Jajce has had more than its fair share of battles. The town changed hands several times before the independent Bosnian state was finally conquered when the Jajce fortress was the last one to fall to the Ottoman invaders in 1528.
It seemed fitting after so many civilizations had settled and fought over this place that in 1943 the AVNOJ was signed and sealed here in one of the most historical moments of Bosnia's and Yugoslavia's history. The second session of the Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation of Yugoslavia on November 29th 1943 ratified that Bosnia and Herzegovina, as an equal federal unit, would enter the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia. These resolutions outlined the future democratic and federal organization of the region. The outskirts of town are blessed with an abundance of water, which is probably what made it so attractive and practical as a settlement in earlier times.
A spectacular medieval citadel is set on top of the hill in the middle of town. Hugging the old fortress are beautiful old Ottoman-style homes and rushing below them are the two beautiful 27m waterfalls of the Pliva River. No other town in Bosnia and Herzegovina possesses so many cultural layers and architectural styles in a place so small. The 3rd-century sacred temple dedicated to the god Mitras from Roman times sits side by side with a valued example of medieval architecture - the old steeple of St Luke's Church . Beneath the church are the catacombs where high priests and the nobility were buried. These sites are open to the public.
The Vrbas and Pliva rivers have been favorite fishing and swimming sites since the hydro-electric dam was built in the 1970s to create the lake. The Vrbas Canyon is an amazing drive if you're heading to Banja Luka. In the other direction up the Pliva River is the greatest collection of old mills in the country .
In the wide areas of the Pliva you can find many mills that were built during Ottoman times. Families in the past would gather here to work, grind wheat, wash clothes and gather water. Most of the mills are still in decent shape, some even functional, and they seem a very natural part of the landscape in this area.
Top sights in Jajce:
Two idyllically calm lakes reflect the surrounding wooded mountains in their clear waters, and are popular for boating and simply cycling around. Between them lies the Mlinčići, a cute collection of 17 tiny wooden watermills.
The best way to visit is by following the 'old road' from the Jajce Youth Hostel passing the delightful weir-side Konoba Slapovi restaurant. This road becomes one-way eastbound passing the mills, with various lakeside viewpoints (parking 1KM). Near the M5 junction, you'll find a couple of lakefront hotel-restaurants along with Cycletours which rents paddleboats and quadricycles and organises lake-trips from their cute little open-air coffee shop.
Castle in Jajce (Tvrđava)
Jajce's fortress ruins have a powerful aspect when seen from afar but inside is mostly bald grass. Ramparts offer sweeping views of the valleys and crags that surround Jajce's urban sprawl, though views of the fortress are generally more memorable than views from it.
Out of season, call for an appointment to enter. The castle's most photographed feature is the partially conserved Kotromaniċ stone crest beside the entrance portal, and you don't have to enter to see that.
To return you could walk along ul Stari Grad from the tiny Dizdar Džamija (Women's Mosque) then descend on the stones of the city wall as far as the gallery.
Jajce's impressive 21m-high waterfalls form where the Pliva River tumbles abruptly into the Vrbas Rivers. A new viewing platform (adult/child 4/2KM) has been built opposite the falls' the base, accessed from stairs that start between the bus station and petrol station. If you don't want to get sprayed (nor pay), you can look down on the falls from either lip.
For the classic tourist-brochure photo, cross the big Vrbas bridge and turn left on the Banja Luka road. Walk 500m, then descend 150m through pinewoods from the roadside lay-by to a great but less-frequented alternative viewpoint.
Watermills in Jajce (Mlinčići)
Other than the waterfalls, Jajce's most photographed site is a huddled cluster of 17 tiny wooden watermills on an attractive fanned mill-race between the beautiful Pliva Lakes.
They are located around 4.5km from the Jajce Youth Hostel using the quieter, more scenic 'old road' rather than the main M5. Alternatively, take a Jezero bus to the Plaža Motel where the old and new roads meet at the side of the upper lake, then walk back along the waterfront for 800m.
Archaeological Site in Jajce (Catacombs)
Built around 1400 AD for the family of local nobility, this two-level crypt is small and roughly hewn but artfully half-lit and notable for the boldly sculpted cross, sun and crescent moon motifs (downstairs), a rare surviving memorial to the independent Bosnian Church.
Tito is said to have hidden here during 1943.
If the ticket kiosk is unmanned ask for the key at the Ethno Museum.Viewpoint in Jajce
For the classic tourist-brochure photo of Jajce's signature waterfalls, cross the big Vrbas bridge and turn left on the Banja Luka Rd. Walk 500m, then descend 150m through pinewoods from the roadside lay-by to this viewpoint.
Sculpture in Jajce (Mithraeum)
The highlight of this small archaeological site is a unique 4th-century sculpture featuring Mithras fighting a bull watched by fragments of an audience (ladies and centurions). Once worshipped in a now-mysterious, forgotten religion, Mithras was a pre-Zoroastrian Persian sun god 'rediscovered' by mystical Romans. The work is easy to peruse for free within a green-glass display pavilion. To find it head north up Krajice Katarine from the Motel Tourist 98 complex and take the first left, an unlikely residential lane that dead ends beside the site near a building that's prominently labelled 'Prudent'.
Castle in Jajce
Jajce's Old Town was ringed with city walls in the 15th and 16th centuries, sections of which still remain. Although similar in style, the Travnik Gate was added a century or two later, roofed and rising three stories above a stone arch. It still guards the southern entrance to the Old City area with cars squeezing between its frequently grazed walls.
Historic Building in Jajce (City Gallery)
This studio and three-room gallery of recent art is housed in the reconstructed 18th-century 'Old' Kršlak House. Appealing canvases are diluted by the insipid landscapes and garish seminudes of Samir Hažbiċ, who is one of the caretakers here.
Since 2016 the town organises an international art 'colony' producing new works for the gallery. Directly behind is a section of walkable rampart that you can climb to access ul Stari Grad.
Christian Site in Jajce (St Luke's Bell Tower)
This five-stage Romanesque stone tower is attached to the heavily ruined shell of St Mary's, a large 15th-century church in which Bosnia's last king, Stejepan Tomašević, was crowned in 1461. The building became a mosque in 1528 but was damaged by a series of fires and has been left in ruins since the 1830s.
Museum in Jajce (AVNOJ Museum)
AVNOJ (the anti-fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia), coordinated resistance against the region's Nazi occupation during WWII. The council's second major meeting of late November 1943 was held in Jajce and the banal 1930s brown-stone building in which they met has been a museum since 1953. The place was something of a 'pilgrimage' site in the Socialist era, but is now often empty. Inside, the hall is set as though for a rerun of the meeting, with rows of wooden chairs facing a lectern and a small stage set with Yugoslav flags. An oversized golden statue of Tito made of polystyrene presides. Apart from the portraits (Stalin, Marx, Churchill), most of the museum's other original exhibits were plundered during the 1990s conflict. A series of hanging information sheets give background and context to the WWII situation in the different regions of Yugoslavia, but while professional, the English is confusingly elliptical. Outside there's a tiny narrow-gauge steam loco.
In a restored 1880 school building, this modest museum displays a limited range of local crafts, a few musical instruments and a collection of minerals, local and international. It might be worth a quick look on Monday, Tuesday or Thursday afternoons in August when weaving and embroidery demonstrations are held. The same building, once the first modern school in Austro-Hungarian Jajce, doubles as a mini tourist office (maps 2KM) and keeps keys to some other tourist sights when they close out of season.