Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, located at the centre of the country. The city lies in the Sarajevo valley, by the Miljacka River, and is surrounded by the Dinaric Alps. These mountains provide good trekking and skiing opportunities. The city is characterized by ethnic and religious diversity. Here, Islamic, Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish inhabitants coexisted peacefully for centuries.
The area of Sarajevo was settled already in prehistoric times but the origins of the modern city are from the 15 th century Ottoman Empire. Sarajevo often found itself in the center of the world’s attention. In 1914 it was the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which was the first step in the events that led up to WW I.
In 1984 Sarajevo held the Winter Olympics as a modern safe city, yet not long after it was marked by the longest siege in the history of modern warfare, from 1992 to 1995. The war left over 10,000 people dead and over 50,000 wounded, in addition to large scale devastation of the city. The city has recovered and is re-emerging as an important cultural and economic center of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Sarajevo today is a lively cosmopolitan European capital with a unique Eastern twist. People are very friendly, there is a wealth of history and architecture to explore, and the food is great.
Sarajevo has a continental climate. Summers are warm and winters are very cold with plenty of snow. The warmest months are July and August when temperatures reach up to 30°C; the coldest month is January with an average of -1°C. October is the wettest month.
January average temperature -1 deg Celsius, 66 mm rainfall February average temperature 0.5 deg Celsius, 64 mm rainfall March average temperature 5 deg Celsius, 62 mm rainfall April average temperature 9 deg Celsius, 64 mm rainfall May average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 90 mm rainfall June average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 88 mm rainfall July average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 71 mm rainfall August average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 70 mm rainfall September average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 78 mm rainfall October average temperature 10 deg Celsius, 103 mm rainfall November average temperature 4 deg Celsius, 91 mm rainfall December average temperature 0 deg Celsius, 85 mm rainfall
Sarajevo airport is connected to major hubs such as London, Frankfurt and Vienna by several European airlines: Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, and Adria Airways.
Taxi is the only option. You can either use a taxi for the entire distance, or a cheaper way is to take a taxi to Ilidža station and then switch to tram no. 3 to get to the Baščaršija.
Central Sarajevo is served by an efficient network of tram lines. There are also a number of buses. Tickets for both should be bought in advance at kiosks near tram stations and should be validated upon entering the vehicle.
All taxis are metered. There have been reports, however, of un-metered taxis and higher rates than normal charged on rides to and from the airport and the city. Before entering a taxi, agree upon a price.
Baščaršija is, to a large extent, a pedestrian zone. It is best to park somewhere else and use a tram to get into the city center.
Sarajevo offers a variety snow sports on the nearby mountains of Bjelašnica and Jahorina, for example skiing, snowboarding, tour-skiing, cross-country skiing and snow shoeing.
A TRIP TO MOSTAR
Mostar is an historic town, founded in the late 15 th century. Its world famous Old Bridge (Stari most), spanning the Neretva River, is a UNESCO World heritage Site. The bridge stood for 427 years and was an icon of the city. In 1993 it was bombed and destroyed but after the war it was rebuilt using only original 16 th century methods. By 2004 the bridge stood once again. The best time to visit this historic town is in July during a competition where men jump off the bridge into the river 21 meters below.
Baščaršija means in Bosnian ‘the main market place’ and encompasses the Old Sarajevo marketplace. It was created in the 15 th century as the commercial quarter of the new oriental settlement and was modeled on the Arabian ‘souk’.
Today, Baščaršija is only half its original size due to a devastating fire in the 19 th century. The communist government planned to destroy it in the 1940s but, luckily, they cancelled that plan.
Several important historical monuments are located in the area of Baščaršija. These include the Gazi Husrev-Bey mosque and Sahat-kula. Today, Baščaršija is the biggest tourist attraction of Sarajevo.
Viječnica, situated at the end of Baščaršija, is among the most important city sights. It dates from the Austro-Hungarian period and is designed in mock-Moorish style. During the Austro-Hungarian rule it served as the Town Hall. Later it became the Nation al Library. During the war 1992-95 it was deliberately burned. The interior and exterior were extensively damaged. Restoration continues but at a slow pace.
The underground tunnel built below the airport was the only exit out of the besieged city during the 1992 – 1995 war. Most of the tunnel collapsed, except for the stretch on the southwestern end of the airport, which offers a glimpse into the past. The house that served as a cover is now a small museum featuring the digging equipment and a photo display.
GAZI HUSREV-BEY MOSQUE
The mosque, built in 1530, is the country's most significant Islamic feature. Built by the architect Ajem Esir Ali, the leading architect of the Ottoman Empire, the mosque is a distinguished architectural monument, with its varied base and a multi-dome system. The mosque complex dominates the market and includes the fountain, Muslim primary school, the room for ritual washing, domed burial sites, Gazi Husrev-Bey’s and Murad-Bey Tardić’s harem, prayer area with a 45-meter-high minaret and the closk tower Sahat Kula. Since the 1992-95 turmoil, restoration works have been underway.
The National Museum features a good collection of artifacts presenting the early history of the city. The ethnological and archaeological collections are worth visiting. Behind the museum the gardens contain a botanical collection.
SAHAT-KULA (THE TOWER CLOCK)
The tower was built in the 17 th century and rebuilt after the fire of 1697. The tower was built for the purpose of calling the five daily prayers. It was one of the highest and most beautiful in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the Austro-Hungarian period the upper section was added and the clock was brought out from London.
Bosnian cuisine is famous for ćevapćići or ćevapi, dumplings made of minced meat and spices. Ćevapi are grilled and served with pita bread, cream and chopped onion on the side. A portion of ćevapi is often accompanied by yoghurt, sour milk or kefir drink. Ćevapi are sold in special stores called ćevapdžinica, mostly located along the Baščaršija.
Another local delicacy is burek, a kind of pie, which comes in many varieties; the best known and loved are meat or cheese burek. There are also several other delicious pies available: cheese pie (sirnica), cheese and spinach pie (zeljanica), pumpkin pie (tikvinica) and potato pie (krompirusha).
A popular dessert is baklava, which is a very sweet pastry made with nuts and honey.
The Sarajevo Film Festival is an annually held international film festival. Its focus is contemporary works by regional filmmakers and is much loved by filmmakers from around the world. In addition to the regional production the program also includes a great selection of international cinematography.
The festival began the same year the Olympics were held in Sarajevo, in 1984. Ever since then, it has been a regular event held even during the war. The two-month-long festival brings together artists from around the world and offers a diverse program: music, dancing, theatre, art exhibitions, and various accompanying activities. During its 22-year history, the festival has become an essential part in cultural life of the city.
This is the biggest festival in Sarajevo, held every year from 1 to 31 July. The festival showcases various cultural events including classical, rock and folk music, ballet, film, opera, children’s programs and more. The festival is held outside, in the Old city center and all events are free. The festival has been held since the late 1990’s and attracts around 150,000 people.
Sarajevo nightlife is widely known to be excellent. The city has a cosmopolitan atmosphere and a huge number of cafes with a relaxed café culture. In addition, there are numerous bars, restaurants and clubs. You will get the feeling that nobody stays home at night!
Other options, such as theatre, cinema and opera are also to be found. Sarajevo has many cultural festivals and the best known are the jazz and the film festivals.
The Sarajevo region has been continuously inhabited since the Neolithic era. This can be seen in the remnants of the Butmir culture located at Ilidža, one of Sarajevo’s suburbs. The next prominent settlement was by the Illyrians who mostly inhabited the area around the Mijlacka River and the Sarajevo valley. The Illyrians lost to the Roman emperor Tiberius in 9 A.D. This event marked the start of the Roman rule in the region. The Romans founded the settlement at Aquae Sulphurae, in the present-day Ilidža. Later Sarajevo’s importance diminished. It reemerged in the 15 th century under the Turks. Sarajevo as we know it today was founded in the 1450s by the Ottoman Empire. The official founding date is considered to be the year 1461. The first Ottoman governor of Bosnia, Isa-Beg Ishaković transformed the existing settlement into a proper city with a mosque, a closed market space, a public bath, hostel and the governor’s palace called ‘Saraj’. The city’s name, Sarajevo, grew out of this word. During this time Sarajevo grew quickly and soon became the most important city in the region. Numerous Christians were converted to Islam and by the mid-16 th century Sarajevo already held over a hundred mosques. At its height, Sarajevo was the most important city in the Balkans, second after Istanbul.
In 1878 Bosnia was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and during this era Sarajevo was thoroughly modernized. For the first time in its history Latin script was introduced. Many new buildings were erected, mainly in pseudo-Moorish and Secession styles. Numerous factories were built and railway connections installed. Street lighting was introduced here, even before Vienna (Vienna hesitated because of the suspicion that electricity would be dangerous.)
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
In 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip, an event that would trigger the onset of WW I. After the war Sarajevo became a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. During WW II Sarajevo was occupied by Nazi forces until it was freed by the partisans in the 1940s. After WW II Sarajevo became an important industrial center of Yugoslavia. During this time new suburbs, typical communist-style blocks, emerged west of the old city center and the city proliferated. In 1984 Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics, which were a huge success and tourism and the economy boomed.
The civil war of Yugoslavia ended the era of proliferation. The city came under siege between 1992 and 1995. The only link with the outside world was maintained via a 1km long tunnel under the airport. During the siege over 10,000 were killed and over 50,000 wounded by sniper fire and shelling. A painful reminder of those times is the graveyards surrounding the Koševo stadium. The result was large scale destruction of the city and a massive population shift. Reconstruction began immediately after the war ended in 1995. By 2003 most of the city was rebuilt with only a few scars left in the city center.
Modern skyscrapers have emerged from the rubble and the city is ready to go on living. Its old charm is being revitalized and Sarajevo is beginning to shine again.
Food and water are safe. Tap water is drinkable. Fruit and vegetables obtained from the markets are safe, however, do wash them before eating.
The area in and around Sarajevo is still filled with unexploded mines. Mine clearance efforts are in process but the mines still present a threat throughout the country. The areas posing the greatest risk are the confrontation lines, military establishments, disused buildings, woods, orchards, and some gravel roads. To avoid mines, always stay on the known safe surfaces, never go into damaged buildings, and always stick to the paved surfaces. The areas not yet cleared of mines are marked by yellow tape but note, that not all minefields are as yet identified. When going into the suburbs and the hills surrounding the city stay on paved or well-trodden paths!
In general Sarajevo is a very safe city and the people are very hospitable. Practice general precaution: do not show your money in public and stay away from dark deserted alleys.
Summers are hot and winters are cold. Expect most rain in October. The best time to visit is spring and summer. If you ski, of course, visit during the winter. Snow sports are available at the nearby ski resorts of Bjelašnica and Jahorina.