If you are passionate about historical fortifications, during your visit to awe-inspiring Banja Luka, you should explore its medieval bastions scattered throughout the valley of Vrbas River. Once important defensive ramparts built to prevent the Ottoman invasion, the medieval fortified towns Greben, Zvečaj and Bočac are nested on the tops of the hills along the main road that connects Banja Luka and Jajce. These historical strongholds, dating back to the period between the 12th and 15th century, are silent witnesses and guardians of the rich past of medieval Bosnia. Situated in the proximity of a true green gem Krupa na Vrbasu, medieval citadels of the Vrbas Valley have not only a historical and cultural but also natural significance. Its spectacular viewpoints provide some haunting panoramas worth exploring.
The first medieval fortification you will spot when on the main road from Banja Luka to Jajce is the fortified town Zvečaj. Some 15 kilometers south of Banja Luka, the remains of this citadel stand on the southern slope of a rock, just above the left bank of Vrbas River. Zvečaj was once an important military fortress that used to defend the Vrbas Valley and guard the passage across the river. It was first mentioned in 1404 when Duke Hrvoje Vukčić made an agreement with the city of Dubrovnik, but the archeologists strongly believe that Zvečaj Fort was built much earlier. In 1463, the Ottomans occupied this complex for the first time, but the same year it was taken over by the army of Matthias Corvinus, the Hungarian king. However, later it was again invaded by the Ottoman, like many other fortifications in this region.
The medieval fortified town Zvečaj consisted of a stronghold, the ramparts that descended towards Vrbas River and its towers. Only one 10-meter-high tower is preserved to this day, but unfortunately quite ruined. If you want to climb up to this fortress, there is a two-kilometer-long trail from the main road. And when you reach the top, from the tower that once served as a military viewpoint, you will enjoy the view over the surrounding Vrbas Valley.
Barely 10 km to the south of Zvečaj Fortress, one can find Krupa na Vrbasu Monastery and the remnants of the medieval town Greben. Since these two edifices have an intertwined history, the best is to explore them together. Known as the spiritual hotspot of the region, it is believed that the monastery was built in the late 13th century as an endowment of King Milutin (1282-1321), who belonged to the Serbian Dynasty Nemanjići. However, some archaeological excavations discovered the remains of an older basilica from the 6th century, which makes Krupa na Vrbasu Monastery the oldest Christian church in this part of Bosnia & Herzegovina.
If you pay attention, on the rock above the monastery, you will notice the ruins of Greben Fortress, that date back to 1192. For four centuries, this medieval town had a prosperous life, before the Ottomans destroyed it in the 16th century. So, after you explore the monastery, hike up to the ruins of the medieval town Greben. It will be an easy five-kilometre hike with some amazing views. And once on the top, a frightening and stunning view of the Vrbas Valley will open in front on you.
If you follow the road upstream the Vrbas, some 15 km to the south of Greben Fortress, you will notice the Old Bočac Fort on the left side of the river, on a steep cliff. Located halfway between the cities – Banja Luka and Jajce, the fortification sits in the village Dabrac. Placed on the rocky hill above the dam and hydroelectric power plant Bočac, the medieval stronghold covers the area of 2500 m2. It is believed that Bočac Fort was built at the beginning of the 15th century to defend the crossing over the river Vrbas. However, it was first mentioned in 1434, in some historical sources. The biggest part of its history, it served as an important military fort, until it was abandoned in the 1830s.
The architectural ensemble of the Old Bočac Fort used to have four towers, out of which only one is well-preserved to this day. This tower has the impressive three-meter thick walls, and it served as an artillery place. Actually, in the 18th century, this medieval citadel had a small number of cannons. When you climb up to the remains of the Old Bočac Fort, the National Monument of Bosnia & Herzegovina since 2005, you will find yourself at the viewpoint from which you have an amazing view of Tijesno Canyon and Bočac Lake.
If this tour of medieval citadels of the Vrbas Valley triggered your wish to discover the fortifications and its spectacular viewpoints, it would be a pity not to mention one more architectural wonder in the surroundings of Banja Luka. This time the creator is nature. Just two kilometers before Krupa na Vrbasu, one can find the Stone Bridge, a rare natural phenomenon worth exploring. So, if you are a passionate climber, I would strongly advise you to discover this hidden gem that provides a true carpe diem time.
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