A unique, beautiful city, Sarajevo sits in a valley surrounded by the jagged Dinaric Alps. The city straddles the Milijacka river and sprawls up onto the face of the surrounding mountains. With some half a million residents, it has a urban feel that is grounded in a rich, yet tumultuous history.
Formed by History
Connecting the city, multiple bridges are evenly spread down the waterway. Several of these bridges have been the setting of events that have had global impact. The most notable being the Latin Bridge, where the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria happened causing the outbreak of World War I.
There are so many highlights for the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the heart of it all is the Old Town. It is a vibrant place for eating, shopping, strolling with friends, and even seeing artisans create. While the Bascarsija area (Bashcharshiya) is definitely a spot for tourists to visit, it is also a place where the locals continue to do life in community.
The old town is highlighted with mosques, an Orthodox, as well as a Catholic church showing the religious and architectural diversity that generally characterize the city. Architecture here ranges from Ottoman influence to European with a strong Austrian signature. You can see the lines of history in the city where the architecture changes.
In more recent history, Sarajevo was under siege for almost four years. During this time, 11,541 people including more than 1500 children died due to the fighting. There are buildings still in need of repair. But the bulk of the city has been restored with new buildings also being built. One of these new buildings is the BBI Centar. It is a modern-day 6-story mall with offices for Al-Jazeera on additional top floors. This building functions as an anchor for the newer parts of Sarajevo because of its location, commerce, dining, and events held there.
In 1984, the world’s attention was fixed on Yugoslavia as the winter Olympics came to Sarajevo. Some of the sites are still around and worth checking out like the bobsled. However, other key venues of the games no longer exist because they have been covered over by more recent history. The building for speed skating competition no longer exists. Today, it is a cemetery for some that were killed during the prolonged siege.
Food and Culture in Sarajevo
With the restoration of the city comes a significant amount of artistic expression. There are multiple venues for hearing live music regularly, artistic exchanges, and an edgy, creative bent to many of the small eateries and shops. This contrasts well with other small places of business in the old town that count their centuries of family business in the city rather than just decades. Often, there are live performances in the city including a nightly concert series during the holidays.
The food in Sarajevo is superb. Several dishes that are famous throughout the Balkans originate here. Some things that I had tried in other places tasted like a completely different meal. (More on that in future posts.) There are some traditional musts to try here and a growing number of opportunities for the foodie. Be sure to try the cevapi (che-VAP-i). And for tea mavens, Sarajevo has a couple of great tea shops.
The nature around the city is gorgeous. Visiting the parks and other maintained areas are worthwhile. However, much of the countryside around the city has still not been cleared of land mines. Setting limits to off-road exploration outside the city is important.