VSFS Intern Spotlight: Georeferencing Bosnian Cultural Sites

By Zorana Knezevic, University of South Florida – St. Petersburg

As a VSFS (Virtual Student Federal Service) intern for the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative this semester, I have been developing a dataset of cultural heritage destruction events for for Bosnia & Herzegovina. Most recently, my teammates and I have finished searching the Factiva Global News Database for articles that indicate site damage events within the country, such as articles about the destruction of a place of worship, and other types of cultural places and buildings within Bosnia & Herzegovina. Now we have moved onto the phase of geo-coding for each attacked site that we found. For this phase, I have been searching for sites’ coordinates through Google Maps, Wikimedia, and the Open Street Map project. For sites whose names were indicated in the article(s) in which they were found, I type the site’s name into any one of these three sources and am usually able to find the coordinate points quickly.

However, most of the sites have missing names, with only the municipality mentioned in the article. To find out the names of the unknown sites, I rely on context clues, and search both in English and Serbo-Croatian. For example, if the article mentions that the unknown site is a 16th century mosque, I search for a list of all 16th century mosques in the mentioned city, town, or village. Usually a place only has one or two such mosques. Then I search for information about when each of the listed 16th century mosques were either attacked or destroyed during the war. If the destruction date and details of one of the mosques correlate exactly with the date and details from the selected article, and if the other mosque’s information does not, then I can conclude which one it is and have found the name. In many cases, it can be difficult to find conclusive information, most often due to the obscurity of either the site or its location. In these cases, I give the unknown sites the coordinate points of their closest municipality.

One unknown site was described as a “Roman Catholic Church” in the village of Scit. Despite being from Bosnia, I had never heard of Scit before. When I typed “Scit, Bosnia” into Google Maps, I was amazed by the images that I saw. According to Bosnian tourism website, visitmycountry.net, the Scit peninsula was formed artificially in 1968 when the construction of the Rama dam caused the Rama river to flood and cover the valley. A Franciscan monastery and the Roman Catholic Church (named ‘Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary’) remained untouched on the Scit peninsula. They are estimated to have been built in the 15th century. It was astounding to read how many previous destructions the Scit monastery and church survived.

Source: Google maps

Source: Google maps

According to a Bosnian tourism website’s page about Scit, its monastery and its old church first burned in 1557, then they were reconstructed in 1587. In the 17th century, the monastery housed student interns for the Franciscan order. Then, in 1653, the monastery was robbed and damaged. As soon as it was repaired, it burned in a fire in 1667. It was rebuilt three years later, only to have to be left during the Vienna War (1683-1699) due to persecutions. During the war, many buildings in the area were set on fire, including the monastery and church. In 1779, a Franciscan pilgrimage was made back to the area. By 1856, they were able to buy the land back and rebuilt the foundation of the old monastery in a year. A new church, the present Church of the Blessed Holy Mary, was built in 1881. Then, in 1914, they started building a new monastery, but due to the world wars, this was not complete and inhabited until 1930. The church was burned in 1942, with many valuable archive documents and books being burned too. Then a bomb hit the monastery during in 1943, but miraculously did not explode. Reconstruction of the church began in 1956, with artwork and a beautiful altarpiece made in 1967. I found out from one of the Factiva articles that the church was burned in 1993 during the Bosnian war.

Source: visitmycountry.net

Source: visitmycountry.net

Yet, it still stands, and it is considered one of the most beautifully decorated sacred spaces in Bosnia, according to the tourism website. Several other impressive sculptures were made outside of the monastery and church as well, such as the Rama Cross and a memorial to Rama victims. Since 2001, a humanitarian organization called the “House of Peace Franciscan Monastery Scit-Rama” has been active, still offering services on the peninsula. In recent times, the peninsula has attracted a lot of tourism, which can be seen in all of the positive Google reviews.


Source: Rama-Prozor.info

Overall, the story of Scit’s Franciscan monastery and Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary made me realize how many cycles of destruction and reconstruction many of the cultural buildings in Bosnia, such as the old 16th century mosques, must have faced. This gives me hope that despite how badly destroyed, that there is still hope for many damaged sites and places to rebuild and recover. The story of Scit especially demonstrated that – despite so much being lost, so much remained. So much has remained in Bosnia & Herzegovina, which makes me hopeful for its future. I have the same hope for countries and people experiencing war and violence right now (Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, and too many more); that despite how much is lost, much will remain too.


House of Peace Franciscan monastery Rama – Šćit . (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2018, from https://www.visitmycountry.net/bosnia_herzegovina/en/index.php/tourism/religious/92-turizam/vjerski/779-house-of-peace-franciscan-monastery-rama-scit

Sudetic, C. (1993, December 31). Killings in Bosnian Monastery Widen Croat-Muslim Divide. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1993/12/31/world/killings-in-bosnian-monastery-widen-croat-muslim-divide.html?pagewanted=all


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