Why Sarajevo is The Most Interesting City in Europe

I recently discovered why Sarajevo is one of the most interesting cities in Europe.

The name Sarajevo is a slavicized word based on saray, the Turkish word for palace (In the slavic language, the “J” is pronounced like a “Y”). Founded in 1461 by the Ottoman Empire, it quickly grew to be the most important Ottoman city after Istanbul. In 1878 Sarajevo was occupied by Austro-Hungary and massive building and infrastructure improvements ensued to result in the unique mix of East and West that is evident today.

The History is Out of Control!

Sarajevo Most Interesting City in Europe

The Sebilj is a pseudo-Ottoman-style wooden fountain in the centre of Baščaršija square.

There are replicas of the Sebilj in Belgrade, Serbia and in St. Louis, Missouri. These were gifted by the city of Sarajevo in 1989 and the Bosnian community respectively.  Just an interesting side note!

Taslihan was built in 1543 as the Ghazi Husrev-Bey’s caravan inn. It had a fountain, mosque, yard, shops and storage rooms. It was severely damaged in several fires that struck Sarajevo and now only ruins are visible next the Hotel Europe.

Sarajevo Most Interesting City in Europe

WWI

You don’t have to be a history nerd like me to appreciate how big this event was; I’m referring to the assassination of Crowned Prince Franz Ferdinand, future ruler of the Austro-Hungarian empire happened right here in 1917. Sort of a big deal considering the events that occurred after this led to World War I and I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of that!

Sarajevo most interesting city in Europe

The Balkan Wars

In more recent history were the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990’s. This was the most bloody conflict Europe has seen since WW2. It was complicated, but I will keep it simple. Following the break-up of Yugoslavia, Bosnia was caught in the crossfire between Serb and Croat forces, who were basically trying to split the country between them. This culminated in the Siege of Sarajevo. Lasting from 1992 to 1996, the Siege was the longest of a capital city in modern warfare,  resulting in 11,000 people killed and 50,000 wounded. The physical and emotional scars from the Siege of Sarajevo will be here for many years.  Most people alive in Sarajevo today lost somebody in their family during this time.

Sarajevo Most Interesting City In Europe
A building with artillery shell holes from the Siege

This is a “Sarajevo Rose”, where mortar shells created a floral pattern in the concrete. Throughout the city these marks are filled with red resin to memorialize where the mortar explosions caused deaths.

Sarajevo Blood stains

The war has caused them many years of a suffering economy with over 40% unemployment.

Sarajevo was rebuilt and is very safe. The old quarter is beautifully restored and very clean. There are dozens of small restaurants and coffee shops alongside churches and mosques. There are streets with boutiques like any other big city in Europe.

This is “Multicultural Man Builds the World”, a sculpture by Italian artist Francesco Perilli, which sits in Trg Oslobođenje, or Liberation Square

Sarajevo Monument

The Culture is Fascinating

You really have an “East meets West” vibe here and nowhere is this more apparent that Ulica Ferhadija, otherwise known as the street where the meeting of cultures occurs. One side looks like Vienna, full of Baroque style architecture; The other looks like Istanbul. How cool is that?

Sarajevo Meeting Of Cultures East

Sarajevo Meeting of the Cultures West

Wandering through the small winding streets of the old quarter and shopping is a pleasure.

Sarajevo Shopping
Traditional Bosnian/Turkish coffee sets

A Han was a roadside inn during Ottoman times. Morica Han and is the only surviving han since 1551. At one time it could accommodate 300 travelers and 70 horses. Now there is a Turkish carpet shop and cafe for coffee here.

Sarajevo Most Interesting City in Europe

Sarajevo Most Interesting City in Europe
Bosnian coffee served with a side of Turkish delight

The House of Spite or Inat Kuca, was perhaps my favorite story about Sarajevo. The man who lived here had refused to move when the Austro-Hungarian rulers wanted to build the new city hall. Even after they offered to build a brand new bigger house on the opposite side of the river, he refused. Finally, after much negotiation, he agreed on the condition that his house be moved, stone by stone, to the opposite side of the river and look exactly the same. He even refused to have the balcony moved to face the river in his insistence to keep it exactly the same. This is referred to as an example of Bosnian stubbornness. Now the house is a restaurant serving traditional Bosnia food and is a nice place to eat. The terrace of the restaurant ironically faces city hall.

Sarajevo Most Interesting City in Europe

The City Hall that was the cause of all this “Spitefulness” ended up being a gorgeous building that is a wonderful blend of Baroque and Moorish styles. Eventually it became the national library.

The newly renovated national library was purposefully bombed during the Siege, destroying thousands of irreplaceable works of literature.

Reasons Bosnia is Most Interesting City in Europe

Peace between Religions

 One of the coolest things about Sarajevo is that in the same few blocks, there is a Catholic Cathedral, a Mosque an Orthodox Church and a Synagogue. Don’t see that everyday! This is why Sarajevo is called the “European Jerusalem”.

Sarajevo Most Interesting City in Europe
Jesus’s Sacred Heart Cathedral

Sarajevo Most Interesting City in Europe

Sarajevo Mosque Entrance
Gazi Husrev Bey’s Mosque
Sarajevo Orthodox Church
Synod Orthodox Church

I wasn’t able to photograph the synagogue because it is behind large stone walls but it is the 3rd largest in Europe!

Sarajevo has had more than it’s share of pain and conflict, but the beauty of the city and the wonderful spirit of the people definitely overshadow the sad past.

Sarajevo Most Interesting City in Europe
The Latin Bridge over the River Miljacka

Hotel Saraj on the hill and further up, the Yellow Fort from which there is a great vantage point to view the city

Sarajevo Most Interesting City in Europe

I strongly encourage you to visit Sarajevo, and Bosnia in general. The people are warm and welcoming, the food is delicious and inexpensive, and the history and culture here is fascinating, all set in gorgeous surroundings. Definitely one of the most under-rated places I’ve visited and I’m sure the secret will be out soon!

Read More: Why Bosnia is Europe’s Best Kept Secret

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  1. Why Bosnia is Europe's Best Kept Secret - WanderingRedHead | 17th Jul 16

    […] is such an interesting cool city that I dedicated an entire blog post to […]

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