Wednesday was another warm, beautiful day in Sarajevo. We’ve had a run of “false spring” weather – perfect for touring Travnik and Jajce, unique towns of historical significance known for their national monuments.
The group was small – me, Kathryn from Frankfurt, and Samir, our guide from Meet Bosnia. Samir is a Bosnian native and history professor.
Kathryn is traveling with the German team for Sarajevo’s 2019 European Youth Olympics Festival (EYOF) held February 9 – 16. The EYOF is Europe’s largest sport festival for athletes between 14 and 18. It’s organized by the European Olympic Committee and occurs every two years in Sarajevo. Kathryn stayed on after the festival to explore the area.
Lašva River Valley and Travnik
Travnik is in the Lašva River Valley surrounded by two mountains – Vlašić to the north and Vilenica in the south. Both mountains have great hiking trails. As we headed west through a valley shrouded in fog, Samir adjusted the route to improve visibility.
The Lašva Valley is where ethnic cleansing crimes occurred during the Bosnian War 1992-1995. Although he was a child then, Samir told us about the torture and imprisonment of his father and grandfather who survived. They both witnessed the horrific murder of most people in their village.
On a lighter note, Travnik is the best preserved city from Ottoman times. It’s the birth place of Yugoslav novelist, poet, and short story writer Ivo Andrić and has interesting cultural and historical buildings. In 1961, Andrić won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His Bosnian Trilogy includes The Woman from Sarajevo, Bosnian Chronicle, and The Bridge on the Drina. A collection of Andrić’s short stories entitled Tales of Sarajevo was also published. The stories provide a “picture of Sarajevo during unrest in 1878, social turmoil in 1906, and WWII violence and destruction from 1939 to 1945“.
“Ivo Andric’s masterwork is imbued with the richness and complexity of a region that has brought so much tragedy to our century and known so little peace.”
Along the way we passed mountains, valleys, farms, rivers, and traditional Bosnian houses. Many of them were damaged or abandoned.
Plava Voda River
Travnik is known for its small river Plava Voda (blue water). The river’s source runs through the center of town. We ate uštipci – a doughnut-like pastry – and sampled Travnik or Vlašićki cheese made in the nearby mountains. On the way back to Sarajevo, we enjoyed lunch along the riverside at restaurant Konoba Plava Voda.
Stari Grad Medieval Fortress
Stari Grad Fortress is Travnik’s most significant historical landmark. We climbed to the top marveling at panoramic views of the valley and villages from the 15th century Ottoman period. Some historic buildings in the fortress include Our Lady Vrilo Jesuit grammar school, Elči Ibrahim Pasha’s madrassa, and Sulejmanija Mosque. There are two eighteenth century clock towers and a sundial.
After Travnik we continued to Jajce, the capital of the Kingdom of Bosnia – a medieval “city of stone, light, and water”. Jajce is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The fortress, castle, and open air museum are on the banks of the brisk Pliva and Vrbas Rivers – a significant source of hydropower in the area.
Waterfall, Fortress, Catacombs
Jajce Waterfall appears at the point where the “Pliva River tumbles abruptly into the Vrbas”. The formidable waterfall dominates Jajce Old Town.
“In one glance, Jajce Fortress “captures the architecture of four empires – Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, three kingdoms – Bosnian, Hungarian, Yugoslav, and three world monotheistic religions – Christianity (Orthodoxy and Catholicism), Islam, Judaism.”
During the 14th century, a Bosnian duke built a “last residence” for his family, catacombs in the fortress. In 1943 Josip Broz Tito hid there. During 1945, the conference that established the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was held in the catacombs. In 2003, the Commission for Protection of National Monuments declared the catacombs a national monument.
Pliva Lakes and Watermills
Pliva Lakes and Watermills are near Jajce. They’re a popular picnic spot and great for fishing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, volleyball, biking, and hiking. During the Middle Ages the watermills provided power for grinding seeds and grain to produce flour. They were declared National Monuments of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2009.
Church of St. Mary or the Sultan Suleyman II Mosque
Another important national monument is the Church of St. Mary or the Sultan Suleyman II Mosque, considered Jajce’s “symbol of coexistence”. It burned down in the mid-19th century, and today only the stone walls remain.
Throughout history it was used as both church and mosque. There are “visible reminders of different religions within the church”. The Bell Tower of St. Luke represents the “only surviving medieval bell tower in the Balkans”. In 1892, the Austro-Hungarian government declared the church and bell tower cultural heritage icons.
At the end of the day we drove back to Sarajevo reflecting on the history and nature of Travnik and Jajce. I’m still processing what I learned. Of course the longer you remain in a country the better you understand and appreciate its history and culture. I plan to stay in Sarajevo until early March.
“Underneath us in the purple dusk old Sarajevo is sinking more and more, with its buildings of all time and styles, its churches – old and new – synagogues and mosques along which apple trees that grow, lean and tall as a minaret… But the veil of dusk, who lives all the more denser, all the more equals them and merges into the unreading story of a common night, which now covers the history, legends, and accomplishments of foreign invaders and domestic small and great tyrants and oligarchies, the movements of the masses, long and complicated accounts and accounts between those who have and not, are given by those who have nothing to their needs.” Ivo Andric