The Bosnian Pyramids: Ancient Mystery or Modern Hoax?

There is a town in Bosnia & Herzegovina – Visoko, it’s called – where archaeologists claim to have discovered the relics of a civilisation dating back 34,000 years. If you haven’t already heard the story of the Bosnian Pyramids, then brace yourself: it’s a good one.

The Bosnian Pyramids: Ancient Mystery or Modern Hoax?During the Middle Ages, Visoko was once the capital of Bosnia. Now it’s a fairly average backwater town, sat in the shadow of a peculiarly square-looking hill.

The town’s modern fame first emerged in 2006, when the businessman Semir Osmanagić release a book entitled Bosnian Valley of the Pyramids. During a visit to Visoko, Osmanagić noticed the geometric qualities of the hill – and his book made the claim that it was in fact manmade, an ancient stone structure buried beneath tens of thousands of years’ worth of soil and vegetation.

From there, the theory snowballed. Osmanagić began preaching the healing qualities of the structure, explaining how it lined up perfectly with the compass points and pondering what secrets might still lie buried inside. It was claimed that other hills in the valley hid a similar secret too – after the first discovery, the ‘Pyramid of the Sun,’ Osmanagić identified the ‘Pyramid of the Moon,’ as well as further pyramids of ‘Love,’ the ‘Earth’ and the ‘Bosnian Dragon.’ News spread, and soon there were archaeologists from around the world travelling to check out the Bosnian Pyramids for themselves.

It didn’t take long however, for the Bosnian Pyramid theories to be largely debunked. The European Association of Archaeologists called it a “cruel hoax.” Osmanagić countered that an international team of archaeologists had discovered irrefutable evidence to support his claims… though later, many of the researchers named would explain that they’d never once been to Visoko.

Nevertheless, the ‘Bosnian Indiana Jones’ – as his fans sometimes refer to him – has not been deterred by his critics. Semir Osmanagić has gone on to publish a number of further books on the subject, and his theories connect the Visoko pyramids to the ancient Illyrian culture. State funding, meanwhile, allows the project to keep growing: with the development of a visitor centre, and the provision of educational trips for school children who in some cases are taught the Bosnian pyramids story as an unquestioned fact of national history.

With all that in mind, I decided I had to go to Visoko and see these things for myself.

 

Visoko: Home of the Bosnian Pyramids

We drove to Visoko from Sarajevo, just an hour to the south.

If it weren’t for the pyramids, Visoko wouldn’t have a whole lot going for it. But the locals seem to have rallied around the idea – there are souvenir shops selling keychains and gemstones, paperweights shaped like pyramids and all kinds of new age healing trinkets.

The town features various locations linked to the Bosnian Pyramids theory. There’s an ancient burial ground (there’s nothing to see though, it’s still buried), there’s the visitor centre with its tunnels, and then there are the pyramids themselves. We wandered around the town for a while, had some lunch and soaked up the peculiar atmosphere… before making our way to the Pyramid of the Sun.

 

The sleepy town of Visoko, Bosnia, sits in the shadow of a suspiciously square hill.
The sleepy town of Visoko, Bosnia, sits in the shadow of a suspiciously square hill.

This diagram of the Pyramid of the Sun features a beam of energy emitting from its top.
This diagram of the Pyramid of the Sun features a beam of energy emitting from its top.
More pyramid signs, on the road towards the hilltop.
More pyramid signs, on the road towards the hilltop.
Looking across the river towards Visoko, and the so-called Pyramid of the Sun.
Looking across the river towards Visoko, and the so-called Pyramid of the Sun.

The Pyramid of the Sun

The largest of the Visoko hills is known as the ‘Pyramid of the Sun’… and it’s the crowning glory of Bosnia’s ‘Valley of the Pyramids.’ Granted, it is an unusually square-looking hill. Four sides are clearly distinguishable, though the rear of the rise, away from the town, is somewhat less defined.

That’s where we were heading – around the hill, past souvenir shops all the way up, to reach a final slope ascending from the rear up to the pyramid’s apex. The road stopped beside a pyramid-themed cafe, and we took the rest on foot.

 

The 'Code of the Pharaohs' Souvenir Shop.
The ‘Code of the Pharaohs’ Souvenir Shop.

Inside a souvenir shop at Visoko, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Inside a souvenir shop at Visoko, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Items on sale include pyramid lighters, paper weights, souvenir mugs and fridge magnets.
Items on sale include pyramid lighters, paper weights, souvenir mugs and fridge magnets.
The Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun, as seen from its south approach.
The Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun, as seen from its south approach.
Seen from the rear, the hill looks somewhat less like a pyramid.
Seen from the rear, the hill looks somewhat less like a pyramid.
The road comes to an end, and we make the final climb up the Pyramid of the Sun on foot.
The road comes to an end, and we make the final climb up the Pyramid of the Sun on foot.
There are no signposts on the hilltop, and many of these intersecting paths end in (highly scenic) dead-ends.
There are no signposts on the hilltop, and many of these intersecting paths end in (highly scenic) dead-ends.
Reaching the top of the Bosnian pyramid, we found the reconstructed walls of a former fortress.
Reaching the top of the Bosnian pyramid, we found the reconstructed walls of a former fortress.
To the East: The Pyramid of the Moon rises in the centre of the valley.
To the East: The Pyramid of the Moon rises in the centre of the valley.
To the North: Looking down on Visoko from the Pyramid of the Sun.
To the North: Looking down on Visoko from the Pyramid of the Sun.
A reconstructed well at the very top of the Pyramid of the Sun.
A reconstructed well at the very top of the Pyramid of the Sun.
There was no information available to explain these structures – but the cement between the stones was freshly set.
There was no information available to explain these structures – but the cement between the stones was freshly set.
Returning later, we stopped for coffee in this delightful cafe at the foot of the pyramid.
Returning later, we stopped for coffee in this delightful cafe at the foot of the pyramid.

The Burial Chamber

Looking at maps of Visoko, I had found the location of the Bosnian Pyramids visitor centre… but it hadn’t been the first location they picked. The visitor centre advertises a system of tunnels, the discovery of ancient passages that lead deep inside the hill towards a suspected burial chamber at its centre. Digging deeper however, I found the details of a former site where another tunnel had once been ‘discovered.’

I couldn’t find much more than that; a vague mention or two of the older tunnels, and the name ‘KTK Visoko.’ Searching more, I linked the name to a factory site on the edge of town.

We didn’t have high expectations as we drove across the river, away from the Pyramid of the Sun, and towards an industrial-looking complex just beyond. The factory itself looked closed down. A security gate barred the entrance, though no one stopped us as we strolled discretely past. Beyond the abandoned warehouses though, we were in for a surprise.

 

The entrance to KTK Visoko: a semi-abandoned factory on the edge of town.
The entrance to KTK Visoko: a semi-abandoned factory on the edge of town.

Walking through the factory complex, it was hard to tell which buildings were abandoned – and which were still in use.
Walking through the factory complex, it was hard to tell which buildings were abandoned – and which were still in use.
At the rear of the complex I made a discovery – the entrance to a mine shaft.
At the rear of the complex I made a discovery – the entrance to a mine shaft.
The Bosnian Pyramids visitor centre had supposedly focussed on these tunnels once – before relocating to a newer tourism centre.
The Bosnian Pyramids visitor centre had supposedly focussed on these tunnels once – before relocating to a newer tourism centre.
It was easy to see why these tunnels had been abandoned. The supports were rotten, and some shafts were flooded with water.
It was easy to see why these tunnels had been abandoned. The supports were rotten, and some shafts were flooded with water.
Did these tunnels once lead into an ancient ruler's burial chamber? Maybe. Or maybe they were just for mining.
Did these tunnels once lead into an ancient ruler’s burial chamber? Maybe. Or maybe they were just for mining.
The tunnels seemed to continue a long way further – but eventually we decided to turn back.
The tunnels seemed to continue a long way further – but eventually we decided to turn back.
Getting back to the entrance, it was a relief to see daylight once again.
Getting back to the entrance, it was a relief to see daylight once again.

The Pyramid Healing Centre

It wasn’t until late afternoon that we finally found the main visitor centre. Located up a hill out of town, the place wasn’t actually that easy to find – and by the time we did, it was closed. A single Asian tourist drifted aimlessly from one boarded-up chalet to the next. Outside, laminated signs listed the various healing powers of the Bosnian Pyramids.

 

Signs offer 'Pyramid Water' and 'Energy Stones,' in Visoko, Bosnia.
Signs offer ‘Pyramid Water’ and ‘Energy Stones,’ in Visoko, Bosnia.

Bosnia's Valley of the PyramidsBosnia's Valley of the Pyramids

 

It is claimed that these tunnels are 34,000 years old, leading 3.8km into the heart of the pyramid.
It is claimed that these tunnels are 34,000 years old, leading 3.8km into the heart of the pyramid.

Semir Osmanagić plans to develop the site further – by building an archeological park complete with 'Pyramid Healing Centre.'
Semir Osmanagić plans to develop the site further – by building an archeological park complete with ‘Pyramid Healing Centre.’

I’ll be honest with you: I had wanted to believe the stories about the Bosnian Pyramids. I travelled to Visoko with more than an open mind, rather, with an eager readiness to be convinced. I wanted to believe.

But my experience in Visoko pushed me to the other end of the spectrum. I saw so little in the way of actual evidence for anything… and in its place I observed nothing but rampant commercialisation. Semir Osmanagić and his team were too busy selling trinkets, souvenirs, building healing centres, to actually put the time into backing up any of their extraordinary claims.

Added to that, the relocation of the tunnels rang alarm bells for me. First they chose one set of mine shafts, and claimed: “this is definitely the entrance to the ancient catacombs.” Then these riverside tunnels flooded, the going got tough, and they quickly found another place to dig instead.

And I do mean dig, not excavate – although the site was closed when we visited, the road was almost blocked by heavy earthmoving equipment. Information at the new visitor centre explained that these tunnels, built some 34,000 years ago, had later been filled back in by another subsequent civilisation. So today’s pyramid hunters are re-digging the original tunnels according to… well, guesswork I suppose.

I went to the Bosnian Valley of the Pyramids, and I gave the Bosnian Pyramids theory more chances than it deserved. But in the end, I have to side with the European Association of Archaeologists… by concluding that the whole thing is nothing more than a money-grabbing hoax.

 

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