Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

After my lovely trek through Bosnia & Herzegovina up to Sarajevo yesterday, I was super excited to have more time to explore Sarajevo, its capital city. Unfortunately (as always!), many things were closed as today happened to be a Sunday. That being said, I made the best of it and saw a good amount of the major sites – if I could add more time, I’d absolutely spend more time here to soak in the culture and explore the areas outside the Old Town much more.

I woke up not-so-bright and relatively early, heading through the light rain towards the Old Town. This was my first introduction to the city’s mix of brutalist, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman architecture. I also quickly noticed that there are memorials related to the Yugoslavian civil war nearly everywhere in the city – and other little markers of war, if you’re looking closely enough.

There are clearly visible bullet holes on many of the buildings (especially once you get outside of the Old Town area) as well as plaques commemorating the deceased – heartbreakingly, you can see their ages and many of them were extremely young (one individual on this memorial was 16 when they passed).

Entering the Old Town area, I was drawn to the first building I saw with a little “tourist plaque” (not sure what they are, but many of the main sites in Sarajevo have these little sign-posts with a description of the site and its historical importance, as well as a warning not to deface it). I wandered inside and it ended up being the old market hall! It seemed to primary offer meats (fresh and smoked), as well as eggs and dairy.

The man at the first meat stand (top left) immediately offered me a sample and I felt terrible not making a purchase afterwards – that being said, his smoked meat was truly delicious!

I then proceeded into one of the town squares, which houses the Serbian Orthodox Church.

I wasn’t able to take photos inside (this was zoomed from outside the doorway), but the church was truly incredible. The art on the altarpiece was amazing, but more incredible were the cantors. Despite being two men, they sounded like a full men’s choir, with incredible harmony. I’m not a religious person, but it was truly a beautiful and very holy-feeling experience. It essentially was a free ~20 minute concert, and I respectfully bowed out when it appeared that the church service itself was actually starting.

After the amazing church performance, I headed deeper in the Old Town, noticing that rain was starting to fall quite heavily. Figuring I’d wait it out in one of the few open museums, I headed to the Museum of the Yugoslavia Genocide. Now, I’ve been to a variety of genocide memorials, concentration camps, and genocide museums across the world, from Auschwitz to Cambodia, but this museum was truly the most horrific. I don’t mean that any genocide is “better” or “worse” than any other (they’re all absolutely detestable and important to remember and learn from), but this museum was the most graphic I’ve ever seen. As the Yugoslavian civil war occurred so recently, there are full color photos and videos of everything, from torture to mass graves to horribly disfigured individuals in makeshift hospitals. It was extremely disturbing, to say the least, and frankly I almost think it had too much gore to be effective (I can handle quite a bit of gore, but at a certain point I had to just keep moving, especially in the room completely dedicated to crimes against children). Overall, a very important museum, but one that really requires more mental preparation than I had.

I did appreciate they incorporated some artistic interpretations – this sculpture below is a “man” made out of bread, to recognize how many individuals starved as a result of the war.

After the museum, I honestly needed a break. I headed to a nearby cafe to recuperate and wait out the pouring rain. As the rain started to slow later on, I decided to brave wandering through the Old Town. I decided to suck it up and buy an umbrella from an enterprising woman who sold one to me for 6 Euros – probably about 10x the price (especially since 1 Euro is 2 Bosnian marks), but she was a savvy businesswoman!

After that, I headed into the heart of the Old Town, which has a significant amount of Ottoman influence and several important sites, including many mosques. Because of the co-mixing of European and Ottoman influences, Sarajevo thinks of itself as a “meeting of cultures” between east and west.

First up, I found the Ferhadija Mosque, which was a small complex.

Next, I found the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, which is a much larger complex including the mosque, a museum, a lunar clock tower, and a variety of mausoleums. The lunar clock is especially interesting – because it’s lunar, it has to be set / calibrated very frequently, and there is a designated person responsible for ensuring that its “time” aligns properly with the lunar calendar.

You’re able to go into the mosque as well, which was a treat. The architecture was absolutely beautiful.

Immediately following the mosque, I ran into another one of Sarajevo’s treasures, the Sebilj, an Ottoman-style drinking fountain in the Baščaršija, or old shopping bazaar (now home to cafes, hookah shops, and many souvenir shops).

Lastly, I walked over to the Sarajevo City Hall, which is one of the best remaining examples of Austro-Hungarian architecture in the city.

The area near City Hall had an interesting mix of architectural styles, with significant evidence of the war.

After the City Hall, I wandered back towards my lunch spot and stumbled unexpectedly on the Old Orthodox church.

Then, I ducked into Dveri, a traditional Bosnian restaurant nestled in a beautiful cafe space. I had an incredible beef goulash (served with gnocchi inside as well as homemade bread), a walnut brandy, and a Bosnian coffee. It was incredible and hearty, and perfect for the colder, rainy weather.

After lunch, I decided to do a rambling walking tour through a bit more of Sarajevo, away from the Old Town. I headed up for two sites: the Alija Đerzelez’s House, a well-preserved Ottoman house in a neighborhood north of Old Town, which is located right next to Hajji Sinan’s Tekke, which is a Sufi house (similar to the Dervish house). Unfortunately, neither was open for tours, but the exteriors were a treat.

The walk up to the two houses also had some interesting architecture as well, especially some Ottoman influence on otherwise “normal” properties.

After wandering back, I headed for my hotel, wandering along the river. I noticed an interesting quirk, which is that Iran seems to have quite good relations with Bosnia (there are apparently a lot of Middle Eastern tourists who visit Bosnia, as we’ve seen at all tourist sites) and have several tourist offerings in front of their embassy. I also noticed a Qatar-donated monument as well.

The riverfront area is quite beautiful, with a variety of stately buildings.

I also saw several “normal” meat shops, with everything you could expect on offer.

For dinner I decided to wander up to The Four Rooms of Mrs. Safija, a thematic restaurant written up on all the blogs for being whimsical and romantic, with four different rooms (yes) each with a different vibe – i.e., tapas, garden, main dining room, etc. Unfortunately, it was way oversold in my opinion – it felt like they were leaning hard into attempting to seem like they were fine dining, without the food to back it up. It was amusing though – I ordered what appeared to be a potato croquette, filled with “pepperoni” – when it arrived, I realized it was literally just a boiled potato with one pepperoncini (which for some reason cost 5 euros, an outrage in Bosnian pricing). The whole meal ended up being almost 50 Bosnian marks, nearly double what lunch had cost and for probably a third of the quality.

That being said, it was still a great day in Sarajevo. I really wish I had one more day so that I could visit a few of the cultural museums, since it seems like a shame to miss that. However, I’m on to Serbia tomorrow and am quite excited to see more of the Balkans and enjoy Belgrade!

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