Bosnia’s Shadow



February 6, 2020

From the 18th century, as countries broke free from colonial and imperial powers, the emergence of nationalist movements necessitated the embrace of architectural expressions to reflect these new national identities. In the Balkans, the heritagization of regional forms was used as one of the clearest manifestations of a local culture against larger forces of empire, as well as other competing nationalistic forces. The creation of this image of a vernacular architecture established a rallying force for national movements across Bosnia to unify around. Typologies such as the Balkans House emerged and were rapidly embraced by the Turkish, Greek, Bulgarian, and Macedoanian national movements as belonging to their individual architectural traditions. This ubiquitous residential form found across the Balkans was defined by a closed two-story plan with a rubble first floor and a protruding timber framed second level topped by a four-sided slate and tile roof with a slight curve. However, the embrace of these competing national histories problematizes the architecture of the region as belonging to separate and isolated cultural and ethnic narratives. When in reality the vernacular of the Balkans has constantly been in dialogue with each other and in contact with the larger international forces of alaturca, the East, and alafranga, the West. And throughout the centuries the identity of the Balkan has constantly been shaped by expansionist powers ranging from the Romes, Bzyantine, Austro-Hungarian, and to the Ottomans.

The modern Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian national identities originated from the waves of Southern Slavic migrations and territorial invasions into the Balkans during the twilight of the western Roman Empire.[18] Soon after, with the rise of Christianity and Islam, peoples around the Mediterranean began to adopt different faiths through the forces of missionary conversion, cultural assmiliation and military proliferation. However, it would be reductive to define the populace of the Balkans as possessing a singular cultural identity divided by religion—majority Roman Catholicism for the Croats; Eastern Orthodox for the Serbs; and Sunni Islam for the Bosniaks.[19] Ranging from instances of clear cultural distinction to times where ethnic, cultural, and religious identities begin to be blurred, making clear demarcations between groups difficult. Throughout history there have persisited minoroties of Catholic and Muslim Serbs, Orthodox and Muslim Croats, as well as Orthodox and Catholic communities across Bosnia and the greater Balkans.

The modern Bosnian national identity has its roots in the Banate of Bosnia, a medieval vassal kingdom that emerged in the mid 12th century. Interestingly, the kingdom also came to consecrate its own separate Bosnian Church for a time, in opposition to the doctrinal influences of Constantinople and the Holy See.[20] This distinct religious and cultural history, coupled with the remote mountainous terrain of the region, allowed Bosnia to begin to develop its earliest national sentiments in spite of competing international interests. Soon wooden peasant typologies such as the brvnara, built by the rural populace began to emerge throughout the countryside. Found across Bosnia and modern day western Serbia these were single story log homes, with sharp four sided roofs and low eaves, centered around a central fireplace.[21] Over time this developed into the bondruka, and is closer to the modern Balkans House typology. The bondruka is a two-story, wooden frame home with stone rubble composing the first floor walls and plaster on the second storey.[22] The relative isolation during this time was eventually overturned with the Ottoman conquest in 1463, which brought Islam and Islamic architecture and urban design into Bosnia.

With the conquest, a gradual Islamification of the Balkans began, with almost 3/4 of people in Bosnia converting to Islam over the next few centuries.[23] Through this assimilation, Bosnia adopted an identity of belonging to the greater Islamic world. In turn, they were given a greater range of rights and legal privileges by the central Ottoman authority. Soon, different amalgamations of people from around the empire began to migrate into Bosnia. This ranged from the Vlach, pastoral warrior nomads originally of Serbian Orthodox extraction, to tradesmen and rural artisans from Albania and Greece as well as Spanish Muslim and Jewish refugees from the Reconquista in 1492.[24] Soon, the city of Sarajevo was consolidated under an Ottoman model of narrow streets joining two distinct zones. The center of the city would be based on a bazaar district with artisan workshops and markets to facilitate trade and connection throughout the greater Empire.[25] Then there was the residential quarter, where each neighborhood would contain ethnic enclaves with their own mosques. In addition to these were also separate religious neighborhoods established for the minority Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish communities in Sarajevo.[26] The new mosques in these centralized urban centers expressed a distinct and overarching Ottoman and Bzyantine material influence.[27] Many such as the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque completed in 1532 were constructed out of stone block with columns, arches, a separate minaret structure, and a central dome in the fashion of the converted Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.[28] However, in the more rural areas, the wooden material culture of the pre-Ottoman Bosnians would persist in rural mosques that would come out of vernacular building traditions. Mosques such as the Behram-begova džamija and Vidorijska dzamij would draw upon existing construction knowledge and the structural forms of the brvnara and the bondruka. They would have the same two storey wooden construction with the minaret combined and extruding from the central roof geometry of the mosque.[29]

17. Marinov, Tchavdar. “The ‘Balkan House’: Interpretations and Symbolic Appropriations of the Ottoman-Era Vernacular Architecture in the Balkans.” Entangled Histories of the Balkans – Volume Four, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2017,
18. “Towards a Comparative Study of the Balkans and the Middle East.” Edited by Eyal Ginio and Karl Kaser, Ottoman Legacies in the Contemporary Mediterranean, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
19. Ibid.
20. Ardens, Ignis. Ignis Ardens: A Partial Exoneration of the Bosnian Church. Oakland University,,-1st-place,-James-K.-Hamzey.pdf.
21. Ibid.
22. Ibid.
23. Lopasic, Alexander. “Islamization of the Balkans with Special Reference to Bosnia.” JSTOR , Journal of Islamic Studies Vol. 5, No. 2, ISLAM IN THE BALKANS, July 1994,
24. Savija-Valha, Nebojsa. “Religijski Identiteti i Društvena Struktura Bosne i Hercegovine.” JOUR, 6 Apr. 2009, pp. 49–67. Research Gate,
25. Ristic, Željko. “The Relationship of Architecture and Politics throughout the History of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Tristotrojka, 1 Nov. 2018,
26. Ibid.
27. Riedlmayer, András J. Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Bosnia-Herzegovina. SENSE – Transitional Justice Center, 2002,
28. Ghazal, Jenan. “Architecture and Violence: Between Representation and Exchange.” Carleton University ,
29. Jahic, Edin. “The Neighbourhood Mosque with wooden minaret in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 16th and 17th century: Four examples of Restoration in Tuzla Region” Research Gate, Architecture Program, Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences, International University of Sarajevo, June 2019,