SARAJEVO, BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA: Capital and the largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it’s a city where I would love to go back again and again at every chance. I think I left a piece of my heart somewhere in the old town of Sarajevo. This is one of the most historically interesting cities in Europe. Sarajevo is famous for traditional religious diversity where Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Jews lived and coexisted for centuries. You will also find different ethnic groups like Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. The city is still recovering from the Yugoslav War from 1992 to 1995. The town is surrounded by Olympic Mountains in all directions with few different rivers running through the city. Miljacka is the river that runs very close to the old town. You can see homes and communities on small hills and slopes, makes it so beautiful during day or at night.
Bosnia and Herzegovina overall is a scenic country with endless mountains, lakes, rivers, and small villages. From the moment we crossed the border from Montenegro and until we reached Sarajevo, then drove to Mostar and then before reaching Dubrovnik, Croatia…the roads in this country are amazingly beautiful and thru wilderness and nature. I couldn’t stop looking out the window or dare to fall asleep, because I knew I would probably miss something extremely good.
Although this area has been continuously inhabited since the Prehistoric period, Sarajevo became a city with the arrival of the Ottomans in 1462. Since then two great civilizations, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian, settled here whose cultures and religious are faithfully kept even today. These two empires contributed to the diversity and unique beauty of the city. Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs, Roma and other ethnic groups live here side by side in harmony. A member of any confession in Sarajevo will feel the pleasure of freedom and coexistence. The richness of the city is in its countless religious institutions, historical museums, and cultural monuments. May be that’s why Sarajevo is called the “European Jerusalem”.
Most of the sites, if not all, in Sarajevo are financed and assisted with the help of the American people and USAID. All the tourist attractions are very well-marked with information boards written in English. Sarajevo is considered as one of the safest cities in Europe with lots of friendly people. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, the locals speak pretty good English.
TIME of TRAVEL: After visiting Podgorica, Tirana, Skopje, and Pristina during our Easter break trip in 2014, our fifth destination was Sarajevo. It was a long 15 hours of drive from Pristina. The shortcut takes usually around 7 hours, but that’s thru the mountains and our hotel staffs told us not to take the mountainous road because it is very risky when snows. When we left Pristina, it was snowing in the city, but as we got towards the mountain, snow got thicker and heavier. Our small car started to skid and couldn’t move further. A police car told us next 50 km of the road would be very bad and we should turn around. So, we drove four hours for nothing and came back to Pristina. After lunch, we started driving towards Podgorica thru Albania and after 7 hours of exhausting but scenic drive, we spent the night in Podgorica. Next morning we started driving towards Sarajevo and took us about another 7 hours to reach our hotel there. The drive from Podgorica to Sarajevo is extremely beautiful with mountains, lakes, national parks, and villages. But I wouldn’t recommend anyone driving on this road at night, because of the road condition. They are narrow roads on the mountains with few deep trenches on the sides and zigzag paths. This drive can be very dangerous and fatal after dark unless you are a local. The so-called “highway” gets worse after you cross the border into Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s beautiful but the windy narrow roads made me a bit sick.
When we arrived in Sarajevo, it was wet and gloomy. Although we weren’t so lucky with the weather, we still managed to get the warm feelings of this city. There were snow on the small hills and far distant mountains.
OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Hotel Herz in Sarajevo, on a small slopey hill. It was only 10 minutes’ walk from the old town. This was more like an apartment suite with a small kitchen, a fridge, and a microwave. The staffs were very friendly and casual. We had free breakfast, Wi-Fi, and parking. The best part of this hotel was that they had free drinks, like hot chocolate, coffee, teas, macchiato, and other hot drinks for their customers.
EATING and SHOPPING: Our first dinner was near the Sebilj in old town, Cevabdzinica Kurto – a kebab and burger place. Bosnian burgers are supposed to be very tasty. But I wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone, the food was ok…nothing amazing. Next day lunch at Sedaf (also in old town near Srebrenica Exhibition) was a very good choice. We had Bosnian soup with chicken, carrots, and okra, fresh salad, beef stew with mashed potato, and a Bosnian sweet – “tolomba” for dessert. The food was fantastic and so was the price. Overall, food is very cheap in Sarajevo. Our last dinner in Sarajevo was at Inat Kuca, a traditional Bosnian kitchen few steps outside the old town and opposite of the town hall. This old Turkish building itself is a historic one with few stories of sitting arrangements for the customers to enjoy gourmet cooking in a cozy environment. We had Bosnian beef pasta and chicken with rice.
For souvenirs, copper ware, such as coffee sets, sherbet holders, pitchers, and covered dishes…can be purchased in many places throughout the old town of Sarajevo. Aladdin slippers, Bosnian carpets and bags, are some of the memorabilia you can bring back from Sarajevo. Most of these items look very similar to Turkish handcrafts, it’s because this place was ruled by the Ottomans for few centuries and there are lots of ethnic Turkish-Bosniaks in the surrounding villages who make these items in the traditional styles.
PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We had a whole day in Sarajevo to see, which was really not enough time for a city like this. On top of that it was drizzling almost all day when we were out. This is a city adorned with beautiful landscapes, captivating history, and so many interesting spots to discover. You can see old buildings with bullet holes from the war are standing next to newly constructed stylish buildings. Sarajevo also houses the tallest building in the Balkans, Avaz Tower, little bit outside the city center.
All of the main sites of Sarajevo are located in or around old town within walking distance. We explored Sarajevo on our own, but there are lots of guided walking tour to fit every interests and time. A free tour is also available which lasts hour and half and starts at 4:30 everyday. Day trip includes going to Bosnian Pyramids, Dubrovnik, Srebrenica, Tunnel Museum, Mostar, and other cities.
Tunnel of Hope is a museum little bit out of the main city center near the airport, about less than half an hour drive, where we couldn’t manage to go but wanted to. It was built under the runway of Sarajevo Airport in 1993. It was city’s only connection with the outside world during the four years of siege. A portion of this wartime tunnel was turned into a museum for tourists. There are some original footage from the war along with everyday items from those misfortune years. This is a place that we shouldn’t have missed.
1) OLD TOWN: After arriving in Sarajevo an early evening, we checked in at our hotel and headed towards the Old Town of Sarajevo to find some traditional kitchen for dinner. This is not a typical European old town, it has a nice eastern twist with some Oriental and Middle-Eastern touches. If you are lucky, you may also hear Islamic call to prayer few times a day.
Few centuries ago, when this part of Sarajevo was in its prime, Old Town had around 4000 shops. Even now, the place kept it medieval charms and touches everywhere. Navigating thru those small side alleys is the best way to experience it. Most of the stores here sell Turkish style Bosnian goodies, mainly made by the local Turks. This is also a great place to go for some coffee.
Bascarsija is the heart of Old Sarajevo. Its foundations were laid in 1462 and by the 16th century, Bascarsija had reached its height. In the center of it is Sebilj (a kiosk-like public fountain), which is city’s one of the most recognizable symbol. Today, only a portion of the once great bazaar remains, but walking along its cobblestone streets gives a glimpse into their Ottoman past.
You may still see some buildings from the war time here. The bullet holes and broken windows are eyewitnesses of what Sarajevo went thru during that tragic period.
2) CITY HALL or VIJECNICA: We saw the City Hall of Sarajevo before entering the old town by the River Miljacka. This building serves as the most recognizable symbol of construction done in Sarajevo during the Austro-Hungarian period and the most beautiful example of pseudo-Moorish building. Erected in 1896, it consumed by flame in 1992. Now it is fully reconstructed and shines with its original glory.
3) EMPEROR’S MOSQUE: This was our first destination on the 2nd day in Sarajevo. Also known as Sultan Fatihova Mosque, this is one of the oldest mosques in Sarajevo. An older mosque at the same place built by Isa-bey in honor of Sultan Mehmed II (the Conqueror) was destroyed by Hungarian army in 1480. A new, more monumental mosque was built at the same spot in 1565. The oldest part of the mosque, the central section, dates from that same year. The mosque was closed in the morning but we were told that it would open after the noon prayer. We only could peek thru its gate and saw the Ottoman style big courtyard with a fountain, dome, and tall minaret. The burial ground beside the Emperor’s Mosque contains the graves of viziers, muftis, sheikhs, employees in the Emperor’s mosque, and other dignitaries of Sarajevo.
The mosque is located opposite of the Town Hall inside a smaller street. There is no fee to enter and it opens at 1pm.
4) LATIN BRIDGE or LATINSKI MOST: Few steps further from the mosque towards the old town is Latin Bridge. In 6th century, following the Emperor’s and Skenderija bridges, the third wooden bridge was built over River Miljacka, on the site of the present-day Latin bridge. The residential quarter on the right bank of the river was where Sarajevo’s Catholics lived. The earliest record of this bridge is from 1541. But later the wooden bridge was replaced by a stone bridge which was swept away by floods several times. The bridge as seen today, with five arches was built in 1798.
This is a historic bridge and has a close connection with the WWI. It was near the Latin Bridge on the right bank of River Miljacka, in 1914, Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne Franc Ferdinand and his wife Sofia were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip. Some historians consider this unfortunate event to trigger the outbreak of World War I.
5) MUSEUM of SARAJEVO: One side of Latin Bridge is this museum. Museum of Sarajevo 1878 – 1918 deals with the history of Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Austro-Hungarian period. Some displays in this museum tell the story of the Sarajevo Assassination – murder of Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne Franc Ferdinand and his wife Sofia. Make sure to watch a small reenactment of a footage on how Prince Franc Ferdinand and his wife Sofia were murdered. Visitors can see historic documents, old pictures, arms, and uniforms from that period.
The museum is very small and has only one floor. Ticket is 3 MK per adult and is located on one side of Latin Bridge adjacent to the point where Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne Prince Franc Ferdinand and his wife Sofia were assassinated in 1914.
6) BEY’S MOSQUE and CLOCK TOWER: This is a grand Ottoman style mosque in the old town. The mosque has a pleasant courtyard with a fountain for ablution in the middle. Women have separate door to enter but it was closed, so I couldn’t really see inside the mosque. But it is an active place of worship. Muslims or non-Muslim visitors are allowed but not during prayer times. It’s free to enter and look around, just have to dress appropriately and take your shoes off before going inside. There is also a Madrasah (Quranic school) opposite of the mosque, not sure if it still works though.
7) MORICA HAN (SARAY): This is the only preserved Ottoman Inn in Sarajevo. This used to be a hotel/inn in the 18th century. Now, there is a big restaurant, a Turkish carpet shop on the first floor along with some old hotel rooms, and a big courtyard with lush trees in the middle. We took the old wooden stairs to go upstairs. This is where guests used to stay overnight during their journeys couple centuries ago. Presently, there are some offices which we couldn’t access.
8) OLD SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH: It started to drizzle when we started walking little bit out of the old town and towards this church. It’s also known as Serbian Orthodox Church of the Holy Archangel and is one of the most important Cultural and Historical monuments in Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has been safe guarding holy icons and religious relics for centuries. This is a tiny and elegant church in the old quarter. Some say it’s from the 5th or 6th century while others say from 12 or 14th century and yet some only talks about its rebuilding during the Ottoman period in the late 15th or 16th century. But its present look is from 1730. Its archaic foundations and inner architectural constructions with two-storied arcades are from early Christian times (5th or 6th century). It has a nave surrounded on three sides by a colonnade which makes it a unique example of well-preserved church architecture in this part of the world. The most important and valuable feature of the interior of this church is the carved wooden iconostasis. It is a great beauty from 1674. The church bears interesting drawings, different outlooks, medieval folklore, and shows a rare beauty of colors.
Although we didn’t go there and wasn’t even aware of it at that time church museum is one of the oldest museums in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It was free to enter but taking photos is not allowed. Opening hours are from 8am to 6pm everyday.
9) CATHEDRAL of JESUS’ SACRED HEART: This cathedral is located in the old part too right beside Srebrenica Exhibition, which was our next stop. This is relatively a recent cathedral from 1889 with dominating neo-Gothic elements. Pope Pius XI donated the great bell of this cathedral. Although the cathedral was closed when we were there, the building looked grand from the outside.
10) SREBRENICA EXHIBITION: This museum is located right beside Cathedral of Jesus’ Sacred Heart. This is a must-see place in Sarajevo. Visiting this museum is a learning experience as well as an awakening for all. The world should know what happened in Bosnia in 1995 and how innocent lives were taken by the Serbian army in the process of “Ethnic Cleansing”.
Srebrenica is a small town in Bosnia, about 5 hours drive from Sarajevo, where this massacre took place in 1995. This was the most cruel and heartless genocide in European soil after WWII. Approximately 8000 Bosniaks, mainly boys and men, were killed by the Serbian army and few hundred Russian volunteers after UN announced Srebrenica a “safe area”. Total 11,000 people were killed in Bosnia and Herzegovina in Bosnia War from 1992 to 1995.
This is the first memorial gallery in Bosnia and Herzegovina – exhibition space aiming to preserve the memory on Srebrenica tragedy and 8372 persons who tragically lost their lives during the genocide. Memorial Gallery 11/07/95 is the highlight of this exhibition. Watch the documentary on the war and its after-math.
The museum is open daily from 10 to 6pm except Mondays. Entrance is 10MK per adult.
11) ORTHODOX CHURCH: Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God was erected in 1872 in neo-Classical style and is one of the largest orthodox churches in the Balkans. The interior features elaborate ornamentation of the altar, ceiling, walls, and floors.
There wasn’t any entrance free and hours are 8am to 5pm everyday.
12) TASLIHAN: Taslihan was built in 1543 in the period of the greatest expansion of Sarajevo. After its construction, Taslihan was the largest and the most representative facility of its kind in the region. It was built of stone and covered with vaults and domes made of lead, which was not the case in other inns. Unlike other inns, accommodation was free in this inn. It could hold up to 90 guests. Taslihan was on fire several time, the last time in 1879 it was completely destroyed. In 1912, last remnants were removed from the site.
The original purpose of caravanserais and hans was to provide accommodation for merchants and their wares and horses. In 1878, there were fifty caravanserais and hans in Sarajevo, of which the most important were Kolobara, the Taslihan, and Morica han. Unlike other hans, Taslihan contained a row of shops, making it a trading han. The courtyard also contained a sebilj (public fountain) with a mosque.
Taslihan is just in ruins right now. We didn’t even know about this place until we were walking by it and saw the ruins and information board. The authority was still working on the excavation when we saw it.