The gentle hills that slope down to the Banja Luka valley bring a patchwork of thick woods and fields reaching into the heart of Banja Luka city itself. Famous since Roman times for its natural beauty, Banja Luka Bosnia Herzegovina is still full of tree-lined avenues, gardens and parks, fanning out either side of the swift Vrbas River. In fact, the Romans were the first to fortify the riverside bluff now occupied by the ivy-clad, medieval fortress brooding quietly in its surrounding meadow It’s a serene venue for concerts and summer picnics — and an extraordinary asset to the busy capital (officially, only since 2003), of Republika Srpska, the autonomous entity established within Bosnia-Herzegovina after the ethnic cleansing of 1992-5.
The ramshackle ancient shops and houses, and labyrinth of cobbled lanes that characterized Banja Luka’s Austo-Hungarian and Ottoman old city centre were razed by an earthquake in 1969. The wonderful 15th and 16th century mosques survived, only for all 16 of them to be totally destroyed in the 1990s, allegedly by Serbian extreme nationalists. Among them was the Ferhadija mosque, a national monument. Now, most of the others are under construction, but attempts in 2001 and 2006 to rebuild the Ferhadija have proved that political passions still simmer close to the surface: progress is slow.
Even so, Banja Luka’s new role as a seat of government has revived some of the prosperity of its ‘golden age’ after World War I, and brought new life as much to its grand buildings of the era, as it has to the charming cafés and terraces around Veselina Maslese and Gosposka Streets. The Banski Dvor (`Halls of the Ban’, or neofeudal lord, a title used by the 20th century Yugoslav Kingdom) now unites the city’s history with its culture and politics. The palatial former residence houses the National Assembly, a concert hall, restaurant and art gallery — in a very democratic elegance
245,000 (est. 2007); nearer 300,000 during summer when many former residents re-visit property.
April to September, when a chain of music and theatre festivals make the most of the parks and riverside.
- The golden domes and Classicist grandeur of the Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour.
- The Museum of Republika Srpska(aka the Museum of Bosanska Krajina, the region’s former name).
- Watersports on the Vrbas River – the site of the 2005 European Rafting Championships.
- Banj Hill and waterfall, on the Vrbas near Krupa on the edge of the city.
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