Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has developed on the crossroad of the old Roman and medieval trade and travelling routes. There have been settlements in the area since prehistoric times and the Illyrians, Romans and Slavs making settlements in the Region . The city as we know it today was founded by the Ottomans following their conquest of the Kingdom of Bosnia in the 1450s and it remained part of the Ottoman empire for more than 400 years, until the occupation of Austo-Hungary in 1878. The legacy of the empires and peoples that have forged its history is reflected in its name: Sarajevo is the Slavic version of Turkish Saray, meaning palace, house.
Sadly, Sarajevo is now probably best known for the turbulent events that rocked it in the 20th Century. It was here that the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914: an event that would plunge the world into its first world war. More recently, Sarajevo was the site of the longest siege of a capital city in modern history – when it was besieged by the Army of Republika Srpska for 3 years and ten months during the Bosnian war of the 1990s.
Contemporary Sarajevo has emerged from the dark days of the war as a vibrant, dynamic, multicultural city. Popularly known as ‘the place where East meets West’, it has a multi-religous centre where Orthodox and Catholic stand alongside synagogues and mosques/
Here are the top things to do if you are planning a visit to Sarajevo and want to learn about the city’s history, culture, nature, food specialities and some hidden gems.
1. ENJOY IN BOSNIAN OLD OTTOMAN ARCHITECTURE
The old Ottoman market (bazaar) from 16th century called Baščaršija is the heart of historic centre of Sarajevo. ‘Baš’, in Turkish means ‘main, primary, capital’ , while ‘Čaršija’ means ‘baazar, market’. In Baščaršija a visitor can find narrow Ottoman cobblestone alleyes with small crafts shops and stalls, cafes, pottery shops, mosques, an old madresa and han (inn). In the ‘Kazandžiluk street’ (Coppersmith street) the city visitors can buy traditional souvenirs like jewellery and copper products decorated in tradional techinques passed down through generations.
This is the most famous fountain in Sarajevo and a symbol of Sarajevo. The original Ottoman Sebil was destroyed in a fire, but the new one was built in Pseudo Ottoman style during Austro-Hungarain period. It is located in the centre of Baščaršija, what makes Sebil the core of Sarajevo’s heart.
GAZI HUSREV BEY’s MOSQUE
Gazi Hurev Begova Džamija or simply (Begova Džamija in Bosnian) is undeniably one of the Ottoman masterpieces in Sarajevo. The mosque was built by the Ottomans in 16th century by the order of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Located in Baščaršija neighborhood, it is the largest mosque in the Balkans.
GAZI HUSREV BEY’S MEDRESA or KURŠUMLIJA
Just across the street to Gazev Husrev Bey’s mosque in Baščaršija neighbourhood stands the historic Muslim primary and secondary school from the Ottoman era.
GAZI FERHAD BEY’s MOSQUE or FERHADIJA
Ferhad Bey’s mosque, or Ferhad-beg Vuković djamija in Bosnian, was built in 16th century in classical Ottoman style. It is a wonderful example of Ottoman Empire’s ‘Golden Age’. It is located in the center of the old town of Sarajevo, near hotel Europa. After being damaged with grenades during the Bosnian War in 1990s it has been painstakingly restored to its former glory.
HOUSE OF SPITE or INAT KUĆA
Inat kuća is an Ottoman house opposite the City Hall across river Miljacka. When Austria-Hungary got control over Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878, a new city hall next to river Miljacka was planned as a part of Sarajevo’s architectural makeover. In order to achieve this vision, however, some houses needed to be destroyed to make way for the new city hall. This proved not to be as easy as the new rulers had thought. An old stubborn Bosnian man by the name of Benderija refused to demolish his house and instead demanded that the city authorities to move his house brick by brick to another site of river Miljacka. In commemoration of Benderija’s stand against authority, the house (now converted into a restaurant) is today known as the‘House of Spite’ or ‘Inat Kuća’ in Bosnian: and is an icon of Bosnian stubbornness.
2. VISIT THE OLD JEWISH CEMETERY
It may sound weird to recommend a visit to a cemetery among things to do in Sarajevo, but the old Jewish cemetery is a hidden historic gem in Sarajevo. It is the second largest Jewish cemetery in Europe, after the one in Prague. It was open in 1630 by Bosnian Sephardi Jews. Later, when the Askenezi Jews came to Sarejevo in 19th century, they were buried there as well. The graveyard is an atypical Jewish cemetery, since they look like the medieval Bosnian stećak tombstones and are therefore dissimilar to Jewish tombstones in the rest of the world.
3. MAKE A QUICK VISIT TO SARAJEVO CITY HALL
In 19th century, after more than 400 years of the Ottoman rule, Sarajevo became a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The whole city had an architectural makeover and became a playground for the imperial architects. At that time Sarajevo City Hall, or Vjećnica in Bosnian, was built in pseudo-Moorish style. In 1949 the building became the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1990s, during the Siege of Sarajevo, it was destroyed, but in 2000s it was restored and in 2014 reopened.
4. TRY OUT BOSNIAN PIES
Pies, or Pite in Bosnian, are Bosnian fast food. They are made by stuffing dough with delicious savory or sweet fillings and then rolling the dough into a swirl (like a snake curling around and around). Popularly eaten with yogurt, the most popular pies are burek (beef meat pie), zeljaninica (cheese and spinach pie), krumpiruša (potato pie), sirnica (cheese pie) and tikvenica (zucchini pie). The pies could be tasted at shops called Buregđinica for 1-3 EUR.
5. TASTE BOSNIAN CAKES
Traditional Bosnian cakes are of Ottoman (Turkish) origin. They are extremely sweet, so when trying them get ready to get sugar attack! The most-known are baklava (a pastry made of philo layers with chopped walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios between the layers), halva (a tahini based sweet, usually made with pistachios), tufahija (a walnut-stuffed apple stewed in sugared water), tulumba (a fried dough soaked in sugar syrup), kadaif (a cake with chopped nuts between layers of wires) and hurmašica (a date-shaped cake with sugar syrup).
6. DRINK BOSNIAN COFFEE
Bosnian coffee is an integral part of the Bosnian identity and culture. It is dark, strong, tasty and according to Bosnian tradition it should be drunk very slowly (what in Bosnia means, for hours). Traditional Bosnian coffee set includes a džezva (a small metal pot), fildžan (a small coffee cup), rahatlokum (a Turkish delight) and a glass of cold water.
7. REFRESH YOURSELF WITH BOSNIAN DRINK
Boza is a popular non-alcoholic Bosnian drink of Turkish origin made from fermented maize (corn). It is very refreshing and distinctive in taste.
8. ADMIRE BOSNIAN NATURE
SPRING OF RIVER BOSNIA or VRELO BOSNE
After exploring the centre of city, head to the spring of Bosna river, or ‘Vrelo Bosne’ in Bosnian, on the outskirts of Sarajevo at the foothills of the Mount Igman in Ilidža municipality. Bosna is the river after which the country was named. This green oasis with its fresh and calming air, beautiful paths, small wooden bridges, clear stream waters with ducks and swans is a perfect place to enjoy in relaxing walks and bicycle rides.
THE OLD ROMAN BRIDGE ON ILIDŽA
On the western entrance to Sarajevo, near Vrelo Bosne (spring of Bosna river), there is a 16th century bridge surrounded lush verdant greenery. The bridge is on the site of an ancient bridge that stood there in the Roman era. Today, it is a romantic weekend meeting place for the people of Sarajevo.
SPRING OF RIVER MILJACKA
If you want to relax in the gorgeous Bosnian countryside, you should go to the river Miljacka spring, located under the slopes of the Jahorina mountain on the outskirts of Sarajevo in Pale municipality. In the spring you would be surprised just how clear and tasty the waters of the Miljacka is here: especially when you’ve seen how muddy the river is in central Sarajevo!
9. EXPLORE SARAJEVO’s STREET ART
MONSIEUR CHAT GRAFFITI
Sarajevo has a wonderful street art scene. The most popular graffiti character is a yellow cat called M. Chat. There are several spots in Sarajevo where you can see Mister Cat. The globe-trotting cat first appeared in 1997 in Orleans (France) and started popping up all around France until 2000, when he finally travelled abroad and started appearing: in Sarajevo (2005), New York (2006) Hong Kong, Hanoi, Seoul and Tokyo (2008) and in Dakar, Sao Paulo and Vancouver (2009) … The creator of the grinning cat with the curvy tail remained a mystery until 2007, when police caught Thoma Vuille drawing M. Chat on a wall in Orleans. Today Mister Cat continues to bring smiles to people faces all over the Globe.