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It is rare to find a country that offers such diverse beauty and harmony of limestone mountains, lush valleys, centuries-old forests, crystal clear rivers, and green mountain lakes. It is from these pristine areas that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rich cultural heritage evolved. To understand Bosnia and Herzegovina one must have a keen sense of the immense geographical factors that have shaped this country since pre-historic times.
In a country that covers only 51,000 square meters it is no less than a phenomena that it hosts so many drastically various landscapes. From rugged Alpine peaks, dry and arid Mediterrenean Herzegovina, the rolling green hills of central and northern Bosnia, to the vast flatlands of Semberija in the northeast along the river Sava this tiny place offers a more fascinating array of climates, cultures, vegetation, watersheds, and wildlife than any country in southeast Europe.
Much of Bosnia and Herzegovina is covered by mountainous terrain. The long chain of the southern Alps – the Dinaric Alps, stretch from northwest Croatia through the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina and into Montenegro finishing in the Prokletija Mountains on the Albanian border. Herzegovina hosts the highest and wildest of this mountain range which for centuries provided protection for the Illyrians from Roman invaders, slowed the Ottoman conquer of Bosnia and created a rugged self-reliant culture that still dominates present day Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Expanding from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s western border with Croatia the Dinaric chain cuts through the heart of central Herzegovina with Prenj, Cabulja, Cvrsnica and Velez Mountains – all above the 2,000 meter mark. This mountain range is the natural boundary of the Mediterranean and continental Alpine climates. The warm Adriatic temperatures clash with the harsher Alpine ones producing one of the most diverse and unique eco-systems in all of Europe. Over 32 types of endemic plants, flora and fauna can be found in the central Herzegovina mountains.
From the high central ranges the Dinaric’s cut east towards Visocica, Bjelasnica, and Treskavica Mountains. Deep canyons characterize this area and many highland settlements can be found dating back to medieval times. Moving even further east are Bosnia’s highest peaks bordering with Montenegro. Protected in Sutjeska National Park, Maglic Mountain (2,386 meters) towers amongst the surrounding natural fortresses of Zelengora Mtn., Volujak, Lejlija and the Mezozoic walls of Lebrsnik Mountain. Sutjeska National Park hosts one of the two remaining primeval forests in Europe – Perucica. The old wood trees are the last remains of forests dating back 20,000 years. Through these peaks the Sutjeska, Tara, and Piva Rivers carve their way as three of the main tributaries of the Drina River. Throughout the entire chain are the prized ancient villages that preserve the ‘old world’ Europe. In the open valleys between them have sprawled the towns and cities of Mostar, Jablanica, Konjic, Sarajevo, Foca and countless smaller settlements. A rugged and creative mountain culture has emerged from this region connecting man and nature in ways rarely seen in modern times.
Whilst most of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s terrain is dominated by mountains the northern areas, particularly the northeast, are part of the long plains that flow from Hungary, through Slavonia in Croatia into the fertile fields of the Sava and Drina River valleys. These flatlands extend deep into neighboring Serbia connecting to the Danube watershed. The northeast of Bosnia is one of the richest agricultural areas in the country.
The central belt of Bosnia is characterized by both mountains and green, rolling hills covered by lush conifer forests and lined with countless fresh water streams and rivers abundant in trout. The region known as the Krajina in the north- west is a fascinating specimen of karst topography. Deep limestone caves line Livansko, Glamocka, and Kupreska fields. Some of the largest caves in Europe can be found here. To the north the watershed of the Una River begins. The Una, Sana and Vrbas Rivers are all tributaries to the mighty Sava and have long been frontiers for protecting against different invaders.