Bosnia is well known for many things, but one of them is the striking natural beauty of the country. Still raw and unconquered by industry and urbanization, it covers the gamut in terms of ecological habitats and terrain. In central Bosnia, surrounded by rolling green hills is the “City of Viziers,” the city of Travnik.
Located approximately 56 miles (90km) west of the capital Sarajevo, Travnik has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and even during the Roman occupation of the area. In the Middle Ages, Travnik was part of the župa Lašva province of the medieval Bosnian Kingdom and always held an important strategic prominence because of its proximity to major centers of trade. With the Ottoman conquests of the region, Travnik quickly rose to prominence as a shining example of commerce and political importance, as well as architecture and culture.
In 1699, after Sarajevo was burned to the ground by Prince Eugene of Savoy, Travnik became the capital of the Bosnian Ottoman province, as well as the residence of the Bosnian viziers, further cementing its importance. The Ottoman occupation of the city saw the rise of numerous architectural projects and the expansion of the city’s footprint, as well as a rise in the population. It is said that Travnik produced 77 of the Ottoman Empire’s top viziers. Today, the remnants of the Medieval and Ottoman historical periods are evident in the town’s broad range of cultural and historic buildings. A fortified city, Travnik features a unique mix of Medieval, Ottoman, Mediterranean, and Austro-Hungarian architecture. Its ‘old town’ district features an eclectic mix of this wonderful architecture and is a major draw for thousands of visitors each year.
Some of Travnik’s must-see sites include the home of Bosnia’s Nobel Prize (1961) winning writer Ivo Andric, located in the Zenjak Mahala, or the residential old town area of Travnik. The home is now a museum, and in 1961, Andric was given the award, “for the epic force with which he has traced themes and depicted human destinies drawn from the history of his country.” Andric spent his childhood in Travnik, a city that was home to multiple faith groups, including Catholics, but also Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians. In addition to Andric’s childhood home, Travnik never runs out of surprises, including a sundial, numerous mosques and churches, clock towers, and other historical markers, all clustered in close proximity to one another.
Travnik is accessible because of its central location in the country, and many people swear that the best cevapi are in fact Travnicki cevapi (Travnik style cevapi). This is a highly debated issue in Bosnia, but for those unfamiliar, cevapi are somewhat of a de facto national dish in the country. They are typically made with beef or beef and lamb mixture, rolled into sausages, grilled, and served in warm bread known as lepina, which creates a sort of impromptu dumpling when eaten together. What makes Travnik’s cevapi different? It all depends on the individual restaurant’s recipe and sometimes, even the local water can affect the taste and consistency of the food. Travnik, like much of the country, features numerous freshwater springs and mineral water deposits. In fact, one of the most relaxing and peaceful spots in the city is the Plava Voda spring. Travnik is also famous for another thing, a briny white sheep’s cheese known as Vlasic cheese, named after the nearby Mt. Vlasic. The nearby Vlasic has been a major draw for eco-tourism, skiing, and other outdoor activities, as well as serving as a grazing site for sheep and cows. It is said that Bosnia’s national dog breed, the tornjak, originated from this area of the country.
In terms of the actual buildings in the city, the Travnik fortress is perhaps one of the standouts. Built in the early 15th century, it overlooks Travnik as well as the small Hendek creek below. It is speculated that it was constructed for the Bosnian king Tvrtko Kotromanic II or King Stjepan Dabisa, although this is unconfirmed. The Sarena Dzamija (Rainbow Mosque) or Suleymaniye Mosque is one of the most important religious buildings in the city. Constructed in the late 16th century, it features colorfully decorated designs both on the outside and inside of the building.
Travnik is the only city in Bosnia which claims a fully working sundial as well. It is unknown when the sundial was constructed, although it is believed it was part of the original complex constructed by Mehmed Pasa Kukavica, at the site of the Hajji Ali-Bey’s Mosque. The city also features two clock towers which were once fully synchronized with the sundial. The clock towers were built in the 18th century by the ruling viziers, which made Travnik so famous.
After a full day of wandering and exploring, be sure to visit the famous Lutvina Kahva coffee house or any of the other coffee shops in the city. At Lutvina Kahva, there is an extra bit of history at play. Upon his visit to Bosnia, the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne, Crown Prince Rudolf stopped in Travnik for some rest, and as one does, a cup of coffee. The coffee he was served at Lutvo’s Coffee was said to be so good that he personally praised the coffee shop owner and handed him a gold ducat as a sign of honor. The coffee shop owner renamed his establishment Rudolf’s Coffee which was transliterated by the local residents over the years to Lutvo’s Coffee.
Travnik is indeed a cultural and historic gem tucked in the heart of the mountainous Bosnian landscape. Whatever your pleasure, Travnik provides an amazing experience and its history is very much reflective of the general history of the country.