It was great to go back to the centre if Banja Luka and stroll around the streets where I had lived and worked on and off over several years.
Basically the place looks pretty much the same as it did when I was last here in 2012. Here are some photos of the centre of the city which has a population of 200,000 spread around it.
We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant that makes burek under the sać. Burek is a pastry made of phyllo pastry stuffed with cheese, meat or spinach and in this case cooked on a pan that is covered with a lid and then with hot coals piled on top. This way of cooking can also be used to cook meat and vegetables under a dome piled with coals. It was filling and delicious lunch of a traditional food made in a very traditional way.
Exactly 22 years ago to the day, May 7, 2001, Saša and I had stood on this same corner when a large crowd gathered and hooligans held 200 Muslims (and the Canadian ambassador) hostage in a building by an empty lot here. The group had come to lay a cornerstone to rebuild the Ferhadija mosque that had been destroyed during the war.
The original mosque at this site was built in 1579 during the Ottoman period and was named after its founder, Ferhad Pasha Sokolović. The mosque was an important religious and cultural landmark in the region, serving as a gathering place for Muslims in Banja Luka for over 400 years.
However, during the Bosnian War in the 1990s, the Ferhadija Mosque, along with many other historic buildings and cultural sites, was heavily damaged as ethic conflict plagued the country. The mosque was set on fire and its minaret was destroyed, leaving only the stone walls and foundation intact.
As tensions tose on that 2001 May Day, two busses that had brought some of the people now barricaded in the building burned and black smoke rose over the site. SFOR helicopters roared overhead. Thankfully the tensions were eventually brought under control and no one was injured but it was a day filled with uncertainty and threat. My co-worker and friend, Daren Trudeau and I were forced to make a hurried escape through the mountains to Sarajevo while the crisis was evolving.
Today, 22 years later, I was delighted to see this beautifully reconstructed Ferhadija mosque.