15.07.2011 - UNESCO Venice Office / UN Bosnia and Herzegovina

Released new video to spark interest in the cultural richness of Jajce. Exploring the Mithras Temple

©2011 Faruk Šabanović - The Jajce Tauroctony

Under the Joint Programme “Improving Cultural Understanding in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, UNESCO Venice Office is currently supporting the reconstruction of the country’s most valuable cultural heritage, including the mysterious Mithras Temple of Jajce in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. A new video presenting the history and artwork of the temple has now been released to spark interest in the cultural richness of Jajce and its surroundings. The video is currently available in Bosnian with English subtitles.

In December 2009 the Mithras Temple was chosen as one of five cultural monuments in Bosnia and Herzegovina whose rehabilitation is financed by the Spanish Fund for the Achievement of Millennium Development Goals. Apart from their exceptional historical and cultural value, sites have been selected for their potential to contribute to sustainable economic development. As Sinisa Sesum, UNESCO Senior Programme Officer in Bosnia and Herzegovina, points out, “it is important to address the restoration of heritage sites in such a way that they contribute to income generation through links to cultural tourism”. The Mithras Temple of Jajce, embedded within an environment of rich cultural and natural heritage, provides such an opportunity.

Almost all archaeological finds in Jajce, famous for its fortress and the spectacular waterfall at the confluence of the rivers Pliva and Vrbas, have been made by chance. Such was the case in the discovery of a temple devoted to the sun god Mithras, which was found during private construction works in 1931. The remains of the temple, which date from the 4th century AD, are located 200 meters west from the medieval town center on the left bank of the river Pliva. Over the years, the dampness of the site has caused rapid deterioration of the monument.

From approximately the 1st to the 4th centuries AD, the cult of Mithras was widespread throughout the provinces of the Roman Empire. The followers of Mithraism sought to locate their places of worship in caves, and in the absence of such sites built small single-celled temples or spelaea. Where the terrain permitted, they would excavate the soil to reinforce the impression of a cave – the Jajce site provides an example. Mithras, symbol of invincibility, social justice, and life after death, was worshipped by lower strata of society, especially soldiers. The concrete practices of Mithraism remain to a large degree obscure. However, reliefs, sculptures, and writings by St Jerome (347-420 AD) suggest that Mithraism was based on a complex hierarchical system, in which members of the cult progressed through seven grades of initiation.

The centerpiece of every Mithraeum is a representation of Mithras killing a sacred bull; the so-called tauroctony. The slaying of the bull takes place in a cave. Each temple thus recreates the setting. The Jajce tauroctony, crudely carved into the limestone of the temple’s west wall, is well-preserved and shows all typical iconographic symbols, which the video explains in detail: In the centre is Mithras in Persian garments, with a fluttering cloak. With one knee he is crushing a bull, while seizing him by the muzzle with his left hand and stabbing him in the heart with his right. He is assisted by a dog, a raven, a serpent and a scorpion. To either side stand the dadophorae or torchbearers. In the upper section are the sun and the moon. To date no other Mithras relief of such detail has been found in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The temple will be protected from dampness, information boards be put up, and new signposts be distributed in town to guide visitors to the monument, which thus far has been invisible, as due to being sheltered under an uninviting protective building. By supporting the temple’s reconstruction, UNESCO wishes to contribute to a rising awareness of the value of cultural artifacts and national heritage in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The medieval town of Jajce dates back to the 14th century, but its antique monuments give evidence of Roman and pre-historic settlements. The Mithras Temple may be just one of the secrets of this region, whose cultural richness still largely waits to be discovered.

The MDG-F Joint Programme on “Improving Cultural Understanding in Bosnia and Herzegovina” is a three-year programme financed by the Spanish Fund for the Achievement of Millennium Development Goals (MDG-F). It is being implemented by the UN agencies UNDP, UNESCO and UNICEF, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Civil Affairs of BiH, the Ministry of Culture and Sports of BiH, the Ministry of Education and Culture of RS, as well as other institutions working in the areas of education and culture.

Watch the video on YouTube : Explore the Mithras Temple of Jajce (Jace i Mitras) [11:37]

Publication : Town of Jajce – Temple of the God Mithra by Damir Hadžić

<- Back to: UNESCO Office in Venice
Back to top