These ancient Bosnian crafts are at risk of disappearing forever

These ancient Bosnian crafts are at risk of disappearing forever

These ancient Bosnian crafts are at risk of disappearing forever

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A rich tapestry of cultural heritage woven through time, Bosnian crafts are a symbol of the country and its traditions. Reliant on expert knowledge handed down through generations, some of these heritage crafts are sadly at risk of becoming a relic of the past.

Steeped in tradition and fascinating to observe, if you’re looking for things to do in Bosnia & Herzegovina, attending a workshop or visiting an artisan’s studio should be top of your list. We take a look at three venerable Bosnian crafts that will catch your eye.

For travel inspiration: Bosnia & Herzegovina Destination Guide

Soap Making

Four bars of soap in paste shade are half wrapped in brown paper on a bench with lavender behind

It’s hard to imagine a world without soap, in fact the earliest known soap recipe is credited to the ancient Babylonians around 2800 B.C. In Bosnia & Herzegovina the tradition of soap making has been kept alive using knowledge handed down through the generations.

One women’s cooperative in particular in the pretty village of Stolac are working hard to preserve this Bosnian craft, supporting local women along the way. Minja and Belma lead the local women’s association, and two years ago began soap making workshops. Designed initially for local women, these are also open to guests when they visit Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Unique to the region

Two women stand behind a bench full of soaps on show

“In Bosnia we have very famous natural herbs, which prevent many illnesses,” says Minja. “These are used in our soaps and also to make herbal oils and jam.

“The base of the soap is fat and caustic soda. We use different oils, such as coconut oil or olive oil for the base,” she explains, “with each type of fat or oil contributing different qualities to the soap, including hardness, lather, and moisturizing properties.” Lye (Sodium Hydroxide) is added, essential for the saponification process – it reacts with the fats or oils to create soap and water is then used to dissolve the lye and create a lye solution.

“Finally, we add herbs as well as oils for scent such as lavender, eucalyptus or vanilla. We make the product as out grandmother’s mothers made it, and we honor their recipe to keep the tradition alive.”

Important for the women

The soap that they make is very popular in local shops and is important for both the region and the community. Belma explains that a lot of women are included in the process, starting from those that grow and collect the herbs, through to those who make the soap, and package and prepare it and sell it. She tells us “we are protecting the heritage of this Bosnian craft of soap making whilst supporting not only businesses and tourism, but also the women of our region.”

The Stolac Women’s Association has been running for 19 years and their main goal is to help marginalized women, offering independence and empowerment. “As well as buying herbs from them, we also help them with the skills to make soap as well as other products,” Minva says. “And if they cannot sell these by themselves, they can always sell it here. That’s women power!

You may also enjoy reading: The fascinating history of Sarajevo you’ll discover with Local Expert Samra

Carpet Weaving

A group of people stand behind Bosnian craft carpets, in red and brown colours, in a market

Another ancient Bosnian craft that is at risk of despairing is carpet weaving. Typically featuring intricate geometric motifs, vibrant colors, and complex patterns inspired by nature and Islamic art, Bosnian carpets are instantly recognizable. One of the most iconic patterns in Bosnian carpet weaving is the ‘Bosnian lily or ‘Bosanska ljiljan’. This is a stylized floral motif often seen in the center of the carpets, and it has become a symbol of Bosnian cultural identity.

Sadly, the ancient Bosnian craft of carpet weaving is disappearing slowly in the country. The techniques of weaving in Bosnia can be traced to the Neolithic era. During the era of the Ottoman empire in the 15th Century that the Bosnian carpet became more complex both in terms of design and weaving technique. Prized for their quality and craftsmanship, and they were often used in mosques, palaces, and other important buildings.

However, their high fame was achieved during Austro-Hungarian rule. This was when the first weaving factory was established, along with the first published book illustrating original and traditional Bosnian patterns. Since WW1 though, their production has been in decline. Modern production techniques made cheaper alternatives, and the traditional craft of hand weaving became less sought after.

Today, artisans are working hard to apply traditional values to modern design. Workshops and schools teach the traditional techniques, and craftspeople display their work in galleries and exhibitions, in the hope that this heritage craft continues to be passed down generations.

You may also be interested to read: Tunnel of Hope: a survivor’s story of the Bosnian War


Copper pots sit on shelves showing intricate craft work

In the 1600s, the winding alleys of Sarajevo’s old quarter, Baščaršija, would have been a buzzing hive of artisanal activity. This would include a cacophony of coppersmiths practicing their craft. After pounding the copper into shape with a hammer, it is then heated and cooled, before being intricately hand carved and embellished.

No two items are the same, making their products not only useful and lovely to look at, but a truly unique keepsake. These days, however, the number of artisans is dwindling; age-old ateliers are being replaced by vendors selling mass-produced souvenirs. Nowadays there are maybe only 30 coppersmiths left in the capital Sarajevo.

Maintaining this traditional Bosnian craft that requires skill and time-intensive handiwork is hard in an era when machines produce ‘versions’ of traditional crafts much faster and cheaper. But the work of these dedicated artisans is supported by cultural organizations, museums and educational programs. Working together they play a vital role in preserving and promoting Bosnian coppersmithing. As a visitor you can also help support this ancient Bosnian craft by purchasing direct from the artisans.

You may also enjoy reading: MAKE TRAVEL MATTER®: Why developing meaningful travel experiences has never been more important

To enjoy these and other ancient Bosnian crafts, take a look at our Treasures of the Balkans tour.