Now the capital city of an independent Bosnia and Herzegovina,Sarajevo is an old city that has seen its fair share of historic events. It witnessed to the defining moment that sparked the outbreak of the First World War, years of communist rule as part of Yugoslavia, and its own bloody civil war in the early 1990s. It is known as a city tolerant of diversity, and celebrates the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Muslims and Jews. Check out our list of the top things to see and do in Sarajevo.
Given Sarajevo’s rich history, there are a number of museums each covering different aspects of its past. One of the best is the Jewish Museum, which is housed inside a 16th century synagogue. Although this synagogue is no longer in use as a place of worship, a new synagogue is located just next door. Sarajevo has an unusual history with regard to the Jewish people, since historically it was one of the few cities in Europe to welcome them gladly; the Jews arrived in the late 1400s to escape persecution in other parts of Europe, and went on to prosper as well as contribute greatly to the arts and culture of the region. The museum displays various historical exhibits from the city’s Jewish community, and so is a great introduction to one of the many facets of Sarajevo’s history.
Opening hours: Summer Mon-Fri 10am-8pm; Sat 10am-3pm; Winter Mon-Fri 10am-4pm; Sat 10am-3pm
While visiting Bosnia’s capital, one thing that cannot be missed is a plate of tasty ćevapi. Ćevapi is the national dish of Bosnia, and is essentially grilled minced beef in a sausage shape, inside a pitta or flatbread with onions and sauce. The sausages are usually small, so one portion is made up of several ćevapi. The dish dates from the Ottoman occupation of Bosnia, since it was a cheap and easy dish to make for rebels or outlaws. It is common in standard restaurants and is also a popular street food- perfect for a culinary taste of Bosnia.
Easily one of the most stunning examples of architecture from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Sarajevo is the town hall. Known locally at the Vjećnica, it was built in 1898 but underwent much recent refurbishment as it was a target for the Serbs during the war. During refurbishment each detail was copied from the exact original specification. Inside are intricate carvings and painted patterns, beautiful stained glass, as well as archways, windows and staircases featuring exquisite geometric detailing. The building is open to look around, and includes exhibitions about the war and a photo and art gallery.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10am-5pm
Sarajevo’s Old Town is the most historic part of the city, featuring architecture dating from the 15th century. Just as it was in the 15th century, the area is a market and bazaar and today is the cultural centre of the city. Full of narrow cobbled streets, the shops are small and full of character – a mix between Eastern European and Turkish influence. One of its focal points is the main square with its iconic fountain at the centre, if visitors can make it through the hundreds of pigeons to get there. It is home to a great range of traditional restaurants, cafés and coffee houses, so a perfect area to stroll around and explore.
Walking around Sarajevo, it will be hard to miss the bullet holes and effects of shell blasts serving as reminders of the war. The civil war was quite recent, only ending in 1995, and the country is still working towards rebuilding its infrastructure. As a consequence, many buildings in Sarajevo have not been fully repaired, and scars of the war still remain; there are signs of gun shots on building walls and chunks of the street missing due to bomb blasts. ‘Sniper Alley’ was one of the most dangerous streets in the city during the war, since it was lined with snipers and as a wide boulevard there was little opportunity for shelter. The street today functions as a commercial street, but for visitors aware of its significance it has an eerie atmosphere.
One of Sarajevo’s more unusual attractions is the communist themed café, Caffe Tito. Tito’s long dictatorship is actually remembered in a positive light by many Bosnians – in fact, the instability and power vacuum caused by his death was one of the causes of the civil war. Tito managed to create a peaceful coexistence between Yugoslavia’s various communities and ethnicities. The café walls are lined with pictures of the man, and spread around the tables are newspaper reports documenting his life. For an unusual experience of Yugoslavian nostalgia, be sure to take a trip to Caffe Tito.
Opening hours: 8am-12am daily
By Bethany Currie