I was born and raised in the capital city of Bosnia – Sarajevo. As the capital, it was, and still is, the largest city in the region,and contains a great number of historical landmarks and cultural and historical attractions. However, as the capital city, it has also undergone the most modernization, and many historical elements were lost.
During my research visit to Bosnia in the summer of 2011, I went to visit my mother-in-law in her hometown Jajce (pronounced as ‘Yayse’). While she moved to Wisconsin with her family as refugees in 1996, she came that summer to visit her family. I decided to meet some of my in-laws, and see the city.
Coming from Sarajevo, I had some preconceptions about the historical values of other, “less important” cities. Somehow, I felt that everything of great importance must have happened in Sarajevo. I was very wrong. Jajce (the historic part of town) is a stunning city that left me gaping at its beauty. It was beautiful, calm, and most of all welcoming. Thankfully, the guide (my wife’s cousin) was very knowledgeable and explained the history and significance of the city to me.
Here is some basic information on Jajce for anyone who is interested in visiting.
Jajce is located in the central part of Bosnia. Officially it is part of the Central Canton. Travnik and Bugojno are in close proximity.
Historians say that during the 14th century Jajce was built to serve as a capital city for the Bosnian Kingdom. The King Stepan Tomas and his wife Katerina Kotromanic (in English she is known as Catherine of Bosnia) built the prominent castle and fortresses, along with fortification walls, all around the city. Even though it’s been over 600 years, most of these structures are still there and in good shape.
In 1463 Ottomans took over Bosnia. By 1520’s Jajce fell – making it one of the last towns to do so. This meant that Jajce was governed by the Sultan, though Katerina did not leave the city until 1530s. During this period, Katerina built Sveti Luka (Saint Luke) Catholic church – the oldest church in Jajce, and still standing. At one point Sveti Luka served as a mosque and church simultaneously – split into two floors with Muslims on top and Christians on the bottom floor. The Ottomans not only preserved the church, they are also the ones who completed its construction – including decorations – in 1885. Historically, Jajce went back and forth from Ottoman Empire to the Hungarian kingdom.
By the 1940’s Bosnia, led by Tito, was fighting to repel the Nazis and to fight off internal Serb and Croat genocidal elements – Chetniks and Ustashe. Towards the end of WWII, Jajce held an important conference on November 29,1943. This meeting led to the formation of the Communist Republic of Yugoslavia. Which is why before the war in the 1990’s Yugoslavians celebrated November 29th as their independence day. Today, Jajce continues to hold parades in Tito’s honor.
Jajce suffered a lot during the war in the 1990s. Nearly all Muslim and Catholic families were either killed, sent to concentration camps, or became refugees during the period. Jajce fell in 1992 to the Serbs (Chetniks). From 1992 to 1995, Jajce remained occupied.
The most interesting landmarks in Jajce, for me at least, are:
1. The Waterfall: In the very center of the city, it stands at some 20 meters high.
2. Sveti Luka: (Saint Luke) church and bell tower, still standing after more than 500 years.
3. Woman’s mosque: While the history of this structure is not certain, it seems to have been a mosque for the castle guards – nce the Ottomans gained control. Now, the building serves as a local mosque.
4. Esma Sultanija mosque: Mosque dedicated to Sultana Esma. This mosque, as almost all others in Serb (Chetnik) control, was entirely destroyed during the war. However, it has been rebuilt and is an amazing piece of architecture. Inside, the mihrab and the window frames are made out of a stone that is unique to the area – shifting in color from a deep brown to an almost golden color.
5. Sarcophagi: In the city park, located by the river that becomes the waterfall, are three sarcophagi – stone coffins (no bodies). They date to the period of Roman control of the city (around 300 CE) and are in great shape.
6. Catacombs: An underground series of royal burial chambers (no bodies), the catacombs also contain a secret passage leading all the way behind the waterfall. Across from the Catacombs entrance is a café owned by Pashaga. Besides being very knowledgeable about the city history, he is also quite the entertainer. His son Armin speaks English.
7. House of Omer Beg: A Bosnian-Turkish house of a Ottoman-Bosnian lord.
8. Temple of Mitra: An excavation site of a pre-Christian (Greek/Roman) god. The site dates from the time of Bogumil faith in Bosnia.
9. Fortress of Jajce: Located at the apex of the city, the fortress is enormous and in good shape. It offers an amazing view of the whole city and the surrounding countryside. You will find Mediha at the entrance selling handmade crafts (about the city) to support her family.
Besides all of this, Jajce has a wonderful countryside, with mountains and villages nearby, the rivers Pliva and Vrbas to cool down from a summers’ day. Located 15 minutes outside the city is a lake, where locals go for picnics and scenery.
Though Jajce is a small town, it is a hidden gem, and often ignored by tourists. Most tourists, when they visit Bosnia, go only to Sarajevo and maybe Mostar. However, I feel that they would be better served spending a day or two in Jajce, if they want to experience Bosnian history. The whole city remains in its original architecture – even the new buildings – giving it a truly unique feel absent from the larger towns. Its history extends back for almost 2000 years, and there is an element of all the different civilizations present – from the Bogumils and Romans, to Old Bosnia, the Ottomans, and Yugoslavia. Besides the historic and cultural values, the people of the city are wonderful and extremely helpful.
My visit to Jajce was the most enjoyable and culturally rich part of my many visits to Bosnia, and I have no doubt that any visitor to Bosnia would find it an amazing part of their travles.
I would also like to share a delicious Bosnian recipe with you:
Bosanski Lonac (Bosnian Pot):
1 kg beef , 1 kg lamb
1 cabbage (cut into bite sized wedges)
2 -3 carrots (peeled and cut into bite sized pieces)
3 -4 large tomatoes (cut up in wedges)
3 -4 large potatoes (peeled and cut up in wedges)
2 onions (cut up in wedges)
2 garlic cloves (sliced)
2 green bell peppers (cut up in wedges)
1/2 tablespoon cooking oil
1/2 tablespoon vinegar
salt and pepper
1.Cut up vegetables in large pieces.
2.Cut meat in large, bite sized pieces.
3.Layer meat and vegetables in a large soup pot. (one layer of vegetables, one layer of meat, and so on).
4.Cook until meat and vegetables are cooked. (Mine took about 2 1/2 hours on low to medium heat).