Višegrad – A Town with a Tragic Past
If you want to explore the most exciting areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina, check out Višegrad. This tiny town is in eastern Republic of Srpska and only eight kilometers away from the Serbian border. Unfortunately, the Bosnian war left deep marks in the city.
However, Višegrad is much more than its tragic past. Keep reading to find out why this small, war-torn town is worth a visit and how to get there.
Where is Višegrad?
The Drina River flows through Višegrad, and staggering mountains, some of which even exceed the 1,000-meter mark, surround this idyllic town.
Višegrad is on the border with Serbia, in the center of a wide basin at the end of a series of gorges along the Drina River. Therefore, Višegrad has some of the most breathtaking scenery.
The History of Višegrad
Founding and heyday
It’s not possible to determine Višegrad’s exact foundation day. While documents indicate that it happened sometime in the early 15th century, other archaeological evidence has also suggested that the town already existed before that.
The city flourished in the 1570s due to the construction of the Drina Bridge. This stone bridge is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was important because it allowed trade with other places, such as Istanbul and Sarajevo. Besides, as the region bustled with commercial activity, Višegrad got significantly wealthier.
Over the course of history, Višegrad was not only part of the Ottoman Empire, but later also of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This cultural mix resulted in an interesting combination of Western and Islamic artistic styles still present in the town.
Višegrad is also part of the narrow-gauge heritage railway Šargan Eight, a network that runs through Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Due to its strategically important location, Višegrad suffered greatly during the Bosnian War. The city was under fire from Yugoslav troops for a long time. When the Serbs got the upper hand, the region underwent major ethnic cleansing that resulted not only in the killing of hundreds of civilians, but also in the destruction of mosques and Bosniak’s houses.
Unfortunately, Višegrad still bears war traumas and deals with ethnic tension. Bosnians feel that the Serbians try to claim Višegrad’s cultural heritage by wiping out Bosniaks’ cultural expressions.
The massacre of Višegrad
During the Bosnian War, the Serbian army committed countless heinous war crimes against innocent citizens. Approximately 3,000 Bosniaks lost their lives. Among them were women and children, but the majority were men. This makes the massacre of Višegrad one of the most atrocious crimes of the Bosnian War.
What’s truly saddening is that the massacre did not stop there – a few years later, it culminated in the Srebrenica Massacre, under the command of Ratko Mladić.
How to get to Višegrad
Višegrad is accessible from Bosnian and Serbian cities. You can take a bus from Sarajevo, Banja Luka, and Trebinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you are in Serbia, you can take a bus from Belgrade, Novi Sad, Niš, and Užice.
Buses daily depart from the Sarajevo-Lukavica bus station. The journey from the Bosnian capital to Višegrad costs eight euros, but prices vary depending on where you are. Taking a bus in Užice, for instance, costs 4.50 euros. In general, the further away you are from Višegrad, the more expensive the bus tickets are.
When you arrive in Višegrad, remember to hop off before the terminus. If you don’t, you’ll end up on the outskirts of the city. To explore Višegrad by foot, get off the bus at a stop close to the downtown area.
Attractions in Višegrad
The name Drina Bridge is colloquial. The official name is Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, a tribute to its alleged builder, Sokollu Mehmed Paša. However, records speculate that the Ottoman expert builder Sinan was the one who in fact constructed it. The name Drina Bridge comes from the novel “The Bridge over the Drina” by Yugoslav author Ivo Andrić.
This mighty structure is a historic bridge in Višegrad, across the Drina River. Even though the region’s development was largely due to this bridge, its history has been just as turbulent as that of the town itself. Wars have destroyed the bridge despite its significance, but organizations have joined forces to renovate it. The bridge is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, the bridge is under looming threat of rising water levels caused by the damming of the Drina River. The Drina Bridge is almost 180 meters long and is open for pedestrians only. Thus, you can enjoy this experience without having to keep an eye out for vehicles.
Andrićgrad, or Stonetown, is a construction project and now a small neighborhood in Višegrad, but it looks like a different town. This Serbian neighborhood is a tribute to the renowned author and Nobel Prize laureate Ivo Andrić. Its construction began in June 2011 as a setting for the film adaptation of the novel “The Bridge over the Drina”.
The district has a unique combination of Ottoman and Byzantine architecture. However, it is also endowed with Renaissance-style buildings. Among its most important sights are the town hall, the theater, and the Church of St. Lazarus. The district also boasts pictures of important Serbian figures like Tesla, Princip, Andrić, and Njegoš. Andrićgrad is an amazing place, full of interesting things to see. Thus, if you want to relax after a tiring sightseeing tour, don’t miss going to one of its cafés or restaurants.
Andrićgrad has a special connection with the Serbian village of Drvengrd, for Emir Kusturica planned them both. Drvengrd is a wooden town only 25 kilometers away from Andrićgrad.
Although Andrićgrad has become an important sight in Višegrad, Bosnians have criticized its construction. During the atrocities of the war, Serbs razed Bosnian mosques to the ground and erected this town in their place. In a way, Bosnians feel that Stonetown is a Serbian attempt to wipe out the Bosnian culture from the town to claim it as their own.
The Dobrun Monastery
The Dobrun Monastery is in the idyllic mountainous region only 12 kilometers east of Višegrad. Due to its picturesque landscape and historical records, the Dobrun Monastery makes for a wonderful day trip destination. It lies in the gorge of the Rzav River near the Serbian border and is the perfect combination of beauty and tranquility.
Duke Pribil and his two sons commissioned the construction of the Dobrun Monastery in honor of the Virgin Mary in the 14th century, which renders the building one of the oldest churches in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Višegrad is an exciting destination that is well worth a visit. Unfortunately, it often goes unnoticed, as many people choose to visit the capitals of both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.
The town’s rich history is everywhere, from its sights to its natural beauty. In addition, the presence of the Ottomans and the Habsburgs who once lived in Višegrad is quite significant to the town’s culture as well.
Despite its tragic past, the town is a fascinating travel destination. Višegrad offers its visitors a chance to experience and grasp the horrors of war, which still influence how its dwellers live and interact with one another. Don’t miss the opportunity to go to Višegrad and learn about history and experience its breathtaking natural scenery.