By Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#129, December 26, 2001
It is not, of course, the most appropriate time
to speak about tourism, since snow now covers the greater part
of the country. But leave, R&Rs or days off also exist during
the winter season and there are therefore some opportunities to
enjoy the country.
Nevertheless, before starting any trip to the locations
mentioned in this article, you must always remember the two main
dangers in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH): the roads, and the mines.
Too bad for those, who want to take short cuts: there is a real
risk in doing that, and it is not worth it.
First of all, BiH offers a large diversity of beautiful landscapes,
from the small access to the Adriatic Sea in the South, to the
beginning of the great Hungarian plain, in the North. In the middle,
the Dinaric Alps surround small valleys and huge plateaux. But
what a difference between the karstic landscape of the north western
'polje' (plateau) of the country and the high peaks at the Montenegrin
Water is present everywhere in BiH. Following a river from its
source to its confluence with bigger ones (or to the Adriatic
Sea for the Neretva) is always a very beautiful trip, allowing
you to admire the different states of its course: sources of the
Bosna River and the Buna River (with its famous dervish cloister).
Onrushing, when lined by sheer cliffs, like the Sutjeska. Cascading,
like in the towns of Kravica, Jajce, Kamenica, Drvar or Skakarac.
And slower, when the valley gets wider and the river reaches its
mouth. By the way, rafting is an activity that has developed in
BiH, especially in the Bihac and Mostar areas.
In the course of your trip, you may discover famous or less well
known lakes ('jezero'), such as the Bilecko, Matura, Vijaka, Sanicani,
Busko, Plivsko, Deransko, Boracko and Ramsko; or the long and
tortuous Jablanicko, to name only few. In fact, each municipality
has its own lovely lake. All are beautiful in every season, and
some are equipped for fishing, canoeing, sailing, or even water-skiing
and jet skiing (preferably in the summer).
Where there is water there is also life. No wonder communities
settled from the very ancient ages, mostly for trade purposes,
on banks and shores. The most ancient traces of life date back
to the prehistoric ages. In the valley of Bregava River, they
discovered rupestrian (rock) paintings, and even in Butmir there
was a famous Neolithic site. Nothing new there!
Bridges were built for crossing the rivers or to expand the cities.
Some of those bridges are renowned, such as the Visegrad one on
the Drina River, or the one in Sarajevo where Archduke Franz Ferdinand
was assassinated in 1914 or the Arskanagic Bridge over the Trebisnjica
River. Some are very ancient, as the Rimski Most (Roman Bridge)
south of Sarajevo. Unfortunately, the most famous of all, the
Mostar's 'Stari Most' (Old Bridge) was destroyed during the war
but, thanks to the Word Bank, it is now in the process of reconstruction.
You will also surprisingly discover other ancient monuments of
the country: the cyclopean walls of Osanici (near Stolac), or
the gravestones from the 12th and 13th centuries, from the Bogumilism
period. On the Jurancon Route from Nevesinje to Ulog, such a cemetery
is located in the middle of nowhere, with stones weighing several
tonnes surrounded by short grass.
Castles ('dvor') are also noteworthy. Most of them were built
between the 12th and the 15th centuries, i.e. before the arrival
of the Turks. Such castles are located for instance in Ostrozac
(near Bihac), Jajce, Gradacac, Bobovac (near Vares), Pocitelj
or Doboj. Don't miss the opportunity of visiting the old town
of Vranduk, with its middle-age fortifications.
Finally, the Austro-Hungarian era from 1878 to 1918 saw a new
change in the style of the big towns. Viennese architecture is
characterised by large windows, frontage decorations and lightly
coloured walls. It's of course in bigger towns such as Sarajevo
or Mostar that you will be able to admire the same buildings as
in Vienna and Central Europe. All that was built after this period
is devoid of any interest, except perhaps the two anti-fascist
monuments of Sarajevo and Banja Luka where the main events of
WW2 in former Yugoslavia are sculpted in low relief, just as if
it was a cartoon strip
The Ottoman Empire brought many changes to the aspect of the towns,
some have kept the Turkish influence: dwelling houses, workshops,
caravanserais (the "parking place" for the camels of
the caravans). It also brought the Muslim religion, with its mosques
and 'medersas' (Islamic schools). You will see a lot of examples
of this kind of architecture, especially in Cantons 1, 3, 4 and
of course in Sarajevo, where a walk in the old town ('stari grad')
Bascarcija is very interesting. If travelling in the area of Glamoc,
you will notice the specific turban-shaped tombstones of Ottoman
dignitaries. Some of them have a diameter of more than a metre.
The more high-ranking the people, the larger the turban.
Speaking about religions, you also will discover other cult buildings:
Basilicas from the beginning of the Christian era, like Nereki,
Klobuk, Dabravine, Majdan; Catholic Churches or chapels in Bosnian-Croat
areas; and Orthodox Churches, with their typical bulb-shaped towers.
And you will perhaps have the chance to visit one of those well-hidden
monasteries, either Franciscan (Roman Catholic) or Orthodox, like
in Gomionica. It is sometimes difficult to find, but the visitor
is always welcome.
Don't forget the fourth religion of this country, the Jewish one,
with the synagogues of Sarajevo and the Jewish cemetery of Stolac.
Culture and Gastronomy
Don't miss the opportunity to visit museums, such as the National
Museum in Sarajevo and its two Millennium long expositions. Less
well known is the museum of the Second World War, located in Jablanica
which has a locomotive that took part in the Battle of the Neretva
in front of it. Another interesting museum is located in Jajce.
And at the end of your drive, take a break and enjoy the local
gastronomic delights. There are a lot of delicious Balkan specialities,
halfway between the Occidental and Middle Eastern cooking. Don't
miss 'cevapcici', 'burek', 'dolmes', 'bamia' and all sorts of
oriental pastries. And drink (in moderation) a local beer or a
glass of local wine. The best vineyards are located in the Herzegovina
region, where southern sunshine allows for perfect grape ripening.
So, forget the camp and discover BiH. You will never forget it.
Related link: Miscellaneous