Vareš: 780 years old blacksmith craft preserved by three masters only

Alojzija Vijačkić FOTO: VELIJA HASANBEGOVIĆ

Through a macadam road, along the Krivaje canyon, and then along the river Oćevijica, a 30-minute drive from Olovo to Vareš, and one arrives in an unusual and faraway village on the Zvijezda Mountain – Oćevija.

Probably the last in Europe, which has, up to the present, in the time of modern techniques and factories, preserved the traditional, medieval and pre-industrial way of forging iron.

National Monument

In this village, some 60 masters earned a living from this craft, and today only three blacksmiths preserve the tradition, and their shops work in the same way for 780 years, also known as“majdani“ in the area of Vareš, and they are declared a national monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

One of these blacksmiths is Alojzije Vijačkić. His whole life he deals with this craft, which he inherited from his father and his son, is also helping him today in this interesting work. He works every day, he says, only during holidays the sound of a powerful hammer and water is not heard in his little workshop.

There are no modern machines in Alojzije’s blacksmith shop. It’s all exactly the same as a few hundred years ago. He burns the charcoal, uses the water from the river Oćevijica to move the wheel just like the one used on the waterfalls. This wheel turns a wooden shaft at a different speed, depending on how much water is released, and that then moves a huge wooden hammer weighing about 50 kilograms that Alojzije strikes and forms hot iron placed on an anvil. His skillful hands then create agricultural tools, hoes, pans, horseshoes …

While showing what he has been doing for ten years with his ten fingers and hundreds of years old equipment, a valuable master testifies that the village Oćevija has been always known for blacksmiths.

– In the nearby villages blacksmiths used to work, but they did not survive because of the water, which is crucial in this craft. We have a cold and warm water spring so the water never froze in the winter, while in other places water freezes and one cannot work – says Vijačkić.

He is sorry, he says, for the time when there was much more work and when quality manual products were more appreciated.

– This is not an easy job. To make one hoe, I have to warm it 11 times. It takes a lot of time and patience. Once in a season, it was possible to make 3,000 hoes and sell them all, and today I will only make a few hundred. There is no one to sell it to. These are originals, best products from Vareš. This is a symbol of quality and nowhere in the world this is made the way i tis here. Everything else what is being sold along the streets and in the marketplace is made of who knows what. It’s a lot cheaper, but I cannot sell under 100 BAM. People know what is good, but many do not have the money, so they do not look for quality, but a proper price and then buy things – Vijačić says.

Beautiful Landscapes

He adds that he often sells his products at the markets in Živinice and Kladanj.

-Mostly we sell in the market, although I sent some products to people in Australia, and to some other countries around the world, they know how to appreciate quality and do not save money on this – says the blacksmith.

He believes that the blacksmiths of the village of Očevija would sell a lot more if they were not so isolated.

– We’re cut off. Olovo is our closest city, and almost all the way to it is a macadam, it’s a little better road to Vareš. Those who would come to us to buy something have a difficult time doing so – says Alojzije.

Indeed, the approach to this village of beautiful landscapes, forests, streams and old blacksmiths is not easy, but it is definitely worth seeing the Oćevije mejdan, which will surely bring you back to the past.

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