Autumn may be the best time of the year for a weekend getaway on one of the mountains in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the soil is still warm; you still need sunglasses while colors of the nature are breathtaking. This weekend, we propose to you to visit one of the oldest villages in BiH - the Umoljani village on the Mountain of Bjelasnica - recalling the legend on the Dragon of Umoljani and the path of the old Jewish book or the Sarajevo’s Haggadah.
The Mountain of Bjelasnica represents the central zone of the geographical area of BiH and it represents the border between Bosnia - on one hand - and the Herzegovina - on the other hand - and thus, the border between the Mediterranean climate and the continental climate. Its alpine climate and its geological structure – mostly limestone – provides the largest reservoir of water in BiH and this is why this mountain is considered to be the mother of BiH as it is the base for springs of two of the most important rivers in BiH; Bosnia and Neretva Rivers, while its plateau of Bjelasnica has a large number of springs, watercourses, permanent lakes and puddles. The aforementioned natural conditions have been a magnet for inhabiting the plateau of Bjelasnica, from prehistoric times until today.
The Mountain of Bjelasnica has a variety of different tours available, but this one is special because it offers an opportunity to see one of the two exceptionally interesting villages, apart from natural beauty and beautiful landscape. The village Umoljani, located at 1,275 meters above sea level, is easier to access than the village of Lukomir – 1,495 meters above sea level - as the village at the highest elevation point in BiH.
It will take you an hour from Sarajevo to get to the village Umoljani and those who are more active, can surely take their equipment for a hiking tour or for a bike tour because the area is perfect for all this or just for sightseeing or sitting, drinking coffee ad enjoying the scenery. The village belongs to the Municipality of Trnovo - it is located about around 16 kilometers away from Trnovo by air, 23 kilometers from Sarajevo. If you are heading from the direction of Sarajevo, take the M18 main road from Sarajevo to Krupac, pass by the quarry and take the turn right to regional road towards the mountains of Bjelasnica and Igman. Follow the signs for hotels on Bjelasnica, and once you get to the hotels continue straight to Sabici. In Sabici, turn right and continue to the intersection to Umoljani at the bridge. Take another turn to the right here along the road leading up the hill to Umoljani. As you approach the village from this point, you will have to drive slowly and more carefully as the terrain will become steeper and the road is quite narrow so passing by vehicles from the other direction can be tricky. However, the road to the Mountain of Bjelasnica and to the village will give you a breathtaking view; you will wish to never stop driving! The fairytale-like scenery will leave you speechless; hills surrounding the road, green, yellow, brown and orange colors of the forest will give a much-needed break for your eyes, as you keep on breathing in the fresh mountain air. On your way to the village, you will most certainly see cows on the road and sheep on nearby hills.
If you decided to walk towards and through the village, you will see which structures are old and which ones are new and you will certainly meet local people who are doing some outdoor work and activities and meet local women, dressed in a traditional way, selling hand-made knitwear. Be kind and buy some of their products, especially if you meet an older, deaf woman, as this may be her only source of income.
Due to the abundance of natural resources - water, arable land, meadows, pastures, forests - the area of the Umoljani is constantly inhabited, from prehistoric times until today. The presence of people in this area can be seen in many cultural and historical monuments: antique hillforts, medieval necropolis of tombstones (the so-called ‘stecci’), remains of a medieval church, necropolis from the ottoman conquest and one of the oldest mosques in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Umoljani Mosque. Located at the entrance to the village, this is one of the oldest mosques in this area, which is on the list of the national monuments of BiH that leaves no one indifferent with its specific history and special stone minaret. The 500-year-old mosque was the only structure left standing in the village of Umoljani and wider area during the past war. One of the stories that are spread among the local population from generation to generation is a story about the survival of the mosque. Allegedly, the mosque was spared by the same JNA officer whose mysteriously ill son was, in the early 1990s, healed by a local Imam in the Umoljani Mosque. Near the mosque there is a stone necropolis and real paradise for the eyes and a rest for the soul – beautiful wood watermills. It is believed that the Jewish book ‘Sarajevska hagada’ (the Sarajevo Haggadah) was protected here, in the basement of this mosque during the World War II.
Before the beginning of the past war in BiH, the village lived in a more or less traditional way, within its traditional physical structures and facilities. The village was destroyed during the war, but by now much of it has been rebuilt, but in the changed socio-economic circumstances, and with architectural structures that in all respects reflect modern life. It is of the importance that the katun settlement (Gradina) above the village with traditional architectural objects is preserved, as a picture of the former Umoljani village. The Umoljani village is an exemplary study of the metamorphosis of settlements - driven by the changing social environment - in the rich natural environment where they continue to live, partly in the traditional way, and partly in the modern way, that is, in the way of sustainability.
The stunning beauty of this true wilderness is matched with the warm hospitality of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian highlanders and there are several traditional restaurants in Umoljani. There is a restaurant called ‘Koliba’ on the top of the village that owns the bragging rights for best views. The food is delicious and mainly locally sourced. It is best to order food - especially homemade pie ‘pita’ - before you go on your hike or walk so it is ready for you upon your return.
Umoljani also serves as the starting point for some of the best mountain paths that lead to the village of Lukomir, the Rakitnica Canyon or to the Studeni Potok Stream (The Cold Creek) that flows through the field and which has a shape similar to the snake movement in the sand. The legend on the Dragon of Umoljani has it that once upon a time people of Umoljani Village were attacked by a terrible big dragon with snake-shaped-body that came from the Rakitnica Canyon. The villagers prayed to God to protect them against the dragon. Prayers were answered and the dragon was petrified in the stone on the Posiljak Hill, just above the village. It is believed that Umoljani means ‘of the prayers’.
Once you leave this magical village and get back to your home, we suggest you to find the New York Times bestseller called ‘People of the Book’ by Geraldine Brooks that is a story about the path of the Jewish Haggadah from Spain to Sarajevo – where you can still see it in the National Museum in Sarajevo - and how it was saved in the Umoljani Mosque during the World War II.