Jajce: The Ultimate Guide

Last Updated on: 31st January 2023, 10:13 am

Out of all of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s historic small towns, Jajce is probably the most essential. Not only does it have a well-preserved Old Town and fortress, but it uniquely features a large waterfall in its center. Further west, meanwhile, is a beautiful collection of historic watermills. In the following Jajce guide, we’ll be covering all of the town’s must-see sites.

But first, a bit of history: Jajce has been occupied since at least the Roman era, which is evidenced by the surviving Temple of Mithras. We know little, however, about what happened in the region between Roman and medieval times.

The history of Jajce as we know it largely dates to the 14th century when it served as capital of the Kingdom of Bosnia. In fact, the last Bosnian king, Stephen Tomašević, was crowned here in 1461.

After a brief Ottoman invasion in 1463, King Matthias Corvinus, joint ruler of both Hungary and Croatia, took control of Jajce the following year.

The town fended off the Ottomans for much longer than the rest of Bosnia, including nearby Travnik, as it wasn’t permanently taken by the Turks until 1527.

Today, the town of Jajce represents a mix of medieval Bosnian and Ottoman architecture and is a delight to explore. While everything in the following Jajce guide can be seen in a day, spending at least a night in town is highly recommended (learn more below).

Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide

The Jajce Watermills (Mlinčići)

One of Jajce’s most unique features is its historic watermills, which are situated about 5.5 km west of the town center. After spending a night in town, it would be a good idea to start your day here, reaching them either on foot or by taxi.

Things to Do in Jajce

While I chose the former option, a taxi shouldn’t go for more than 10 KM one-way. But if you don’t mind the long walk, it is indeed a scenic one. 

The main road sees little traffic, and upon reaching the small lake, you’ll find a wooden walkway that provides excellent views.

Jajce Watermills Jajce Guide

The mills are situated along the Pliva Lakes, a pair of long lakes connected to the river of the same name. In particular, you’ll find them at the exact spot where the larger Plivsko Lake flows into the smaller Malo Plivsko Lake.

Jajce Watermills Jajce Guide

Ever since the Middle Ages, locals have harnessed the power of the flowing water to grind wheat into flour. These huts likely date back to the Austro-Hungarian period and were still in use up until World War II.

The surviving mills we see today no longer serve their original function but are being preserved as an official National Monument of the country.

Jajce Watermills Jajce Guide

We now see a couple dozen huts places alongside each other, but some of them were moved here from other areas. While the best view is from a distance on the other side of the cascading water, visitors can also get up close to the huts via wooden walkways.

Jajce Watermills Jajce Guide

Interestingly, each mill is numbered and they all have knockers on their doors. They almost appear like miniature houses for dwarfs or hobbits!

Jajce Watermills Jajce Guide

The area is also a popular gathering spot for families during the summer. Just next to the mills, you’ll find a spacious public park, while you’ll also come across food kiosks and designated swimming areas.

Jajce Watermills Jajce Guide
Jajce Watermills Jajce Guide
Jajce Watermills Jajce Guide

Exploring Jajce

Jajce is home to a charming Old Town which surrounds the main fortress at the top of the central hill. It’s one of the largest and best-preserved Old Towns in the country. 

And arriving from the bus station, it’s only a short walk before you reach the historic city gates.

Things to Do in Jajce

But first, before exploring the town center, I recommend heading straight for the Temple of Mithras to the west. By beginning there and making your way east, you’ll be able to see the attractions of this Jajce guide in a more or less chronological order.

The Mithraic Temple

Before the adoption of Christianity, Mithraism was a major part of Roman society. And the Romans set up temples of Mithra, the Persian sun god (and also Indian Vedic god), all throughout their empire. 

This impressive carving in Jajce dates back to some time between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD. 

Things to Do in Jajce

In antiquity, such temples were known as Mithraeums. But the rituals performed here were largely kept secret even during Roman times, as Mithraism was something of an ancient mystery school.

Here in Jajce, we can see a typical scene of Mithra slaying a bull. According to some interpretations, it represents the mastery of order over chaos.

But rather than mere symbolism, it’s likely that actual animal sacrifices took place in this space as well.

Things to Do in Jajce

Despite how large and well-preserved the main carving is, I was disappointed to find that Jajce’s Temple of Mithras is now unstaffed and has been completely enclosed in a large glass case.

In addition to typical issues with glare, the glass has apparently not been cleaned in many months. This was a major letdown, as the Temple of Mithras is easily one of the most interesting and culturally significant monuments in Jajce.

For those interested in the history of Mithraism in Bosnia & Herzegovina, be sure to visit the National Museum in Sarajevo which displays other Mithraic pieces found throughout the country, including a significant carving from Konjic.

Things to Do in Jajce
An ancient Mithraic carving discovered in Konjic

The Catacombs

Heading eastward, the next destination is within the lower levels of the original fortress established before the Ottoman takeover. 

The catacombs were dug out during the reign of Hrvoje Vukčić Hrvatinić (r. 1380-1416), one of the most prominent feudal lords who simultaneously served as Duke of Bosnia and Duke of Split. Jajce was his seat of power and he developed the town considerably.

Things to Do in Jajce
Things to Do in Jajce

These catacombs served as his mausoleum as well as that of the whole Hrvatinić family.

Walking down the steps to enter the catacombs, you’ll first encounter an outer stone portico that was added as recently as the late 19th century.

To the right, notice a strange, unfinished carving of what appears to be a man holding a large spear.

Things to Do in Jajce
Things to Do in Jajce

Entering the main area, notice how the catacombs’ layout closely resembles that of a church. In addition to the crosses, you’ll find a narthex, nave and an altar.

Things to Do in Jajce
Things to Do in Jajce
Things to Do in Jajce

Just across from the Catacombs entrance, don’t miss one of the surviving old bastions. 

While, as mentioned, this area was technically part of the original fortress, the official ticketed section of Jajce Fortress is located at the very top of the town. The catacombs themselves require a separate entry fee of 4 KM.

Things to Do in Jajce
Things to Do in Jajce

St. Mary's Church & St. Luke's Tower

Just a short walk further east, you’ll encounter the ruins of St. Mary’s Church. A church once existed at this spot since at least the 12th century, after which it was converted to the Romanesque style in the 1400s.

It was here that the very last Bosnian king, Stephen Tomašević, was crowned in 1461 by the Pope’s emissaries.

Things to Do in Jajce
Things to Do in Jajce
Things to Do in Jajce

Once the Ottomans took over in the 16th century, the church was converted to a mosque. But it suffered from multiple fires over the years, with the last major one taking place in 1832.

Since then, the building has remained in shambles. But not St. Luke’s Tower, which has stood tall the whole time. Incredibly, it’s the only surviving medieval bell tower in this region.

Jajce Ethnographic Museum

Just about every town in Bosnia has a historical and ethnographic museum. But Jajce’s is unremarkable in comparison with others. Aside from a few relics from the Ottoman era, there’s little to see here.

It’s arguably more impressive from the outside. The structures along this road date back to the Austro-Hungarian period, having been used for things like administration and public education.

Things to Do in Jajce
Things to Do in Jajce

Esma Sultana Mosque

Reaching the end of the road, you’ll find the Esma Sultana Mosque, named after the wife of a Bosnian governor from the 18th century. But what we see now is entirely a reconstruction.

During the civil war of the 1990s, Jajce was taken by the forces of Republika Srpska, who destroyed most of the town’s mosques. Since being retaken by Bosnia & Herzegovina in 1995, many mosques have been rebuilt, including this one which finally reopened in 2010.

Things to Do in Jajce
Things to Do in Jajce

From this point on, it would make sense to start heading straight up to the main fortress (learn more below). But first, let’s briefly cover some of the other minor attractions to seek out around town.

The House of Avnoj

Located near the waterfall and bus station, this building was constructed in the 1930s. It’s known for hosting the AVNOJ (Antifascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia) in 1943, which helped see the country transition from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to a socialist state.

Things to Do in Jajce

Though far from being the most essential attraction in this Jajce guide, the museum provides an interesting historical perspective on what each Yugoslav member state was dealing with during World War II. It costs 4KM to enter.

More Around Town

In addition to the main fortress and waterfall, which we’ll cover below, there’s still more to seek out in Jajce. Wandering around town, you’ll encounter all sorts of interesting old buildings and more ancient city gates.

Things to Do in Jajce

One historically important but overlooked landmark is the 19th-century Franciscan Friary. It now hosts what’s believed to be the bones of Bosnia’s last king, Stephen Tomašević. As mentioned above, he was crowned in the Franciscan St. Mary’s Church.

While the monastery is supposed to contain a museum which displays his skeleton in addition to numerous other historical relics, all the doors were sadly locked at the time of my visit.

Ascending Jajce Fortress

On your way up to the fortress, you’ll encounter numerous historic buildings, such as the Dizdar Mosque, established in 1813. This tiny mosque is unique because it lacks typical features like a dome and a minaret.

Elsewhere is an even older mosque from the 17th century, known as the Sinan-Bey Mosque, also known as the Okić Mosque.

On the way up, you’ll also pass through the Clock Tower. But the structure hardly resembles one, and it’s even missing its clock!

Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide
The Clock Tower
Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide
Dizdar Mosque
Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide
Sinan-Bey Mosque

Reaching the uppermost part of the fortress (4 KM), notice the Bosnian royal crest inscribed on the outer door. As mentioned earlier, the fortress was first established in the mid-14th century during the rule of Duke Hrvoje Vukčić Hrvatinić. 

It was then gradually expanded over the following centuries.

Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide
Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide

Following Hrvatinić’s death, Jajce would officially become the Bosnian capital. And this top portion of the fortress once functioned as a private royal palace.

Before the Ottoman takeover, the fortress, which existed at the edge of the Ottoman Empire, was extremely important strategically. Furthermore, it would also serve to defend Bosnia against the Hungarians, though Hungary would successfully conquer the region in 1464.

Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide

Once the Ottomans finally took over in 1527, there were no major threats nearby, and thus the fortress largely lost its strategic importance. Be that as it may, one can still get a feel for the fortress’s original imposing size.

Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide
Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide
Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide
Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide

Today, there’s not a whole lot that remains, though the walls and a couple other structures are in good condition. The real highlight of visiting Jajce Fortress is its impressive views of the town below. 

Walking all along the fortress walls, you can look down and see just about every attraction mentioned in this Jajce guide. 

Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide
Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide
Jajce Fortress Jajce Guide

The Pliva Waterfall

The 21 m-high Pliva Waterfall, located at the spot where the Vrbas and Pliva rivers meet, has become a symbol of the town. Locals brag that Jajce is the only city in the world with a waterfall in its center, though they clearly haven’t heard of Furong!

As beautiful as the waterfall is, frankly speaking, paying 8 KM just to access the viewing platform is not worth it.

The huge viewing platform was built at an awkward distance from the falls. By standing at the very front, you’ll be too close to photograph the whole thing. But by stepping back a bit, you can’t avoid having the guard railings in the shot.

While there’s a higher platform over to the side, it’s still hard to take in the full scene from there.

Pliva Waterfall Jajce Guide

Furthermore, you may have noticed posters all around town featuring a scenic view of the waterfall with the landmarks of Jajce in the background. But you can’t get that view from here.

Pliva Waterfall Jajce Guide
Pliva Waterfall Jajce Guide

While I tried to find that vantage point, I ultimately failed, and assumed that somebody took all those shots with a drone!

After visiting the viewing platform, I enjoyed a free view from the top, which can be accessed via a park nearby. I also tried walking along a bridge by the bus station for better views, but it was all obscured by trees.

Pliva Waterfall Jajce Guide

It turns out, however, that the view in the posters can indeed be seen without a drone. What you need to do is head north along the Vrbas River and walk east across the bridge taking you to the other side. 

Then, continue south along a trail, which you can see marked in the Maps.me app. This is something I’ll have to try on a future trip to Jajce.

Additional Info

Buses from Sarajevo bound for Jajce leave every couple of hours. While Jajce could technically be visited as a day trip from Sarajevo, your day would be much too rushed, with around 7 hours in total spent on the bus!

This wouldn’t leave you with enough time to see everything in the Jajce guide above, such as the watermills.

If you only have the option to do day trips from the capital, I’d recommend Travnik instead, which can be reached from Sarajevo in around 90 minutes each way.

With that being said, if you’re willing to splurge on a day tour, this highly-rated tour can take you to both Travnik and Jajce in the same day with a private driver.

For those doing longer trips across the Balkans, you could try a route like Sarajevo-Visoko-Travnik-Jajce-Banja Luka, spending a night or so in each town. All of these cities are located along the same Centrotrans Eurolines route.

Check here for updated timetables.

And then from Banja Luka, you can easily find transport into either Croatia or Serbia. Of course, if you’re entering Bosnia from Croatia or Serbia, you could do the route in the opposite direction.

Accommodation in small towns in Bosnia are, for whatever reason, much pricier than in the larger cities. Looking for a private place in the center, I went through all the options on both Booking and Airbnb before settling on Apartman Pliva.

At around $30 a night, it was more than I usually like to pay for accommodation in this region, but I only stayed one night. The apartment comes with a private kitchen and separate bedroom, with enough space to fit a small family.

Communication was smooth and the location was perfect, being situated right inside the city gates and an easy walk from the bus station.

The main problem was, however, that I could clearly hear footsteps from the apartment above late at night and very early in the morning, and I didn’t sleep well at all.

Generally speaking, to reach all the locations in this Jajce guide, staying anywhere within or near the old city gates will be fine.



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