The history of the town at the mouth of the Ćehotina river, where it flows into the Drina river, can be told through the depiction of the turbulent and historically significant events that occured in this mountainous region. Considering the historical facts as well as the information from bardic songs of old tales and narratives, the readers can hardly be left with indifference. In any case, the town’s history goes beyond the boundaries of the municipality in which it is located, which abounds in various natural and cultural sites, including those with archeological significance. The vast scope of tradition and information is why we are not going to try to explain all of the opportunities for discovering and experiencing Foča in this article. Rather we will provide as good of an introduction to this place as we can, while considering that most of its past is still to be found out and more history yet to be written – this however we must leave to the experts
The geographic position of Foča is such that it leaves us with the right to claim a history going back to prehistory. Furthermore, though not fully known or understood – there is the assumption that some human settlement existed in this locality long before today’s town. As pertains to the pre-slavic period, we know that the name of the settlement was Berselum. The slavic medieval name was Radovina which then became Hotča, Hoča and eventually Foca. For a short time at the very beginning of the twenty-first century, it was also called Srbinje. The geographical location of Foča has largely determined its development as a human settlement throughout history. It has never had a fortification or defensive structure in its urban area. In the wider area of the municipality of Foča we have known archeological sites and remains of old fortifications, which only testify to the strategic importance of this area for the medieval lords. Thus, on the left bank of the Drina River, on the site of the village of Gradac, we have the Gradačka rock, which was once host to a viewpoint fortress
Along the canyon of the river Bistrica, before the entrance to the rocky canyon towards Miljevina, there are the remains of fortifications and medieval towns. Further along the Govza Canyon lie the most famous remnants of a medieval fort in this area, named Jeleč. It should be noted that the remains of this fortification are located on a hill above the mouth of the Krupica in Govz, which then flows into the river Bistrica at Rataji. If one takes the old caravan route from Foča to the coast, you would set out from town and over the former Tentorum (or caravan resting place by which the Tentorum valley was named), there are the remains of Tođevac and continuing along the Sutjeska canyon you would reach old Vratar. In the period of Herzegovina, these were certainly the more important sites of fortifications for this area. The obvious purpose of these fortifications, is the fact that they played an enviable role in providing the necessary protection for the caravan route that went from the sea and going inland. These fortifications are located on the left bank of the Drina or “Zelenika”, as it was called in this period in history. Once the caravan route reaches Foča, it forks, with one branch going to central Bosnia, Vrhbosna and Hodijede and the other to Serbia and the Raska region, which required crossing the river.
In the Middle Ages, around Foča and the nearby suburban settlement of Brod, there were three places where it was possible to cross the river using a scaffold. The very name of the settlement Brod refers to this crossing, where during Ottoman rule there was a serious intention to build a stone bridge. The intention was not realized because the Foča authorities could not provide experienced craftsmen who could realize such a major undertaking. The location of the crossings is assumed to have been in the position of today’s bridges on the Drina River, in the area of Foča. Furthermore, as pertains to the Foča bridges, it should be noted that none of the three existing bridges escaped devastation. Due to their repeated destruction in the many wars which were fought here in the last 100 years, the bridges were built in the same locations above the destroyed remains of the old bridges. The only bridge to survive the the turn of the 21st century was the bridge at Brod, which is the only bridge to escape destruction in the famous bombing of Republika Srpska in 1996, though this bridge’s predecessor was destroyed in World War II.
As for the medieval history of Foča prior to the arrival of the Ottomans, it should be noted that it was part of King Nemanjic’s Serbia until 1373 after which it became part of the Bosnian kingdom of King Tvrtko the first in Kotromanić dynasty. However, due to well-known historical events, Foča occupies a special place in the history of this region due to the fact that the Kosača family appears on its territory, of which the most famous was the Duke of Saint Sava, Stefan Vukčić. Not only was he the first to take the proud title of Herceg (or “Duke”) from Saint Sava, but he was born in the area of Foča municipality. By this time, the grape vine has been cultivated to a great extent, so that the name of Foča was associated with wine production. With the arrival of the Turks, the political and social character of the settlement on which the modern urban settlement developed, changed radically. Foča lost it’s medieval appearance and its importance as facilitator of caravan routes. At this point Foča also lost it’s Christian culture, which was facilitated by the local churches. To this day, it has not been determined with complete precision where the church of St. Nicholas was, which was the cathedral of the settlement, nor the monastery of St. John the Theologian.
With the arrival of the Turks, the political and administrative importance of Foča changed. In the first decades of Ottoman rule, the administrative headquarters of “Sandžak Herzegovina” was located in Foča. After moving its headquarters to Mostar, Foča became part of the Mostar “kadiluk” in the administrative-judicial division of the Bosnian “Pašaluk”. This new system remained until the start of the Austro-Hungarian administration, after their annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Foča, under Ottoman rule, developed into a typical Bosnian “kasaba” or town. The vast majority of the population was concentrated around several “mahalas” (or neighborhoods) and their mosques. Of these, it is necessary to point out the Aladja neighborhood and it’s mosque which was rebuilt in 2019, which is a representative monument of Islamic architecture for this region. At this point, the Christian population was reduced to a separate and isolated part of the town called Ćerezluk. Around 1503-4 Foča was left without its cathedral which was not rebuilt until 1856 when the new church of St. Nicholas was built in Ćerezluk. The consensus is that several churches were built in the area of Foča municipality prior to the arrival of the Turks. However, none of these buildings, aside from some archaeological remains and oral tradition, have been preserved to this day. Today the oldest churches date from the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. These two, rather small, churches are located on very opposite ends of Foča municipality. One of these is dedicated to the Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Luče and the other is dedicated to Saint Nicholas in Rijeka (Čelebići).
In economic terms, the Ottoman administration in Foča facilitated the development of certain crafts. These crafts facilitated growth and put the local population on the map, as regards their products. The most famous product of the Foča craftsmen was the Foča dagger (a short blade). The appeal associated with this dagger lies in the fact that the craftsmen used reindeer antlers, to make characteristic handles for these weapons. These antlers were imported from the area of present-day Russia. The town is also host to an medieval tower, which became the clock tower with a clock mechanism brought from Dubrovnik. This clock tower dominates Foča’s old town. The legend goes that the owner of this building, the mosque in its immediate vicinity and opposite the remains of the old Han (Or old “Inn”), was Mehmed Pasha Kukavica, the same man who built the church on Luće.