The Roman conquests of the Balkans’ mainland from Dalmatia began in II century B.C., and the area of present-day Banja Luka was conquered by their army leader Germanicus in the first years A.D., after the famous Rebellion of Bato (Lat, Bellum Batonianum), 6-9 A.D. In the centuries to come, Banja Luka became part of the Roman province Illyria and the main stop on the Salt Road. Then, at the location of modern-day Kastel, a military camp (Lat. Castrum, Castra) was built.
The civil settlement was built shortly afterwards. The dicovery of late Antic coins, ceramics, stones, as well as the remains of brick plants, edifices and tombs at the area of Kastel, Haniste, Toplice, the nearby villages of Radmanovici, Sargovac and Ramici, and the famed Peutinger’s chart (Tabula Peutingeriana) provide evidence that Banja Luka became an important, urban Roman settlement. Beside this, the Romans discovered and used the thermo-mineral spring in Srpske Toplice (former Gornji Seher), as well as those in the vicinity of Banja Luka (Laktasi, Slatina).
JUPITER’S SACRIFICIAL ALTAR IN THE CREEK
This Roman stone monument was found in 1895 during the reconstruction of the bridge over the Crkvina, on the site of one of the present-day busiest roads. Such sacrificial altars, i.e., pledge altars were placed at the entrance of the temple, with their back leaning against the wall. Owing to that and some other archeological findings, we can conclude that below Kastel and facing Crkvina there had been a Jupiter’s Temple, i.e., shrine dedicated to this greatest Roman deity and the town’s patron. The altar from Banja Luka dates from 2nd century A.D. and is kept in Zemaljski Muzej in Sarajevo. The translation of the inscription is: ‘To Jupiter, the greatest brilliance of this place, Sicinius Macrinus, consular beneficiary of the Northern Panonia province has fulfilled the pledge with his free will and with gratitude“.
BANJA LUKA – VRBASKI GRAD(?)
The term Vrbaski Grad can be found in historical documents starting from 1320, a century and a half before the name Banja Luka was first mentioned. At the begining of the 20th century, in 1909, Croatian historian Dr. Ferdo Sisic and his Hungarian colleague dr Lajos Thalloczy wrote about this area. Hodnika, a geometer working for Thalloczy, claimed that Vrbaski Grad is in Potkozarje (area around mountain Kozara), in the village of Vrbaska, near Gradiska. On the other hand, Sisic ‘places Vrbaski Grad in present-day Banja Luka’. Petar Gakovic claims that Hodnika was right, since there are both town Livac and the river Livcanica in that county. So, the historians have been arguing for decades about the exact location of Vrbaski Grad: some of them claim it is the area of present-day Banja Luka while others believe it is the village of Vrbaska, about 50 kilometers to the north. Furthermore, the ambiguity is also caused by later travel documents and papers mentioning two nearby settlements, so there is a possibility that Vrbaski Grad actually existed in the area of Gornji Seher. Anyway, The location of Vrbaski Grad is still questionable. Hopefully, the clarification will be provided by further research. The question where Vrbaski Grad used to be is yet to be answered.
(V – XV century)
The invasions and devastations of the barbarians and the settling of the South Slavs in the Balkans over V, VI and VII centuries denoted a general regress and destruction of the remains of the Antic culture, as well as dying out of our town. In the centuries to come, the wider area of the town was under the rule or strong influence of Byzantium, Serbia, Bosnia and Hungary, while the settlement itself lost its significance and its trace in the historical annals faded and disappeared.
The sources mention several medieval fortresses (Grab, Vrbas, Vrbaski Grad, etc.) which could be located in the area of Banja Luka, but the science still does not provide enough valid proofs. At any rate, it was only by the end of XV century that Banja Luka unquestionably emerged from the medieval mist and snonymity as a Hungarian fortress and part of Jajce Banovina, which was formed after the fall of Bosnia (1463) to stop further Turkish invasion. However, after the fall of Hungary at the battle of Mohacs (1526), Jajce Banovina was also defeated. The documents tell that the last Hungarian commander of Banja Luka, Andrija Radatovic, in 1527-1528, left this small fortress to the Turks, having burnt it previously.
THE FIRST MENTION OF BANJA LUKA
We are to thank Vladislav II Jagelovich, the Hungarian King for the first mention of Banja Luka. He issued a document in Budim on 6th February, 1494 where the name of our town was first mentionned. In the document, popularized by Lajos Thalloczy, Banja Luka was referred to as a small Hungarian fortification being a part of the newly formed Jajce Banovina (a territory ruled by a Ban, whose authorities were most similar to those of a duke) under the government of Georgius Mykwlasych.
Among the numerous endownments of Sofi Mehmed Pasha, the most important one is the mosque built on the right bank of the river Vrbas, near the thermal springs in Novi Seher in 1533. It was burned in 1688 when the Austrian army under the command of Ludwig of Baden (1655-1707) invaded this area. The only part of the mosque left was a stone minaret. The building was rebuilt and destroyed many times throughout the centuries. It is commonly known as Jama Mosque (jama-pit) because of the pit inside the very place of worship. According to one traditional belief a certain government official was supposed to be buried in the pit, while others believe it was dug for Sofi Mehmed Pasha to bow down to Allah in prayer and thus humble himself even more in the eyes of Allah. This place of worship was destroyed during the Civil War in Bosnia and Herzegovina, on 4th July, 1993.
Three and a half centuries of the Turkish rule certainly left deep impact on the life of our town: it began the process of the growth of Banja Luka in a big and important center, while the orientalization had its influence on all spheres of life: from the religion, language and customs, over the economy and traffic, to the architecture and settlement arrangement in general. Already in 1553 Sofi Mehmed Pasha named Banja Luka headquarters of Bosnian sanjak (larger military area), and he became the first Sanjak Bey (governer of sanjak). In his time in Gornji Seher (about two kilometers to the south or up the river from today’s town center, at the mouth of the river Suturlija into the river Vrbas) a number of religious, traffic and economic structures were built.
The town made new and even more forceful advancement during the reign of Ferhad Pasha Sokolovic. In 1580 he raised the Bosnian Sanjak to the rank of Beglerbegluk (pashaluk, area ruled by a Begler Bey.), while he himself became the Sultan’s deputy (Pasha). In this way Banja Luka became the center of a newly formed province whose borders exceeded present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina borders. Ferhad Pasha built a new downtown around today’s Kastel, so the center was „lowered“ down the river, that is around Ferhadija mosque, though the downtown was to spread gradually up the river from Gornji Seher (the settlement of Novoselija) to the other, right bank of the river Vrbas (Mala Carsija). Since 1693, when Banja Luka stopped to be the center of Pashaluk, the town faced the visible stagnation. Moreover, the following centuries brought many rebellions and wars, fires, floods, contagious diseases, which, with the overall crisis of the Turkish reign, town’s peaceful life made bound with the cords of Turkish poverty and apathy. The Great Turkish War (1683-1699) would bring lots of suffering, when during the army attack of the famous Ludwig von Baden almost all the endowments of Sofi Mehmed Pasha were destroyed. According to some travel books, the town was in such a condition that cannibalism appeared.
FERHAD PASHA SOKOLOVIC
He was the last Bosnian Sanjak Bey (1574-1580) and the first Begler Bey (1580-1588) of the newly founded Bosnian Pashaluk (jurisdiction of Pasha). He was a well-known army leader and patron who came from the same village of Sokolovici near Rudo in Herzegovina as his famous cousin Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic. In Banja Luka he was recognized as a great endower: in only 15 years he built the outstanding mosque named Ferhadija after him, a fort, Muslim primary school (Tur. Mekteb), thress domed burial sites (Tur. Turbehs), a fountain in front of the mosque (Tur. Shadrvan ), guest house (Tur. Caravanserai), a canon factory (Tur. Tophana), a communal bathhouse (Tur. Hammam), a wooden bridge over the Vrbas (opposite the Fortress), a bridge over the Crkvina, a mill, a residence for clerical employees; he also had three roads paved along wich over 200 shops were opened and it is assumed that he financed the famous clock tower – the first huge public clock in Bosnia. In the year of 1588 he was proclaimed a Begler Bey in Budim where he was murdered three years later by his slave.
This famous mosque was built between 1579 and 1580. According to the traditional belief, this place of worship was built with the ransom money given for a young Austrian. Namely, in September of 1575 in the battle near Sisak (present day Croatia) Ferhad Pasha had defeated and killed an Austrian commander of Vojna Krajina (Austrian province), count Herbert von Auersperg, and captured his son Engelbert. His mother stood up for his life and managed to collect 30000 ducats to pay for her son’s release. Pasha invested the given money in building his well-known endowment. The mosque was covered with led, had a 17,5 meter high dome, a 40 meter high minaret with 128 steps leading up to it. In its more than four centuries long history it was frequently damaged and rebuilt. It was worst damaged in the eartquake in 1969 when the minaret broke down.
The bnleak life in the „ruined Turkish building“ would last without significant changes until the half of XIX century, when our people began to feel the first breath of modern times and the western civilization. The Trapist monks, Jew and more enterprising Christian merchants contributed to this to a great extent. The belated attempts of the Porte to catch up with the developed world also gave some positive results: the first schools were opened, the telegraph reached the town, and from the river Sava to Banja Luka a new road was built, with its end „cuttung in“ the town center, thus making a wide street, the base for the future urban development of the town (today’s main road). Finally, by the end of 1872. or the first days of the ensuing year, the railroad from the suburban part of Banja Luka to Dobrljina near Bosanski Novi was released. By the way, the building of the railroad itself brought many enterprising foreigners and new currents and achievements of modern Europe in Banja Luka.
The Clock Tower in Banja Luka was apparently the first public clock in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nowhere in historic documents was it found who built it or when, but it is assumed that it was built by Ferhad Pasha Sokolovic since he had established, among other things, a clockman’s salary in his will. Anyway, the structure had a 3,29×3,30 metre square base and massive walls. The Tower was modified several times and so was its height – it varied from 18 to 22metres. The south – east entrance was also modified and rebuilt several times. Until the WW II there was a bell inside the tower, made in 1501. The inscription in Latin on the bell said: „I was cast by Bartol Padovan in the year of our Lord 1501“.