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Published: October 24th 2019
After checking into our hotel in Sarajevo, which was just across the river from Baščaršija, we set out for a walk through the city.
Sarajevo is full of history, both ancient and modern. The city was the meeting point of Roman Catholic west, Eastern Orthodox east and the Ottoman south. Historically it was a fairly tolerant city where Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism coexisted peacefully for the most part. That tolerance and mostly peaceful coexistence was shattered in more recent history first with the expulsion of Jews when Bosnia was under control of the Nazis and then even more recently during the Bosnian war. Nowadays the city is on the road to recovering its tolerance.
As soon as we crossed the river and entered Baščaršija. The part of Baščaršijawe enteredwas constructed in the 15th
century by the Ottomans. It is the historical centre of Sarajevo. Unsurprisingly it felt very much like we had just crossed the bridge into Turkey as we walked through the narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants.
We hadn’t been able to find a place to stop for lunch on the drive from Durmitor National Park earlier in the day, so even though it
was only about 5:30 by that stage we were fairly hungry so decided to stop for an early dinner.
We opted for a restaurant which had been recommended by our hotel. Scott ordered a plate with various vegetables stuffed with rice, meat and vegetables while I opted for a vegetarian version of zucchini moussaka. Neither of us were particularly taken with our food; the dishes were fairly bland and uninspiring. At the time we weren’t really sure whether it was the restaurant we’d chosen, or if all Bosnian food is that bland.
After dinner we went for a bit more of a walk. The city has a lovely feel about it. There were lots of people, locals and tourists, walking around and catching up with friends. The architecture makes it a really interesting place to explore as one minute you’re surrounded by Ottoman style buildings, the next you’re on a street lined with Austro-Hungarian style building and the next there’s a hideous (but functional) communist style monstrosity.
Eventually we found a supermarket so had a look what was on offer. We didn’t spot any particularly strange ingredients, it was pretty similar to Montenegro (perhaps unsurprisingly given the
After walking around for a while we headed back to our hotel to relax for the evening.
The following morning after getting ready we headed to a nearby bakery to pick up some pide (byrek) for breakfast. Scott ordered a meat one and I had spinach and cheese. We ate our delicious pide while walking to the meeting point for our Siege of Sarajevo tour.
When we’d planned to visit Sarajevo I thought it was important that we learnt a bit about the Siege of Sarajevo before and while we were there. Before we arrived we both read The Cellist of Sarajevo and I also read Goodbye Sarajevo. The Siege of Sarajevo half day tour seemed like a fitting activity to do as well.
The Siege of Sarajevo is the longest siege of any capital city in modern warfare. The precursor to the Siege of Sarajevo, which was part of the Bosnian War, was the referendum which saw Bosnia declare independence from Yugoslavia. This began what was effectively a religious war with the Bosnian Serbs (Serbian Orthodox Church) fighting the majority Bosniaks (Muslims) and Croats (Catholics). The goal of the war was to create a
new Bosnian Serb state of Republika Srpska (RS) that would include Bosniak-majority areas. The Bosnian war lasted from 1992 to 1995.
The Siegeof Sarajevo lasted 1425 days. During this time the citizens of Sarajevo (Muslims, Orthodox and Catholic) that didn’t have the means or desire to flee were trapped in the city by Bosnian Serbs who occupied the hills which almost completely surround the city.
We were joined on our tour by two Bosnian-Swedes who had both grown up in Sweden, but made regular visits back to Bosnia. Our guide was a local who was born just before the war started so had no memories of it himself, but was able to talk about his parents and others experiences.
The first stop of our tour was the War Tunnel Museum. The Sarajevo(War) Tunnel was an 800m long, 1m wide, 1.6m high, 8m deep tunnel which ran from the city, below Bosnian Serb territory, underneath the airport (UN peacekeeper / disputed territory) to Bosniak (and Bosnian Croat when they weren’t fighting each other) held territory. The tunnel was constructed in March to June 1993. The tunnel served as a lifeline to the inhabitants of the city during the
war; food, medical supplies and munitions were transported through the tunnel. People who had the means to pay (bribe) also used the tunnel to flee the city. Surprisingly the Bosnian Serbs never successfully bombed the tunnel during the war.
After watching a short film which consisted of a series of video clips which showed the tunnel construction and operation we had a walk through the approximately 20m long section of tunnel which has been preserved. Whilst it was interesting to see where the tunnel was situated relative to the airport, particularly after having read the two novels before visiting, the museum itself wasn’t that great.
Whilst at the museum we saw our first Sarajevo Rose. Sarajevo Roses were created when the concrete scar from a mortar shell which killed three or more people was filled with red resin. There are approximately 200 Sarajevo Roses scattered throughout the city.
From the museum we headed to Trebević mountain. Present day Sarajevo is mostly within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina but some areas are within Republika Srpska. During the drive our guide pointed out that the sections of the road within Republika Srpska are in significantly worse condition than
those in Federation territory. There are even some streets on which one side of the street is located in the Federation and the other side within Republika. Once he’d pointed out the condition of the roads it was really obvious; as the road deteriorated we also noticed ‘Welcome to Republika Srpska’ signs by the side of the road. Where the divide between entities is down the middle of the street you can tell by the green street numbers in the Federation territory and blue street numbers in the Republika territory.
The discussion about the roads started crash course in the politics of Bosnia and Herzegovina which seems to be one of the most inefficient and complex systems we’ve learnt about. Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two entities; the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (vast majority Bosniak and Croat, 51% of the land area of Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Republika Srpska (vast majority Bosnian Serb, 49% of the land area of Bosnia and Herzegovina). Bosnia has three presidents, one Serb, one Bosniak, one Croat. The chair of the presidency rotates between the three presidents every six months. The House of Peoples has 15 representatives, of which 10 (2/3) are from
the Federation. The House of Representatives has 42 representatives of which 28 (2/3) are from the Federation. Phew...complex.
Our introductory crash course in Bosnian politics wrapped up as we arrived at Trebević mountain, which was Bosnian Serb territory during the siege. From the mountain we had fantastic views over the city, which really gave you a good appreciation of why the siege lasted so long.
At Trebević mountain we also stopped at the remains of the bobsled track from the 1985 winter Olympic games at a cost of about 20 million USD. Given the bobsled track was within Bosnian Serb territory it was shelled during the war so could no longer be used for bobsledding. Nowadays it’s used mostly by graffiti artists (and ‘artists’ i.e. taggers) so is quite interesting to look at. Apparently it’s also a favourite dumping ground for stolen cars as, given the bobsled is located within Republika Sprska, the police from the Federation can’t enter.
From the bobsled track we headed to the OldJewish Cemetery. The is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in South-East Europe. It was in use from approximately 1550 until 1966. It was on the front line during the
war and is apparently the point where the shots which killed two of the first victims of the war were fired from.
After the cemetery we headed to the Yellow Bastion which was built by the Ottomans in the 1700s. The Yellow Bastion has fantastic views over the city of Sarajevo, however there isn’t a lot to see at the bastion.
Our final stop of the tour was at the old Holiday Inn Hotel (currently the Holiday Hotel) and ‘Sniper Alley’. During the war the Holiday Inn was occupied by UN forces and foreign journalists. Sniper Alley is the nickname of Zmaja od Bosne Street and Meša Selimović Boulevard, which are two wide streets which were particularly dangerous during the siege as they are wide with little shelter and therefore very exposed to sniper fire from the surrounding hills and buildings. It was rather difficult to imagine what the street would have been like during the siege as the roads are quite busy nowadays.
We both thought the tour was very interesting. It gave us some further insight into the Siege of Sarajevo, though its difficult to appreciate just how terrifying and horrific it would have been.
We also thought the crash course in the current politics was really interesting and confusing.
After the tour finished we went off in search of a store to buy a sim card at. Once we’d successfully purchased one we headed to a falafel restaurant for lunch. We both ordered the falafel menu (falafels, chips, salad, hummus and bread) which was delicious. While we ate we chatted with an Irish couple who we’d heard mention the Great Ocean Road and Warrnambool; not what we were expecting to hear discussed in Bosnia! They were midway through a bike ride from Ireland to Turkey so we exchanged travel tips and stories.
After lunch we went back to our hotel to read and relax for the afternoon.
That night for dinner we went to a Chinese restaurant as we were both really missing Asian food. We ordered a chicken dish and a broccoli dish as well as some rice. I was fairly sceptical about how good the food would be, but it was actually quite nice. The spicy warning on the chicken dish definitely wasn’t warranted though!
The following morning we had a fairly slow start before heading to the
meeting point for our food tour at 11am. We were lucky to have our guide, a 23 year old local who was excellent and very passionate, all to ourselves.
Our first stop on the food tour was the City Market. The City Market is housed in an Austro-Hungarian building a short walk from the Ottoman part of the city. The Austro-Hungarian’s built the market building as a way of enticing people away from the historical centre of the city which was in the Ottoman part.
The shops inside the City Market mostly sell cheese and dried meat. Whilst in the City Market we tasted 5 different cheeses (4 cows milk and one sheep milk), including a particularly delicious one which is made by filling small capsicums with a fairly runny cream cheese, storing them in jars and leaving it to ferment. Scott also tasted several dried meats including two different ones from different parts of a cow and a goat one.
From the City Market we made our way to Trg oslobođenja - Alija Izetbegović, which is a square in the central part of Sarajevo. The square has several statues around it of famous citizens, including Ivo
Andrić who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1961. The square is also popular with (male) retirees who gather to play chess most days. Our guide suggested that they were playing chess to avoid spending the whole day with their wives.
Whilst in the square we also learnt about the nearby Cathedral of the Nativity of the Theotokos which is a Serbian Orthodox cathedral. Construction of the cathedral began in 1874. At the time it was constructed the Orthodox Serbs were told that the tower wasn’t permitted to be taller than the minarets of the mosques. However, if you count the height of the cross on top of the tower it is taller than the tallest minaret at the time which was apparently a bit of a sore point.
Nearby the square we also saw a replica tombstone from the pre-Ottoman era and learnt about how people were buried back then (upright) as well as some of the symbols on the tombs and how they were used to reflect the personality of the person buried below. The replica tombstone had been placed there because there are several schools surrounding it. This replica gives teachers something
to point to when teaching students about their history.
From the tombstone we headed to Sarajevo National Theatre where we learnt about the annual Bosnian film festival, during which the city turns into a bit of a party town. We also learnt about the Sarajevo Youth Theatre which, thanks to its relatively sheltered position, was used to host daily shows and performances during the Siege of Sarajevo in attempt to boost morale.
From the National Theatre we headed to our next tasting, a small pide shop. We tried cheese, cheese and spinach, potato and meat pide all washed down / topped with a side of yoghurt. The pide was delicious; both Scott and I liked the potato pide the best.
After filling up on pide we made our way to Vječna vatra which is a small monument, with eternal flame, to military and victims of the Second World War. The monument is in front of a rather grand Austro-Hungarian building with a balcony which is frequently used for speeches and so on. After Josip Broz Tito (benevolent dictator of Yugoslavia) made a speech on the balcony the street in front of the building was renamed in his
From Vječna vatra we made our way to Pijaca Markale which is the largest fruit and vegetable market in Sarajevo. The stalls were well stocked with mostly homegrown produce. At the market we also learnt about two horrible incidents during the Siege of Sarajevo when the market was shelled. During the first attack 68 people were killed and 144 were wounded. During the second attack 43 people were killed and 75 were wounded. The second attack was the reason for the NATO airstrikes against the Bosnian Serbs which eventually led to the end of the war.
From Pijaca Markale we made our way to the Sacred Heart Cathedral which is the largest Catholic cathedral in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Construction of the cathedral began in 1884.
From the cathedral we visited the Museum of the Jews of Bosnia and Herzegovina which is located in an old synagogue. When the Sephardic Jews left Spain during the Inquisition Sarajevo offered them a home. The bey (Ottoman ruler) at the time gave them enough money to build a synagogue, establish businesses and build houses. As a way of saying thank-you they orientated the synagogue so that it faced Mecca. The
Jewish population of Sarajevo today is only about 700 people as a result of the expulsion under the Nazis.
From the Museum of the Jews of Bosnia and Herzegovina we headed to our second last food spot which was a small restaurant in the Ottoman part of town. We tried some chicken soup, flat bread and Scott also had some vegetables stuffed with rice, vegetables and meat which had been slow cooked for 5 hours. The soup was really nice and Scott enjoyed the stuffed vegetables more than the ones he’d tried on our first night in Sarajevo. Both dishes were still pretty plain though.
After finishing our food we made our way to Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque. The mosque which was completed in 1532 is a beautiful Ottoman building. The bey of Sarajevo at the time constructed two mosques. He apparently gifted one of the mosques to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire when he visited Sarajevo. Thinking that the bey had kept the best mosque for himself, he said ‘I’ll have the other one, you keep this one’. The Sultan had misjudged the bey so he ended up with the smaller mosque.
After Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque
we went to look at the Kuršumli Madresa which is just across the street from the mosque. The Madresa is now a museum. We also visited a nearby Ottoman building that people used to be able to stay in for up to three nights for free, which has now been converted to offices and restaurants.
From the Madresa we went for a walk through the streets of the Ottoman part of town. We learnt that the streets used to be named after what they sold, similar to in Hanoi, however the only street which retains this tradition now is the one which sells copper goods.
After walking around the Ottoman part of town for a while we made our way past the Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, which is also known as the Old Orthodox Church. This church is thought to have been completed around 1539. Apparently when the Orthodox inhabitants of the city were given permission to build the church they were told it couldn’t be larger than a cow’s skin so they cut around a cow’s skin, unravelled it and marked out the perimeter of the church with very long but continuous piece
From the Old Orthodox Church we headed back to the start point for our food tour to taste some locally produced rakia, wine, cheese and olive oil. We tried two types of rakia; one was grape flavoured and one was honey flavoured (apparently, it was hard to taste the flavour through the burning!). We also tried some white wine which was really nice. The olive oil we tried had recently won a regional award and was delicious. The cheese we tasted was a hard cheese which had black truffles throughout; it was really good.
After we finished our tasting we sat around and chatted with our guide for a while before making our way back to our hotel to lie down – we were rather full!
That night for dinner we tried out Chipas which is a quasi-fast food restaurant next to the cathedral selling chicken based dishes. Scott ordered a curry chicken (chicken with ‘curry’ sauce) and a beer and I ordered Mexican chicken (which was supposed to have jalapeños, but didn’t). Both dishes were served with chips and salad. We also shared two deserts; one very very sweet caramel and chocolate cake and
one strawberry and chocolate cake. The food wasn’t fantastic but it was OK quality and given it was about 10AUD between us we figured we couldn’t really complain!
The next day was our final whole day in Sarajevo. We started our morning with pide at a nearby restaurant which was doing a roaring trade. We both ordered a potato pide and a Turkish tea. We had to wait 5 minutes before we could have our food as it was being cooked in coals in the oven. The pide was delicious and it was lovely to have some tea!
After breakfast we went for a walk around town to take some photos. We visited many of the places we’d seen over the past few days as we hadn’t been taking many photos. We spent a while watching the retirees in Trg oslobođenja - Alija Izetbegović playing chess which was rather entertaining as one man in particular seemed to be rather cocky and animated...he lost.
We visited the street filled with copper smiths planning to buy a magnet and ended up leaving the shop with a bag full of goodies. Whilst in the shop we noticed / overheard that
some of the shells from during the war had been collected, decorated and turned into vases (?) in an attempt to make something good from something horrible. An interesting idea.
A little later in the morning we visited the War Childhood Museum. The War Childhood Museum began as a book when the author/founder Jasminko Halilovic asked, on social media, for people to tell stories about growing up during a war. The response was overwhelming and Jasminko Halilovic received many interesting stories and objects.
The museum includes a selection of the objects (such as toys and clothes) which were received presented alongside personal recollections from the owner of the object from during the war. The museum also screens videos of people recounting their experiences growing up during a war. Most of the objects and stories are from the Bosnian was, though a small number were from Syrian children.
We both thought that the museum was really interesting and well presented. Some of the stories were innocent and uplifting and others, as you might imagine, were really sad. Even with the stories it was rather hard to imagine what it would have been like.
After the museum we
walked around Sarajevo a little more. We also checked out one of the malls just to see what a Bosnian shopping centre was like (the answer: a little odd, strange floor plan!).
On the way back to the hotel Scott grabbed a sandwich for lunch but I was still rather full from our large breakfast so decided to skip lunch. That is, until I saw the ice cream shop our food tour guide said had the best ice cream in Sarajevo. I ordered a scoop of Egyptian chocolate and banana. Scott had wild berry and banana. The ice cream was delicious, particularly the banana!
On the way back to our hotel we walked via the Latin Bridge which is an Ottoman bridge across the river Miljacka. This bridge is best known as the location that World War 1 started. The bridge was the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Gavrilo Princip in 1914. There is only a small plaque marking that historical event today.
We spent the rest of the afternoon reading our books at our hotel.
That night for dinner went to a restaurant which had been recommended to us
by the Irish cycling couple we’d met on our first full day in Sarajevo. Scott ordered a steak and I had chicken skewers. Both were served with roast potatoes and salad. We both really enjoyed our meals though they weren’t particularly ‘Bosnian’, aside from the ingredients.
On the way back from dinner we each got another ice-cream. I stuck with the Egyptian chocolate and banana combo and Scott tried hazelnut and chocolate.
On our final morning in Sarajevo we went for a walk through the city while it was still fairly quiet so that we could take photos. After taking photos we headed back to the pide place from the previous day for breakfast again. This time Scott had a meat byrek while I stuck with potato. We both had Turkish tea again. Once we finished breakfast we headed back to our hotel to pack up and get ready to head to our next destination in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Sarajevo was a wonderful place to visit. It’s a beautiful city with heaps of history. It's impressive how far the city has come since the Siege. We really enjoyed our time there.
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