I fell so in love with a city that I had to revive my blog to tell the world about it. The magical ambiance of Sarajevo truly is a force to be reckoned with.
YG and I decided to go on holiday to a rather obscure location this summer. The original plan was for me to visit him in Turkey, but after the coup attempt in Istanbul in mid-July, we weren’t sure what the situation would be like come August. So, we re-arranged plans and decided to check out Serbia and Bosnia instead. Both countries have visa-free travel for Turks (something that’s unfortunately hard to come by). I wasn’t really sure what to expect of Belgrade and Sarajevo seeing as they’re not common tourist locations, but I was so so pleasantly surprised (especially by Sarajevo).
Sarajevo is in a really big valley, with the main part of the city in in the center, and residential areas creeping up the mountains. The city has changed hands many times – it was founded by the Ottomans in the 1450s, became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878, and then became part of Yugoslavia after the first world war. According to wikipedia, until the late 20th century, it was the only major European city to have a mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church and synagogue in the same neighborhood. Which is pretty cool.
The architecture reflects all of these changes – the Baščaršija (old town) area of the city reminds me of Istanbul, with cafes selling Turkish style tea and coffee and mosques from the 16th century; the Austro-Hungarian era part of the city having extravagant, pastel colored buildings and the Yugoslav era part of the city with concrete bloc buildings.
Before going on this trip, I was a little concerned that there wouldn’t be enough to do – whenever I told people where I was going, the reaction I got was either ‘where?’ or ‘why?’ – but we actually ran out of time to do everything we wanted to. We ended up taking three tours through an NGO travel agency in the city – the first being a tour through the major points of the city, including the AMAZING city hall built in the pseudo-Moorish style, the cathedral, the oldest mosque, etc., the second being a tour based on the war in the 1990s and the third being a tour of sites in the surrounding Bosnian countryside.
I think that the thing that made me fall so in love with Sarajevo was the layers of history present in the city – it was an Ottoman administrative center, it was the site of the assassination of the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, which marked the beginning of World War I, and it saw the longest siege of a city in modern times. To me, this mixture of cultures has created one of the most unique places I’ve ever been.
But, I think the most fascinating thing about Sarajevo is how this culture has bounced back after the war in the 1990s. My mind was constantly blown that the streets that we were walking were part of a city in which the residents were trapped for four years. And that this happened just twenty years ago. Most of the historical buildings have been fully restored and reminders of the conflict only remain in the cemeteries on the hills surrounding the cities and random spatters of bullet holes in buildings.
We sort of like made friends (lolz) with our tour guides and our air bnb hosts and their stories about the war were incredibly moving and devastating to hear. The people there were absolutely lovely and it’s obscure enough that it’s not overwhelmingly touristy (like Amsterdam or London or something), but there is a whole lot to see and learn about. YG and I observed that it’s more of a place for seasoned travelers (like people backpacking all of Europe), rather than folks like us on summer holiday.
I don’t know – there’s something about the mountain air and old world charm that just captured my heart, along with the cultural mixture of Slavic and Ottoman roots. Sarajevo isn’t like anywhere else that I have ever been and I’ll definitely be returning to Bosnia.
Things worth seeing:
- City Hall – this amazing 19th century building designed in the pseudo-moorish style. It was burned in the 1990s and was restored in 2014 and the inside is GORGEOUS.
- Gallerija 11/07/95 – this place is somewhat of a mixture between gallery and museum. It describes the Srebrenice massacre of 1995 in which over 8000 muslim Bosnians were massacred by Serb forces despite UN initiatives to keep them safe. I found it heartwrenching and incredibly important to see.
- 1984 Olympic Bobsled Track – Located on the surrounding Trebević mountain, the track has largely remained unused since the games and served as an artillery position during the war in the 1990s. It’s a must-see if you’re at all into urban ruins. You can actually walk down the track, it’s pretty creepy and cool. Apparently it’s being renovated this year…..
- The Latin Bridge – Site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria Hungary – the shot that caused WW1.
- The Old Town – Boasts loads of cafes with Bosnian coffee, Burek (A pastry filled with minced meat and onions or cheese) and souvenirs.
- The Tunnel Museum – This isn’t in Sarajevo’s city proper, but is a fascinating museum about the efforts of Bosniaks to survive in the city while it was under siege.
All in all, I think Sarajevo is a magical city that can’t be missed. It doesn’t seem that it’s hit that level of obnoxious tourism that most European cities have, and it still retains a really authentic feel, which truly captured my heart.