Many of us wish for a simple life. We dream of open landscapes, fresh air, perhaps some tending to the vegetable garden, and ultimately, a quiet escape from modernity. Lukomir, a tiny village of no more than a handful of semi-nomadic inhabitants perhaps best embodies this spirit of the freedom and hunger for a connection to primal nature and the history of what’s around us and what came before us.
Located approximately 35 miles (56km) from the capital Sarajevo, Lukomir is the last of the semi-nomadic mountain villages left in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Virtually inaccessible by car from the early winter to spring, Lukomir’s isolation has also protected it from the trying winds of change and modernity. In Lukomir, life goes on as it always has. There is a continuity between the past and the present, between the natural surroundings and the inner sanctums of its safe-keepers. The tombstones of past residents are intermingled with ancient stecci – 14th-century monuments with unique carvings depicting various aspects of life in Medieval Bosnia.
Sitting at an elevation of approximately 4,900 feet, Lukomir has traditionally been a refuge for semi-nomadic shepherds who would seek out the rich pastures of this mountainous land near Bjelasnica Mountain, home of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Today, Lukomir is protected by its virtual inaccessibility. Even though the route from Sarajevo delivers visitors close to the actual village location, the final stretch must be done on foot or on horseback because of the precarious nature of the road leading up to the ancient settlement. For many, this is part of the appeal. As cities and municipalities race to develop and grow, Lukomir, like a mountain treasure, is immune to transformation. Even though it has never grown beyond its current configuration, the Historical Architecture Society of the United Kingdom has considered Lukomir to be one of the longest continually inhabited villages in all of Europe.
Lukomir’s houses are mostly made from stone with wooden shingles, a hearth, and small windows. Their design is based on the trying weather conditions on this mountainous and rugged land. Rooms are small, and families spend time together in a central location, usually around the fire in the colder months. Most residents do not stay here year-round any longer, instead opting to live in larger settlements, and returning during the warmer months to tend to their flocks. When the weather is nice, as in the spring and summer, residents spend their time outdoors, enjoying some of the most beautiful views in all of Bosnia.
In many ways, Lukomir is an outdoor museum, but more than that, a living museum that tells its story as you move through it and interact with its safe-keepers. What is perhaps most disheartening is that as the population of this village dwindles, so will its amazingly rich oral history. Even though Lukomir has stood the test of time, many of the customs and traditions which are not immediately externally visible to us might be erased and forgotten without preservation.
It remains to be seen what will happen to Lukomir. One thing remains true, if the past is any sort of teacher, it will outlive its current residents, future generations, and eventually return to the land from which it always had a positive relationship with. In the meantime, in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we can take comfort in the fact that such a cultural and historic oasis even exists.