In the centre of this square pigeons congregate around the Sebilj Drinking Fountain with good reason – an elderly gentleman runs a small stand where passers-by purchase small bags of corn for the happy pigeons, while children scamper about trying to catch them.
Small restaurants serve up local favourites; shops are filled with souvenirs (including pens made out of shell casings), fine wool goods, silver jewelry and intricately hand-crafted copper tea pots, bowls, plates, and cups.
Our Sarajevo Photo Gallery
The wide Miljacka river runs through the city with homes climbing the surrounding hills adding to Sarajevo’s spectacular setting. We branch out along streets of European style-buildings from the Austro-Hungarian era,
and then it is back to Ottoman times as we approach the domed covered market, Gazi-Husrev Beg’s Bezistan; built in 1551 for state business and to deal with the silk trade. Today stalls along the sides abound with almost everything found in a Walmart: purses, shoes, clothing, scarves, and all manner of accessories and food stuffs.
Beside this 109-m long building are the ruins of the once 2-storey inn built in 1543 that no doubt was always filled with traders/silk buyers, handy to the centre. I can imagine these road-weary travellers leaving their horses in the ground level stables and going into the inn’s dining room for some hardy fare and many drinks to wash down the road dust before bedding down for the night in one of the inn’s 30 rooms, which at busy times may have double or triple occupancy.
We next make our way to the Sepharic Synagogue, now a museum. The original dates back to 1581; its current look is from later reconstructions, the last being after Nazi destruction. Jewish people were an intricate part of the community, the first arriving as refugees from Spain in 1492. During the WWII Nazi invasion 12,000 Bosnian Jews were deported to concentration camps.
Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel (known simply as the Old Orthodox Church) was first mentioned in 1539 writings; however, it was built on yet older foundations. Inside this small church I feel an enigmatic blend of calming peace and foreignness. Soft chanting filters in from somewhere. Tall straight-backed dark wooden chairs stand rigid around the sides; panels of byzantine iconoclastic religious paintings grace the walls; a puzzling reflection, seemingly not from the chandelier, sheds a shadowy glow of the cross across the back wall. There is not a soul in the church – or I should say – no other human forms.
In one corner of the upper level we see a small coffin high on a canopied four-legged pedestal. It is said to contain the body of a small child that was found when digging around the church foundation at the time of an 18th century restoration. This child of unknown heritage is considered a special binding symbol of all nationalities. It is also believed if a woman having difficulty becoming pregnant crawls under the coffin, she will bear healthy children.
We stand on the infamous corner of the street that turns onto the Latin Bridge. On June 28, 1914 heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, while riding back from the Town Hall in an open car were assassinated. They were about to cross the river when they were shot and killed by Gavrilo Princip, an ethnic Serb and Yugoslavia Nationalist. This assassination sparked WWI – the proverbial straw that triggered four decades of political, territorial and economic tension and conflicts among the great European powers.
The Eternal Flame commemorates the suffering and lives lost during WWII. The lighting ceremony took place on April 6, 1946, burning brightly until January 2, 2011 when it was suddenly extinguished with over exuberant revellers…but only for about 20 seconds, when a tourist relit it to preserve its continuity.
Gazi Husrev- Bey’s Mosque was badly damaged in the siege of Sarajevo, when Serbian forces targeting major cultural centres bombarded it with more than 100 mortar rounds. It has since been restored. Built in 1531 by a famed Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, it was the first mosque in the world to be illuminated by electricity in 1898, the time of Austro-Hungarian rule.
Nearby the Sacred Heart Cathedral (Cathedral of Jesus’ Sacred Heart) was also greatly damaged during the siege and since repaired. This appealing Neo-Gothic church with its Romanesque towers was built in 1889, and remains the centre of Catholic worship in the city.
Conversations with locals reveal the psychological scars of this war. When I asked a young female jewelry shop owner, “Were you born in Sarajevo?” – her answer, “I was born in a village the year the war started – 1992. Our family lost two cousins and an uncle in the war.”
Being in the country jars my memory back to when in 1991 the country’s Croats and Bosnians united to declare independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. Thus began senseless slaughter and destruction, and the siege of Sarajevo that lasted from April 1, 1992 to December 14, 1995. In 1995 NATO air-strikes forced the Bosnian Serbs into talks, the resulting Dayton Accords for peace recognized two entities within Bosnia & Hercegovina, each with their own administration and even separate postal systems, but the borders between are now virtually invisible.
Tempting Traditional Tidbits to Try!
Cevapi (Cevapcici) – minced meat made into small cylinders and grilled. These tasty morsels are then stuffed into a large pita. It is impossible to stop chomping until the serving plate is so clean a CSI crime lab could not detect what went down! Great with Kajmak – an unsweetened yogurt-y drink.
Burek – we find a busy little shop that sells these rich filo-pastry snacks with a variety of fillings. We order one burek with meat filling and one with spinach – and after the owner’s famous air-flip from the warming bins onto our plates – we dig in! A perfect pairing is a sizzling ice-cold Coca-Cola.
The phrase “timing is everything” comes to mind for Sarajevo – in travel you win some and lose some. Our first day in Sarajevo it rained and then rained some more – the second day the clouds opened to allow the sunny rays through – BUT almost everything in the town was closed! We find out today is the first day of “Kurban Bajram” a four-day Muslim holiday. We relish our semi-blue-sky day and are thankful some eateries remain open – so all is well. We decide with our “flexi” travel mode, to leave by bus the following day to Belgrade Serbia.
One cannot visit this country and not be touched by its war history, but the future looks positive and we especially enjoy our ramblings through the reincarnated antique Ottoman streets blended with the Austro-Hungarian era architecture – all made extra superb by the warmth and hospitality of locals during our short stay.
And my Finance Minister Rick’s tally for Sarajevo (for accommodations, food, travel) comes to $130 CDN a day!
Train from Zagreb to Sarajevo took 9 hours (9:18 a.m. to 6:13 p.m.). Tickets must be purchased at Zagreb train station.
Hotel Boutique 36 – close to Old Sarajevo, this recently opened hotel is fashionably decorated with modern amenities.