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Bosnia and Herzegovina: Jajce

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Jajce | Bosnia and Herzegovina | Europe

[Visited: May 2014]

The drive from Sarajevo has been long, and when I arrive in Jajce, the day that has been grayish and rainy, is drawing to a close. The lights are up, making the landmarks of Jajce stand out in the falling darkness. The waterfall, right below the town centre, and the fortress, elevated above the town since hundreds of years, welcome me. When I am finally installed in a place to stay, I am starving, and after a good dinner and sleep, the next day looks perfect. Clear blue skies are beckoning me to come outside to explore - and how can I resist? I drive to the other side of the Vrbas river, walk down until I reach an open space in the woods, and here it is: the perfect view of the town with the waterfall in the foreground. The water rushes down the Pliva river, and jumps of the cliffs to thunder into the Vrbas river, over twenty metres lower. The surplus of water makes the waterfalls look grand, and the continuous roar of the water and the sight of the spray being pushed up in the air is a powerful sight, especially with the sunlight coming from behind, and some clouds still looming over the citadel.

Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): The old town and fortress looming over the waterfall of Jajce

After a short visit to the other side of the river, with a different angle on the waterfalls, and a closer look, I spend much of the day at the lakes higher up the Pliva river. At the end of the day, when the sun is sending warm rays of light to the medieval town, the time is perfect for a closer look. I walk through Travnik Gate, and over the cobble-stone streets, see some of the most important landmarks of Jajce. There is the old St. Mary church and the Tower of St. Luke - the latter supposedly held the bones of Luke until the Ottomans conquered Jajce, and the remains were transferred to Venice and Padua. After Jajce fell to the Turks in 1459, the church was converted to a mosque, the tower inevitably to a minaret - but a fire destroyed both in 1832. Close to here is the Bear Tower, a sturdy, round watchtower, unfortunately under reconstruction. I walk up to the citadel, past the Women's mosque. A lady sells me a ticket, and opens the door: I have the fortress to myself. It lies in ruins, but the flowers make it look pretty inside, while a walk on its wide walls give unrestricted views over the town, the rivers, the valley and mountains beyond. Once outside again, I notice a carving above the entrance gate - the coat of arms of Bosnian king Stjepan: Jajce was the capital city of the independent kingdom of Bosnia in the late Middle Ages, and the last city to fall to the Ottomans in the 16th century. But there are much older traces of civilization here: just before the sun sets, I reach the remains of a temple from Roman times, with a sculpted god Mithras and a bull slaughter ritual.

Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): The wall and entrance gate of the fortress of Jajce

The next morning, I make sure to wake up early. I walk up the hill, scramble up and around the base of the fortress walls, and walk down the other side to reach the former school building that now houses the Ethno museum. After ringing the bell several times, a guy shows up, sells me a ticket, and accompanies me to the entrance of the catacombs that he unlocks for me. I walk down the stone stairs, into an underground church hewn out of the rocks. For a short moment, my thoughts go back to my visit to Lalibela in Ethiopia, with its fabulous rock-hewn churches. These catacombs were initially intended to be a mausoleum; there are crypts and an altar. Carved out in the rocky walls: double crosses and shapes of the sun and crescent moon, symbolizing death, afterlife, and eternal sleep. The interior is stark, and not well lit - but that only adds to its atmosphere. The catacombs served an entirely different purpose during the Second World War: Yugoslavia's leader Tito sought shelter here. I then have another look at the waterfall, after which I cross the Pliva river to a different sight of Jajce: the AVNOJ museum. It was here that, in 1943, the Yugoslav resistance under leadership of Tito held a congress to draw up a plan for the future of Yugoslavia - the country that tragically fell apart in bloody wars in the 1990s. Pictures of Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt and Tito are high up on the wall, with their respective flags; and there is a gold-coloured statue of Tito at the end of the hall. Some historic artefacts and black-and-white pictures of the congress are on display; even this museum has been looted during the Bosnian war in the 1990s. Thus, the historic town of Jajce also has contemporary significance.

Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): The fortress of Jajce seen from the inside
Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): The tower of St. Luke
Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): Travnik Gate provides entrance to the old town of Jajce
Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): The sturdy castle tower, halfway between the old town and the fortress of Jajce
Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): The head of a king over the entrance gate of the fortress of Jajce
Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): Looking up one of the towers of the fortress of Jajce with flowers in the foreground
Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): The royal town of Jajce, topped by the fortress
Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): Interior view of the catacombs of Jajce
Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): Looking up the fortress of the royal town of Jajce
Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): The wall of the fortress of Jajce on top of the mountain
Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): Old well of Jajce, still giving cold, fresh water to whoever passes by
Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): View of the hall of the AVNOJ museum with flags and photos, and large statue of Tito
Picture of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina): The Bear Tower seen from below

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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