Friday, May 22, 2015

Bosnia Book: Jajce

After leaving Sarajevo I travelled to Jajce.
(why this see link)

You may be forgiven for not hearing of Jajce, Bosnia Herzegovina yet, but you will.  This beautiful town, perched in the Dinaric Alps, offers ample opportunity for outdoor activities year round, and a remarkable old town waiting to be discovered.  It boasts the (self proclaimed) twelfth most beautiful waterfall the world, right on the edge of the old town.  Why twelfth, no one knows.

Top, the Citadel sits on the top of the hill.  Lower left, a path leads from the Citadel down to the city below.  Lower right is the coat of arms of the last Bosnian King.
This Royal Town was the last holdout of the Bosnian Kings, finally falling to the Ottoman Empire in 1463.  Layer upon layer of history is found; from a Mithraic Temple of the Romans, through the Bosnian Kings, the Ottoman Empire, the Austria-Hungarian Empire, the creation of Yugoslavia to the Bosnian war.  What is left behind is an abundance of sights and sounds in an extremely walk able town.

The Citadel of Stjepan Tomašćević, the last Bosnia King, is perched atop the hill above old town.  It can be visited from 10:00 – 3:00 PM but one of the wonders of this still lightly visited country is the warmth of it’s people.  I arrived after 3:30 and was directed to homeowner just below the castle, who had the keys to the gate to let me in to wander.  The Royal Coat of arms, looking suspiciously like Davy Jones from the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, stands out in relief from the Castle doorway.
Above, the ruins of the Church of St. Luke. Lower left is the Gate of Travnik (which is an old city on the road between Jajce and Sarajevo)  lower right, the road up to the main gate of the Citadel.
After wandering through the Castle, I took the slow walk down the ramparts to view the city spread out and the River Vrbas far below.  Then I wandered through old town to the Gate of Travnik, a 15th Century fortification with 17th Century addition of a Ottoman siege house.  Just through the Gate, is the path to the Jajce Waterfalls.

The Tower of St. Luke still stands above the ruins of the church of Holy Mary.  Built in the 15th century, the last Bosnian Queen was said to have brought the relics for this church with her dowry.  The walls still stand, and with  the Romanesque Tower piercing the sky.  Next to the Tower, the Museum of Jajce is housed in one of the Austrian governmental buildings.  
It is a remarkable amount of styles and features in a short stretch of road. 
The Mosque (I drove that little black VW in the far right of the picture)
Just down the path is the magnificent Esma Sultana Mosque, who’s minaret can been taken in from the same view.  The local story is that a beautiful Sultana was married to a Bosnian vizier.  The Sultana fell ill and was fortold that if she built a Mosque where “the two rivers become one” she would be cured.  She paid for the building with an dazzling (and expensive) earring and started construction immediately.  Unfortunately, the Sultana but did not live to see if completed in 1753.  The elegance and the beauty of the building is said to keep her memory alive.  It is one of the most beautiful mosques in the region.

During the Bosnian war Jajce changed hands many times, but all three major ethnic groups are moved back to the city and live peacefully side by side, the Bosnian Croats, the Bosniak (Muslims) and the Bosnian Serbs.  

The city of Jajce sits in an area that is only now beginning to reach its full tourist potential.  In the winter, the ski slopes are excellent, the Sarajevo Winter Olympics were held nearby and the slopes are empty compared to other Alpine destinations.  In the summer river rafting, mountain biking and mountaineering are all next-door.  Bosnia Herzegovina has introduced English as a requirement for school, so it s easy to get by with a smile and broken English.  The openness of the people means you will meet a friend almost anytime you try.

Jajce is a two hour drive from Sarajevo, or a three hour drive Split in Croatia.  It makes the perfect hub for a vacation in the region, with Mostar, Banja Luka and the sights of Central Bosnia within easy day reach.  It is one of those places I would encourage people to go for a surprising stay.

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