Day 38-40: Sarajevo, Bosnia Hercegovina

by - September 04, 2013

“The air of luxury in Sarajevo has less to do with material goods than with the people.  They greet delight here with unreluctant and sturdy appreciation, they are even prudent about it, they will not let one drop of pleasure go to waste”

The Latin Bridge, Sarajevo
And so, just over five weeks since I landed in Bodrum and just over a year since I started this year of travelling, I got to my last city of the lot - Sarajevo in Bosnia Hercegovina.  In many ways, on this trip at least, this was the place that I was most looking forward to as one of the most historically important and culturally diverse cities in Europe.  In the space of the last quarter of a century, the city has held an Olympic Games on one hand, and been laid waste by a three year siege on the other - and that only scrapes the surface of what the city has to offer.  Istanbul is often described as the place where east meets west, but Sarajevo has a far more potent claim to that throne as capital of a place where Catholic and Orthodox Christians live side by side with Muslims and have lived under both Christian and Muslim authority.  On top of all of this, Sarajevo was the location of possibly THE most important moment of Modern European history, when Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and kickstarted World War One.  All of these claims to fame for Sarajevo have forged it into a city that, having been through hell and back, faces an exciting future as a tourist destination that acts as a cross-section of all of Europe.

Pigeon Square - the Ottoman Bazaar
We arrived from Travnik on the midday bus and got the free pick up to our hotel - the Hotel Divan and dropped the bags off.  The hotel was a little boutique place in the old town with only seven rooms and seemed like a very sweet place to finish off the trip.  The layout of Sarajevo itself means that choosing a hotel has to be based a lot on why you are visiting the city.  It is located in a steep sided valley, which has squeezed it into a bit of a ribbon development.  It means that on one hand you can see the countryside from the city centre, as the valley sides rise up in the distance, but on the other hand you have to travel a fair way along the valley to get from A to B.  The old town of Sarajevo is the part that is the old Ottoman district, based around the bazaar, and this would be where we were staying.  To the east of the old town is the Austrian built section, which houses the Catholic and Orthadox churches as well as museums, the town hall and modern shopping district.  Further to the east is New Sarajevo where new skyscrapers have been built alongside the symbolic Parliament building and then further to the east again is Butmir where the famous airport is that supplied the city during the darkest days of the siege.

A Sarajevo Rose
With two and a half days in the city we started with a visit to the Latin Bridge where Franz Ferdinand was famously shot.  For some reason the bridge is known as the place where he was shot, but it was actually in a bit of a side street nearby.  A plaque stands on the spot itself and there is a museum containing the actual pistol that did the deed, with a lot of information about the city during the Ottoman and Austrian periods.  We spent a fair bit of time in the museum as it was a pilgrimage for history buffs.  From the museum we went along to the Austrian district.  It was here that we came across our first major reminder of the siege - one of the so called ‘Sarajevo roses’, which are patches of red painted cement that had been used to fill in the little craters that are left by the mortar shells that pummelled the city during the siege.  There isn’t the same level of widespread destruction of the city as there is in Mostar, but the bullet holes and blown out windows still exist.  As in all of the countries we have been to, the food in the bazaar was excellent.

Inside the National Museum
The next day we got going early and headed for the so called “Sniper Alley” - a wide (and exposed) boulevard that was one of the main routes into the city.  The name (which is pretty self explanatory) describes the hell that your average civilian would have to go through as he tried to go about his daily life.  There is not much in the way of memorials here, but the buildings are amongst the most photographed in any pictures of the war.  It is also home to the new Bosnian Parliament.  From here we headed for the old Austrian district, where the architecture changes noticeably to a more classical western style.  Next up was the National Museum of Sarajevo, which contained an array of standard museum fare - from stuffed animals through to ancient pottery, with the major site being a book called the “Sarajevo Haggadah”.  This book is one of the oldest surviving Jewish texts and is stored in a special secure room as it is worth over £7 million - peering in through the massive security door you have to say that the small tatty manuscript looks like much, but its the story that goes with it that counts I guess.

View over the city
Our last stop of the day, as we made our way through an array of quirky shops and cafes, was one of the numerous graveyards in the city.  These Islamic graveyards are located on the valley sides and it is from here you can really appreciate just how impressive it was that this city held out in the siege.  The Serbian soldiers had a view over everything and every aspect of the city’s life - every major road, market, church, house, school and hospital.  The graveyards are testament to the price that the city paid in the conflict.  Next to one of these graveyards is a memorial museum to one of the more remarkable politicians of the war era,
Alija Izetbegović, who was Bosnia’s first president.  A Sunni Muslim, he was given the task of rebuilding the country in the post-war years and is held in high esteem.  That night (our last night) we headed for a famous restaurant - the Park Princeva, which was known for its stunning views over the city, as well as being the place where Bono ate when he was in the city on peacekeeping detail.

Us (and the view) at the Park Princeva Resturant
Down in the Tunnels
The next morning, our last of the trip, we packed up and headed to the airport.  We gave ourselves lots of time however, as the area around the airport was one of the most important sites in the city.  The area, called Butmir, was where supplies were sent to the city during the siege.  Unfortunately, the exposed region was an easy target for the Serbian besiegers, so a tunnel had to be dug from the airport into the outskirts of the city to allow vital supplies to get through.  There is now a museum at the site and a section of the tunnel has been preserved.  As with all of the Bosnian museums that we had visited, the site was very well presented (in English too) and we were able to go down into the dank and narrow tunnel ourselves to get an impression of what it must have been like.  Thoroughly impressed, we got a taxi to the airport itself and, all too soon, made our way back to the UK (via a quick layover in Budapest).  The whole trip had been everything we had planned and more, but we both came away particularly impressed with Bosnia - a country that has seen its share of horrors, but in Sarajevo, Mostar and one day Jajce, will become a real tourist destination for travellers, many of whom will have been alive when the conflict was at its peak.  You can’t say that the country doesn’t deserve a bit of luck.

You May Also Like