26 March 2011

Off the beaten track - Jajce

Although it may not live up either to its 1984 title of “Most Beautiful Tourist Place in Yugoslavia” nor “Bosnian Venice” (as fabricated by someone who obviously never went to Venice), Jajce is still an impressive fortress town jutting up over the waterfalls at the juncture of the Pliva and Vrbas rivers. Just ignore the standard Yugoslav sprawl that surrounds the old town, which is where you will want to hang out anyhow.

The city claims to have been founded in 1396 by Hrvoje Vukcic Hrvatinic, the “conte di Jajce”. However, it is not his crest, but that of Stjepan Tomsevic, the last of the Bosnian kings, who fell to the Ottomans in 1463, that is predominant. In 1943, Tito’s Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) effectively declared the creation of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and thus in Jajce Bosnia both died and was reborn. This Yugoslav history is evidenced by the decaying AVNOJ museum across the pedestrian bridge from the old town, where you can sometimes find one of the old volunteers to let you in for less than a dollar. Most of the old Ottoman style houses in Stari Grad have been restored to a more modern, but still characteristic, style, although the odd war-torn remains jut from between some of the houses.

Stari Grad (old town) is a myriad of Catholic, Ottoman, and Partisan history jumbled together, often in the same building. Thanks to the British Council, the various points of historical interests are well marked and described in Bosnian Latinic and Cyrillic as well as English. On the top of the list are the ruins of St. Luke’s bell tower and St. Mary’s church behind it – even though absolutely ruined, they are hauntingly beautiful (see picture). Unassuming at first glimpse, the Catacombs/Underground Church from the XIV century are truly cool. They can be accessed by ringing the bell on the house across the street – no, they don’t mind – and the entry is only 1 km. During WWII Tito himself used the catacombs to hide out from the Nazis. Don’t forget to drive up to the nearby Pliva Lake to see the watermills – they literally look as if they are floating on water.

Tourist Office
Omer-bey’s House, ul. Sadije Softica
The Central Bosnian Canton’s branch tourist office is located in the historic Omerbegović house located just inside (actually built into) the Travnik Gate of the old town. Also has a small café in the tower over the gate.

Hotel Stari Grad
Svetog Luka 3
+387 (30) 654-006, +387 (30) 654-008 fax
Small family run hotel and restaurant in the old town; the rooms are standard but clean and comfortable and have names running to the ridiculous (“Room of Mithras the God”). The central point of the reception/dining area is the partial glass floor placed over the ruins of the “cul-han”, or furnace, of the old Jajce public baths that were uncovered during the construction of the hotel in 2002. Rooms run 55/80 KM (28/41 Euros) single/double with breakfast. The restaurant is the best in town, although it can be unnerving if you have a chair over the glass floor. All in all one of the best hotels we’ve seen in a small town in Bosnia. Limited free parking, which is a significant plus in the old town. MC/VISA/AMEX

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