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Europe

6 Reasons To Visit Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina, a country in Southeast Europe, located on the Balkan Peninsula. With a population of 347,000, Sarajevo is growing in popularity as a tourist destination, known for its beautiful scenery, unique charm and authenticity, and being the site of pivotal historical moments.

Here are 6 reasons to visit Sarajevo.

Admire the beauty of Sarajevo

A view of the landscape and Sehercehaja Bridge in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Sehercehaja Bridge, Sarajevo.

Sarajevo is a beautiful city that retains a unique charm derived from the blend of Eastern and Western influences. Founded by the Ottoman Empire in the 1450s, Sarajevo’s Ottoman character is apparent in its narrow cobbled streets, domed buildings and stone bridges. Austro-Hungarian influences are reflected in more formal and regulated urban planning that resulted in tramways and public squares, as well as architecture such as the Pseudo-Moorish styled Sarajevo City Hall and the Viennese Secession styled BH Pošta. The layered and blended multicultural influences provides Sarajevo with a unique urban aesthetic.

Sarajevo is also endowed with natural beauty that makes it worth visiting. Along with picturesque parks, springs and rivers, Sarajevo is located next to Trebević Mountain. You can take a cable car to the top to admire the scenic vistas of Sarajevo and beyond.

Stand in the exact place where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated

The exact location where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on 28th June, 1914 in Sarajevo.
The exact location where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on 28th June, 1914 in Sarajevo.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28th June, 1914 is one of the most pivotal moments in world history. It took place opposite the Latin Bridge and is widely regarded as a cataclysmic event that ushered in World War I.

As the story goes, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was on an official visit to Sarajevo with his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb student, was part of a nationalist group that wanted to assassinate Franz Ferdinand to free Bosnia and Herzegovina from Austro-Hungarian rule.

As Franz Ferdinand was en route to a reception at Sarajevo Town Hall, one assassin, Nedeljko Čabrinović, threw a bomb at the archduke’s motorcade. The bomb bounced off the car and exploded under the following car, wounding several people. After the Town Hall reception, Franz Ferdinand decided to alter his program so that he could visit the wounded at a local hospital.

The driver of Franz Ferdinand’s car, unfamiliar with the route, took a wrong turn and turned right into Franz Joseph Street opposite the Latin Bridge. When the driver was informed of his mistake and he applied the brakes, it just so happened that Gavrilo Princip was a mere 6 feet away. He approached the car and shot Franz Ferdinand and Sophie at point-blank range.

By visiting Sarajevo, you can stand at the very spot where the course of history was changed forever.

Appreciate the resilience of Sarajevo

Tunnel of Hope, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Tunnel of Hope, Sarajevo

From 5th April 1992 to 29th February 1996, Sarajevo was encircled militarily by the Army of Republika Srpska and was subjected to a blockade and daily attacks in what would become known as the Siege of Sarajevo.

Throughout Sarajevo, there are reminders of the siege and the difficult times inhabitants had to endure. However, the city also expresses pride in its resilience, reflected in various monuments, cultural events and stories passed down from those who lived through the 1,425-day blockade.

The Tunnel of Hope, for example, is an underground tunnel built in 1993 that connected Sarajevo to Bosnian-held territory beyond Sarajevo Airport, allowing for the entry of humanitarian aid and weapons. Lacking engineering equipment, the tunnel was dug 24 hours a day by hand and shovels.

Today, the Tunnel of Hope is a museum where visitors can learn about the engineering and economic considerations of the project, as well as personal stories of those who built the tunnel. You can also walk through a section of the tunnel itself, which provides a palpable example of the lengths Sarajevans went to defend their city and the sacrifices they made in the most difficult of circumstances.

Experience the charm of Baščaršija, Sarajevo Old Town

A narrow alleyway with souvenir shops in Baščaršija, Sarajevo Old Town.
A narrow alleyway in Baščaršija, Sarajevo.

Baščaršija is Sarajevo’s Old Town, the historic, trading and cultural centre of Sarajevo built in the 1460s. A visit to Baščaršija is like taking a trip back in time to Sarajevo’s Ottoman past. It’s a great place to explore as you navigate through the bustling alleys of shops, cafés, restaurants and historical sites.

The Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque is a popular tourist spot, built in 1530 and has been Sarajevo’s central mosque for centuries. It’s widely regarded as an architectural masterpiece of the Ottoman period, authorised by Gazi Husrev-beg, the Bosnian Sandžak-bey from 1521-1541, and built by Adžem Esir Ali, the main architect of the Ottoman Empire.

Entrance to Morića Han, the last fully preserved caravanserai in Sarajevo
Entrance to Morića Han, the last fully preserved caravanserai in Sarajevo.

Another worthwhile place to visit in Baščaršija is Morića Han, the last preserved caravanserai in Sarajevo. It’ll take you back to the 16th and 17th centuries when there was a network of caravanserais, which played a crucial role in building up Sarajevo as a centre of trade and commerce.

Legend has it that accommodation was given free-of-charge to travellers for 3 nights with breakfast included. The condition placed upon these travellers was that they had to trade with the local population.

Security was very strict in caravanserais of Sarajevo. There was only one entrance / exit and two guards were placed there to keep watch. When it was closing time the guards shouted out, “Is anyone outside that wants to come inside?” They would have to ask the question three times and hear “no” three times before closing the door. Similarly when it was time for travellers to leave the caravanserai, the guards would ask, “Is anyone missing anything?” They would have to ask this question three times and hear “no” three times before letting people leave.

Lady feeding a flock of pigeons in Pigeon Square, Baščaršija, Sarajevo.
A popular meeting point in Baščaršija, sometimes called Pigeon Square.
Sebilj Fountain, Baščaršija, Sarajevo
Sebilj Fountain, Baščaršija, Sarajevo

Also located within Baščaršija of Sarajevo is the Sebilj, an Ottoman-style wooden fountain. There used to be 300 of these scattered throughout the city, with an individual stationed at each one to distribute water. The remaining Sebilj in the main square is now self-service (fill your bottle from a running pipe) and legend has it that one who drinks from the Sebilj of Sarajevo will one day return to the city.

Souvenirs at Baščaršija, Sarajevo.
Souvenirs on sale at Baščaršija.

As you explore Baščaršija, you’ll see another sign of Sarajevo’s resilience during the siege and in its aftermath. As people searched for ways to rebuild, they collected bullets and used these to create souvenirs to sell such as keychains, pens and toy airplanes.

And another quirky fact of Baščaršija is that it has the oldest public bathroom in Europe, built in 1530, and it’s still open today. A sign outside says it was built in 1530, destroyed in 1992 and renewed in 2001.

Entrance to public bathroom in Baščaršija, Sarajevo.
The oldest public bathroom in Europe, built in 1530, is in Baščaršija, Sarajevo.

Experience Bosnian coffee culture

Bosnian coffee set with Turkish delight, sugar cubes, glass of water, spoon, cup, džezva and trays.
Bosnian coffee, Bosanska Kafa

Bosnian coffee culture is an integral part of Sarajevo’s identity, dating back to the 15th century when it was introduced by the Ottomans. Instead of getting a quick caffeine hit, Bosnian coffee is meant to be savoured over time as you relax in one of Sarajevo’s many coffee houses.

Coffee is served in a džezva along with a cup, sugar cubes, a glass of water and Turkish delight. This is how you drink Bosnian coffee:

  1. Pour the coffee from the džezva into the cup.
  2. Dip a sugar cube into the coffee.
  3. Take a bite of the sugar cube and drink the coffee.
  4. Enjoy your coffee the Bosnian way.
Bosnian coffee sets on sale at Baščaršija, Sarajevo.
Bosnian coffee sets on sale at Baščaršija.

Sarajevo can change your life

Damage to a building and a Sarajevo Rose on the ground.
Damage to a building and a Sarajevo Rose, a reminder of Sarajevo’s past.

Throughout Sarajevo there are reminders of its past. Some buildings retain the damage from shells and shrapnel during the siege. In certain places damage to concrete has been painted with red resin, known as a Sarajevo Rose, to commemorate those who were killed in that specific location. These reminders, along with monuments such as the Children’s Memorial, help visitors put things in perspective. War exerts a terrible cost to innocent civilians. Upon seeing the impact of the siege on the city, it’s not an overstatement to say that a trip to Sarajevo can change your perspective and can change your life.

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