Visiting Počitelj Kula UNESCO Site in Bosnia
Počitelj Kula is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Bosnia and Herzegovina with rich cultural and historical significance. Nestled on the bank of the Neretva River, it served as the hub of the kingdom of Dubrava župa in the 15th Century.
Despite being at risk due to the war in Yugoslavia, extensive restoration work has been carried out to preserve its authentic charm. The fortress, Master Tower (from which the town gets its name), and charming stone houses offer incredible views. This site is a rare blend of Ottoman and medieval architecture and features several restored Muslim sites.
Read on to discover the best way to visit this hidden gem. Having visited in October 2022, I have updated this article in 2023 to provide the most accurate information for your adventure.
History of Počitelj Kula
Počitelj is located right along the Neretva river, the same river that the Buna River feeds into and a short distance from the Dervish House. Due to its significant architectural and urbanistic historical value, it is considered an open-air museum.
In the middle ages the city of Počitelj was the center of Dubrava župa, a country at the time, and was of significant strategic importance as it was right along the Neretva river. Rivers during that time were incredibly important for trade. It is estimated that the first fortifications in the town started in 1383 with the Bosnian King Stjepan Tvrtko I. The first written mention of the city is from 1444.
An Endangered UNESCO Site
There are two important architectural styles that are not often seen together, medieval and Ottoman. The sites that are under the tentative UNESCO protection are the medieval mosque, the Muslim primary school (Mekteb), the charity kitchen (Imaret), and the Muslim High School (Medresa). There is also a Hamam that resembles many of the Turkish baths we know today. There is a medieval inn (Han), and the beautiful clock tower (Sahat-Kula) built in the 15th century.
During the Bosnia and Herzegovina war though, much of this was damaged or lost and was placed on the World Monuments list as one of the most endangered cultural heritage sites in 1996. In 2000 there were programs and efforts that were begun to restore displaced people into the community, restore the old buildings, and protect the heritage sites.
The Longest Operating Art Colony in Europe
Besides its stunning oriental architecture and Ottoman feel, Počitelj hosts the longest operating art colony in southeast Europe. Artists from around the world gather here to paint the beautiful landscape, vistas, unique architectural mix of buildings and stone homes and inns.
If you follow Google maps to Počitelj, it will take you to the back entrance to the fort. It is the oldest walled section of the city and the original medieval nucleus. You can see the older inner town and fortress and the later additions from the second half of the 15th century. There are is still a granary, the 'water-tower' or cistern as well.
The Mosque of ŠIŠMAN IBRAHIM-PAŠA
The Mosque received significant damage in the war and has been beautifully rebuilt. There are photos inside that help show how much damage the mosque and city incurred. It has been beautifully rebuilt in the same style and with the same techniques that they were originally built in. You are greeted with beautiful dome lined with Ottomon style windows where the sun shines through brightly colored circular stained glass window. The acoustics inside are said to be incredible, unfortunately we couldn't stay to hear the call to prayer as a storm rolled in quite quickly and dumped SO MUCH RAIN. So if you have the time, try to stay for that.
Originally it was built in 1562-63 AD by Hadži Alija. You can climb up the minaret for incredible views of the river as well.
This small religious school dates back to 1664 with five classrooms and one large lecture room. You can't go inside, because it is still used as a school today, but it helps provide the charm to the town of Počitelj.
The Hamam in Počitelj represents many of the baths you would find in Turkey. It is believed by many that the baths were built before 1664. It has five lead covered domes, and has not been used since the 19th century.
Inside you would find a sadirvan (a changing room and fountain), a kapaluk and halvat (warm rooms), a sogukluk (cold room) and a hazna (boiler room) with a halvat (a private sauna) that was added in the 18th century.
I really hope that they can restore this to a working Hamam again. How cool would it be to be able to say you experienced a medieval Hamam.
Originally it was used as horses stables, then turned into an inn, and in the 1970s for catering. It is a single story building in the middle of town. Today it is used as a restaurant that has mixed reviews (people apparently either love it, or hate it). If you have the time to visit please let me know your thoughts about it in the comments below.
SAHAT-KULA - CLOCK-TOWER
As with many towns in Dalmatia, Počitelj has its own clocktower as well. Believed to have been built in 1664, with the classic stone as used with other structures in this town. The tower rises 52 feet (16 m) above the town.
The bell that was once inside was melted down by the Austrio-Hungarians in WWI for bullets and artillery use. While the clock mechanism is not longer there you can still see the windows where the clock faces would have been shown.
The uniform way the homes are built here struck me as other-worldly beautiful. I stopped in my tracks and half expected a fairytale creature to come out and greet me with three wishes or cookies and warm milk. The homes are single story with oriental influences of architecture with hipped gable roofs with irregular stone slabs for tiles, oriel windows, small courtyards and gardens surrounding it.
Many of the homes feature round chimneys, hamamdžiluk (small bathroom), cupboards that occupy an entire wall and are mostly built of stone.
Tips for Visiting Počitelj Kula
If you want to explore the entire town, I suggest parking below and then hiking your way up to the the fort viewing platform and the master tower. That way you can wander through the town, stop at the adorable shops and grab some tea while watching the Nereteva River.
If you are short on time, or are directionally challenged like me - then just follow Google maps and it will direct you to the back entrance to the fort viewing platform. It allows you to see the beautiful views without having to hike the entire way up (which is especially nice on a hot day).
I definitely think it is worth at the very least a quick stop for the views.
Is Visiting Počitelj Kula Worth It?
I truly believe ANY UNESCO site or UNESCO protected site is definitely worth a visit. the views here will take your breath away, the 360 degree views of this medieval Ottoman city will have you clicking away with your camera shutter. It is a great stopping point for those on a road trip (like we were) through the Balkans to stretch the legs, get a little workout in, and get a genuine non touristy type of feel for the beauty and rich history that Bosnia and Herzegovina holds.
Let me know if you found this article helpful in the comments below or if you have any questions on visiting. Have a wonderful time in the Balkans!
Guided Tours of Počitelj Kula
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