Travel Destinations

The Stećci Necropolis of Radimlja and Boljuni

graves and crosses

The necropolises of stećci It was another of the visits that I was most looking forward to in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Bosnian necropolises
Radimlja Necropolis in Stolac

The stećci (Stecak singular) are medieval tombs found in 30 locations in Bosnia Herzegovina, central and southern Croatia, western Montenegro, and western Serbia.

Height of the Stećak

The word stekak is a contracted form of an old Slavonic word stojecakwhich comes from the verb Stajati And what does it mean to stand? Therefore, stećak would literally mean “a tall and standing thing”. However, some stećci they are vertical tombs and others are horizontal.

Stecci in Radimlja
Stecci in Radimlja

It is estimated that 60,000 stećci They are located within the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the rest, about 10,000, are spread over the rest of the aforementioned territories. But 90% of them are in poor condition.

Medieval Grave Cemeteries »stećci

Nekropola Radimlja
The Radimlja necropolis includes 133 stećci

Under the name Medieval Grave Cemeteries »stećcimain stećci they were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016. The inscription includes 30 necropolises, of which there are 22 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2 in Croatia, 3 in Montenegro, and 3 in Serbia.

Bosnia Herzegovina
The drawings of the graves

These funerary monuments date from the 12th to the 16th centuries and are arranged in cemeteries, which are known as nekropola, as it has been customary to do in Europe since the Middle Ages, and almost all of them are located on hills that dominate the surrounding countryside. They are mostly carved in limestone with a wide variety of ornamental motifs and inscriptions.

Medieval tombs in Bosnia & Herzegovina
grave engravings

They are apparently an expression of a funerary tradition strongly linked to the territory and shared by Catholics, Orthodox and the Church of Bosnia, although it would not be exclusively Christian either. For academics, they are mostly related to the Wallachian population, a romanized autochthonous population that occupied the area during the Middle Ages. And although it was originally a burial for kings, over time they were imitated by great feudal lords to refer to their high rank.

Stolac Cemetery
The Stolac necropolis

The epitaphs are written in the extinct Bosnian Cyrillic alphabet, although fragments of the Glagolitic alphabet have been deciphered on some, and their disappearance is associated with the arrival of the Ottomans in the area.

The Radimlja Necropolis in Stolac
The Stećci of Bosnia Herzegovina

The stećci They manifest themselves in seven forms: slab, chest, chest with pedestal, ridge, ridge with pedestal, pillar and cross, although most fall into the category of slab or chest.

Burials from the Middle Ages in Boljuni
Crosses of the Middle Ages

Among the decorative motifs on the tombstones are knights in armor, hunters hunting, farmers in the field, warriors competing in tournaments, rearing horses, dancers, dressed ladies, flowers, wolves, bears, wild boars, and dogs. Favorite ornaments included the crescent moon, stars, cross, and swastika. The images celebrate life, joy and physical strength.

The Radimlja Necropolis

Cross in Radimlja
The characteristic engravings of the Radimlja necropolis

The most famous necropolis in Bosnia Herzegovina is that of Radimlja, near Stolac, the oldest city in Bosnia & Herzegovina. The reason for its fame is due both to its accessibility and to the good state of conservation of the stećci.

Mortuary chests in Bosnian medieval cemeteries
Tombstones in the Radimlja necropolis

Most of its tombstones date from 1480 and the rise of the necropolis is associated with the noble family of Miloradovicwho ended up converting to Islam with the arrival of the Ottomans, the date on which burials stopped.

Cemetery of medieval graves in Bosnia & Herzegovina
stećci medieval tombs cemetery

The necropolis includes 133 stećcialthough there were more, but when the Čapljina-Stolac road was built during the Austro-Hungarian period in 1882, they went through the necropolis and 15-20 tombstones were destroyed.

Visit the Radimlja necropolis
Bosnian Necropolis

Almost half (63) of the stećci they are decorated in bas-relief, engraving, or a combination of both.

Surroundings of Stolac
The Radimlja Necropolis

The figurative representations can be divided into male figures with their right hands raised – there are several – and hunting scenes, and knightly tournaments with an artistic and religious combination of pagan and Christian ideas.

Engravings and bas-reliefs of the stecci
Man with raised hand in Radimlja

Although the necropolis can be seen from the road, it is worth paying the €2 entrance fee to see the stećci up close and contemplate its bas-reliefs.

Tomb of Moshe Danon

Tomb of Moshe Danon
Rabbi Moshe Danon

Near the Necropolis and in the direction of Stolac is the tomb of Rabbi Moshe Danon, spiritual leader in Bosnia Herzegovina in 1815.

At that time, the ruler of Bosnia accused the Jews of having killed an important dervish. He arrested Moshe Danon and ten other Jews demanding a ransom that his community could not pay. When the ruler threatened the rabbi’s execution, Muslims in Sarajevo they took up arms against his government and freed the captives.

Jews in the Balkans
Moshe Danon Mausoleum

During his captivity, Moshe Danon promised to make a pilgrimage to Palestine, but was killed near Stolac, where a mausoleum was built for him, resembling the stećci.

Over time, Moshe Danon’s tomb became a pilgrimage site for Sephardic Jews from Bosnia and Herzegovina, a tradition that has survived to this day. And although it belongs to the Jewish culture, the tombstone was also honored among Muslims, particularly among the dervishes.

Stolac, the oldest city in Bosnia & Herzegovina

Stolac Fortification

They say that Stolac is the oldest place in Bosnia Herzegovina. It is a small city crowned by Vidoska Fortressthe best fortified and largest in the country.

Although we didn’t stop for long, Stolac is a place to take it easy because there are many tourist attractions in the area. In addition, of those that we have already mentioned, you can visit the Badanj paleolithic cave. But there are many other attractions: Ottoman houses, small Orthodox churches, the Hospital of Bones of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Daorson’s Illyrian site or the Boljuni Necropolis, among others.

The Boljuni Necropolis

The necropolis is located 15 km from the town of Stolac in a rural area owned by someone.

Medieval burials in Boljuni
Nekropola Boljuni

It is free and it must not be a very visited place because we had to open a fence to enter with the car, crossing the path that crossed some fields.

Boljuni Medieval Necropolis
Medieval chest shaped tombs

The necropolis has two groups of tombs separated by about 400 meters between crop fields. Currently this place houses 274 stećci, of which 90 present decorations, lining up in rows facing west. Those with bas-relief decorations present a wide variety of motifs such as flowers, spirals, swords, rose windows, shields, crescents, etc…

Boljuni's medieval stećci
Stećak with Boljuni engravings

There are also numerous scenes and figurative compositions: the kolo, traditional Balkan dance, hunting scenes, etc. Some of them are only found in Boljuni, such as the one that represents a woman with a child in her arms, mythological animals such as dragons, lions, a clan chief who rides a deer, etc.

Necropolis near Stolac
Boljuni Necropolis

Another of the particularities of this necropolis are the signatures of the master sculptors that can be found on about twenty stećciespecially Grubacconsidered the best craftsman in that field, recognizable by his artistic style and motifs, who was active between the years 1440 and 1460.

Medieval Christian burial grounds in Bosnia
The Boljuni Necropolis

Located about twenty meters from the necropolis area is the hole round with wide mouth neves, called “Greek well” by the local inhabitants. This well was used by the people of the area until the 1960s.

Greek well in Boljuni
The Neveš well

We were there alone. We opened and closed the gates of the fences that surround the necropolises and, just as we were leaving, we passed one of the farmers in the fields who greeted us kindly.

rural Bosnia
Pigs in the rural area of ​​Boljuni

If we had already enjoyed the wonder of Radimlja, Boljuni, in the middle of the fields of southern Bosnia & Herzegovina, it turned out to be something magical.

Boljuni Medieval Necropolis
Boljuni funerary ensemble

And after visiting these places, we headed for Trebinjethe last of our stages in this beautiful and fascinating country.

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