For centuries, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which included a patchwork of Roman Catholic Croats, Muslim Slavs, and Orthodox Serbs, lived in mixed neighborhoods in peace and even intermarried. After the death of stern leader Josip Tito in 1980, Yugoslavia disintegrated. Its economy and social programmes collapsed, and old ethnic hatreds and nationalism resurfaced. After Slovenia and Croatia declared independence in 1991, Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the fray in 1992, which triggered the Bosnian War. In the aftermath, 300,000 people were left dead and 2.5 million were displaced as refugees. The war ended in 1995, returning the land to a fragile peace.
In contrast to its ugly history, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s geography and landscape is quite beautiful. Magnificent mountains serve as home to deer, wild boars, bears, and other game animals. Trout-filled rivers stream past vineyards, olive groves, and fig trees.
Embracing Bosnia and Herzegovina’s magnificent landscape, which is broken up by medieval castles, Catholic shrines, and old mosques, is one of the pleasures of visiting this country. The countryside, in particular, has some incredible mountain scenery that is enhanced by algae-colored rivers, canyons, and waterfalls.
The mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina are not just pretty to look at, but they are also life-giving. Mountain health spa resorts abound in this country. The more famous are the resorts of Bjelasnica, Jahorina, and Igman. Other towns with natural mineral springs and health facilities include Dubica, Srebrenica, Visegrad, Laktasi, and Telic. There are also a number of spas in the Republika Srpska area.
From the lovely gardens of the Ostrozac Castle, you can admire the most beautiful river in the country, the clear, blue Una River, as it cascades into the town of Jajce. Adventurers can kayak and raft the river in the regions around Bihac. But don’t miss out on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s coastal sea, whose waters are every bit as gorgeous as the Una, especially around Neum.
Religious and medieval architecture add to the charming and moderately romantic appeal of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The most famous attraction is the Turkish bridge of Mostar, an ancient overpass that was destroyed in the war and recently rebuilt. For the country, the bridge symbolizes a hope for a new beginning. The town of Mostar with its old cobbled streets still has a number of other medieval remnants that have survived the war. In Banja Luka, which is the capital of the Republika Srpska, there is a 16th century fort and amphitheatre that has survived.
For mosques, the Fethija Mosque in central Bihac is one of the few medieval mosques that has survived the war. It dates back to the 13th century and has noticeable gothic features. Near ul Hendek is the “many-colored mosque”. Allegedly, it contains hairs from the beard of Islamic prophet Muhammad.
Catholic shrines include Medjugorje. Located in the southeast, it is the most important of the Catholic shrines and has been the scene of many Virgin Mary apparitions.
The climate of Bosnia and Herzegovina is mild. The temperatures are subtropical along the Neretva River. In higher elevations, continental temperatures prevail. The countryside receives a lot of rain.
Before the Bosnian war, the people of Bosnia comprised of 44% Muslim Slavs (or Bosniaks), 31% Serbs, and 17% Croats. Since there have been no census since the war erupted, the current demographics of Bosnia and Herzegovina is unknown. However, the majority of those who died in the war were Bosniaks (65%), followed by Serbs (25%) and Croats (5%), suggesting the plurality enjoyed by Bosniaks has declined.
There is a strong correlation between ethnic identity and religion in the country. Almost all Bosniaks are Muslims, almost all Croats are Catholics, and almost all Serbs are Orthodox Christians. This religious and ethnic grouping has been the cause of much hatred and atrocities between the groups. The future coexistence of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s people remains in doubt.
Present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina was first inhabited by Illyrians, who were warlike Indo-European tribes. Many of the Illyrians were displaced by the Celts between 300 and 400 BC. The Romans conquered the area around 9 AD. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Slavic tribes began moving in during the 6th century AD. By 11th century AD, Bosnia and Herzegovina became a borderland for Eastern Byzantine Orthodoxy and Western Latin Christendom. Around 1100AD, Bosnia allied themselves with the Hungarian-Croat monarchy and became known as the duchy of Herzegovina.
Around 1463, Bosnia and Herzegovina was conquered by the Turks, who converted most of the population to Islam. Turkish-Ottoman rule lasted for 400 years. Bosnian nationalism emerged, however, in the late 19th century, resulting in widespread peasant uprisings in 1875 known as the Herzegovinian Rebellion. The conflict forced the Ottomans to cede administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Austria-Hungary Empire in 1878.
The Habsburgs who ruled over the Austria-Hungary Empire instituted political and economic reforms to try and curb the rising South Slav nationalism, but failed. In 1908, Bosnia and Herzegovina was annexed by the Austro-Hungarian government, which only heightened political tensions and nationalistic sentiments. In 1914, a Serb nationalist assassinated the heir to the Austria-Hungarian, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This incident triggered World War I.
After the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was made a part of Yugoslavia, a newly formed kingdom of Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes. In 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia after holding a referendum that was largely boycotted by Bosnian Serbs. This triggered the Bosnian War, which was a wider ethnic and religious conflict between the Serbs, Croats, and Bosniak Muslims of Yugoslavia. Genocide, “ethnic cleansing”, and sexual atrocities characterized the war, which finally ended in 1995.