After one day in Tuzla, my boyfriend and I took the bus to the capital of Bosnia Herzegovina: Sarajevo. A city of which I had a rather gloomy image in advance. The wars of the nineties certainly had to do with this. A tragic episode that I wanted to learn more about, but I was not sure if Sarajevo itself had anything more to offer. I was wrong. After my visit, I can proudly say that I loved Sarajevo. The city was the biggest surprise of our Balkan trip. Not only was this city of great historical significance, Sarajevo is also a treat for the eye. The architecture, the beautiful old center and the green surrounding hills make this city a great destination for a city trip. Most of all, the greatest asset of Sarajevo is its multicultural character. One moment you imagine yourself in the streets of Istanbul and a little later you think that you are in Vienna or Budapest. Sarajevo is a city that brings different worlds together and this gives it a special atmosphere. Let me show you multicultural Sarajevo.
Turkish influences: foundation by the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire was once one of the most powerful empires in the world. Between the fourteenth and twentieth century this empire (forerunner of current Turkey) covered large parts of Southern Europe, Asia and North Africa. For Sarajevo the Ottomans had a rather crucial influence, because they founded this city in 1461. For four centuries Sarajevo belonged to the Ottomans and it developed into one of the most modern cities in Europe. Nowadays you can still see many Ottoman influences in the city. The most noteworthy example of this is the old city center: Baščaršija. A walk here almost feels like a stroll through old Istanbul. Taste the oriental atmosphere in the tea houses and baklava cafes and walk through the streets of the bazaar.
What to see in the Baščaršija?
- Don’t miss the icon of Sarajevo: the Sebilj on the Baščaršija This is a wooden water fountain, built by Mehmed Pasha Kukavica in 1753. Locals like to tell you the story that that if you take a sip of water, you will some day return to Sarajevo.
- Walk around in the Moricá Han: this is a fairly tucked-away courtyard where a restaurant and oriental lamp and carpet shops are located. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries this courtyard served as caravanserei, an overnight place for traveling merchants through the Balkans.
- Take a look at the Gazi-Husrev-Beg mosque, this is the oldest and biggest mosque of the city. If you are planning on visiting this mosque, please make sure that your knees and shoulders are covered.
- Admire the ruins of Taslihan, once the largest caravanserai of the region. Taslihan means stone inn and it offered space up to 90 travelers and their horses. The complex was destroyed in a fire in 1879. During the construction of the neighboring Hotel Europe, the foundations of the inn were rediscovered.
- Walk across the stone Ottoman Latin Bridge. This is the spot where Gavrillo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28 1914 and as a result of this started the First World War.
beautiful heritage of Austria-Hungary
In 1878 Austria-Hungary became the new administrator in Sarajevo. This powerful double monarchy innovated Sarajevo. For example, the first tram in Europe started running in Sarajevo. Austria-Hungary also introduced beautiful architecture in the city. They were ‘helped’ by a large fire in 1880. The reconstruction was characterized by neoclassical architecture and the pseudo-Moorish style. The most beautiful buildings can be found in the Ferhadija street and along the Obala Kulina Bana. Let me inspire you with my favorites:
- Vijećnica, the city hall of Sarajevo. In the nineteenth century this was the largest building of Austro-Hungarian Sarajevo, but unfortunately it was severely damaged during the occupation of Sarajevo in 1992. In 2004 the city hall was reopened.
- Sarajevska Pivara: this brewery survived the Ottoman empire and the Austro-Hungarian rule and is still up and running. This building has a striking appearance with its red colored walls.
- Sarajevo Main Post Office, more than just a post office. This building from 1913 has a beautiful interior with a glass roof, chandeliers and beautiful details.
- Academy of the Arts, a fascinating building next to the Miljacka river. Once built as an evangelical church, but after the First World War many evangelical Christians left Sarajevo. Nowadays the building is used as an Art Academy.
Meeting point of East and West
There is one place in the city which functions as a clear marker for the different historical periods of Sarajevo. This is the ‘Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures’, an inlaid marker on the Ferhadija street. If you look in one direction, you will see a typical Turkish street scene. If you look the other way, you see a Viennese street scene. This is a remarkable spot where the worlds from east and west meet each other. Tip for people with a sweet tooth: near this marker you will find Slatko Cose (translation: sweet intersection). On every corner at this crossing there is a pastry shop located with a wide range of pastries, chocolate and cakes.
Tolerant & multicultural
Before the war in the nineties, Sarajevo was a very multicultural city. According to the 1991 census, 49% were Bosnian Muslims, 29% were Serbian Orthodox and 6% were Croatian Catholics. Despite the different religions, the city excelled in tolerance. Background or religion did not really matter. The buildings in Sarajevo are a good reflection of this multicultural character. On the Trg Fra Grge Martića you will find the Sacred Heart Cathedral, the largest Roman Catholic cathedral of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A few streets away there is an Orthodox church, the Cathedral Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos. And one street further you will find the Ferhajjia dzamija (mosque). And all this within a radius of 500 meters!
Jerusalem of Europe
Near the Ferhajjia dzamija there used to be the Old Synagogue located (now: Jewish Historical Museum). In the sixteenth century, a large number of Sephardic Jews settled in Sarajevo after being exiled in Spain. They were on good terms with the Ottomans and were allowed to build synagogues. At the beginning of the 20th century, a total of 12000 Jews lived in Sarajevo. Combined with all other cultural movements, this led to the well-known nickname for Sarajevo: the Jerusalem of Europe. After 1945, the multicultural character changed. After the Second World War there were only 1000 Jews left. Many of them decided to leave Sarajevo. The second turning point was the Bosnian war in the nineties. In four years, more than 10000 people died and after the war many decided to start a new life elsewhere. According to the 2013 census the population of Sarajevo consists for 80% of Bosnian Muslim. The city’s population may have changed, but its tolerance is still the same. Whether you are Christian, Muslim or Jewish, it still does not matter in Sarajevo.
Have you also been to Sarajevo? I’d love to hear your tips for this fascinating city.