Kastel Fortress in Banja Luka has become part of a new tourist route, promoting Balkan fortresses, as some of the most important cultural and historical actresses in the region. This underdeveloped and modernly promoted fortification will become more visible to all tourists who are interested in the historical and cultural heritage of the Balkans thanks to the Creative History Balkan Tour (CHBT) project.
Creative History Balkans Tour (CHBT) is a project that aims to develop and promote the tour based on four historical fortresses in four Balkans’ countries: Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad, Serbia; Citadela Fortress Old City of Budva, Montenegro; Kastel Fortress in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Skadar Fortress in Rozefa, Albania.
A stranger in uniform, kind and a true gentleman, came to Banja Luka, a city where the spirit of the Balkans, oriental culture and western influence collide. The world of beautiful Sefikada, a girl from the most renowned noble family in Banja Luka, turned upside-down. The world without her.
Kastel Fortress in located in the centre of Banja Luka, on a plateau, where the small river Crkvena debouches into the Vrbas River. The Fortress is the oldest preserved historic monument in the city, the place of origin of Banja Luka. Material evidence, accompanied by written sources and cartographic documents discovered later, allow us to have a great insight into all phases of Kastel’s development.
The first archaeological traces date back to dozens of centuries ago, all the way to the Palaeolithic and they are traces of Gravettian hunters. The continuity of constant living on this locality has been proven for a period of at least 8,000 years – since the first settlements of farmers in the Neolithic, over those in the Bronze Age, Roman and Illyrian conquests of Illyrian territories, the Middle Ages and Modern Age, until now. This makes Banja Luka one of the oldest cities in Europe.
During archaeological research in 1974, remains of a prehistoric settlement were found in Kastel, dating back to the period connecting the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, around 2000-1800 BC. The location of the fortress is typical of settlements from the so-called Baden culture, which are often found on elevated segments of river terraces. This prehistoric Illyrian settlement then witnessed the rise of Ancient Rome and Roman conquests of Illyrian territories in 1st and 2nd century BC. The Illyrian-Pannonian uprising between 6 and 9 AD – event that shook the very foundations of the Roman Empire – was smothered in blood by the Empire and Roman military commander Germanicus occupied the present-day Banja Luka and turned it into a fortified military camp.
Kastel Fortress therefore identifies with the toponym of the military camp Castra, marked on the map of the ancient road Salona-Servitium.
Remains of an ancient fortification, Roman walls made of perfectly chiselled stone quaders, are preserved in the part close to the river. Archaeological research in 1972 conducted in the northeast part of Kastel Fortress discovered artefacts from VIII to XII century, which confirmed that the Ancient Rome culture was followed by the early Slavic mediaeval culture.
Many texts testify to the fact that the life in the Middle Ages in the area around Banja Luka was thriving, but neither written sources, nor archaeological materials offer data about the life in the settlement or the fortress on the location of present-day Banja Luka. Even the name of the city was not mentioned until the end of the Middle Ages. The first mention of Banja Luka was noted in a charter issued by the king Vladislaus II of Hungary in 1494 in Buda. The charter does not specify the exact location of the fortress. Back then, Banja Luka fortress was part of Hungarian Banovina of Jajce, formed after the fall of the mediaeval Kingdom of Bosnia under the Ottoman Empire in 1463. One of the last documents from the period of the Banovina of Jajce is the one from 1527-1528, which talks about Andrija Radatović, a commander who “…due to indecisiveness and fear decided to burn down Banja Luka fortress…”
Some travel accounts from XVI and XVII century describe Banja Luka and the fortress on this location. All writers of such accounts from XVII century agree on one thing: the town comprised two fortresses, whose names and locations are not given.
The fortress saw significant constructional development during the command of the famous military commander Ferhad Pasha Sokolović (nephew of the Ottoman statesman, Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha) in the eighth and ninth decade of XVI century. A document related to the legacy of Ferhad Pahsa, issued in 1587, mentions several facilities that he had endowed.
Due to frequent wars between Austria and the Ottoman Empire in the late XVII and early XVIII century, the fortress was expanded to resemble the fortresses in the plain across the Sava River (so-called Vauban system) between 1712 and 1714. It was then that it got its present trapeze-like, multi-angle shape, with three parts of the yard of different sizes, nine bastions, six towers, three entrance gates, underground passages and a moat on the north and west side. The construction works continued in XIX century. One of the public baths in Banja Luka was built within the fortress in 1826, the so-called Military bath.
The only facility for military purposes of significant size from that period was built adjacent to the southwest rampart around 1865. It was a military barracks, located in front of the first bastion on the very bank of the Vrbas River, on a plateau with a sub-wall made of tufa. Most changes related to the urban planning in Banja Luke took place in the last 4-5 decades of the Ottoman rule. Those changes were witnessed by explorers and were also noted more precisely in a survey map, which was created by the new Austro-Hungarian authorities in 1880-1884.
In the period before the Austro-Hungarian occupation, the fortress did not experience modernisation. It seems to have been severely damaged in the middle of XIX century. The Austro-Hungarian rulers were not particularly interested in modernisation of an old fortress and its use for military purposes. One of the rare facilities of significant size built by the new authorities is the so-called Stone Building.
During World War II, the fortress was bombed and many facilities were damaged, while in the period between the end of the war and 1959 Kastel was used by the Yugoslav People’s Army for military purposes.
The total area surrounded by ramparts is 26,610 m2, with additional 21,390 m2outside the walls. Ramparts, towers and bastions of Kastel Fortress was build using several types of stones, joint using different methods and laying patterns, which suggests there were several phases in the construction period. The fortress was severely damaged in the earthquakes in 1969 and 1981. Over the past four decades, a number of projects have been designed and implemented in order to renew and reconstruct certain parts of the fortress.
Pursuant to the decision no. 726/50 from 1950, the fortress was declared a cultural heritage site of the first category in the SFRY, while in 2004 it was declared a national monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The fortress has been undergoing reconstruction in 21stcentury using the pre-accession funds of the EU. The first phase of reconstruction was finished in 2013.
The area in and around the fortress is now pleasant, safe and spacious. It is suitable for family outings and is home to many attractive international events.