Known by many as the Jerusalem of Europe due to its religious diversity present within the city, Sarajevo has not only been an important destination on the trade industry between west and east for centuries, but has been at the center of rivalry between competing kingdoms seeking to expand their territories. Rome versus Byzantium, Catholicism versus Orthodoxy, Hungarians versus Turks, Ottomans versus Austro-Hungarians. As a result of these clashes, the architectural, cultural, and religious imprints have been widespread in the whole country. One minute you feel like you are in Istanbul and then Vienna the next street over. Those extreme and contrast examples mimic the tides of history.
In 1984, the city hosted the Winter Olympics, when Bosnia and Herzegovina was still part of Yugoslavia. The people of Sarajevo worked hard for this milestone event to ready the city for the games, proud of their multi-ethnic coexistence. Those were the happy times, a golden age of sorts until the Siege of Sarajevo began. On April 6, 1992, the Yugoslav army surrounded the city. Combined with cruel cold weather, no electric power and limited food supplies, Sarajevans faced a dreadful struggle to survive. Over the course of nearly 4 years, those trapped inside the city faced constant artillery strikes and snipers hitting the city everyday, killing more than 11,000 residents and scarring the lives of tens of thousands more. To date the Siege of Sarajevo is the longest siege of a city in the modern era, and lasted three times longer than the famous siege of Stalingrad in southern Russia. Since the Bosnian war ended, Sarajevo has been undergoing major post-war reconstruction, and it’s now the fastest growing city in the country.
Sarajevo also happens to be home to the bridge where Franz Ferdinand was shot. Just over 100 years ago, on the 28th of June, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, an 18 year old Bosnian Serb, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sofia in Sarajevo. This unfortunate incident started the First World War that lasted almost four years, claiming more than 15 millions lives . I had a goosebumps just walking across that bridge.
Walking over the Latin Bridge towards Bascarsija Square (also known as Pigeon Square), was like picturing myself wandering around the markets of Istanbul. The street is filled with shops selling crafts including the ubiquitous copper coffee pots used to make the famously strong Bosnian coffee. The interesting thing when you get food is that pigeons will come to you immediately. It’s one of the best places for walking around, shopping and people-watching. On the other side of the main square has architecture that resembles buildings from Vienna and monuments that will make you stop. One of the things you can find on the streets are the unusual red blotches splattered on the floor. Named Sarajevo roses, these red resin-filled holes are the scars left by 1990s mortar shells. Plaques on the walls commemorate victims of Serbian grenade attacks.
The narrow street of Kazandziluk is home to the city’s coppersmiths. While there are many things to admire — copper plates, tea sets — by far the most interesting are the piles of leftover artillery casings and bullets. Ballpoint pens with tips made from sniper bullets emptied of their powder are another unconventional souvenir. I would felt uncomfortable taking home a former instrument of destruction as a souvenir especially if I’m going to be screened by the TSA at the airport , but this trench art seeks to diminish the impact of war by transforming symbols of aggression into totems of pacifism.
The good thing about walking around is you can find some romantic garden restaurants that hidden in every corner of this city. What I like most is the beefsteak goulash served in our dinner. Probably, one the best meals I had on this trip.
Sarajevo is that one friend you know who has been through so much pain and darkness in her life, yet she don’t linger over it, she don’t want you to feel sorry for her. If anything, she want you to enjoy the moment with her and instead tell you about all the wonderful things that have happened in the most humble way possible. Needless to say, the scars are still there, though she is healing.