Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. May 2019

I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina last year, one of four countries on my (big) birthday trip of Eastern Europe, I can offer no explanation as to why it has taken me so long to write about Sarajevo, (apart from laziness!) particularly as it is a city that impressed me and I enjoyed immensely.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is located on the Balkan peninsula, formerly part of  Yugoslavia, gaining independence in 1992. It borders Croatia to the north, west and southwest, Serbia to the east and Montenegro to the southeast. Mostly mountainous, with half of the country covered in forests, it only has access to a tiny portion of the Adriatic Sea coastline in the south. Sarajevo is the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina and serves as its administrative, economic, university and cultural centre.  The name Sarajevo comes from the Turkish words, ‘saray’ meaning palace and ‘ovasi’ meaning field. The Turkish governor Isa Bey Ishaković founded Sarajevo in the 15th century as the seat of the Ottoman power for the region. The foundations of the city were laid during the first 150 years of Turkish rule.

Miljacka River

Sarajevo lies in the narrow valley of the Miljacka River at the foot of Trebević mountain. The Miljacka River flows through Sarajevo, dividing the city into two, the southern side; the Bistrik (mildewy and damp) and the northern side; the Vratnik (sunny) side. The city is surrounded by mountains and housing creeps up the slopes from the valley, it is very picturesque.

I stayed in the old part of Sarajevo, near Baščaršija at the Hotel Opal Home, which gave me a very warm friendly welcome, and was perfectly situated for exploring the old town. The breakfast room was at the top of the hotel and provided great views of the river and mountains.

During the Ottoman period Baščaršija was the main artery of the city, the main trading area and the epicentre for nearly all of the important social gatherings. Founded in 1462, by Isa-bey Ishakovic who originally built an inn and a few shops, by the 16th century it had attracted many skilled craftspeople, and the Baščaršija became partitioned into streets with similar crafts, so the streets were named as Saraci (Saddlers), Kovaci (Blacksmiths), Kazazi (button makers), Sarači (sewing quilts and rugs), Mudželiti (bookbinders), Kazandziluk (Copper-smiths), etc. It is estimated that there were 12,000 shops during this period, today there are around 1000.  I’m not a shopper, however it was pleasant wandering around taking in the atmosphere.  

Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, more popularly known as the Bey’s mosque, was built in the 16th century, and is the largest historical mosque in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Situated in the centre of Baščaršija, surrounded by its narrow streets, it is said to be a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture, the minaret dominates the local landscape.

Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque

Over 100 mosques were built in Sarajevo during the 15th and 16th century,  and today, one is never more than a few steps away from a mosque in the city. However a short walk around the city and one can see places of worship for the other major monotheistic religions, Orthodox and Catholic churches, and synagogues.

The Cathedral of Jesus’ Sacred Heart was built in 1889 in the Neo-Gothic style and is the seat of the Archdiocese of Vrhbosna. The Congregational Church of the Holy Mother is the largest Orthodox church in Sarajevo and one of the largest of its kind in the Balkans. The Church of St. Joseph was consecrated on March 31, 1940, it was damaged during the recent war and renovated in 2002. It has been on the list of National Monuments of Bosnia and Herzegovina since 2008.

The 30 metre high clock tower, believed to have been built in the 16th century, is thought to be the only public clock in the world that keeps lunar time, to indicate the times for the daily prayers. According to this system, the new day begins at sunset, when the time is shown as 12:00, as the length of the days change throughout the year, it is the duty of a muvekit (timekeeper) to maintain the clock’s accuracy.  The time is set according to that day’s sunset, when the clocks’ hand must be firmly on 12, the current muvekit is Mensur Zlatar, 74, twice a week, since 1967, he has climbed the 76-step tower to adjust the mechanism on the clock’s four faces for the five daily prayers required by Islam.

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