The fortress that just wouldn’t go away…
«There’s nothing up there at all! Not so much as one stone on top of another! When the Turks burned it to the ground 500 years ago, they left nothing standing.»
These were the words that, whilst giving a presentation about the “pyramids” of Visoko at the end of the summer of 2006, Mr. Semir Osmanagic used to describe the mediaeval town of Visoki, the royal stronghold at the heart of the mediaeval kingdom of Bosnia.
On several occasions during the last three years, in two different situations, he has used very similar words:
when defending himself from attacks by archaeologists and local historians, who have periodically accused his excavation programmes of destroying the mediaeval ruins or putting them at risk. In May 2006, in an open letter (bs) to one of those critics, Professor Enver Imamovic, he wrote: “ At the time of the Ottoman Conquest, 550 years ago, the royal town of Visoki was razed to the ground [… ] Today there is literally not so much as one stone on top of another. ”
when effectively forbidden to carry out any further “excavation work” in the protected zone surrounding the old town of Visoki. The Commission had extended National Monument Protected Zone status to apply to the whole of the area around the hill of Visocica, which included the royal stronghold itself and the town whose boundary was believed to have extended over the hillside around the fortress. In June 2007, in a press release entitled “What is there to protect in the protected zone?” (bs) shown here:
he made, amongst others, the following statement: “During recent decades, the complete lack of interest shown by various cultural institutions has led to the abandonment of the site; today, there are no walls or any other remains to be seen there.”
At the same time, Mr. Osmanagic’s own Foundation website posted a link to an aerial video (bs) showing the “non-existent royal town of Visoki.” According to the press release, "thanks to this video we can clearly see that, on the summit of the Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun, formerly known as Visocica, there is nothing worth protecting."
Despite the fact that the town was “no longer standing”, and that there was “nothing there worth protecting”, a team from the Museum of Sarajevo, under the direction of Mrs. Lidija Fekeza and Mr. Mirsad Sijaric, began excavation work. After about a fortnight of preparatory work (scrub clearance, site surveys) at the end of September 2007 , the excavation proper got underway at the beginning of July 2008, and proceeded to bring to light piece after piece of evidence that systematically contradicted Mr. Osmanagic’s declarations.
The team uncovered an astonishing number of walls and passages:
and, in the space of less than a fortnight, had succeeded in excavating more artefacts than Mr. Osmanagic had found in three years:
numerous ceramics, and fragments that had evidently once formed part of sophisticated architecture:
One of the members of the team, Fuad Secerovic, sketching a reconstruction of an entrance to the monument:
In short, all these archaeological finds confirm historical opinion about the role of the town of Visoki, fortress and royal capital, during the Middle Ages. The excavations, which could last up to five years, have hardly begun, and it is to be hoped that many other interesting discoveries, of infinitely more value to the cultural and historic heritage of Bosnia-Herzegovina than Mr. Osmanagic’s pseudo-pyramids, will be brought to light.
It seems by the way that the views of certain present or former supporters of Mr. Osmanagic and his pyramids have been going through something of a sea-change. Take, for example, Mr. Senad Hodovic, Director of the Visoko Museum, one of the first people to encourage and assist Mr. Osmanagic with his project. He has been a longtime member of the Foundation Board of Directors, and it was with the help of a “ scientific guarantee ” provided by Mr. Hodovic – or, rather, by the Museum of which he is Director – that Mr. Osmanagic was able to obtain initial permission to excavate in 2006. Thereafter, M. Hodovic faded quietly into the background, eventually relinquishing all ties with the project, although without ever openly denouncing Mr. Osmanagic’s pseudo-archaeological activities. Some months later, in September 2007, at the time when the newspapers announced that the way was now clear for a KM 250,000 federal funding in 2008 (bs) for the excavation of the mediaeval fortress, he was first in line - before even the excavators themselves - to reveal the initial discoveries to the press (bs):
And, more recently, on 4th July 2008, he was again first in line to give an interview, from the site (bs) to RTV Visoko.
Then there is the case of the journalist Adnan Jasarspahic. In 2006 and 2007, he published several articles waxing eloquent about Mr. Osmanagic and the pyramids – although, in his defence, it should be stated that he was far from being the only one, given that, during this business, hardly any member of the local press has exhibited very much in the shape of either objective appraisal or professional ethics. Now, Mr. Jasarspahic waxes equally effusive about “the most important discovery in the history of Bosnia-Herzegovina”, except that this time he is talking about the fortress of Visoki (bs). At Visoki, so he tells us, there is no longer any question of “this, that and the other theory: we’ve seen the evidence, we’ve seen the artefacts ”… By this, does he mean that some other excavations have failed to uncover any “evidence” or “artefacts”…?
Another new convert to the doctrine of “orthodox archaeology” is Goran Cakic, an unemployed engineer and well known member of Mr. Osmanagic’s Foundation. He can usually be found somewhere or another around the area, and has published various pieces of whimsy masquerading as “site reports” (see “Noah’s Ark” and also “Mars, Egypt and Bosnia”). Like many another, he lost no time in hot-footing it to the site of the fortress of Visoki, and writing up his visit in an account published on the Foundation’s website (bs), and also released to the press (bs). In it, he lavishes glowing praise upon the site archaeologist, Mrs. Lidija Fekeza, and, oddly enough, even recalls how he himself, along with the historian and archaeologist Pavao Andelic, once worked on an excavation at the site . Yet, as noted by Stultitia (bs), this is the very same Mr. Cakic who, a little while before, had been busy with pronouncements to the effect that the hill of Visocica had “never been studied” …
Despite the fact that the Visoki excavation was being directed by the representatives of the loathed “orthodox science”, Mr. Osmanagic’s own Foundation, in a statement dated 18th July 2008 (bs), spoke of its pleasure at the renewed interest in the subject of the “historic treasures” of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Foundation also tried to appropriate the findings of the team from the Museum of Sarajevo, on the grounds that: 1) restoring the old town of Visoki had always been one of its priorities; and that 2) it was the Foundation which, back in August 2006, had requested the minister Ferid Otajagic for funding of KM 200,000 to finance excavation work on the old town.
So here we have a truly magnificent example of one of Mr. Osmanagic’s own pet themes, the “rewriting of history”. Far from considering the excavation of the old town and fortress of Visoki as a priority, he and his friends, as we saw earlier, have consistently sought to play down their importance, even to the point, with their continued insistence that there was “nothing worth protecting”, of denying their existence altogether. If the meeting with the minister Ferid Otajagic mentioned in the communiqué really did take place (there are two references to it in the News section of the Foundation, on 3rd September (bs) and 11th September 2006 (bs), as well as on the Visoko Radio and Television site (bs)), its purpose couldn’t have had too much to do with restoring the old town of Visoki, since the agenda was mainly concerned with statements about the transformation of the “valley of the Bosnian pyramids” into a National Park.
It is true that, in 2007, the Foundation did do some work on a “project for the study and conservation of the old town of Visoki)” (bs) ; however:
this project, directed by Muris Osmanagic, is dated 21st April 2007, i.e.: some days after the announcement of the funding in 2008 of KM 264,000 from the Federation Budget for the restoration of the old town of Visoki (bs) ;
apart from a few generalities about the mediaeval town cut and pasted from Wikipedia, the presentation, which I have discussed in detail here, contains precisely half a dozen lines on the actual subject of the restoration of the old town! The rest of the document consists of no more than a cut-and-paste of previous Foundation “pyramid” based projects.
The probable sequence of events can therefore be reconstructed as follows:
During April 2007, the Foundation, which has hitherto never displayed the slightest interest in the old town, learns that a significant sum of money is due to be allocated to the restoration of Visoki.
On 21st April, using existing documents on the “pyramids”, and adding in some extracts from Wikipedia together with a few generalities on the “cleaning” and “presentation” of the old town, Mr. Osmanagic Senior hurriedly cobbles together a makeshift project, with a view to landing the job of restoration, and hence the state funding, which the Foundation could then have used in ways not too difficult to imagine.
Over the next few days, the “project” is sent out to various government bodies, and, on 23rd April, the Foundation makes an “offer of collaboration” to the National Museum of Sarajevo (this correspondence is published on the Foundation website (bs)).
On 27th April, Dubravko Lovrenovic, principal of the Commission for the Preservation of National Monuments, sends a fax to various authorities alerting them to the risk represented by Osmanagic’s proposed project. Under the pretext of conserving the old town of Visoki, the real aim of the project is to obtain permission for the Foundation to continue the excavations in the protected zone that were effectively halted in 2006 by the site’s redesignation as a national monument (fax also published on the Foundation website (bs)).
On 29th April, the Foundation publishes a document (en) claiming that they have been victimised by Mr. Lovrenovic and by the Commission for the Preservation of National Monuments. This document, of course, contains not even the tiniest hint that the commendable decision to “protect” the old town could possibly have anything to do with the state funding of KM 260,000 announced several days earlier … funding that, fortunately, was eventually to allow the magnificent work of the team from the Museum of Sarajevo, described above, to go ahead.
In conclusion, I would concede that Mr. Osmanagic is perhaps right about one thing: it is possible that, albeit very indirectly, it was he who originally set the ball rolling for the present excavations on the site of the old town, in the sense that his destructive pseudo-archaeological activities speeded up the decision by the state authorities to give priority to the excavation of a mediaeval city where M. Osmanagic was determined to prove that there was not even “one stone left on top of another” ...
Last minute news!
On the 7th August 2008, I have just learned that the site of the fortress of Visoki has again been vandalized (bs), although it is not known if those who carried out the attack are the same people who were responsible for the depredations that took place in September 2007. According to the archaeologist Mirsad Sijaric, there has been extensive damage, to the point where the team suspects the involvement, not just of one or two individuals, but of a team of people with heavy equipment and machinery, even explosives. Some structures that had recently been uncovered, one cistern in particular, are now beyond all attempts at restoration …
Such a heartbreaking act of wanton criminal destruction… we can only wonder : who is profiting from this crime ? Who has an interest in compromising the study and restoration of a national monument?
Added on 18th July to YouTube, a video of the excavations at the mediaeval site of Visoki.
Many thanks to Hermione for the translation of this page.
 Even in the absence of excavations proper, the preliminary work carried out in 2007 quickly revealed that the site covered a much larger area than previously realized, and that its character was unexpectedly extensive and complex. This preliminary work was also marked by a regrettable episode when the newly uncovered walls were destroyed (bs) by persons unknown. To the best of my knowledge, the perpetrators of this act of vandalism have never been identified, but several local observers mooted the question of who was in a position to “profit from this crime”; see, for example, this communiqué from the Ministry (bs) : “The destruction of the walls of the old royal town of Visoki is a fresh sign that genuine cultural and historic treasures of this country are a thorn in certain people’s flesh …”
 The investigations in question were carried out in 1976 by Pavao Andelic; see the website of the Commission for the Preservation of National Monuments (en).
 The date of the federal decision seems to have been 31st March 2008, but the first press reports appear to be dated 18th April 2007.
 So should the Croatian military who “facilitated” the restoration of the Bridge of Mostar also be thanked…?