GOOD SPIRITS OF THE PAST
Zenica is a city the identity of which is so much strangely diverse that its people often get caught in a never-ending contemplation of the true character of this place and its inhabitants. Famous for his industrial sites, it has never, even at the peak of its industrialization, stopped being involved in agriculture and livestock breeding. That went so far that even work shifts, vacations and absence leaves were tuned up to the seasonal works at field. The steel industry inevitable swallowed up most of the working energy, but there always remained sufficient will and power to cultivate the soil and do the harvest. Perhaps it is the influence of the good spirits of the past, because the industrial plants were erected exactly at the site where people used to grow sweet and juicy watermelons. Those good spirits are luckily making their great comeback in our own time and start managing the course of human desires leading back to Nature a human being is just a potentially the most perfect part of.
Zenica is situated in a central part of Bosnia and Herzegovina which used to be called „Bosnia Proper“. It is because the Sarajevo-Zenica Valley is the true historical core of Bosnia could be traced back. Due to this powerful historical significance, there are lots of traces and sanctuaries speaking of the past more vividly than any official historical chronology.
SANCTITY OF FOOTBALL
One of those sanctuaries is found at a quite unusual place - "Bilino Polje" football stadium. This stadium has seen done a lot for Bosnia and Herzegovina statehood than most of its politicians, since nowhere else could you feel such a powerful surge of Bosnian patriotism as with the Bosnian national team fans. That's why the national team makes it best performances right here. Football has become a modern religion not only because it is like that everywhere else, but for this specific place the stadium was built at. Back in early 12th Century it is exactly at this location that Kulin Ban, the greatest Bosnian ruler ever, made a diplomatic bravura when he renounced the Pataren faith under the pressure of the Pope and Hungarian King and embraced Catholicism. He signed the Abjuration Act to continue living and believing as he used to before. That magnificent dribbling remained unmatched to these days.
SOMETHING FOR THE ANTHROPOLOGISTS
Religion, the official one, played an important part in the communal life. Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox and Jews tried to live in peace, each in its own faith making the resting places for the soul at the hard path of everyday life. Religions principles combined with the ancient customs created a tradition of spirituality and specific charm of the local habits. Ethnic traditions were mainly specific for each particular community, but some of them luckily developed into the common ones, the Zenica-specific feasts that has become a connective tissue of the local community.
There are lots of interesting documents, tales and material proofs of each of them. Jews came to Bosnia after being driven out from Spain when the Ottoman Empire provided them a safe haven. After the Austro-Hungarian conquest at the turn of 19th and 20th Century, the Synagogue was built, one of three of the sort in Bosnia, in elegant pseudo-Moorish style.
Catholics has lived in Zenica for century with the exception of approximately 150 years when they all left Zenica and joined the troops of Eugene of Savoy in 1699 to come back in the mid 19th Century, this time not as descendants of the indigenous population, but as dwellers of Adriatic islands who sought for better living conditions in the fertile Zenica valley. In the past they came to Zenica for mere survival; nowadays we go to the Adriatic Coast to enjoy the sea and sun. Yet another defining link between the past and the present.
Orthodox people always lived in a certain number here. They built a city church, Sports Society later turned into the City Theatre, and now used as premises of the Serbian Cultural Society and frequently and the concert hall for the Zenica youth.
Muslims mainly came to the historical scene with the arrival of Ottomans. Islam cherish the cult of water, therefore many sacred structures were built next to the water courses. It is also the case with the Zenica Musalla, an outdoor prayer place, built at the mouth of Babina Rijeka. Muslims used to have the oldest religions school dating back to 1720 which would see, at the first decades of the 20th Century, the unusually daring changes when it organized the combined male-female classes and hired non-Muslim teaching staff. Something else is worth mentioning when it comes to the Muslims and the way they treated their neighbors of other religions. In the World War Two, Muslim intellectuals signed a famous Resolution asking the then authorities to protect the Serbs, Jews and Roma people, the act that still today stands as the best illustration of mentality of Zenicans, the people ready to help the weak and cherish the sanctity of hospitality for all those coming to Zenica to learn, and not to enslave.
This diversity of worldviews, religions affiliations and traditions make true paradise for anthropologists focused on the complex communities and their customs. To them, Zenica offers an unfailing source from which the present time is overwhelmed by the ever splashing cascades of the past.
THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?
One of the major cohesive customs in Zenica typical for the inhabitants of all affiliations and ages is Zenica's Spring Feast, a gathering at the heart of the town in a green oasis persistently preserved for decades, and which our youth in a desire to emphasize its significance call Cambridge (likened to Kamberovića polje). In the eve of the spring, awaiting the first breath of life after long cold winter months, people erect tents at the Bosna riverbank and stay overnight savoring Zenica's omelets and contemplating the eternal puzzle: which comes first the chicken or the egg? This Feast of Spring culminates in a first swimming in the River Bosna, and lately in rubber boat race at the distance between the two city bridges.
Kamberovića polje actually makes the first concentric circle of the Zenica's green tourism. It is a skillfully designed oasis decorated with extremely beautiful bushes and trees nicely divided with the walking, jogging and cycling paths that partly follow the river line and offer the guests the best possible way to get the first impression of the town and its inhabitants. This what a recreational tourist once said: The first day of jogging you are curiously looked at by fellow joggers; the second days they smiled at you and greet politely; the third day they invite you for a coffee. Kamberovića polje is the epicenter of all recreational facilities in the town with City Arena, Football and Track and Field Stadium, Tennis Courts and Gyms. It is only ten—minute walk away from the indoor or outdoor swimming pools. The traffic jams are not felt at this part of the town since the recreational routes stretches along the river and under the bridges providing the good isolation from the urban area.
For those who want more that what Kamberovića polje offers, there is another combined option. They could stay overnight at one of the modern city hotels and set off each morning for the surrounding places where natural resources lie in such an abundance to quench the thirst of the modern man for the escape from the harsh reality of our everyday lives. The countryside and climate define the people’s character, and Zenica’s features have been engraved for centuries in a challenging play of climate changes and diverse landscapes that often rudely affects the human fates showing the invincible force of Nature, but the very next instant demonstrating the magnificently beautiful visual feast, always new, unique and one of a kind.
WHAT MAKES ZENICANS GOOD HOSTS
Had the people been classified into hosts and guest, Zenicans would have certainly qualified for hosts. A number of reasons made them develop in this direction. Geographically situated in the very center of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in a valley through which River Bosna meanders and divides the forest-rich hills and mountains, Zenica has long been a refuge for many of the suppressed fleeing from the bordering regions of the country. By the end of the 19th Century with the industrial development, Zenica played a host again, this time to the engineers of the then Austro-Hungary. Later on, the city welcomed the newcomers seeking jobs. That's how Zenica has become a refuge or a place of choice for many people coming from different places in the region or from other European countries.
DIVERSITY OF LANDSCAPE
How did this pattern of hospitality and openness come to being? It happed for a very simple reason: Zenicans are born and grow up in an exceptionally beautiful natural landscape embroidered with a number of rivers and creeks, defined by a relief that constantly surprises with its sudden changes turning the horizon line of huge mountain plateaus into the amazing verticals of its stunning cliffs. The moment you get thirsty after a long walk on the well-marked paths of the Lisac Mountain, there comes the clear well in a shade of a mighty beech that rises sky-high and nourishing the water with the bodily force of the earth and heavenly power of the sky. What other pleasure one could wish for in this turbulent modern life of ours!
When so refreshed and recharged you continue your mountain expedition the eye catching seen draws your attention to the huge orchard where dwell a few innocent looking does. The host who planted the fruits would readily start chatting on the seasonality of white or pink fruit blossoms, the difference between sweet and sour apples, and why apple eating worms make symbols of health and harmony of the living organism. Reinforced with the freshly picked fruits, you may continue your trip to the Lisac Mountain House. There, while drinking a mountain herbs tea and local cuisine specialties, you could stay overnights and the day after, early in the morning, enjoy the crisp air and a grass dew flickering as a pleasant reminder of the night that has just passed away.
A little bit further, above Zenica, Smetovi rises up. Somewhat lower than Lisac, Smetovi makes a nice resort, both in winter and summer. In snowy days, Smetovi makes the pleasing skiing ground for skiers; in summer, one could breathe clean air at the converging point of air streams that make a healthy medicine for those suffering from lung diseases. Smetovi also boasts of the largest mountain house, and there also dwell the Zenica’s scouts, one of the best organized groups of the nature lovers in this part of Bosnia.
Half way to the peak of Smetovi, one could visit the Adrenalin Academy of the Extreme Sports Club “Scorpio”. What awaits there is feeing the true spirit of the forest in a set of adrenalin raising exercises that helps us get connected to the nature and its laws. Also offered are mountain biking, paragliding, rock climbing and any other types of similar activities. One realizes here there are really acceptable types of extremism.
THE ROYAL PLATEAU
It is possible to reach Kraljevine (The Royal Plateau) from Smetovi either by foot or on a bike. Hundreds of thick-fleeced sheep feed on this royal plateau giving the first-class milk, wool, meat and cheese, all available to our guests at the house of our host, a red-cheeked and healthy-smiled villager. There you can also see the original breed of the Bosnian shepherd dog "Tornjak", who acts like a baby puppet to friends, but gets more dreadful than wolf to enemies. Tornjak is the internationally recognized Bosnian breed of shepherd dog well adapted to the Bosnian climate.
With a bit of luck, walking down the path to Zenica, in a village of Sebuje known for high quality beech, you may see “Buša”, a Bosnian breed of cow, tough and viral domestic animal well adapted to the natural ambience, undemanding and very easy to breed.
The story of Zenica goes on and on. We are yet to discover its full potentials for both local people and visitors. In the meantime, we offer this short introduction to your kind attention in the hope of welcoming you one day and share with you whatever we have to say to each other as human beings of similar fate who live on this unique planet we call Earth.