Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina – a centennial anniversary
This week marks the centennial anniversary of an assassination that sparked the start of World War 1. Come with me as I take you on a journey to the place where it all began – Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Birds chirp as the sun marks the dawn of a new day. Doors slowly open. A shopkeeper sweeps the dust off the cobblestoned lanes and local’s rush for their first coffee of the morning. Bascarsija, meaning “main marketplace” is Sarajevo’s old bazaar and the heart of the city.
Built in the 16th century under the Ottoman ruling each street is lined with traditional crafts. My favourite and the oldest is Kazandžiluk Street otherwise known as Coppersmith Street. The tradition of copper making has been passed down through generations and today it is the place to watch demonstrations and buy souvenirs.
Fountain ‘Sebilj’, marks the main square where the water is safe, even for tourists. Take a sip and as the myth goes you will return. Breadcrumbs fly as hungry pigeons gather round. Enjoy the laughter and liveliness it’s the place where everybody goes to sit around talking and drinking. The cultural vibrancy is growing as students relax in outdoor cafes smoking shisha pipes, eating local cuisines such as Borek and Cepavi and it’s common for the tradition of eating to continue well into the night. Early in the evening you’ll find friends gathering for coffee and tasty sweets ahead a late dinner around 10pm.
These days the sound of Sarajevo is a harmonious mix of faith. Bell chimes from the Catholic Cathedral and the Serb-Orthodox church blend with the Muslim call for prayer. I am here during Ramadan, but despite this fasting period the vibe around the restaurants is still lively.
Step off the cobblestones and towards a thirty-eight kilometre long river. Several bridges span over its low-lying murky waters but one has a significant historical importance.
Standing over the troubled waters of Miljacka River on Latin Bridge I stare into the shallow channel. It’s hard to imagine this place, where couples stroll hand in hand and friends laugh in harmony that this is the area that marks the rise of World War 1. On a nearby street corner a young Serb Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his pregnant wife an Austro-Hungarian royal heir. This weekend marks the one hundredth anniversary. There is no landmark on the bridge and if it weren’t for the small museum displaying relevant artefacts and a tiny plaque on the wall it would be easy to miss this important historical site.
In my endeavour to learn more about the city I team up with a guide for a walking tour. My guide, a young lady indulges me in the historical context of the buildings and architecture but our conversation quickly turns to the more recent war, the Bosnian Siege of 1992-95. Despite a city of restoration the Sarajevo Rose or the concrete scars are a heavy reminder of what this city has endured.
I ask my young guide ‘why her mother had a baby during a war?’ Her reply is simple, “my mother had to keep living her life.” For weeks I ponder over this response. I find it brave. Each week on average about thirty shells and rockets would blast the hospital. Looking at my 20-year-old guide, she is well adjusted, enjoys talking to tourists, practising English and chilling with her friends, it’s safe to say her mum made the right decision.
After this I head to the Sarajevo Tunnel. Built during the most recent war it linked the airport to the town and was attached to a private house. The tunnel is eight hundred metres long with an average height of one and half metres and a width of one metre. It was used as a passageway for food, humanitarian aid and war supplies. Some even used it to escape the war. Here the museum screens an eighteen-minute film showing the tunnel in use and includes old footage of bomb attacks over the city.
Back in town I head past a cemetery lined with houses either side. I head up to the castle ruins of Bijela Tabija (The White Fortress) and as the sun goes down I look beyond the river and the scarred buildings to a place where this cities soul has grown into a lively blend of modern culture and history.
Pegasus flies one way from Istanbul to Sarajevo for around $108 AUD
Hotel Art is situated in the heart of Bascarsija rooms start at $75 and includes breakfast
Tours around the city and to attractions are easily accessible from hotels and tourists offices