SARAJEVO, February 10 (FENA) – In the olden days, they were the defenders of the king, lords and the population, the staunch guards of the medieval Bosnian state, clutching the towns in stone’s embrace, fortified on steep cliffs and high rises. Castles in Bosnia and Herzegovina today are mostly just ruins and a shadow of its former splendor and significance. Now, they stand only as a memory of a glorious cultural and historical heritage.
Author: Minja Lepušina
While many European countries have invested considerable resources in the castles on their territory to renovate and reconstruct them and today they represent perhaps the intersections of tourist visits, in Bosnia and Herzegovina the situation is completely different.
Of the 300 to 350 castles, which, based on field surveys and archival sources, are assumed to have been within the borders of today’s state, only a small number are preserved from ruin and complete disappearance.
In a way, castles are time machines. Visitors to the restored castle have the opportunity to step into some other times, to feel the lifestyle of the ancestors, and to see with their own eyes in what conditions they lived, how these castles were built, where they spent their free time, how they cooked, went to war or organized various court gatherings. However, BiH citizens are largely deprived of this opportunity.
Professor at the Department of Archeology and the Institute of Archeology at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Sarajevo, Edin Bujak, said in an interview with FENA that the old towns in BiH certainly belong to the group of the most important medieval architectural monuments in terms of their number, architectural features and historical significance.
He points out that very few cities or forts have been excavated archeologically and about 250 in the field can be located, while others are known from historical sources such as Glaž, which is mentioned in the second half of the 13th century on the Usora border. To date, it has not been located.
Only a small number of fortifications are in good or preserved condition, and mostly, conditionally speaking, today these are archeological sites on difficult to access terrains where smaller remains of architecture are preserved. A number of towns have been explored and preserved, Bujak points out, and these towns are a true representation of medieval fortification and courtly architecture.
“Representatives of such towns are Bobovac, Srebrenik, Travnik, Jajce, Vranduk, Tešanj. A good part of these towns have been proclaimed cultural monuments even before the 1990s and today, they are national monuments of BiH. However, despite the nominal legal protection, we are witnessing that these towns are highly endangered and in most cases left to decay that time brings, or unfortunately the subject of robbers who use metal detectors to dig up treasure and thus irreversibly destroy our heritage, and their findings usually end up on the black market. Komotin near Jajce is such an example of a badly ruined and damaged old fortification,” Bujak pointed out.
He points out that research and conservation work on these towns in the post-war period is rare, and the reason is simple – too little money is set aside for these purposes.
“Therefore, it is not surprising that for example, Bobovac is in the condition it is, or it is only a matter of time when the Grand Dojon tower in Samobor will be demolished or the fact that the stability of the walls of Jajce is in jeopardy. Unfortunately, there are many examples. Cities that are taken care of by local museums, such as Travnik, Tešanj and Vranduk, are in good condition and they host archeological and historical exhibitions, further complementing the medieval setting,” Bujak believes.
Summarizing the most significant medieval fortresses, the professor identifies those that housed royal courts. Historical sources mention Bobovac, Kraljeva Sutjeska, Podvisoko, Moštre, Kreševo and Jajce. Other prominent cities include regional courts of local lords such as Borač, managed by Pavlovići, Samobor on the Drina and Blagaj on the Buna River ruled by the Kosača family.
“The sad fact is that some of our most important medieval sites are those damaged the most, such as the coronation church in Arnautovići near Visoko, the Radimlje necropolis near Stolac that was cut by the road, or Bobovac, which is mostly preserved at the foundation level. We should also point out the cities that have formed into major trading, mining and craft centers or where strong Dubrovnik colonies such as Srebrenica, Fojnica, Zvornik, Visoko, Olovo, Foča have emerged,” he emphasized.
Bujak states that cities of strategic, administrative, administrative or military importance continued their lives even after the fall of the medieval Bosnian state under the Ottoman rule.
Over time, they have been upgraded, repaired and adapted to newer times, lifestyles and new types of armament – primarily firearms. Accordingly, the fortified walls grew bigger and taller, they were strengthened and expanded.
Bujak also pointed to the fact of the distorted value system in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which directly results in the neglect of the priceless cultural heritage, stating that the talk of the medieval times often ends on national and nationalist theories and cultural appropriation of heritage.
“As we quarrel over whose is what and who is older, the fortresses collapse, the ‘stećak tombstones end up the foundations of houses, buildings or roads. In this way, we are actually bringing down destroying ourselves – part by part. In addition, our country is one of the countries that probably invests the least in the restoration and protection of cultural and historical heritage,” warned professor Bujak.
Professor Bujak sees medieval castles as a huge potential that can spark a lot of positive changes in society and promote tourism. All that needs to be done is to look at how other European countries have done it and copy from those models.
“Certainly, it is impossible to explore and rebuild all the fortresses. However, if one starts investing in Bobovac, Dubrovnik, Blagaj on the Buna River, Ljubuški, Soko near Bihać, Dobor near Modriča, Visoki, Bužim, Hutovski grad or any of the other cities, the results will certainly come,” concluded professor Bujak in an interview with FENA.