Banjaluka is the largest city of the Republika Srpska entity and second largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the capital Sarajevo. Traditionally, it has been the centre of the Bosanska Krajina region, located in the northwestern part of the country.
Banja Luka fell to the Ottomans in 1527. It became the seat of the Sanjak of Bosnia some time prior to 1554, until 1580 when the Bosnia Eyalet was established. Bosnian beylerbeys were seated in Banja Luka until 1639. Ferhad Pasha Sokolović, a relative of Grand Vizier Mehmed-pasha Sokolović, had upon his return to Bosnia in 1574, begun the building of over 200 buildings ranging from artisan and sales shops to wheat warehouses, baths and mosques. Among more important commissions were the Ferhadija and Arnaudija mosques during which construction a plumbing infrastructure was laid that served surrounding residential areas. This stimulated the economic and urban development of Banja Luka, which soon became one of the leading commercial and political centres in Bosnia. It was also sanjak centre in Bosna Eyalet.
In 1688, the city was burned down by the Austrian army, but it quickly recovered. Later periodic intrusions by the Austrian army stimulated military developments in Banja Luka, which made it into a strategic military centre. Orthodox churches and monasteries near Banja Luka were built in the 19th century. Also, Sephardic Jews and Trappists migrated to the city in the 19th century and contributed to the early industrialisation of the region by building mills, breweries, brick factories, textile factories and other important structures.
For all its leadership to the region however, Banja Luka as a city was not modernised until Austro-Hungarian occupation in the late 19th century that brought westernisation to Banja Luka. Railroads, schools, factories, and infrastructure appeared, and were developed, which led to a modern city.
It is home of the University of Banja Luka, as well as numerous state and entity institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city lies on the River Vrbas and is well known in the countries of the former Yugoslavia for being full of tree-lined avenues, boulevards, gardens, and parks. According to the 2013 census the City of Banja Luka, has 150.997 inhabitants. Things to see in Banja Luka are Fortress Kastel, Legend about Safikada, Gosposdska street, Ferhadija Mosque, Temple of Chirst the Savior, Convent Marija Zvijezda, Spring of Krupa river etc.
Due to its long history, Banja Luka is rich in culture. There are several museums including the Museum of Bosanska Krajina, the Ethnographic Museum established in 1930, and the Museum of Modern Art of Republika Srpska which is also called MSURS the Museum of Contemporary Art. Banja Luka is also the home of the national theatre and library, both dating from the first half of the 20th century, and of numerous other theatres. The headquarters of the Archives of Republika Srpska is situated in the building known as Carska kuća or Imperial House, build around 1880. It has been in continuous public use longer than any other structure in Banja Luka.
One of the most famous cultural sites in Banja Luka is the cultural centre of "Banski Dvor" (Halls of the Ban), built in the 1930s as the residence for the Bans of the Vrbas Banovina. It is a representative building in the very centre of the city housing the National Assembly along with a concert hall, gallery, state television, and a restaurant. Most of the main cultural and political events nowadays take place in the building. The relatively poorly preserved Kastel Fortress is found in the city centre. This mediaeval castle is one of Banja Luka's main attractions. Located on the left bank of the Vrbas river, it gives a specific charm to the city. During the summer, music concerts take place in the fortress.
The natural beauties of the surrounding area guarantee the city of Banja Luka a good position in tourism. Banja Luka has a number of hotels, one of the best being Hotel Cezar Banja Luka. One of the hotels right on the Vrbas river's bank is the Marriott. The city and surrounding area boast a number of popular tourist attractions. Among the most famous are the pools, thermal springs, and spas in the region. Due to its parks and over 10 000 trees Banja Luka was once nicknamed the "Green City". The area is popular among nature lovers, while the city centre is attractive to tourists due to its historical structures and many restaurants. Other attractions of Banja Luka are the Banj Hill and a waterfall of the Vrbas river near Krupa. Rafting on the Vrbas river is currently becoming popular among the local tourists. There is fishing, rock climbing and hiking along the canyon of the Vrbas between Banja Luka and Jajce, and there is plenty of accommodation for visitors.
The River Vrbas
A key feature of Banja Luka’s natural surroundings is the Vrbas river, a vibrant green river that flows through the heart of the city. The city straddles the banks of the river, which provides a relaxing zone to explore with picturesque natural beauty. The name ‘vrbas’ comes from the local name for ‘willow’, thanks to the number of willow trees that line the river banks and provide shade for peaceful walks alongside it. There is also a number of quiet cafés along the river, perfect for a coffee break away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Away from the city, the river also offers opportunities to kayak, canoe, and hike along the river basin.
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
An architectural icon of Banja Luka is this amazing Orthodox cathedral. It is situated pretty much at the centre of the city, in a small but pretty square surrounded by neat grass lawns. The cathedral is built in a classic eastern Orthodox style, and was first constructed in the 1920s; it suffered damage during the Second World War, and has recently been refurbished. The internal decorations are exquisite, full of gold detailing and intricate painted decorations, while the outer tower is grand and imposing. The cathedral is open to visitors, although respectful clothing is required.
Banski Dvor Cultural Centre
Built in the 1920s as a palace for the local governor, Banski Dvor is now used as a cultural centre that hosts exhibitions, concerts, lectures and performances, as well as other cultural events. The building itself is sophisticated and grand, with many of the large rooms embracing classic 1920s neo-renaissance style, such as chandeliers and high ceilings. The building is open to explore, even when there are no current cultural events occurring.
This tourist-friendly museum covers the history of the Serb ethnic group in Bosnia as well as the larger Balkan region. Its exhibitions cover a long period of history, starting with archaeological discoveries up to the atrocities committed against Serbs by the regional fascist groups during the Second World War. However, those familiar with Bosnia’s recent history and ethnic conflict will notice that much of the key details surrounding the civil war are ignored, doubtless because the museum aims to cast Serbian history in a generally positive light, and it is important to treat the museum’s criticisms of Croatia with suspicion.
There has been a fortress of some kind on this spot since the Romans first constructed a building here, although there is evidence that suggests neolithic-era people also inhabited and fortified the area. The fortress is close to the centre of Banja Luka, and was an important military fortification as well as a strategic hub during the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman wars. Things to spot within the fortress include a Roman sarcophagus, ancient stone walls, and lovely views of the river from atop the fortifications.
A feature of the Vrbas River are the falls at Krupa, just a short way outside of the city. Found within a peaceful and shady forest area is a selection of small falls, which also feature a quaint wooden mill and a bridge overlooking the river. The perfect spot to escape the city and to be immersed in nature.