Hello! Welcome back! Now that we’ve gotten thoroughly soaked in the waterfalls together, please follow me! We’re going into a fort from the 1300s, perfect to play Dragons and Castles and Princesses with!
After I finished my hot chocolate, had a long conversation with Hemingway profusely apologizing for my negligence in his care, and wrung myself dry (no last name puns, please), I headed to the fort. For future travelers, if you walk straight into the Old Town, take an immediate left up these stairs:
Wind through the cobblestone alleyways:
Up and up and up.
One of the best things about Jajce is how organic it is. Though it is steeped in history, it’s not a significant tourist destination. This makes it possible to insert yourself into real-life moments, like this elderly man walking down a street and stopping to observe two cats chase each other.
As you wind up, you’ll pass St. Luke’s Guard Tower, which used to be a medieval lookout post as well.
You’ll also pass layers of history that have disintegrated on top of each other over time, only to be covered in the same blanket of grass. It reminds me of this passage from Hamlet (Act 5, Scene 1):
No, faith, not a jot: but to follow him thither with
modesty enough, and likelihood to lead it: as
thus: Alexander died, Alexander was buried,
Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of
earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he
was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel?
Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away:
O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!
To the left in this picture is actually the destroyed house of Marshal Tito. Jajce is also famous because on November 29, 1943, it was host to the second convention of the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ). Here, representatives of Yugoslavia decided that Yugoslavia would be one federal entity. (Apparently this is also the time and place that Tito’s second marriage to Herta Haas ended because Herta walked in on him and Davorjanka Paunovic together – who said history was boring?!)
The guard tower is attached to St. Mary’s Church. The ruins are estimated to have been built in the 12th century (1100s) as a basic Romanesque basilica, later updated in the 14th century as a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. in 1461, the last king of Bosnia, King Stephan Tomasevic, was crowned. Two years later the Ottomans conquered the area, killing Tomasevic. In 1582, the church was converted to a mosque dedicated to Suleiman the Magnificent. It burned in 1832 and the building hasn’t been used since.
As you walk through the town, you see the wide, softly sloped pathways. They remind me of the streets of Gondor, wide and at a small enough incline that traversal to the top fort was possible by human and horse. I could be wrong. However, the moss that grows between the cobbled stones like a carpet was very beautiful.
Another view of St. Luke’s clocktower.
As you climb higher you can see the full St. Mary’s/St. Luke’s complex. Imagine how grand it must have been to a medieval civilization in the 1500s!
As I’ve already noted, places like Jajce are wonderful to examine the layering of history. For example, above this ancient archway, you can see a strafe of bulletholes piercing the stone. Ruins from medieval times meet scars from conflicts as recent as 3 decades ago.
I also met some friends. I think you can tell what happened by the series of pictures that follows 😉
And no, I don’t have a kitten in my bag.
But I did name them. Meet Ralph and Laurence.
This is Vlad.
This is Pesco.
Back to regular programming.
Regular homes have been built (and are still in use) within the city walls.
And eventually you reach the entrance to the fort! The original royal seal is almost perfectly preserved, against all odds. The royal court of the Kingdom of Bosnia was moved to Jajce in 1421.
You enter this gate (let’s go together into the secret garden!)
This is our view.
Take a deep breath in the silence. We’ll be almost completely alone as we explore. It’s beautiful, the solitude.
These walls were built over centuries to surround what was a 15th-century castle. Though hills have grown slowly into the space over the centuries, falling quietly like so many yards of green velvet and brocade, embroidered with trees and wildflowers, you can still hear and see the shadows of grandeur.
You can use these stairs to climb to the ramparts. Be careful! Like the waterfall, there are no guard rails on 95 percent of these remains.
But it offers amazing views of Jajce, the modern town, nestled within the hills.
Both smoke and the mist from the waterfalls rise, mixing with the fog that seeps damply between the valleys.
The top walkways are carpeted with moss, too. These pictures look similar but I like the first for its orientation, and the second for the way the town falls softly, decrescendos in an adagio silence to the left of the frame.
If you looked here, you wouldn’t know that ancient ruins existed at all.
But then you turn around and realize that they very much do.
Don’t you feel like you could just jump off the edge of the world, here, and land somewhere between the pages of history?
Let’s skip off the ramparts together!
And take in the view from hundreds of years’ worth of graffiti.
Next, we have the catacombs. These were ordered in the late 14th century by Bosnian Duke Hrvoje Vukcic Hrvatinic as a final resting place for his family and himself. In 2003 they were declared a Bosnian National Monument.
They are dark and difficult to see, very small spaces to navigate and explore. But very enlightening – think to yourself of the crypts in Winterfell.
And by the time I exited, it was actually sunny!
In Bosnia, plums and figs and pears fall off of trees because more grow than anyone could ever conceivably eat.
A normal moment in a normal home in Jajce.
A silent moment by the river.
Jajce was the scene of great damage during the conflict in the 90s. I already described a brief history here, but I think a visual is very important as well. 23+ years, scars remain all across Bosnia, including Jajce. This was on my walk back to the bus station.
Eventually I made it back to the bus stop for my bus ride home. It turns out they overbooked the bus, so a few of us had to stand in the aisle until seats were freed.
Now, I want to tell you a story about something that happened on the bus ride home, something that I have been thinking about since this day ended. You don’t have to stay, if you don’t want to. But I’d appreciated it if you did.
I boarded the bus and stood beside a young German man, probably a few years older than myself but younger than 30. He spoke English, so we latched together in brief conversation, as one does. He wouldn’t stop talking about how very inconvenient everything was. Did I know, how inconvenient it was that the bus was overbooked? So inconvenient, he sighed. Oh, also, did I see how small the seats were? In Germany they were much better, more room and more comfortable. How very inconvenient these were. And also, in Germany, and most of the world, bus stops were so efficient, unlike here? Here, oh, they were so inefficient. The buses stopped at each stop much too long, fifteen minutes at least, they could be faster. Of course I must know. He sighed a lot. Rolled his eyes quite frequently. He told me he preferred trains to buses. They were so much more convenient! Except, of course here there were trains. How inconvenient! (I mentioned that there was a train line, actually). Oh, he knew about that train line, the one from Sarajevo to Mostar. But he was sure it was inconvenient. And did I know that, besides being the only train line, it was also purchased from Spain in 2008? (I hadn’t known.) But when it was purchased, the sizes were different, so they had to spend more money adjusting the tracks so the train fit the rails.
Then, he looked at me, and went from inconvenient to worse. He transitioned from being annoying to being unacceptable.
He looked at me and said, “God, these people are all so stupid.” He said this loudly, clearly, standing in the aisle of a bus full of Bosnians older than he was, who could probably understand English, some of whom at least (if not most of whom) had been on the other side of those bullet holes I showed you earlier. He said that “they are all so stupid.” Without regret. Flatly. As if it were fact. “They” and “all” and “stupid.” Because of an executive decision about a train, these words were said.
I politely told him that before making such offensive categorical statements, he should consider the history and systemic problems that affected everything he was complaining about, that he should think about these things before characterizing an entire group of people with an incredibly tragic past as “stupid.” He mumbled something about “brain drain” and “why don’t they just stay and fix their country”, but by then I had pulled out my book and ignored him the rest of the time.
But the lesson here is how quickly people turn to categorical statements because of one experience. First of all, don’t travel to a country if you’re going to use their resources and criticize them. Second, don’t travel if everything’s inconvenient and you tend to vocalize it.
Most importantly, watch your assumptions. Just because you saw one thing, or because one thing occurred, does not mean that it is representative of an entire people. “I saw this one thing, so it must be true for all things” is almost never a product of critical analysis. Furthermore, it is damaging. Choices made by the elite (purchase of a train, for example, or functioning of public transportation, for another), do not represent the abilities of the people. In fact, no characteristic of a civilization that I know of directly correlates to cognitive function at all. Every country has context, visible or not. If you do go to a country to visit, you should be responsible and do some basic research. But even if you don’t have time, it takes no research to make a conscious effort to be empathetic.
As shown by Jajce, Bosnia has an incredibly rich history that extends far beyond what we know of the 1990s. Its people have persevered, have survived, have thrived. They have innovated, created art, lived history. Above all, they have been people. To lose sight of this, to immediately dehumanize a group of people because of an inconvenience, is not indicative of their stupidity – it is indicative only of this young man’s ignorance. It reminded me of how absolutely quickly a leap from “human” to “inhuman” is; from “like me” to “less than”; from “us” to “them.” Thinking like this ultimately leads to words. Words like this lead to a process of normalization.
Fight it. Fight the urge to think in these terms. Take the more difficult but much more responsible leap to a thought process of “what has happened here that has made it different from my own experiences?”.
Talk to people. Be kind to people.
Be a responsible traveler, and be a responsible human being.
I could say so much more, but I have a flight boarding soon.
Love always (to everyone),