Turkey In Europe – The Illyrian Alps, Bosnia, And Herzegovina

BOSNIA, in the north-western corner of Turkey, is the Switzerland of the European Orient, but it is a Switzerland whose mountains do not reach the zone of perennial snow and ice. In many respects the mountain ranges of Bosnia, and of its southern province, the Herzegovina, resemble those of the Jura. They, too, are composed principally of limestone, and rise in parallel ridges, surmounted here and there by sharp crests. Like the successive ridges of the Jura, they are of unequal height, and, taken as a whole, assume the appearance of a plateau traversed by parallel furrows, and gently sloping in one direction. The most elevated chain of Northern Bosnia is that which separates it from the coast of Dalmatia, and the less elevated ridges running parallel with it gradually decrease in height towards the north-east, in the direction of the plains of the Save.

Rocks not belonging to the Jurassic system, such as crystalline slates, dolomites, tertiary deposits, and serpentine, are met with in various localities, and impart some variety to the orographical features of Bosnia. Several crater-shaped depressions in the east and south-east separate the mountains of Bosnia from the mountain masses of Servia. The most remarkable amongst these plains is that of Novibazar, into which numerous torrents discharge themselves, and which commands roads diverging in various directions. This is the strategical key of the country, and is destined on this account to become an important railway junction.

Nearly all the mountain ranges which pass from Carniola and Austrian Croatia into Bosnia increase in height as we advance towards the centre of the peninsula. The bleached pyramid of the Durmitor, close to the northern frontier of Montenegro, attains an elevation of nearly 8,000 feet, and the plateau surrounding it is cut up by deep cavities, some of which, like the troughs of the Herzegovina, open out in one direction, whilst others are completely shut in by declivities. The Prokletya, or ” cursed ” mountain, still farther to the south-east, rises to a height even more considerable, and constitutes one of the most formidable mountain masses of all Turkey. A huge depression occupies its centre, the bottom of which is covered by the Lake of Plava. Even in summer patches of snow may be seen on some of the mountains which surround this abyss. But Mount Kom, the highest of all, never retains its cap of snow during the whole of the year, for it melts away before the hot African winds to which it is exposed. Mount Kom may possibly turn out to be the culminating point of the Balkan peninsula. It is certainly one of the highest summits, and its double peak, rising above the plateau of Montenegro, is descried from afar by the mariner navigating the Adriatic. It has been ascended by set eral travellers, for its slopes are gentle.

The rivers of Bosnia, like those of the Jura, flow between parallel mountain ranges towards the north-east, along the furrows traced out for them by nature. But these calcareous mountain ramparts of Bosnia, like those of the Jura, are broken up by narrow gorges, or climes, through which the peat up waters find a way from furrow to furrow. Instead of taking a serpentine course, as do most rivers flowing through a plain, these rivers of Bosnia change from valley to valley by abrupt bends. Gentle and furious in turns, they gradually reach the lower regions, and are finally swallowed up by the Save. Only one river, the Narenta, finds its way into the Adriatic ; all others, in accordance with the general slope of the country, flow in the direction of the Danube. These river valleys, with their sudden turnings, would be available as natural roads for reaching the plateau, if most of the gorges were not exceedingly difficult of access ; and until regular roads have been constructed, as in the cluses of the Jura, travellers are obliged to scale steep heights in order to pass from valley to valley. It is this want of practicable roads which renders military operations in Bosnia so difficult and perilous.

Great armies have at all times remained to the east of the mountain masses referred to, passing from the valley of the Vardar into that of the Morava, whose springs almost intermingle their waters. In that locality we meet with the bed of an ancient lake, through which flows the Sitnitza, one of the upper tributaries of the Servian Morava : this is the plain of Kosovo, the ” field of black birds,” which reminds all southern Slays of painful events. It was there the power of the Servians succumbed in 1389, and, if we may credit ancient heroic songs, more than 100,000 men perished in a single day. Five hundred years have passed away since this great disaster, but the Slays have never ceased to hope for a day of vengeance, and they look forward to the time when on this very field they may reconquer the independence they have lost.

The similarity between the mountains of Bosnia and of the Jura is rendered complete by the existence of grottoes, sink-holes, and subterranean rivers. Sink-holes from 60 to 100 feet in diameter, and shaped like funnels, are met with in many localities. Several rivers appear suddenly at the foot of a hill, and, after flowing on for a few miles, disappear again beneath some portal in the rocks. The table-land of the Herzegovina especially abounds in phenomena of this kind. The ground there is pierced by “sinks,” or ponors, which swallow up the water derived from precipitation. ” Blind valleys ” and ” troughs ” present everywhere the traces of currents of water and of temporary lakes, and after heavy rains the subterranean basins sometimes rise to the surface, and a river then flows for a time along the valley. As a rule, however, the inhabitants are compelled to collect the water they require in cisterns, or to fetch it from long distances. Elsewhere the hydrography of the country is subject to annual changes. Lakes which still figure upon our maps are drained through subterranean passages only recently opened ; other lakes are formed in consequence of some passage, which formerly carried off the surface water, having become choked with alluvium. No more curious river probably exists in the world than the Trebinishtitza, in the Western Herzegovina. It appears and disappears many times. One of its branches, flowing at one time on the surface, at, others underground, crosses the plains of Kotesi, in turns a parched champaign country or a lake abounding in fish, and enters the Narenta. Other branches pass beneath the mountains, and gush out near the shores of the Adriatic. One of the most famous of these springs is that of Ormbra, which pours its waters into the Bay of Gravosa, to the north of Ragusa.

“Where the rocks finish and the trees appear, there begins Bosnia.” So said the Dalmatians formerly. But many parts of Bosnia have now lost their clothing of verdure. The table-lands of the Herzegovina and Montenegro, no less than Dalmatia, have been despoiled of their forests, but Bosnia proper still remains a country of woods. Nearly one-half its area is covered with forests. In the valleys trees have almost disappeared, for the peasant is allowed to wield his axe without hindrance, but in the virgin forests of the mountains trees still abound. The principal trees of Europe are met with in these magnificent woods : walnut-trees, chestnut-trees, limes, maples, oaks, beeches, ash-trees, birches, pines, firs, and larches. Austrian speculators, unfortunately, avail themselves of the roads which begin to open up the interior of the country to devastate these forests, which ought to be preserved with the greatest care. The song of birds is but rarely heard in these sombre woods, but wild animals abound in them. They shelter bears, wild boars, and deer, and the number of wolves is so large that their skins form one of the most important articles of Bosnian commerce. Taken as a w hole, Bosnia ranks among the most fertile countries of Europe, and few regions surpass it in the beauty of its rural scenery. In some parts of the country, and particularly near the Save, large herds of hogs, almost wild, roam through the oak forests. Hence the epithet of ” country of hogs” which the Turks have derisively given to Bosnia.

With the exception of the Jews, the gipsies, and the few Osmanli officials, soldiers, and merchants in the principal towns, the entire population of the country is of Slav race. The inhabitants of Kraina, near the Austrian frontier, call themselves Croats, but they scarcely differ from the Bosnian Servians and Raitzes of ancient Rassia, now known as the sandjak of Novibazar. On the classical soil of Rascia originated most of those cherished piesmas, or popular songs, in which the Southern Slays have deposited their national traditions. The Herzegovinians, in some respects, differ from their Bosnian kinsmen. They are the descendants of immigrants who came from the banks of the Vistula in the seventh century. Like their neighbours the Montenegrins, they are more voluble in their speech than the Servians proper, and make use of numerous peculiar turns of expression and a few words of Italian which have glided into their language.

Although most of the Bosnians are of the same race, they are divided by religious animosities, and these account for their state of political servitude. At the first glance it may cause surprise that the Slays of Bosnia should not have succeeded in throwing off the Turkish yoke, like their kinsmen of Servia. Their country is more remote from the capital, and far less accessible than Servia. A conquering army coming from the south has not only to force numerous defiles, but has to contend, too, with the climate, which is far more severe than that of the remainder of the Balkan peninsula. But, in spite of these great natural advantages from a defensive point of view, every revolt has hitherto failed lamentably. We need not seek far for the cause of this: Christian and Mohammedan Bosnians are at enmity, and the Christians themselves are split up into Greeks, who are led by their popes, and Romans, who follow blindly their Franciscan priests. In their divided state they fall an easy prey to their oppressors, and servitude has degraded their character.

The Mussulmans of Bosnia call themselves Turks, but they are Slays nevertheless, like their Christian compatriots, and, like them, speakers with a large mixture of Turkish words. They are the descendants of the nobles who, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, embraced Islamism in order to save their feudal privileges. They also number amongst their ranks the descendants of brigands, who changed their religion in order to be able to continue their trade without fear of punishment. This apostacy gave to the lords even greater power over their wretched dependants than they had formerly possessed. The hatred of caste was augmented by religious animosity, and they soon surpassed in fanaticism the Mohammedan Turks, and reduced the Christian peasantry to a condition of veritable slavery. A wild pear-tree is still pointed out near one of the gates of Sarayevo, upon which the notables occasionally suspended some unfortunate raya for their amusement. Whether beys or spahis, these Mohammedan Bosnians are the most retrograde element of old Turkey, and on several occasions, as in 1851, they even rose up in rebellion in order to maintain intact their ancient feudal privileges. Sarayevo, as a Mussulman city, stood under the special protection of the Sultan’s mother, and possessed most extravagant privileges, which converted it into a state in the state more hostile to Christianity than the Sublime Porte itself.

Even in our own days the Bosnian Mussulmans possess far more than their proper share of the land. The country is divided into spahiliks, or Mussulman fiefs, which are transmitted, in accordance with the custom of the Slays, indivisibly to all the members of the family. The latter choose the most aged or most valorous of their members as their head. The Christian peasants are compelled to work for these Mussulman communities ; and, although no longer serfs, they are called upon to bear the chief burden of taxation and of other expenses. It is natural, under these circumstances, that the Christians of Bosnia should shun agriculture in order to devote themselves to trade, and nearly the whole of the commerce is in the hands of the Christians of the Herzegovina and of their co-religionists from Slavonian Austria. The Spanish Jews form communities in the principal towns, where they carry on their usual commercial pursuits and money-lending on tangible securities. They still talk Spanish amongst themselves, and never mention without emotion the naine of the country which sent them into exile.

The number of Mussulmans hardly exceeds one-third of the total population of Bosnia, and they are said to remain stationary, or even to diminish, whilst the more fecund Christians increase in numbers.

For the rest, the Bosnians, in spite of the differences in their religious belief; possess the same natural gifts as their Servian kinsmen, and, whatever destinies may be in store for them, they will in the end rise to the same level of intelligence. They are frank and hospitable, brave in battle, industrious, thrifty, of a poetical turn, fast as friends, and true as lovers. The marital ties are respected, and even the Mussulmans reject the polygamy permitted by the Koran. In the Herzegovina the women enjoy much liberty, and in many villages there are even back doors to the houses, in order that they may be able to gossip with their neighbours without going into the street. In Northern Bosnia, however, the Mussulman women are wrapped up closely in white linen sheets, and are hardly able to see a few steps before them. But., in spite of these good qualities, there exists an amount of barbarity, ignorance, superstition, and fanaticism, amongst Christians and Mohammedans alike, which is truly astounding. Incessant wars, tyranny on the one side, and servitude on the other, have brutalised their manners. The want of roads, the extensive forests, and the precipitous mountains have placed them beyond the reach of civilising influences. There are hardly any schools, and the few monasteries which supply their places are of little use, for the monks themselves are steeped in ignorance, and their pupils at most learn to chant a few hymns. Besides this, the immense consumption of sliboritza undermines the health of the people and demoralises them, and it has been estimated that every Bosnian—man, woman, or child—drinks annually no less than thirty-four pints of this detestable plum-brandy.

It may be matter for surprise that bustling towns should exist in so rude a country, but the natural resources of Bosnia are so great that a certain amount of local trade was sure to spring up. Isolated as they are, the Bosnians are thrown upon their own resources. They grind their own flour, manufacture their arms, stuffs, and iron implements, and the exchange of these commodities has given rise to commerce in the cities most favourably situated as entrepôts, the principal amongst which are Sarayevo, or Bosna Serai, and Travnik, the ancient capital of the country, picturesquely situated at the foot of an ancient castle. Banyaluka, which is connected with Austria by a railway, has some trade with Croatia; Tuzla extracts salt from its abundant brine springs; Zvornik, which guards the frontier of Servia, also carries on some trade with that country ; Novi-bazar has commercial relations with Albania ; Mostar and Trebinye import a few articles from Dalmatia. The populations of these towns have not, however, been solely attracted by trade and industry, for the insecurity of the country has also contributed to that result. There is no part of Europe, the neighbouring Albania and the polar regions of Scandinavia and Russia excepted, which is so rarely visited by strangers, and this isolation will only cease when the proposed inter-national railway shall have joined it to Saloniki and Constantinople.