Ferhadija Fairytale

By Lamija

I raise this glorious Oratory in the name of Allah
Benefactor Ferhad – Bey, the helper of the believers
With a thirsty sword he engraved in marble his heroic name
With the war intake, that good man raised the endowment

Sipahi, when arrived to the building, told it the chronogram:

In the name of Allah, this place was built for believers.[

1Inscription carved in the stone above the doors of the Mosque, translated from Bosnian language.

While growing up, every little girl had her favorite princess and her favorite fairytale. I remember kindergarten teachers telling us the bedtime stories. The following day, all of the girls would be talking about the story from the previous day and the part they loved the most. From time to time, they would ask me about my favorite princess, but I never had an answer. How could I tell them that my favorite princess was not really a person?

My parents have always been enthusiastic about Islamic architecture, and instead of the usual fairytales before bed, they used to tell me the stories about monumental Islamic buildings of my country. I was around seven years old when they first told me the story of Ferhadija, a mosque in the city of Banja Luka. From that day, and up till now, I always imagine Ferhadija as the stunning princess, and that story became my favorite fairytale.

As Ferhadija was one of the most beautiful examples of Ottoman architecture in the Balkans, it became the symbol of the city on the Vrbas River, Banja Luka. People from all around the Empire came to Bosnia and Herzegovina to visit the city and pray in the mosque. The 400 year old monument was commissioned by Ferhad-Bey Sokolovic and even though there is no written data about the builders, it appears that the foreman of the works was a pupil of Mimar Sinan, the leading Ottoman architect, because of the obvious similarities with other Sinan’s buildings. The characteristics of the mosques designed in the Classical Ottoman period  are dome-based structures, changed proportions, greater emphasis on the use of lighting and shadows, and a huge volume of windows. Ferhadija is no different.

On May 7th, 1993, during the war in Bosnia&Herzegovina, Serbian authorities that took control over Banja Luka in the year before, ordered the destruction of all the mosques in the city, including Ferhadija, which was blown up. After  it was leveled to the ground, the place was turned into a park. Although the mosque could no longer be seen, it still could be found in the hearts of people who longed to see such beauty once again. Luckily, after 23 years of destruction, Ferhadija was reopened. The reconstruction of the mosque lasted for 15 years and cost more than 8 million dollars. About 65% of the original material of the mosque was recovered, thousands of pieces of rubble from the original building were used after being restored from the Vrbas River and a garbage site where they were dumped. The idea was to make the mosque as authentic as possible.

The story of Ferhad-Bey Mosque, commonly known as Ferhadija, is like any other fairytale: the beautiful beginning precedes to some difficult times, but once they are gone, they never come back. Ivo Andric said, „We all die once, only the great people twice, the first time when they disappear from the earth, and the second time when their endowment collapses.“ I am proud to say that Ferhad-Bey Sokolovic has lived through all these years.  I am proud to say that the Ferhadija Mosque, as remarkable as ever, stands once again in the heart of this  beautiful Bosnian city.