The day we left Mostar, we’d arranged for Ermin to drive us to Sarajevo, a drive of a couple of hours. It’s a beautiful drive, past green mountains, and along the Neretva River part of the way, with lakes and dams.
He dropped us off right at our hotel—the Hotel Divan on the edge of the old town—so it was extremely convenient. Thanks again to Ermin, and Alma, for being so helpful in Bosnia.
We had lunch in a randomly-chosen place close to our hotel—what they call cheese pies, and a meat plate (called cevapcici), both very nice—and then just wandered around in the old town, trying to get a feel for this city. We only had the afternoon to do this, as the next day we went to the special Srebrenica memorial exhibit, and on the Tunnel tour.
We did get a taste of the city, and realized that we could easily return, that there is so much more to see and learn here. We also made a point of visiting the small Museum Sarajevo 1878-1918, which covers the Austro-Hungarian period and the (in)famous assassination.
Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, is a place steeped in history, from the Illyrians, Romans and Slavs, through the medieval Bosnian Kingdom, to the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Over the past 100 years Sarajevo was part of 6 different countries and witnessed major political events, such as the Sarajevo Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 (which sparked WW1), the First and Second World Wars, XIV Winter Olympic Games (February 1984), and the longest-running siege in modern history in 1992-1996 (in fact, April 5, 1992-February 29, 1996, for a total of 3 years, 10 months, 3 weeks and 3 days). So, it has been a hot spot, and contested a number of times. In some places you can still see the scars of the recent wars. To us, this seemed very immediate, as it was a war that happened in our time. Can a war occur in this region again? Sadly, yes I think so.
So, different cultures and traditions have mingled here for centuries, giving rise to a unique cultural mix. For several hundred years the borders of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires—which represented the two poles of the world at that time, East and West—met in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This made the country and its capital a crossroads for different worlds, where Europe and the Orient met in the heart of the Balkans.
We had always thought that Vienna was a melting pot city—which it is of course—but Sarejevo is so much more obviously a melting pot now.
Because of this, Sarajevo is a rare city where, in just a 10-minute walk in the Old City, for example, you can see places of worship for the world’s most important monotheistic religions. There are Orthodox and Catholic churches, synagogues, and mosques. You can see former caravanserai, and Ottoman bazaar-style covered arcades, next to modern coffee shops.
The city, with a population of about half a million, lies in a valley, with the River Miljacka running through it. There are many bridges crossing the river, the most famous being the Latin Bridge, where the assassination took place. The valley is surrounded by the Dinaric Alps, so forested hills and mountains are never very far away.
The old part of town is called Bascarsija, the foundations laid in 1462. At its heart is Sebilj, a pseudo-Moorish fountain, from which radiate out narrow pedestrian streets, many still cobblestoned. This area is also sometimes called the Turkish quarter and for hundreds of years it had been the heart of the city’s industrial, trade, handicrafts and economic activities. Nowadays that has changed and it is mainly geared to tourists and souvenirs, but is still charming and gives a glimpse into the Ottoman past.
It was fun to wander around the Old City, as we saw mosques and minarets, and people
milling around in the courtyard of the main mosque, the Ottoman-era Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque. We passed Christian churches, people in coffee shops, people in all kinds of clothes (from total cover, to scantily dressed in short shorts), and saw a large leafy courtyard that was an old caravanserai and is now a kind of modern food court. It’s both familiar and very different to what we’ve seen and know from our previous travels, so is very exciting. We want to know more, so I guess we’ll have to try and return.