Banja Luka through history

The present Banja Luka region and its surrounding area was convenient for settling and living even in ancient times, which is best evidenced by archaeological remains of the material culture of the people who once lived in this area.

In pre-Roman times, the Banja Luka region belonged to the territory of the Illyrian tribe Mezey. They were conquered by the Romans at the beginning of the new era, who imposed their rule and maintained it through a strong military and administrative apparatus. The ancient roadway Salona (Solin) – Servitium (Gradiska) passed through what is present day Banja Luka, where the Romans built a military camp next to which a civilian settlement was (Castro) developed. In time, it grew into a major urban center with military, civil, religious, economic and administrative facilities. Along with healing springs in the Banja Luka valley, Romans also discovered places for relaxation and leisure, because they too certainly knew how to enjoy the natural beauty of our city.

The Romans left with the fall of the Roman Empire and the destroyed homes, for the first time in this region, were inhabited by our ancestors Slavs in the 5th and 6th century. Medieval life around Banja Luka flourished, but sources and archaeological materials do not provide data on functioning of the settlement or the fortress on the site of Banja Luka. The city name is not mentioned until the twilight of the Middle Ages, in 1494, and one of the last documents from the period of the Jajce Banovina from 1527 to 1528, talks about Andrija Radatovic, commander who “because of his indecisiveness and fright ignited the Banja Luka fortress which he was in charge of, together with the city which extended at length along both banks of the Vrbas river and escaped to a safe place.”

In 1528 Banja Luka fell under Turkish rule, which lasted for almost four centuries. Banja Luka in the Ottoman period, was built on the site of a small medieval settlement, was being developed at an accelerated rate considering the time period. It soon took on the appearance of a developed centre with an oriental concept, and a market-place in Gornji Seher (Srpske Toplice) which was an economic, commercial and social centre. In 1580 Banja Luka was chosen as the seat of the Bosnian pashaluk, and residential districts, mahallas, sprang up above Vrbas and Suturlija and, during that, only one unwritten zoning law was considered – “right to view” – right to a view of the river. The Turkish – Austrian conflict in the late 17th century marks the end of the rise of Banja Luka. The destruction in war years 1688-1690, when the city was burned and destroyed, was followed by “dark years” for life in Banja Luka. Hunger and disease spread mercilessly and took a heavy toll.

Since the mid-nineteenth century, characterised by numerous riots, rebellions and aspirations of the population for liberation from Turkish domination, many large social, political and economic changes could be felt. In this last short period of Turkish rule, during the construction of the railway Banja Luka – Dobrljin (1872/1873), many foreigners, engineers and builders came to Banja Luka. Several years earlier, another organised group of foreigners arrived – Trappists. With their settlement in Delibasino selo began the industrialisation on the northern outskirts of the city. The Trappists built a mill on the Vrbas River and launched a cheese production facility. They built a brewery, a cloth weaving facility, and perhaps the most significant task was launching of the Trappist power plant on the Vrbas River, from which the city got its lighting in 1902.

The incompetence and the deterioration of Turkish authorities were seen at every step, and harassment of people was becoming increasingly common. Through decisions of the Berlin Congress in 1878, it was decided that the Austria-Hungary annexes Bosnia and Herzegovina and restores order in the country. The occupying forces wished to conceal their colonial and exploitative policy from the eyes of the world. They started constructing and opening of a number of cultural institutions and schools of a modern European type. In that period, the newspaper “Razvitak” was started in Banja Luka and that was the first time that the city had a political newspaper that represented people’s interests and the first literary journal that will later serve as an incentive for literary work. These events are reflected in the transformation of the urban structure of the city. A territorial expansion of Banja Luka was noticeable and it continued north of Crkvena where new parts of the city were taking on a European appearance suppressing the hitherto dominant oriental characteristics.

In 1918, the Austro-Hungarian rule came to an end. That same year, the Kingdom of SHS was formed, which soon became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Since then, Banja Luka became the centre of political and cultural life of the entire Krajina region, and in 1929 the capital of the Vrbas Banovina. In the thirties of the last century, during the governance of Svetislav Tisa Milosavljevic, the central part of the city significantly changed its appearance. The city got its beautiful buildings and turned into a beauty of Krajina, as Banja Luka is called today. Along with the newly built Serbian Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity, the Banovina Administration building and Ban’s Palace were built, and some time later Hipotekarna banka (now the Palace of the Republic). The “Palace” Hotel, a modern hospitality facility, was built in 1933 across the street from the central park and it was constructed in the style of French parks with a pavilion for music and a water fountain. Sokolski dom was built in 1934, the same year as Dom kralja Petra I Oslobodioca which housed not only the theatre, but also the museum, the “Zmijanje” Association and the National library with 6,000 books. There was a large number of newspapers that started to come out in this period,  such as “Krajiški Dnevnik” and the daily “Nova štampa” and then “Vrbaske novine”. The cultural magazine “Književna Krajina” was launched on 1st January 1931.

After World War II, Banja Luka freely grew and developed as a city. Many neighborhoods were built with modern multi-story buildings. New streets were built and the length of Banja Luka tree-lined avenues doubled, which always represented a kind of a trademark, a distinctive symbol of the city on Vrbas. A great misfortune befell Banja Luka in the autumn of 1969. That year, the city was hit by two devastating earthquakes, however, with the help of the Yugoslav and international community, the construction of today’s Banja Luka quickly began. In the early 90s, there was a period of stagnation and inactivity in all fields of life, caused by the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, in a brief period, the city was revived and again began to develop and expand, as the most important economic, cultural, financial and university centre of the Republic of Srpska.