The historian Bogumil Hrabak wrote about Banja Luka in the XVI century: “In Banja Luka from 80’s of the XVI century, there were permanently settled Jewish merchants and doctors as well. But Jews were not as typical for the Banja Luka Charsija (Turkish word for business district) as they were for the Sarajevo Charsija “.[1] Bogumil Hrabak further mentions the names of two Jewish tradesmen from Banja Luka, some Jusuf (most likely Jozeph) and Baruh. This coincides with the rapid economic development of the city on the Vrbas in the second half of the XVI century, immediately after moving the centre of the Bosnian Sandzak in Banja Luka during the rule of Ferhad-Pasha Sokolovic who in 1579 built the famous Banja Luka Mosque Ferhadija. There are no written documents on the presence of a large number of Jews in Banja Luka at the transition from the XVI to the XVII century, but as we see, there are documents on the initial presence of a small number of the Jewish merchants. Since the Split wholesale trade of that time was mostly in the hands of the Venetians and Turks, whose territories reached the hinterland of Split, the Split Jews initially took over the role of small traders / agents and subjects from both sides. The Split Prince Giacomo Michiel unsuccessfully complained to the Venetians “that the Split Jews are everywhere and most of them do not live in the ghetto, because of their commercial ties with the inland provinces and that they simply do not contribute to development of the trade the Split ferry, but even perform the role of the Turkish spies, because they can freely move and trade in their sandzak (Turkish word for region)”. The most of thirty Jewish families who lived in Split in the XVI century, because of impossibility to carry out large transit trade, kept small trading shops in the city, supplying goods from the wholesalers Jews from the East and West that later sold to the merchants and caravan drivers. Vid Morpurgo[2] had collected hundreds of documents of that time which described the crucial role of Jews and Daniel Rodrigo for development of quay and lazaretto i.e. transit harbour in Split, which undoubtedly indicated that just the development of living trade in Split, its surroundings and toward inland, was one of the key moments for initial arrival of Jews in Banjaluka.

Karta B. Luke na prelazu 18 i 19 vijeka

Hrabak stated that at the end of the XVI century some Jews came from Split to Banja Luka and that in the mentioned period one Jewish doctor was sent from Dubrovnik and ended his life in the city on the river Vrbas.

I. Pederin in one of his works stated that the “General Governor of Dalmatia Francesco Zen in 1633 sent his representative Josef Penso to the Bosnian Pasha in Banja Luka in order to establish a broader commercial relationship with the Split port and lazaretto, and because of possible opening of the adequate representative office in Banjaluka. Jozef Penso, the Jewish tradesman from Split, was in 1630 the chief adviser to the Venetian Governor of Dalmatia and the key man for the organization of transit trade with Bosnia and the Bosnian merchants, mainly with Jews, whom he strongly influenced to use exclusively the Split[3] port. It was almost the dead heat for each caravan between Dubrovnik and Split, and the Turkish town Makarska, as a port (the Split port) that imposed itself in the Jewish monopoly of the transit trade with grain, from one side, and Bosnia from the other side, where the Venetians over Josef Penso and his pressure on the Jewish merchants tried in every way to maintain the level of trade via Split and the Split ferry.

Hahambaša – nadrabin u BiH 18. vijek

Influence of the Sarajevo Jewish merchants, who supported the trade links with seaports on the Adriatic coast, was huge and forced Penso to travel for Sarajevo as well. All these statements from the archived documents in Banja Luka, Dubrovnik, and Split provided very good insight into the organization of transit trade and complex trade networks spread along the roads and crossroads between Thessaloniki, Istanbul, Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Split and Venice and cities of the Northern Europe. In relation to this, it is interesting to note that many historians have divergent opinions about the arrival, stay and direction of movement Sephardic Jews in the inland of Bosnia after the exodus from Perinea Peninsula. It seems that regarding the arrival of the Banja Luka Jews both theories could be accepted, but the arrival of Jews in Banja Luka in small numbers at the turn of the XVI in XVII century is connected to the development of the trade through Split and Dubrovnik, and the greater number is connected with reduction of the port trade because of the fall of Venice in 1797, what at the beginning of the XIX century led to greater emigration of Jews from the Dalmatian cities to the inland of Bosnia and Croatia. Massive arrival of Sephardic Jews in Banja Luka at the beginning of the XIX century from the direction of Sarajevo, Skopje and Bitola is linked to post emancipation period of Jews in Bosnia, after the adoption of the Decree of Sultan Abdul Mejid in 1840, which recognized civil rights to Jews and Christians, with the possibility of building religious premises, synagogues and churches, and the opening of primary and secondary schools in existing languages.

Pijaca Govedarnica u Banja Luci po?etkom 19. vjeka

Massive arrival of the Ashkenazi Jews in Banja Luka is linked to all Draconian laws of the Emperor Joseph II with limited settlement and residence of Jews in the country under the rule of Austro-Hungary and the Annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the second half of the XIX century. Because of its exceptional geo-strategic importance within the triangle between the Venetian Dalmatia, Hungary, Posavina and Bosnian Sandzak, Banja Luka was increasingly exposed to constant pressures and conflicts of the opposed sides. The only possible breakthrough of the Turkish army from the Vrbas region was over Lika and Kordun into the Austrian Krajina and further to Europe. In permanent military forces of both Military Borders (Krajina) entered the local population. It is this historical fact, because of the large number of remains and fortifications around the city on the Vrbas, that distinguished Banjaluka as one of the strongholds of the Turkish army, what had strategic importance for Porta, with a note that already in 1573 during the rule of Ferhad Pasha Sokolovic, the centre of the Bosnian Pashaluk moved from Travnik into the city on the river Vrbas.

Just at the beginning of that year started a rapid development of the Banja Luka Charsija, followed by the development of handicrafts and trade, population growth and urban construction. According to established facts, the development of the city began in Gornji Seher, the oldest Turkish settlement, with hot sulphurous thermal springs and water sources near the river Vrbas which are known from Roman times and as such were used for healing purposes. Further development of the Banja Luka Charsija toward Donji Seher originally began from the right bank of the Vrbas, and only in the second half of the XVI century began also on the left bank, especially during a time of Ferhad Pasha Sokolovic [4], who in 1579 built very beautiful, the world famous – the Ferhadija Mosque.

Among all the handicrafts in the first place stood out tanning craft [5] i.e. production of tabak (square pieces of tanned leather), what the other craftsmen as (opan?ari – shoemakers who made peasants shoes, shoemakers, oputari – leather cord makers) finished off and made various items for military and the other population needs (raja).[6] Most of other craftsmen were the blacksmiths, tinsmith, sieves makers, tailors, bakers, butchers, greengrocers and gatherers of herbs. A variety of crafts was obvious. Milling industry was particularly developed on the river Vrbas with mills for grinding grain from the Lijevce polje (cornfield) near Banja Luka. Sawmills were placed in Gornji Seher.

Banja Luka Ferhat pasha mosque

Many travel writers of the XVII century distinguished Banja Luka as big and advanced place with Turkish military administration. As told by eyewitnesses – the Seher’s Charsija with the market Govedarnica and the fortress Kastel (the Castle), with the hamam (Turkish public bath) built later within the Castle, was livelier and more beautiful than the Sarajevo Bascharsija.

The Public Library was opened in Banja Luka in the first half of the XVII century, which describes the level of cultural progress of the City.

There are no written traces on the presence of specific location ((?ifutana[7]) that was continuously inhabited by Jews in Banja Luka in the XVII century, but on the basis of later sites of the built Jewish houses it can be assumed that it was close to the Govedarnica and the market place (Bezistan). Jews originally came as traders, and later on, by provision of the necessary conditions, brought the rest of their families.

Drveni most preko rijeke Vrbasa u 16. vijeku

Development of Banja Luka and its transition from a small Bosnian kasaba (provincial town) to a great commercial centre with 4.000 houses, mostly wooden shingle covered, although the famous Turkish travel writer Evlija Celebija from the XVII century stated rather suspicious number of even 13.000 houses, should be considered in the framework of mutual commercial connection of the Bosnian cities with creation and the layout of areas which were economically linked to them.

In all this economic moment was decisive, which led to the rapid growth of the trade and strengthening of the continental trading links. Due to the war situation in the wider region, and in search for more stable areas of trade and business, a new population moved to Banja Luka. Slightly higher number of the Jewish families moved from Sarajevo to Banjaluka which became an advanced Charsija.

Banjaluka Charsija.

Under the pressure of the Great Powers Turkey accessed to key reforms in Bosnia. Sultan Abdul Medjid issued Hatisherif in 1840 which abolished the old feudal system and proclaimed legal equality for all the citizens of the Turkish state, regardless of religious and ethnic background. This reinforced the rights of building the religious premises (churches and synagogues) and the opening of schools, which was a key element which greatly contributed to the further development and emancipation of Jews and the Jewish communities in the Bosnian towns. The result was an increased number of Jews in Banja Luka in the mid-nineteenth century. Confirmation of this is found in the statement left by the professor Stojan Bjeli?, which stated that Haim Poljokan Salamon, who arrived in 1860 to Banja Luka, found three coreligionists, natives, some Baruh, Isak Papo alias Papi? and Mento Levi, the treasurer in the Jewish Sephardic Community, founded in 1848[8]. B. Pinto is almost concordant with this assertion , by which the Banja Luka Jewish Community was founded already around 1850[9], what is in a favour of the Bjeli?’s data on the date of establishment of the Jewish Community Banja Luka, with some small corrections – reliable.

In regard to all above mentioned it could be concluded that the founders of slightly more numerous Jewish Sephardic Community in Banja Luka were previously mentioned four Jews: Baruh[10], Isak Papo, Mento Levi and Salamon Poljokan, the tradesman. The settlement of Jews in Banja Luka matched with numerous difficult living conditions of the Serbia Jews, what by issuance of the law on prohibition against the settlement of Jews brought to sudden conversion to the Christianity and migration of Jews from Serbia toward Zemun[11] and Bosnia.

The Alliance Izraelite Universelle founded in 1860, with a number of schools in the Balkans, fought for civil rights and the emancipation of Jews in Europe, and the Congress of Berlin in 1878 set a question of civil rights of Jews in the Balkans. According the census of 1870 presented by Galib Šljivo was mentioned that even then the Jewish school with ten pupils operated in Banja Luka. On the basis of Turkish sources this information is confirmed by the Zagreb newspaper “Horizon” which in 1878 published a data on the work of the Jewish school with 23 boys.[12], in Sephardic Synagogue built in 1870 on the left bank of the river Crkvena (location of current market place).[13] The Jewish Primary School in Banja Luka where pupils gained the first level of the traditional Jewish education was heder[14] which might be attended only by male children. Its existence in an indirect way shows the relative numerous members of the Jewish community.

Banjaluka Charsija.

By the time the Austrian occupation of 1878 in Banja Luka together with native population lived exclusively ethnic group of the Sephardic Jews, originally from Spain and Portugal.[15] Their main occupations, thanks to training and knowledge of languages, primarily were the craftsmanship and trade. Those who were relatively poor dedicated themselves to handicrafts, while those with some more money mostly performed intermediary and commercial affairs. Range of their representation in the trades was quite wide, but the number of Jews was especially noticeable in the domain of tailors, shoemakers, tanners, opancari (shoemakers who produced traditional peasant’s leather shoes), furriers, carpenters, tinsmiths, house painters, construction entrepreneurs, and plumbers, electricians, heating installers, engravers, opticians, jewellers, watchmakers, caterers, confectioners, butchers, photographers, projectionists and bookbinders. It was small volume of trade; oriental, conducted in the simplest way by hand tools and new inventions and machines were still not known what mostly differentiated them from the western European. However, these were manufacturing products which in a matter of the quality were more advanced in comparison to those from the North and West of Europe, as artisans in general in Bosnia and Herzegovina showed much more understanding and taste in their production for the military and broad population needs.

At the time when Bosnia and Herzegovina was economically annexed to Austria-Hungary, everything was fundamentally changed. A great match between handicraft and mechanical production started, which, having in mind changes in the habits of the population, eventually led to the gradual extinction of certain crafts or technical adjustments to new conditions of production. From 1878 and upon arrival of Austro-Hungary, started completely new economic period for this area that led to a general revival in the field of handicrafts and trade.

[1] Bogumil Hrabak, General Urban Development of Banja Luka before the war 1683-1699, The Historical Anthology 1, the Institute for History, Banja Luka, 1980
[2] Vid Morpurgo (1838-1911) comes from the old Split Jewish family. He published a number of famous works on the history of the Split Jews, as well as the historical work on the Split lazaretto and Danijel Rodrigo.
[3] J. Tadi?, from the History of Jews from south-eastern Europe, The Jewish Almanac 1959-60, Belgrade
[4] Ferhad-Pasha was brother of a famous vizier Mehmed-Pasha Sokolovic. He came from the Serbian family from the village Sokolovic, the District of Visegrad, where the famous Bridge on the Drina was built, from the novel of Ivo Andri?, Nobel Prize laureate.
[5] Tabaci, the oldest mahala ( Turkish word for city quarter ) in Gornji Seher, got its name after the pieces of tanned leather ( tabak – tanner )
[6]In the Turkish social structure, there was a military class of the askers, and other population was called raja (non-Muslims).
[7] ?ifutana is Turkish word for the Jewish settlement in a particular city. It didn’t have a role of classical European ghetto. The word is derived from the Turkish word ?ifut (Jew) and doesn’t have offensive or pejorative meaning.
[8] S.Bjeli?, Narrative parameters of Municipality Banja Luka, (drafted by ?.Miki?), Banja Luka
[9] Almanac of the Jewish cultural and educational society “La Benevolentia ” and “Support” ( Potpora ) Sarajevo 1933
[10] The Jew named Baruh lived in Banjaluka at the end of XVI century
[11] In 1846 Jews were prohibited of settlement in the inland of Serbia, shortly afterwards they crossed military-border spot Zemun and with Jews who previously lived there developed intermediary trade between Serbia and Europe.
[12] Heder was exclusively attended by male children.
[13] The first synagogue of Sephardic rituals in Banja Luka was built of wood.
[14] Heder – the Jewish primary school, meldar (Hebr. heder – room) because the classes were carried out in the Rabbi’s room.
[15] The Sephardic Jew, of the Hebrew word for Spain