Thousands took to the streets in the central Bosnian town of Donji Vakuf on Saturday to greet a convoy of pilgrims heading on horses to Ajvatovica, the biggest Muslim shrine in Europe.
The pilgrimage is an old tradition that takes place every year and attracts many believers as well as tourists, mostly because of the horsemen riding for days through the country in traditional Bosnian outfits.
Ajvatovica, a location near the small town of Prusac, was named after Ajvaz-dedo, a Muslim scholar who came to Bosnia from Turkey in the 15th century.
Legend has it that the area of Prusac suffered a deadly drought but that Ajvaz-dedo prayed for 40 days and 40 nights, asking God to send water to the rocky landscape above the town. On the 40th night, a huge rock split and water poured out of the crack.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the site every year, pray and bring water home as it is believed to have healing power. The central ceremony - the 510th “Days of Ajvatovica” - will be held on Sunday.
About 220 pilgrims on horses from all over the country were greeted with applause as they passed on Saturday through Donji Vakuf on their way to Prusac. Especially loud applause went to the few children and women riding along.
This year they are wearing face masks and keeping the recommended physical distance every time they get off their horses.
Travnik imam Ahmet Adilovic said this year’s ceremony will be small as international guests are missing and organizers opted for a limited number of people and a strict pandemic-related regime.
The experience is not complete without friends from Turkey who usually participate in the ceremony, he said.