If you come to the region of north-eastern Bosnia & Herzegovina with a plan to explore European Salt Lakes City – Tuzla and to learn about the Bosnian Salt Saga, make sure that your journey includes as well a visit to the small town called Banovići. This is a place that keeps local traditions alive. Very few settlements in this country have such a plentiful of extraordinary rarities concentrated in a rather small area. If you are passionate about old railways and steam trains, which you could only see in the movies, in Banovići you can enjoy a ride in Europe’s oldest working locomotive called “Ćiro”. Furthermore, if you are in search of an authentic Bosnian village that tells the historical tale of this region, you shouldn’t miss Etno avlija Mačkovac. All nature lovers will certainly be interested in doing some hiking in the untouched nature of Mt. Konjuh, known for its endemic plant species, and the abundance of water that can be safely drunk. But if you want to know what connected Mt. Konjuh with famous Stradivari violin makers, keep reading.
Known as the home of the largest coal mine in Bosnia & Herzegovina, the history of Banovići dates back to 250 BC. Long ago this area was called Litva, but it was also known under the name of Soli. The actual name comes from the well-known medieval Bosnian necropolis „stećak” of Božićko Banović. This impressive tombstone located in Banovići Selo, originating from the 15thcentury, is decorated with motifs of woven rope and a stylized lily, and it has a clear and precise inscription. Brown coal mining very much led the development of Banovići. That was also the main reason for building the narrow-gauge railway Brčko – Banovići, the first in the Balkans, just after the WWII in 1946. The Austrian Empire built this narrow track (only760 mm wide) in the early 1900s, and even to this day, the Austrians are calling all narrow-gauge railways as “Bosnien Spur” (Bosnian track).
You can hardly find another place in Europe with such a treasury of narrow-gauge trails and old locomotives. One century ago, everywhere in Europe steam trains were transporting the coal to the customers. Nowadays, Banovići is among rare places where this continues. It is served by the steam engine called Ćiro - Europe’s oldest working locomotive. Built in the Czech Republic in 1925, it is still transporting coal from the mine to the new and modern railroad on a daily basis. Banovići coalmine is probably the only in the world where steamers are used on the narrow-gauge railroads to carry coal. Elsewhere, those machines are used as exhibits only. What is sure is, that this series 25 locomotive is the only working steamer in Europe and among the last ones in commercial use worldwide.
Following the winding road from the direction of Banovići towards the Mt. Konjuh, you will quickly reach Etno avlija Mačkovac. After only 5 km of driving through the dense forest, you will find a small museum under the open sky. In a typical Bosnian ambience, you will see old houses, watermills, workshops and other buildings looking as they looked like long ago. Thousands of authentic objects that were used in the ancient households contribute to the atmosphere. This charming open-air museum is a sort of time-machine with numerous restored traditional buildings, which shows how the architecture, and life in general, looked like in the 19th and 20th century in this part of the Balkans. Etno avlija Mačkovac is what we call a treasury of Bosnian ways of living which has been nurtured for hundreds of years.
The closeness of Mt. Konjuh, a state protected area, has a great significance for Banovići, as a place that keeps traditions alive. If you are a hiker, it is good to know that all Konjuh peaks are accessible at any time of the year. Whether you are heading out to Varda, Zidine, Javorje, Mali Konjuh, or the very top of the 1328 meters, you can expect a unique experience. For those who are more adventurous, keep in mind that some parts of Konjuh are inhabited by wolfs and bears. In addition to its beauty, the richness of flora and fauna, and outstanding water, Mt. Konjuh is renowned as the greatest habitation of Bosnian maple, used by famous Stradivari violin makers. Thanks to this superior maple, the celebrated Cremonese violin-makers are crafting the instruments that are still considered unrivalled for its quality.
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