Europe | Bosnia & Herzegovina | Sarajevo – Balkan Tours #2 – Sarajevo
Like most towns in this neck of the Balkans, Sarajevo has a history. Even before the Turks arrived in the mid 15th century, it was a thriving market town. It nestles between wooded hills and is split by the babbling river Milijica, right in the centre of Bosnia Herzegovina, near the source of the river Bosna, which kindly gives the country half its name.
The Ba?arija is the main market square, and the hub of the inner city. Over forty cramped streets radiate off it. In the market you can buy carved wooden toys, Tag Heuer watches, handmade tin coffee pots and cups, and AC Milan football shirts. Or you can do what most locals do and sit outside a cafe with your tiny cup of coffee and watch the world, and the SFOR peacekeepers, pass by.
Sarajevo is jammers with places of worship. The neo-Gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral dates from 1889. The Jewish museum was a synagogue when it was built in 1556. A nearby Orthodox church has been there since 1539. But the daddy of them all is the Gazi Husrev Beg mosque, which first opened its doors in 1531. It’s one of many mosques in town. Even if you don’t see them, you’ll hear them. Chants or prayers ring out over the city from each mosque, even at night. They woke me up.
Among the few secular buildings of note is the nineteenth century Town Hall behind the market. This is where the Austro-Hungarian rulers used to hang out before World War I was kicked off by a Bosnian Serb shooting the Habsburg heir from a nearby bridge. After Yugoslavia became a country, the town hall became a library. Unfortunately it, and thousands of books, were destroyed in a fire caused by the Serbs during the war.
To the west of the market is Novo Sarajevo. This is where most locals live. There are lots and lots of tower blocks. Through them runs the road to the airport. During the war this was known as ‘Snipers Alley’ because the Serbs shot anything that moved on it. You probably saw it on TV. Many of the buildings in Novo Sarajevo remain in ruins, and most still show scars of the siege.
The surrounding hills are dotted with red roofs and graveyards. It’s quite a shock, as you wander around marvelling at the quaint streets and picturesque buildings, and then you’re confronted by thousands of new bright white tombstones, shining in the sunlight.