Sarajevo is the most fascinating city I have visited this year. It is not exactly what I would term a relaxing getaway or a romantic city break. Remember, Sarajevo was knee deep in war only twenty-five years ago. But that is exactly what makes it so interesting.
The city has a crumbling beauty. It is the beauty of city that has seen great destruction, but is managing to rebuild itself. Surprisingly, considering the damaging war it was engulfed in, the old part of the city still stands with many of the original, classically beautiful old buildings still in tact. Often well worn and dilapidated to be sure, but still standing. The Miljacka River runs through the city. It is itself steeped in history as well as great tragedy. One of its bridges, the Latin Bridge, was the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which sparked World War I. The beautiful Moorish style city hall sits on the north side of the river. Built in the late nineteenth century, it was shelled and largely destroyed but rebuilt after the war in the same style. On the south side of the river is the Academy of Fine Arts which is also easily one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Art connoisseurs should also visit the Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art which houses an interesting collection of recent art influenced by the city and its struggles.
Making the city all the more interesting, are the converging influences of both Western Europe and eastern countries such as Turkey; a testament to the fact that until 1878 Bosnia was part of the Ottoman Empire. At the heart of the old city is the Baščaršija area. It is full of restaurants, cafes, shops and market stalls all of which have a clear eastern influence. Underlining this influence is the large mosque at the centre of the area. Sweetshops are full of baklava and tasty Turkish delight while the shops are full of carved wooden boxes, inlaid metalwork, metal bangles and beautiful hand painted ceramics. The cafes of course serve cappuccinos and lattes and everything you would find in your standard European coffee shop, but they specialise in Bosnian coffee. The distinctions between Bosnian and Turkish coffee are minute but nevertheless it is distinctively titled Bosnian coffee. After tasting it I admit I think I am going to stick to my standard cappuccino but the engraved coffee sets are certainly beautiful. Neither do I have anything good to say about baklava, the sticky pastry which I personally think is almost sickeningly sweet, but I do love Turkish delight. I even bought some to take with me when I left Bosnia.
For all of its beauty and interesting food, the most memorable thing from my trip was undoubtedly visiting the Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide Museum. If you are an especially sensitive person, be prepared. I would never advise anyone not to visit. It is a far too important chapter in history and one humanity clearly needs to learn from. But the faint hearted should not enter lightly. The museum is incredibly detailed, full of information, sobering statistics, videos, images and vestiges from some of the horrors of the Yugoslav Wars. It would take a few hours to read and watch everything. Parts of the museum are shocking, like reading about the conditions and treatment in the many concentration camps in Bosnia. One man who survived camps during World War II found himself once again imprisoned decades later in camps which he considered even worse. Other parts of the museum are simply heart wrenching. Reading about the thousands of children who died during the war is put into real perspective by displays of items like children’s clothing or a small hacky sack. I will not go into any more details here, but if you are ever in Sarajevo, it is not a museum anyone should miss.
Despite the tragedy and destruction the city saw so recently, Sarajevo is wonderful. Wonderful in its uniqueness, in its fusion of cultures and religions, in its beauty that persevered even through war, and in its people who, despite the suffering many of them have endured, are friendly and welcoming.
Top: Academy of Fine Arts
Middle: The Miljacka River
Photography by Savannah and Alexandra Hayes