Bosnia and Herzegovina - basic geographical information

Bosnia and Herzegovina is country in Southeast Europe, located in western part of Balkan peninsula. Etymology of the name Bosnia is has not been fully elucidated, although there are several theories. It is known that this name was historically recorded for the first time in the 10th century in work title De Administrando Imperio, by Constantine VII, Byzantine emperor. Name Herzegovina comes from title of medieval nobleman Stjepan Vukčić Kosača – herzog of Saint Sava. Even though they are different in terms of age, historic hierarchy and size, Bosnia on the north and Herzegovina on the south today represent two equal regions in the context of country name. Bosnia and Herzegovina territory covers an area of 51,129 square kilometers. It is surrounded by three neighboring countries – Republic of Croatia to the north, west and south, Republic of Serbia to the east, and Republic of Montenegro to the southeast. Its borders generally follow certain natural features, and for the most of its extent have orographic and hydrographic character. Bosnia and Herzegovina also has one of the shortest coastline in the world. In the sector of Bay of Neum and peninsula of Klek in the Bay of Mali Ston, it reaches Adriatic Sea, with coastal facade of 24 kilometers in length. Characteristic shape of national territory on a geographic map is frequently associated with the right triangle with even legs, whose hypotenuse has northwest-southeast direction. This motive is also used on the national flag.

Geological past of targeted area is extremely complex, and this fact has reflected on its geological, geotectonical and geomorphological heterogeneity. The oldest rocks in Bosnia and Herzegovina date back from Paleozoic, and can be grouped into three zones: Central Bosnia (Vranica with surrounding mountains), Drina Paleozoic and Sana Paleozoic. Paleozoic formations are represented with three rock types (igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks), with notion that Central Bosnia zone is specific by characteristic schist rocks. Because of that, its mountains are sometimes called the Schist highlands. The largest part of terrain in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been formed during Mesozoic, and these rocks are dominantly of sedimentary carbonate type – limestones and dolomites. These rocks are products of sedimentation in Tethys Ocean geosyncline, which were later object of Alpine orogeny that has created the Dinaric Alps range. Unlike Triassic limestones, which are older and somewhat more compact, Jurassic and Cretaceous limestones have determined emergence of specifies geomophological type, known as holokarst, which is generally distributed through exterior range of Dinaric Alps. Cenozoic sediments usually can be found in Peripannonian part of country, river valleys and synclines of Exterior Dinaric Alps.

With an average altitude of 625 meters, Bosnia and Herzegovina is in the ranks of the hypsometrically higher countries in Europe. Its terrain is predominantly mountainous, but at the same time it is very broken into valleys. The entire morphostructure of this area belongs to the Dinaric mountain system, which extends in northwest-southeast direction through several countries. In a wider context, Dinaric mountains are part of the Mediterranean zone of the Alpide belt, which is still quite tectonically active, e. g. in seismic terms. The mountain peaks of the Dinaric system are the highest in its southeastern sector. On the border with Montenegro there is the highest mountain of Bosnia and Herzegovina – Mt Maglić (2386 meters). In this part of the country, there are several more mountains that are higher than 2000 meters: Mt Volujak, Mt Zelengora, Mt Lelija, Mt Treskavica, Mt Bjelašnica, Mt Vranica, Mt Prenj and Mt Čvrsnica. Towards the northwest, the Dinaric mountains are somewhat lower (Mt Cincar, Mt Dinara, Mt Šator, Mt Grmeč and others), and are separated by karst fields (poljes): Livanjsko, Duvanjsko, Kupreško, Glamočko, etc. This type of field is typical for Dinaric Alps. To the south of the highest part of the Dinaric chain, there are the mid-mountainous area od Rudine, and further to the south and the lowland of Humine. Towards the north, the highly rugged mountain-valley terrain gradually lowers down to the Pannonian Plain. Along the Sava River, there are the most extensive Bosnian-Herzegovinian plains: Semberija, Posavina and Lijevče.

The latitude (42° to 46° N) has positioned Bosnia and Herzegovina between the northern subtropical and northern temperate climatic zones, in a way it belongs to the first one about one third and the other two thirds of the country’s territory to second one. The terrain is the most important climate modifier, which contributes most to the diversification of the climate in this area, with its hypsometry, direction of the mountain chains, ruggedness and the exposition. Thus, with an increase in altitude, the annual precipitation generally increases, and at the same time the average air temperature decreases. The coast and lower Herzegovina are the warmest areas in the country, and, in contrast, the highest mountain peaks have the lowest temperatures. The heaviest precipitation is recorded at the Herzegovina mountains (Mt Orjen, Mt Čvrsnica and Mt Prenj), while the driest areas are Posavina and Semberija plains in the northeast. Regarding these climatic factors and elements, three basic climate types can be distinguished in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The most widespread is the moderate warm and humid climate (Cf), which includes the northern part of the country, penetrating through the river valleys deeper into the interior. In this area, the climate is usually designated as moderate continental. In the lower part of Herzegovina, Mediterranean climate (Cs) dominates, and is characterized by dry and summer, as well as rainy and mild winter. At higher altitudes (above approx. 900 meters in altitude) dominates boreal or mountain climate (Df), characterized by pretty cold winter and mostly chilly summer.

Water can be considered as the largest natural resource of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The river network of this country is very dense, which especially refers to the Black Sea drainage basin, which covers most of the territory. All rivers of this basin are also part of the Danube and Sava rivers basins. The Sava River represents the northern border of the country and receives the waters of Una, Vrbas, Bosna, Drina and other shorter rivers that flow from this area towards the north. The Drina River, along its middle and lower stream, also forms a part of national border. It is 346 kilometers long and represents the longest Bosnian-Herzegovinian river. Bosna River has an exceptional significance for the whole country, since its valley is the place of origin and the backbone of the later social development of Bosnia and Herzegovina. River with the biggest fall is Vrbas, and Una River is known for its relatively high level of ecological preservation. The southern part of the country (whole of Herzegovina and the southwestern parts of Bosnia) belongs to the drainage basin of Adriatic Sea. Although these areas receive more precipitation, the surface hydrographic network is much less developed than in the Black Sea basin. This is due to karst terrain, where the cracks systems developed underground hydrography. In addition to a large number of subterranean rivers, there is Neretva River, which is the only completely surface river in this area. Its basin practically defines the coverage of Herzegovina as a region. There is a large number of natural and artificial lakes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the group of natural lakes, which are generally small in area, numerically dominant are mountain (usually glacial) lakes, like Boračko, Šatorsko and Kotlaničko. The artificial lakes are larger and mostly made for the needs of electricity production. The most important are: Buško, Bilećko, Jablaničko, Ramsko, Modrac etc.

The geographical position and the influence of moderate climates in this area have caused the dominance of brown soils in the pedological structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, the diversity of the geological substrate has led to differentiation of several soil types. The most widespread among them are calcocambisol and dystric cambisol. The first type occurs on the limestone-dolomite substrate and the other one on the acidic rocks. These two soil types together account for 60 to 70% of the Bosnian-Herzegovnian land, and they are mainly distributed in mountainous areas. In addition to these, there are also many other automorphic soil types in this region, whose land coverage is rather lesser. Such are: lithosol, regosol, terra rossa, calcomelanosol, rendzina, luvisol, podzol, vertisol etc. In the lower regions, where water is retained for a long time, some hydromorphic types also occur. The most widespread is stagnosol, but the most important in terms of agriculture are alluvial soils. Peat soil has a particular ecological significance, and it occurs in the marshes of Hutovo Blato and Livanjsko Polje.

All of the previously explained geographical characteristics influenced the formation of specific biogeographical features of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are reflected in the great biodiversity. Given the floral characteristics, it can be stated that this area represents a zone of contact and pervasion of the Eurosiberian and Mediterranean floral area. To a lesser extent, the floral elements of the Iranian-Turanian region are also noticeable. A total of 3700 species of flowering plants are registered, as well as several hundred other plants and mushrooms. Some of them are endemic, such as the famous Bosnian lily and Picea omorika. Geographical factors have most clearly affected the distribution of vegetation. About half of the national territory is covered with forests. This fact places Bosnia and Herzegovina in a group of European countries with the largest forest wealth. Forest vegetation can be quite clearly differentiated according to the hypsometric zone. In the lower regions, the most common are oak forests (common, sessile, pubescent etc.), but they are significantly reduced over time. In the zone above 600 meters, there are significantly preserved forests of beech, above which the coniferous forests are dominant. In the Lower Herzegovina region, the vegetation of Mediterranean shrubs (macchia) is characteristic. High biodiversity also applies to the animal world.

Traces of human settlements in Bosnia and Herzegovina can be followed with minor interruptions from the Paleolithic, and political organization of territory from the Illyrian period. Nevertheless, the first Bosnian state appeared in the Middle Ages, in the area where the influences of Byzantium, Hungary and other neighboring countries were confronted. Medieval Bosnia was formed around the upper part of the Bosna river (today Sarajevo-Zenica basin), and in the following centuries it has gradually expanded, absorbing regions such as Usora and Soli, Lower Krajina, Podrinje, Završje, Hum, and in the second half od XIV century even the largest section of the Coastal Dalmatia . The weakening of this state led to its decline and fall under the Ottoman rule in the 15th century. Although the political and territorial organization of the Ottoman Empire has changed several times, Bosnia has kept its name and its approximate spatial coverage continuously. Today’s state border almost coincides with those determined by the Berlin Congress in 1878 (with the exception of later minor corrections), when Austro-Hungarians occupied this area and fot he first time introduced the dual name – Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has been used since then. The turbulent events of the 20th century have determined the contemporary political and geographical development of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It passed several stages, from special status within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, through the site of the the World War I escalation, destruction of its territorial integrity within the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, restoration of its statehood by the decisions of ZAVNOBiH and AVNOJ during the World War II, on the basis of which it became one of six republics of SFR Yugoslavia, until the independence of 1992, war that followed and signing of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement.

The Dayton Peace Agreement ended the long-standing war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It established a new Constitution and a territorial arrangement, which can be considered as extremely complex. This complexity is based on inter-ethnic tensions and the existence of very different political interests, as well as on the results of war events. The highest level of territorial organization is represented by entities – Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina comprise of central, southern and western parts of the country, while the Republika Srpska is divided into northern and eastern segments. The inter-entity line was not formed according to the geographical principles of functionality, so many municipalities and settlements remained divided so. Subsequently, Brčko District was separated from the entity structure, as a strategically important area in the northeast of the country. The territorial organization of the state can be said to be asymmetrical, since the Federation of BiH is divided into cantons, which is not the case in Republika Srpska. There are ten such cantons, which vary widely in the area and the number of inhabitants. These are: Una-Sana, Posavina, Tuzla, Zenica-Doboj, Bosnian Podrinje, Central Bosnia, Herzegovina-Neretva, West Herzegovina, Sarajevo and Canton 10. The political-territorial structure at the local level is reflected in the existence of 143 municipalities, some of which got the city status.

Considering the official results of the 2013 census, it can be said that in Bosnia and Herzegovina live about 3.5 million inhabitants. It is evident that war events left catastrophic consequences on the demographic image of this country, since there is a shortage of almost a million inhabitants compared to 1991. Although Bosnia and Herzegovina has traditionally used to be an emigration area throughout history, it recorded a very intense population growth during the 20th century, in order to reach a record 4.4 million inhabitants in 1991. The impact of demographic transition was also visible, since this growth was slowing down even before the war. The last phase of demographic transition has taken place together with war events, and in recent years, a negative natural increase has been recorded, together with the aging of the population. In this respect, the situation in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is somewhat more favorable than in the Republika Srpska. The average population density is less than 70 people/km². However, there are significant spatial variations. Very densely populated are lowland regions in the north, as well as larger river basins (especially Sarajevo-Zenica area in the Bosna River valley), while the areas of upper and middle Podrinje, eastern Herzegovina and western Bosnia are the contrary examples. When it comes to the population structures, for political reasons most attention is paid to the ethnic composition, dominated by three constituent ethnic groups: Bosniaks (50.1%), Serbs (30.8%) and Croats (15.4%).

The settlement structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of about 6,000 inhabited places, of which 105 are classified as urban (cities and towns). This practically applies to all the municipality seats that existed in 1991. The rest are mainly rural settlements, some of which have become a transitional or mixed type of settlements, by their population growth, spatial expansion, infrastructure construction or the acquisition of new functions (such as the seats of new municipalities). Most of the cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are distinguished by a unique urban structure and architecture, which has emerged as a combination of several styles, among which the most distinguished are: oriental, Central European, socialist and modern. With about 350,000 inhabitants, Sarajevo is the largest and capital city of the country. Despite the significantly changed population composition in the last decades and the general decline in the number of inhabitants, it has remained a symbol of multiculturalism in this part of Europe. Banja Luka (150,000 inhabitants) is the second largest city in the country, and the main administrative, economic, educational and cultural center of Republika Srpska. Other major cities are Tuzla and Zenica, which are important industrial centers, and Mostar as the main urban center of Herzegovina region. Regarding the size of rural population (58%), Bosnia and Herzegovina belongs to the very top on the list of the most rural European countries. However, most villages are affected by intensive depopulation, and many are completely abandoned.

According to almost all relevant indicators, Bosnia and Herzegovina belongs to the group of the least economically developed countries in Europe. Causes of this condition should be sought in devastating war, but also in the process of economic transition, through which this country passes along with other countries of the former socialist bloc. Its economic development during the socialist period was based on industry and mining, but privatization and the establishment of a market economy led to mass de-industrialization. As a consequence, enormous unemployment has emerged, and its official rates are among the highest in the world. Although with significantly reduced capacity, the industry remains a very important segment of the domestic economy. In particular, this refers to metallurgy, which is based on the exploitation of mineral ores, the most important of which are coal, iron and bauxite. The great potentials of the domestic economy lies in the energy sector. Five thermal power plants and a large number of hydroelectric power plants produce electricity, a significant part of which is exported. Agricultural potentials are largely unused. Plains in the north are especially suitable for farming, hill-mountain region for fruit and cattle breeding, and Herzegovina for the cultivation of Mediterranean fruits, tobacco and vines. The tertiary sector of activity is today dominant in achieving GDP and employing a labor force, and the tendencies indicate its further growth at the expense of production activities. Although such a trend is characteristic of almost all countries in the developed world, one of its negative consequences in Bosnia and Herzegovina is much higher value of imports compared to exports. The main infrastructure project in the country is construction of the highway road of European corridor Vc through the valleys of Bosna and Neretva rivers. It is meant to reduce the degree of its transport isolation from the main routes in Europe.

Tourism as an increasingly important branch of the tertiary sector of economy has great development potentials in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are based on a large number of unique destinations, both in the sphere of natural and cultural-historical heritage. Among the urban centers that are characterized by specific historical development visible through their architecture and other tourism contents, Sarajevo and Mostar are distinguished in the first place, but also Banja Luka, Bihać, Jajce, Travnik, Višegrad and some other towns also have many historical buildings and sites. According to the number of foreign visitors in the very top of the tourism offer is religious tourism. As Bosnia and Herzegovina is famous for its multireligous image, this tourism branch is based on a large number of sacred objects (mosques, churches, monasteries, synagogues), which have a great cultural and historical value. Medjugorje is by far the most visited destination of this type, because it is one of the most famous Marian shrines in the world. The Sarajevo Film Festival is one of the most famous examples of manifestation tourism in the country. Bathing tourism is developing in Neum (the only coastal town), and on numerous lakes and rivers in the interior. A large number of spas indicate great potentials and this type of tourism, and so far the best valorized are Reumal Spa in Fojnica and Vrućica Spa near Teslić. For mountain landscapes several types of tourism can be tied, and the most massive destinations are Jahorina, Bjelašnica, Vlašić and Kupres. When valorizing the natural environment for tourism purposes it is necessary to take care of its preservation, because it is the largest resource that this country has. There are a number of protected areas in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but only four of have the status of a national park – Sutjeska, Kozara, Una and Drina.