Day 35: Jajce, Bosnia Hercegovina

by - September 06, 2011

“the town is extravagantly beautiful.  It stands on an oval hill that is like an egg stuck on a plateau above the river, and its houses and gardens mount over the rounded slope to a gigantic fortress”

The catacombs

With Sarajevo as our last city and with Mostar already visited we had seen all that most people come to see in Bosnia however we has four days spare and decided to use these to see the next best attractions. One of these was the town of Jajce which is north west of Sarajevo on the way to Zagreb. Jajce was capital of the medieval kingdom of Bosnia and has a big castle at its centre. It is also at the confluence of two major rivers and is located amidst steep valleys and canyons. On the day we had arrived from Mostar we had settled into our hostel (Jajce youth hostel) and cooked ourselves some dinner in the well stocked hostel kitchen. The next day we started bright and early and started by climbing up to the fortress. On the way, having passed through the Bear Tower we visited the Catacombs of a rich medieval Bosnian family. These are pretty atmospheric with their vaulted ceiling and internal church complete with an alter bearing one of the few remnants of the old Bosnian church. The tombs are now empty but it is pretty clear where they were and give the Catacombs a real spooky feel which makes the fact that Tito used it as a hid-out in WW2 quite impressive. Coming back out into the light we carried on up past the hollowed out shell of a church which still has a pretty impressive 15th century campanile tower.

St Luke’s Tower

Inside the castle
In our Lonely Planet which was published in 2007 it says that the tourist sights in the town are so rarely visited that they are kept locked and that visitors have to find the key holders in order to get in. Four years later Jajce is pressing for UNESCO status and the sights we visited did actually have some people on the doors (though we can’t have seen more than about 5 other tourists in the entire day). It cost us 2 mark to get into the fortress and while there was nothing there in terms of a museum, there was an impressive view from the city walls. Having scrambled about a bit at the castle, we made our way back down the walls to the old town past traditional Ottoman houses (which are actually reconstructions of those destroyed during the war). There’s not an awful lot to see in Jajce town itself in terms of shops or cafes so we walked straight through to the waterfalls which are the towns main attraction.

The waterfall (as we saw it)
The waterfall as it should have looked
The two rivers meet at Jajce at a considerable level difference and as a result the point that they meet is actually a waterfall rather than a standard confluence. The town rises up dramatically from these falls making it picture perfect if you can get your angles right. Or so we thought. Unfortunately the god of scaffolding was not smiling on us and it turned out that they were actually renovating the waterfalls, leaving a damp mossy crag with a crane in front of it in their place. After a year of sampling scaffolding at pretty much every major monument I have come across this year, this one really did seem to be a kick in the teeth but the two of us did our best to simulate what makes the town so interesting. I have to say I was pretty gutted but we carried on to the last sight regardless. The last place that we visited in Jajce was an ancient temple of Mithras, a secret religion that was practised in the Roman times. Ellie had studied this in Classics and it seemed pretty funny to stumble across it in the middle of Bosnia. Unfortunately, the tourist authorities couldn’t stretch themselves to pay for an attendant here and it was locked with no visible way of getting in. The temple is located in surroundings that are so ordinary that they are quite amazing as it is literally just a terraced street where number ten happens to be an ancient temple. We took what photos we could through cracks in its wooden covering. This was about it for sights in Jajce but it was by no means an inconsiderable number of places that we were able to visit, considering that none of the other travellers in Bosnia we spoke to had even heard of it. I wonder whether this will all change if the town gets UNESCO status. We had decided to spend an extra night at our hostel as it was literally completely empty, had excellent facilities and would be a good base for exploring surrounding countryside which we plan to do tomorrow.

Inside the Temple of Mithras (kind of)

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