Located on the Una River in the northwestern region of Bosnia and Herzegovina lies the regal city of Bihac. Even though it has less than 60,000 inhabitants, Bihac has always played an important role in the history of the country. The striking natural beauty that surrounds this settlement is perhaps one of its most appealing features, along with its long and storied history.
The Una River, which runs through the center of the city, is said to have received its name from a Roman soldier, who upon seeing it for the first time, simply uttered, “Una,” or “the one.” Another interpretation is that the name stems from the Illyrian root word “unt,” meaning “wave.” Indeed, the Una River offers visitors not only magnificent eye candy, but also outdoor activities such as rafting, fishing, canoeing, and other outdoor activities. It is estimated that over 150 different types of medicinal herbs grow on the banks of the river, including the rare Campanula unensis or the “Una bluebell,” which was named after the river’s sharp turquoise color. The river is also a fisherman’s dream with 28 different kinds of fish calling the body of water their home.
Una National Park is Bosnia’s largest, and newest national park, located in the wider Bihac municipality. The park’s initial purpose was to protect the river and its tributaries the Krka and Unac. White water rapids and waterfalls dominate the park and the most famous ones can be found in Martin Brod. The Strbacki Buk is the park’s largest waterfall and the rivers attract a host of visitors in search of outdoor activities such as whitewater rafting.
Geographically, Bihac is located between the mountains of Pljesevica and Grmec. Thanks to favorable geographical and climatic conditions, this area was inhabited even in the Paleolithic period. From the 8th century, the area around modern-day Bihac was inhabited by the Illyrian tribe Japoda, which in the middle of the 9th century, became conquered the Romans. At the beginning of the 7th century, the area of Bihac began to be inhabited by Slavic tribes, as evidenced by numerous archeological findings from that time. The first towns around the Una River, according to historical sources, date back to the mid-13th century. Bihac, the center of Pounja, is mentioned for the first time in 1262, in the charter of the Hungarian-Croatian king Bela IV, as a city built on the island of St. Ladislav.
In 1262, Bihac was proclaimed a free royal city with all the rights associated with such a classification. The Charter of 1271 confirms that Bihac at that time enjoyed the privileges of this free city distinction. The head of the municipality was the city elder or mayor, who was often called a judge because of his role in adjudicating laws. Along with the city elder, there was a curia or magistracy. The city also had notaries and clerks who conducted court and other civil proceedings and kept records. After being proclaimed a free royal city, Bihac developed into an urban city and the center of economic trade in the region.
One of the most important structures in Bihac is the Fethija Mosque. The religious building was constructed in 1266 as a Catholic church and is actually the oldest gothic building in the country. In 1592, the church was transformed into a mosque as a result of the Ottoman conquest of the city and the wider region. In addition to the Fethija Mosque, the Captain’s tower (Kapetanova kula) is another older surviving structure in Bihac. Its exact origins are unknown but historians believe the tower was constructed in 1205 as one of four defensive towers along the city walls.
For more than a hundred years, the defenders of Bihac resisted Ottoman attacks, but in 1592, their defense was broken, and Bihac was captured. Bihac became one of the most important strongholds of the westernmost province of the Ottoman Empire, from which further attacks were planned for the push west. By the decision of the Berlin Congress in 1878, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and thus Bihac, became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During World War II, Bihac was a place where many decisions were made that were significant for the final liberation of Yugoslavia. From August 26th and November 27th, 1942, the AVNOJ session was held in Bihac, which became the national and public-political representation of the NOP. Bihac remained under the German occupation until 28 March 1945, when it was finally liberated.