Sarajevo – Bosnia and Herzegovina.
During our road trip down the Croatian coastline, we took a short detour and headed into the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo. The city lies between the Middle East and the rest of Europe and is placed in the middle of the ancient trade route. The architecture here is full of diversity and rich with history – from the Turkish influences under the Ottoman Empire, the Austrian buildings from the Austro-Hungarian period and finally to the communistic buildings during Tito’s reign. A short short walk along the river and you will have experienced all three different periods. The city is often known as Jerusalem of Europe because of the peaceful coexistence of multiple religions and cultures within such a small space. It is supposedly the only major city in Europe that has a Mosque, a Catholic Church and a Synagogue all in the same neighborhood. This all did feel very similar to the quarters in the old town of Jerusalem. The history, culture, people and the amazing food makes this beautiful city well worth a visit, a welcomed break from the sunny coasts of Croatia. It surely was a city that caught us by surprise and here are our top spots to visit.
Hike to the top
Sarajevo sits in the middle of a valley, which is best viewed from the hills on the east side of the city. You can either head to the white bastion or yellow bastion to check out these views. We headed to neither, as we got a bit lost while heading towards the top. But we somehow ended up in a quiet residential area while walking up the road Alije Nametka and found a clearing to enjoy the spectacular views. Definitely go during sunset hours to witness sun rays shinning down into the expansive city, it’s like viewing the city of Sarajevo from a painting – a real painting.
Pigeon Square, the Sebilj and Baščaršija
The most iconic photos of Sarajevo are of the pigeon square and the Sebilj in the old bazaar of Baščaršija. Built in the 15th century, the name of the bazaar is derived from the Turkish words of ‘baş’ and ‘çarşi’ which means main/primary and market. Historically, Sarajevo was the center of commercial trade and the Baščaršija had as many as 12,000 shops. The current market is actually half the size due to a fire in the 19th century, but what remains have been largely left unchanged. The old market is now filled with touristy shops selling all types of local goods and local restaurants. It is an experience walking around the area and getting a sense of how it used to be during its commercial days.
Gazi Husrev-Beg Mosque
After walking along the old streets of the market, you will eventually hit the large Gazi Husrev-Beg Mosque. Built in the 16th century, this is one of the largest Mosques in the country. This is an example of the classical ottoman architecture, with a large walled central area near the entrance. There is also a very interesting clock that displays the lunar time and is based on the sun and moon. This is very useful for those who are timing for prayers, especially when the clock turns 12 for sunset.
A few minutes walk towards the river from the Mosque and you will see probably one of the most historically well-known bridges, the Latin Bridge. It is at this bridge that Franz Ferdinand was shot and murdered, causing huge knock on effects which eventually triggered World War 1. The assassination did not actually occur on the bridge, but on the north side of the river. The Archduke of Austria was travelling by motorcade to the town hall to see the mayor. On the way to the town hall, the first assasination attempt was made with an explosive which missed the car of Franz Ferdinand. The motorcade continued towards the Town Hall and the speech commenced. On the return towards the train station, the driver accidentally took a wrong turn near the original bombing site. This allowed another assassin, Princip, to shoot from close range and killing the Arch Duke. There is a museum just at the corner where you can find out more about the history of the event.
Also known as Vijećnica, the Sarajevo City Hall is a building on the banks of the river with a distinctive style and architecture. The style is very pseudo-moorish, often found in Islamic art in Spain and North Africa. The inside of the building is beautifully decorated with great mosaic patterns and a coloured glass ceiling. There is a small fee to visit, which in my opinion is well worth it to see the colourful interiors and the exhibition in the basement about the history of Sarajevo.
Sacred Heart Cathedral
A short walk to the west and you will have exited the Ottoman era and entered into the Austro-Hungarian period. Having been occupied between 1878 to 1918, the old Ottoman market place was left as it is and a new style of architecture and approach was built on the next part of the river – creating a visible time line of Sarajevo’s occupation through architecture. This makes walking from one area to another a mixture of different experiences, you could be walking in the streets like Istanbul and arrive in Vienna at your destination. A highlight of the area is the Sacred Heart Cathedral, a Catholic church that was completed in 1887. This is a beautiful and very peaceful cathedral that really stands out in this area of town.
As you travel further along the river, you will eventually see another landscape change in scenery. The Austrian buildings have now turned into communistic soviet union like architectures. During World War 2, Sarajevo was under the occupation of the German Nazis and in 1945, Josip Tito led Sarajevo and Bosia & Herzegovina to be liberated and joined the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Known as a local hero, the anniversary of the president’s death is still marked by locals today. Tributes are paid yearly for the revolution which he led along with his work as a leader for the country. Head over to Tito Cafe for some old pictures and memorabilia of former Yugoslavia times.
Susan Sontag Square and the National Theatre
For theatre fans, try catch a show at the National Theatre which regularly shows ballets, plays and operas. People of Sarajevo can now enjoy these entertainment thanks to Susan Sontag, an American writer who kept the morals of the people in the city high and helped the community during the Seige of Sarajevo between 1992 to 1996.
The Seige of Sarajevo was the largest seige of a capital city in modern history. After the Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the Bosnian-Serbs stationed themselves around the hills of Sarajevo with forces of 13,000 men. This vantage point allowed them to attack the city with artillery, tanks and small arms. In May 1992, the Serbs managed to blockade the city, cutting off all supplies to the city. Susan Sontag became a national hero by directing a play, ‘Waiting for Godot’, during a large period of the Siege. The American writer was commemorated for her work for the city, with the square outside the theatre named after her.
Another source that helped the city through the siege was the Sarajevska Pivara beer factory. The iconic local beer producer has been in production for over 195 years and during the difficult times of the war, the factory doors remained open, while beer production continued. The factory was in fact an important source of water for the people of Sarajevo, since the their natural spring was the only source of clean water in the city. The site now hosts a fantastic pub, where you can sample some of the great tasting fresh beers!
Sarajevo is a city quite literally full of history, as seen in the different sub neighborhoods along the river. The small central area of the capital is packed with sights to visit and fantastic restaurants showcasing some fine local cuisine. Coupling the incredible views of the beautiful city from the mountains and the rich history of this little city, a visit is imminent and highly recommended!
Also published on Medium.