Afternoon in Visoko
The Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun
Wednesday, July 23
I boarded the 11:30am bus to Visoko. In my backpack I had my camera, a bottle of water and some snacks, which included pumpkin seeds and a few pitas. Having missed my morning kafa, I was tired and fell asleep in the short ride to the former center of the Bosnian medieval state. It is a small city, but one of the most densely populated areas in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with almost 180 residents per square kilometer. The area is thought to have been inhabited as early as 4000BC because of the rivers that flow through the valley.
In October 2005, Semir “Sam” Osmanagic announced that he believed a number of the hills standing above Visoko were actually ancient pyramids that were 12,000 years old, with the largest being the Pyramid of the Sun. Since I had some free time, I decided to go check them out to see what the fuss was all about. The bus pulled into the Centrotrans Visoko station at 12:30, giving me plenty of time to explore the small city and the pyramid. I ate one of my pitas and headed across the river. First, I found an information center and grabbed a map, then I set out towards the pyramid. As I walked it began to sprinkle, but never fully developed into rain. I turned up a small steep street next to an abandoned-looking church. At the top of the incline, I was relived to see a sign for the Pyramid of the Sun, along with a small souvenir shop and a group of French tourists. The signs boasted peer amazement with Osmanagic’s discovery and had “facts” about the pyramid. It stated that the entire hill had subsonic vibrations that were beneficial to the health and soul and that a large beam of electromagnetic energy shot vertically out of the top of the pyramid that allows levitation. I continued up the hill, following signs for Dig Sites #4-14.
After a short, dusty dusty walk, I came upon an old woman standing by a small table wearing sunglasses. On the table were some hand-knitted socks and a few small jars of mystery cream that she claimed helped all types of ailments. As I was passing her, she called out to me and directed me up the path she was in front of. I would have walked right past it if she had not been standing there, but I guess that’s why she chose that spot to set up camp. Directly up the stairs behind her was a small archaeological dig. The digs on this hill are run by student volunteers from all over the world. The archaeological community does not believe Osmanagic has presented enough evidence to back his claims and there were no professionals present. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” said Curtis Runnels, an archaeologist at Boston University in Massachusetts and a Balkan prehistory expert.
Despite dismissal by the professional community, the Bosnian government is supporting Osmanagic’s claims and has granted him permits to explore the site in more depth. According to a National Geographic article supporters say the dig is a spade of positive news in the once war-torn country. This may have swayed the government to support the claims of an ancient pyramid in Bosnia. Having something like this to work on brings the people of the country together and gives them something to talk about that has nothing to do with the previous conflict and everyday struggles. All of the Bosnians that I have talked to about the pyramids do not believe the claims but are still glad to talk about them, in an endearing, joking kind of way.
I continued further up the stairs to a small wooden structure with a map and a man selling tickets. The tickets were 5km each and he only spoke Bosnian and German. Well, I came this far, I’m not going to walk all the way back down the hill without first seeing the pyramid, so I bought a ticket. Just before the stairs left the hot sun and went into the pine trees, I turned around and had a sweeping view of the valley that Visoko sits in. The shade of the trees was appreciated greatly and I took a short water break before continuing up. I came across some uncovered slabs and a sign explaining that they were what the pyramids inhabitants used to cover the outside of the pyramid. According to a Smithsonian article, the geological history of the valley has a better explanation. Before the hills were formed, there was a large lake in the area. The bottom of that lake was covered in different layers of sediment depending on the nature of the rivers feeding into it. After the lake dried and the hills were formed, the layers remained under the dirt of the hills. A layer of sandstone and clay, that is present under the entire valley, could be mistaken for cement plates. Osmanagic’s fascination with these layers shows his archaeological and geological inexperience. “What he’s found isn’t even unusual or spectacular from the geological point of view,” says geologist Robert Schoch of Boston University, who spent ten days at Visoko that summer. “It’s completely straightforward and mundane.”
Most of the local supporters believe that this solidifies the Bosniak claim of medieval, royal heritage and places their ancestors above even the intelligence and skill of the ancient Egyptians. “The pyramids have been turned into a place of Bosniak identification,” says historian Dubravko Lovrenovic of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Commission to Preserve National Monuments. “If you are not for the pyramids, you are accused of being an enemy of the Bosniaks.” Osmanagich insists he disapproves of those who exploit his archaeological work for political gain. “Those pyramids don’t belong to any particular nationality,” he says. “These are not Bosniak or Muslim or Serb or Croat pyramids, because they were built at a time when those nations and religions were not in existence.” He says his project should “unite people, not divide them.” All of the local historians, archeologists, and politicians who have publicly denounced the validity of these claims have been verbally abused with things like “enemy of Bosnia” and “friend of the Serbs”. When the minister of culture of the Bosniak-Croat Federation blocked the renewal of foundation permits in 2007—on the grounds that the credibility of those working on the project was “unreliable"—the action was overruled by the federation prime minister. Many are outraged by the public funding that Osmanagic has received while the National Museum of Sarajevo, which has over two million archaeological artifacts, cannot find the funding to reopen.
Down one path was another small archaeological dig. I was hoping to find a path leading to the top of the "pyramid” so that I could see the valley from 700ft, but I was disappointed by the short paths and lack of signage. Many historians are worried that the exploration of the hills will damage existing history that has not yet been uncovered from the earliest, proven civilization in the area. When refused access to the artifacts that had been uncovered, the Commission to Preserve National Monuments expanded the protected zone around Visoki, effectively pushing Osmanagich off the mountain. He has turned his attention underground and has been excavating tunnels to connect the pyramids in the area. Although I did not find the tunnel excavation site, I did enjoy my walk up the hill. I walked around Visoko, checking out the old mosques. Since it was Ramadan, a majority of the shops in the area were closed and it gave the old shopping center a abandoned look. I wandered back into the bus station a few minutes before the Sarajevo bus pulled in. When we left the city, there were only a few older women on the bus besides me. The ticketer sat down with them to talk and the driver turned up the music, dancing in his seat as we drove. Once again, I fell asleep on the bus.
I hopped off the bus early as it drove through Sarajevo. Seeing all the stalls along the road selling fresh produce reminded me to stop by the open air market. I bought a slice of watermelon, which I had been craving for the past few weeks, and rode the tram back home, cradling my heavy, hydrating snack like a football. The watermelon was delicious, dark pink and full of flavor. I continued to plan out my walking tours through Budapest and Belgrade. When I went to make dinner, I found that the one clean pot that I had been using to make my pasta, was sitting in the fridge with leftovers. The other, larger pot had taken up permanent residence on the kitchen table with burnt food residue covering the inside. So, I decided to take myself out to dinner. While researching some restaurants I found a small blurb about the open air market. It had been the site of two brutal massacres during the war. The first massacre, occurring in February 1994 had killed 68 unarmed civilians and wounded 144 more. The second massacre was in August 1995, killing 43 vendors and market-goers and injuring 75. This second massacre was the event that finally triggered the NATO airstrikes against the Bosnian Serb forces and eventually led to the Dayton Agreement. The stubbornness of the Bosnian people who continued to sell their produce in this market is what has kept the Bosnian culture alive throughout their tumultuous history.