trebinje is no exception: its old town lines the banks of the Trebisnjica River that flows through the heart of the city. The river and the city have always been known for the enormous old mills treading the Trebisnjica. Although they are not fully functional today, they remain a symbol of Herzegovina's not-so-distant past when everything was directly connected to the power of nature. In Trebinje, that power of nature was bigger before the river had been curtailed by the Grancarevo dam, some 15 km north-east from Trebinje. This dam was bound to swallow the Arslanagic Bridge. To save this beautiful example of Ottoman stone bridge building, it was taken, stone by stone, from a village seven kilometres up the river, and rebuilt in downtown Trebinje.
Klobuk is the large fortress in Trebinje. It is assumed to date from the 9th century and is believed that the Slovenian princes of Krajina – Pavlimir and Tesimir were buried here. Since the 12th century it controlled the Nemanjic region until, in 1377, Klobuk became part of the expanded Bosnian state.
Locally acclaimed as being one of the last seats of the medieval Bosnian Kingdom this quaint town is a bastion of ancient Bosnian history. From the medieval fortress and Franciscan monastery to one of the oldest mosque's in the country it’s a wonderfully unique rural experience rarely found today in Europe.
Arriving in Kraljeva Sutjeska feels like stepping through a time warp. As the industrial areas of Kakanj disappear as you near this tiny, ancient village with its large Franciscan church and monastery one will find well-kept houses, gardens in perfect shape and the reflection of the sun off the water is caused by the white stones and not a discarded can.
You'll find that many of the women, particularly the older ones, still dress in traditional attire. Most are farmers but you'll find the odd carpenter or shop owner hammering away or selling his wares as well. The Dusper House in the village is the oldest house in central Bosnia, dating back to the early 18th century. The house has been designated a protected national monument. The house can be visited and is an impressive example of authentic Bosnian architecture.
One of the oldest mosques in Bosnia and Herzegovina is situated at the entrance of this village. It was built in a few days only, and has never required any maintenance since - or so the story goes. The mosque and its wooden minaret are open to visitors. You’ll enjoy the (local language) accounts of its past, told proudly and with a twinkle in the eyes by the lady who maintains this beautiful little place of worship.
Kraljeva Sutjeska and the citadel at Bobovac were once the seat of two Bosnian kings, Tomas and Tvrtko, of the Kotromanic Dynasty. The last Bosnian queen, Saint Katarina, is mourned today by the local townswomen who still wear black scarves as part of the traditional dress. When the Ottomans conquered the fortress at Bobovac, Queen Katarina either fled or was exiled to Rome, never to return to Bosnia. It was reported that her children were taken to Istanbul, where her son converted to Islam and became a major figure in the Ottoman administration.
Jajce and the Pliva Lake region
Jajce was the last stronghold of the Bosnian kings before it fell to the invading Ottomans in 1528. Known for the massive waterfall that blesses the heart of the city Jajce represents multiple layers of this regions long history - with traces of Illyrian and Roman finds as well as the distinct Bosnian and Ottoman features. The Pliva Lake region offer world class fly-fishing, as well as great water sports in the lake region.
Jajce has had more than its fair share of battles. The town changed hands several times before the independent Bosnian state was finally conquered when the Jajce fortress was the last one to fall to the Ottoman invaders in 1528.
It seemed fitting after so many civilizations had settled and fought over this place that in 1943 the AVNOJ was signed and sealed here in one of the most historical moments of Bosnia's and Yugoslavia's history.
The second session of the Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation of Yugoslavia on November 29 ratified that Bosnia and Herzegovina, as an equal federal unit, would enter the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia. These resolutions outlined the future democratic and federal organization of the region. The outskirts of town are blessed with an abundance of water, which is probably what made it so attractive and practical as a settlement in earlier times.
Trvdos is a 14th century Orthodox monastery near the beautiful towns of Trebinje and Dubrovnik. The frescoes are amongst the finest in the region and the monastery itself is home to several 5th and 6th century icons.
Bosnian Kingdom Trail
Cajengrad (Visoko), Vranduk (Zenica), Bobovac (Vares), Kraljeva Sutjeska (Kakanj), Maglaj, Tesanj, Fojnica, Travnik, Prusac, Jajce
During the rule of the Bosnian Kingdom, Visoko valley was a very important trade, cultural and educational centre of the Bosnian Church. Old Town „Cajengrad“ is a medieval fortress which served to defend Bobovac from enemies and today represents an archaeological site. The fortress was discovered by accident when a few locals found a stone structure with windows during a rock climb. Mile, which is believed to be one of the residences of Bosnian kings, is located 5 km from the city’s centre. Findings so far show that Stjepan II Kotromanic and Tvrtko Kotromanic resided there. This is also the place where Tvrtko was crowned and buried at the Church of St. Nicholas.Mile is also known for the trade agreement between Bosnia and the Republic of Ragusa (Republic of Dubrovnik) signed in 1189 under the Charter of Kulin Ban, the oldest preserved Bosnian document written in bosancica (Cyrillic).
Medieval Fortress “Vranduk” is located outside the urban area of Zenica in the hills above the Bosna River. It once served as King Stjepan Tomas’s residence. Vranduk has a small museum ethnographic collection within tremendously preserved walls, a tiny café and Fatih Sultan Mehmet’s Mosque built on the base of a former medieval St. Thomas’ Church located at the foot of the fortress. Nearby is the old mill in a beautiful natural surrounding.
Bobovac was founded by the order of King Stjepan Kotromanic in the mid 14th century as an asylum for royalties. As this royal fortress/town is a burial site of three kings: Stjepan Ostoja, Tvrtko II Kotromanic and Stjepan Tomas, the fortress encompasses a mausoleum.The site is located 60 min on foot or 15 min by car from Kraljeva Sutjeska (30 min ride from Vares).
KRALJEVA SUTJESKA, KAKANJ
Kraljeva Sutjeska was the residence of King Stjepan Tomas, King Tvrtko Kotromanic and Queen Katarina, also known as the last Bosnian queen. Katarina is still mourned in Central Bosnia, where Catholic women wear black scarves in memory of the Queen. The early 14th century Monastery, which stands to be a guardian of B&H history, comprises of a church, a museum and a library. The Venetian style church houses beautiful icons, Queen Katarina’s statue and the oldest organs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, whereas the museum and the library have a great collection of valuable paintings, an incunabula collection (31 books dating pre 15th century) and an ethnographic collection.
Middle Ages in Maglaj remain to be visible in over a hundred tomb stones and the Maglaj Fortress, built in the late 13th century which served to defend the town from conquerors. With the arrival of Ottomans, the fortress was reconstructed and a clock tower was added to it in the 17th century. Stone spheres of unknown origin and purpose (dating back 20.000 B.C.) can also be seen – one of them is displayed in front of Maglaj’s City Library. Maglaj is also the home to one of five Catholic Church shrines in Bosnia and Herzegovina – the Shrine of St. Leopold Mandic. St. Leopold was known as the Apostle of Confession and the Apostle of Unity and his hand bones are kept at the church. A special mass is held on Wednesdays when all visitors are welcome.
Tesanj is where the ancient and the modern era meet. The Fortress of Tesanj, dating back to the Illyrian period, was furnished in the Middle Ages and later was added a clock tower. The fortress has two garrisons and a restaurant/café and is often a venue of various cultural and entertainment events. The other sightseer attraction is the 17th century Ferhat-bey’s Mosque built by Ferhat-bey, a relative of the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
Kozovgrad, the Fortress of Fojnica, was the last asylum of Queen Katarina on her escape from Bobovac to Dubrovnik, and then to Rome. The legend says that the Queen ordered the horses to be shoed in reverse to mislead the enemies. Traces of horseshoes leading towards Zenica are still visible in Kozovgrad. Some other must-sees are the Franciscan monasteries in Fojnica and Kraljeva Sutjeska. The Monastery in Fojnica dates back to the 14th century and its museum and library have over forty thousand titles and a significant incunabula collection (books written before the 16th century). Ahdnama, the oath decree, which provided independence and religious freedom to Bosnian Franciscans as declared by Fatih Sultan Mehmet in the 16th century, is still kept at the museum.
The Travnik Fortress, tombstones and the Maculja Necropolis are some of the medieval remains to be found in Travnik. The Fortress of Travnik is a well preserved structure located between two brooks, Hendek and Sumece, and approachable from the north across a stone bridge. With the arrival of the Turkish Empire, Travnik became the capital of Ottoman in Bosnia and in 1699 the residence of viziers. The Bosnian viziers presided in Travnik for over 150 years. Sulejmanija Mosque, or the so-called Colourful Mosque due to floral motives and calligraphic scripts, was originally built in 1757. Other Travnik must-sees include: the Town Museum – a great number of photos, paintings, ethnographic artefacts and numismatic collections and a library; the Museum/Birth place of Ivo Andric (1892 – 1975), a winner of Nobel Prize for Literature – the birth room, Travnik chronicles, library and art collection.
Prusac is a small hill town in a coniferous forest and white-stone houses scattered all over it. The old town of Prusac with remains of the fortress and a recently renovated clock-tower, used to serve as an army fort during the Ottoman period. Prusac was a birth place of Hasan Kjafija Pruscak, an academic devoted to enlightening the population, well known among scholars from Istanbul. At the time, Prusac was the gathering place of numerous intellectuals. Today, this is the largest Islamic pilgrimage site in Europe. For more than 500 years, thousands of Muslims have gathered at the holy site of Ajvatovica. The site was named after grandfather Ajvaz, who according to legend, spent 40 days praying to God to send rain in the period of great drought. As on the fortieth morning rain came, people began visiting this site where God’s miracle took place.
The Medieval Fortress of Jajce rises above the 22-m high Pliva Waterfall. The Fortress encompassing ramparts, towers (Church of St. Maria and Tower of St. Luke) and 15th century catacombs is one of the most impressive and universal cultural heritage sites in the country. During the rein of King Tvrtko II, Jajce developed into a royal town, and later the residence of Bosnian kings. The last Bosnian King Stjepan Tomasevic, whose bones are kept at the Franciscan Monastery in Jajce, was crowned in Jajce. Some other attractions are: the 18th century Krslak’s House with a small ethnographic collection and the late 3rd century Temple of the Roman god Mithras.