A quest to Zmijanje: the homeland of Petar Kočić

Ljiljana Krejic | Live the World

November 23, 2022

If you visit a lovely city of Banja Luka, the least known capital in Europe, and plan to explore its historical surroundings, here is an insider’s tip – don’t miss Zmijanje, the homeland of Petar Kočić. This hilly but hidden plateau is full of surprising discoveries. A quest to Zmijanje guaranties you an immersion into the unrevealed history, concealed sanctuary and unexpected cultural heritage. Whether you opt for visiting the spiritual center of the region - Gomionica Monastery or exploring the medieval tombstones stećci and Zmijanje embroidery, both the heritage of Bosnia & Herzegovina protected by UNESCO, you will have an enriching historical journey

Zmijanje plateau: its location & history

Picture © credits to Wikipedia/Rade Nagraisalović

Located in the north-western part of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Zmijanje plateau is an area that has been inhabited since the prehistorical times, as the traces of early settlements from Roman, medieval and Ottomans era were discovered there. Zmijanje can be observed from a wider and a shorter area perspective. If we look at it from the wider viewpoint, Zmijanje plateau stretches between Banja Luka, Mrkonjić Grad, Sanski Most and Ključ, while the shorter Zmijanje region considers the area between the villages Kadina Voda and Čađavica. In the medieval times, Zmijanje was known as a mountainous region between Vrbas River and Sana River. All over the wider Zmijanje area, there are remnants of previous civilizations. In the 13th century, this region belonged to the medieval county called Zemljanik.

Who was Petar Kočić?

Picture © credits to Wikipedia/Rade Nagraisalović

Petar Kočić was a Bosnian hero both for his writings and his patriotism. He was probably the most influential writer and political activist of the 20th century in South-eastern Europe. He was born in 1877, in the village Stričići located in the Zmijanje plateau, some 30 km from Banja Luka. The first education he received at Gomionica Monastery, which was focussed on the medieval Serbian history, determined his future activism. From a brilliant student to an activist against the Austro-Hungarian authorities, Petar Kočić always fought for the rights of his people in occupied Bosnia & Herzegovina, including the freedom of the press and the freedom of assembly. His fiery character and wittiness inspired many Yugoslav intellectuals of that time, among which Ivo Andrić, the Nobel prize winner for literature. Parallelly with his political activism, Kočić developed his writings, firstly poetry and later prose. He was a very talented author who used the sarcasm to mock the Austro-Hungarian obsession with laws and regulations, as well as irony to show the hardships of Bosnian peasants under the occupation. 

Gomionica Monastery, the spiritual center of Zmijanje

Picture © credits to Wikimedia Commons/Saša Knežić

Dating back to the 15th century, Gomionica Monastery is the principal spiritual center of Zmijanje wider area. It is situated in the village Kmećani, near Bronzani Majdan, by the eponymous river. Being one of only two female Serbian Orthodox monasteries in northern Bosnia & Herzegovina, Gomionica convent is a beautiful example of medieval ecclesiastical architecture, but also a pilgrim site for believers. The complex was first mentioned in the Ottoman sources as Zalužje Monastery. The monastery was in existence before 1536, and the monastic community was well developed in the 17th century, when Gomionica was a true spiritual and cultural center of the region, with many artworks preserved to this day. During the centuries of occupation, Gomionica Monastery was burnt, pillaged and desecrated, but it always resurrected continuing its spiritual mission. 

Medieval tombstone stećci of Zmijanje

Picture © credits to Wikipedia

In the Middle Ages, the region of Zmijanje was politically and economically important. This has been evidenced by countless medieval tombstones, popularly called stećci in Bosnia & Herzegovina, scattered all over Zmijanje area. As you may know, due to its invaluable historical importance, Bosnian medieval tombstones are enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Most of those monolithic necropolises found in Zmijanje contain between 80 and 200 stećak tombstones (such as those in Pervan, Goleši, Lusići, etc.), with only a few being smaller family graveyards. These large necropolises testify the prosperity of local population in the medieval times. The historical necropolis with stećak tombstones in Gornje Šljivno, together with the Orthodox cemetery in Stražbenica, are designated as National monument of Bosnia & Herzegovina. 

Zmijanje embroidery: UNESCO intangible cultural heritage

Outstanding dark-blue needlework from Zmijanje is considered the oldest hand embroidery in all the Balkan countries. Unlike other embroidery patterns from the region that are done with the treads of different colors, Zmijanje embroidery uses only one – dark-blue thread on white background. This embroidery dates back at least to the mid-1800s, and since then, it has been kept from oblivion by passing it orally from one generation to the next. It is made in cross-stitch, which creates an elegant geometric design, and it decorates female clothes (including wedding dresses) and some household items (bed linen, tablecloths). So, if you are on a quest to Zmijanje, the homeland of Petar Kočić, and searching for a place where to see and buy a piece of authentic Zmijanje embroidery, don’t miss ethno village Ljubačke doline near Banja Luka.

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