Blessed with incredible natural beauty, the central Bosnian city of Jajce was once home to kings and queens. Today, the city remains a remnant of the independent Bosnian kingdom, complete with an old quarter, fortified walls, and a magnificent waterfall that feeds to the rivers below.
Its current population is only close to 30,000 people, but during its height, Jajce was of vital strategic and cultural importance. Today, it draws thousands of tourists each year, who are drawn to its idyllic location which is perfect for sightseeing and outdoor activities of all kinds. Jajce continues to tell its tale through beautifully preserved architecture, historic landmarks, and cultural traditions. Even though Sarajevo and Mostar are almost always the go-to destinations when visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jajce was once the heart of this land and has accumulated historic treasures that tell the tale.
Jajce was constructed in the 14th century and still bears many of the original fortifications, including its walled-city, and Komotin Castle, which served as the residence of Radivoj Kotromanic, who was a member of the Bosnian royal family. The walled city was constructed on an egg-shaped hill – which some speculate gave Jajce its peculiar name (roughly meaning egg or small egg).
Upon the arrival of the Ottomans, the king was executed, despite the fact that the Ottomans only held the city for a short period of time, close to six months. With the death of the Bosnian king, the Hungarians invaded and captured the area, holding it until 1527. Thus, Jajce became the last city in Bosnia to fall to the Ottoman Empire.
The city changed hands again with the arrival of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878, and finally the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Interestingly, Jajce played another important role during World War II. Jajce gained importance as the center of a large swath of free territory, and on 29 November 1943, it hosted the second convention of the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ). It was in Jajce that representatives from all across Yugoslavia decided to establish a federal Yugoslav state, in the equity of its nations, and established Bosnia and Herzegovina as one of the constitutive republics of the new Yugoslavia. Today, there is a museum in Jajce that specifically focuses on this important event.
One of the Jajce’s most iconic features, which is instantly recognizable, is the 22-meter high waterfall, at the crossroads of the Pliva and Vrbas rivers. These rivers feed into Pliva lake which is a very popular tourist destination because this area also features preserved wooden water mills, which are picturesque and encourage you to imagine the town as it once was.
Jajce also features other important sites, such as the Temple of Mithras, a 4th century AD temple which belonged to the Cult of Mithras, a religious movement that took hold in many Roman provinces, including Dalmatia. Much like the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jajce also features numerous important religious buildings from many faiths. Some of these buildings are the Women’s Mosque (Early 19th c.), The Sinan-bey’s or Okic’s Mosque (18th c.), Sultan Esma’s Mosque (18th c.), St. Mary’s Church (12th c.), St. John’s Church (15th c.), and several others. One of the most interesting sites in Jajce is the royal catacombs which are composed of an underground crypt and church. The catacombs were constructed at the end of the 14th century by the Bosnian duke Hrvoje Vukcic Hrvatinic as the last resting place for him and his family. The catacombs feature Bosnian Church motifs and symbology, and a popular rumor states that Marshal Broz Tito utilized them to hide during surprise Nazi raids in the area.
Beyond the actual city walls – natural beauty and rugged terrain still, rule the day. Jajce, like many other central Bosnian cities, is tucked away in the Dinaric Alps. Rivers such as the Vrbas and Pliva, and lakes like Pliva lake, provide plenty of fresh, clean water for consumption and for sport. The lake is often called Brana in the local parlance. The surrounding area offers tourists plenty of opportunity for outdoor activities and sightseeing.
Whatever your fascination with Jajce – this once royal city still carries much of its regal charm through the ages. It’s a city that is comfortable with its surroundings and its place within the countryside – openly embracing it and incorporating it within its very identity which is quintessentially Bosnian.