Being an hour away from the Bosnian border warranted a quick day trip to Bosnia. Learned about Višegrad from some locals in Serbia, recommending me to visit ‘Andrićgrad’, a city dedicated to Yugoslav novelist and Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andrić. Andrićgrad is built entirely from stone by Serbian film director Emir Kusturica, who also built Drvengrad (wooden town) on the Serbian side of the border.
Višegrad is a small town, with a population less than 20,000, containing Ottoman-era ‘Mehmed Paša Sokolović’ bridge, a UNESCO world heritage site. The city was vital during the Bosnian war in the early 1990s due to its close proximity to the Serbian border witnessing inhuman crimes during the war, with alleged rape cases, regular beatings, strenuous forced labor and torture to its people. Prior to the war, over 60% of the population was Bosnian, while now it’s predominantly Serbs. The Serbian language was widely spoken and you could still use Serbian banknotes.
Crossing the bridge noted above gets you to Andrićgrad’s entrance. The tourist center located at the entrance provides a map and some information related to Andrićgrad. Several galleries, gift shops, hotels, restaurants and cafés are scattered around the town, with memorials for some notable figures, such as Nicola Tesla, the famous Croatian electrical engineer who is responsible for the modern alternating current electricity supply system.
The town is overlooking the Drina river, with hills in the background offering nice views as you stroll through. In fact, the novel that earned Ivo the only nobel prize won by a Yugoslav for literature is called ‘The Bridge on the Drina’.
The novel features a young Serb boy from Višegrad that suffered from devşirme levy, a fate executed by the Ottomans, in which they took away young boys from their mothers in order to serve the empire. The Ottomans conquered the Balkan countries for roughly 500 years.
The main square of Andrićgrad has a statue of Petar Petrovic Njegoš situated in the middle, with St. Lazar church in the background. Njegoš was another widely acclaimed Montenegrin poet, whose work -during the 1800s- is considered vital for Montenegrin and Serbian literature.
While in Andrićgrad, tours of Andrić’s classroom and house where he grew up are possible. Ivo then moved to Sarajevo to attend high school there, and later moved to Zagreb to start his university studies, finishing in Vienna. He acquired tuberculosis and as a result moved to Kraków in Russia, before moving back to Bosnia after hearing the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on the hands of his close friend ‘Gavrilo Princip’; an assascination that prompted the war of Austro-Hungarian forces against Serbia. This assassination has been regarded as the initial cause of World War I.
In spite of only spending a few hours in Višegrad, which was obviously not enough to get a real feel of Bosnia & Herzegovina, it was nice to go on this cultural journey accompanied by spectacular views of the Drina river. I plan to update this post with other parts of Bosnia & Herzegovina that I plan to visit, next time I’m back in the Balkans!