Sarajevo – The Town in Which Wars Were Started

sarajevo_mosque

Emotions stirred up by this town are always positive, but the deplorable events from not so long ago seemed to dictate this title. Since the devastation of the town on the Miljacka River at the end of the 20th century is a matter of common knowledge, we will go back a hundred years, to 1914, the beginning of World War I. It all began in Sarajevo, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand Habsburg was assassinated near one of the town’s bridges. The assassin first had a cup of coffee at a café near the bridge (in Sarajevo everything of importance always starts with a cup of Turkish coffee), and then fired at the car driving the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

One other thing would have put Sarajevo on the world map had there not been for the war and the assassination: the Winter Olympics that took place there in 1984, seemingly a lifetime ago. The locals like to think of this period as “good old times”, a time when the world’s eyes had been focused on their town because of something positive.

Come to Sarajevo today and see this amazing town, get to know its wealth of history and culture and its open and friendly people, always ready to joke, and all of the prejudice born from the heartrending war stories seen on TV will come crashing down. Lonely Planet did not include Sarajevo in its list of the most beautiful cities in the world in 2006 and its list of ten must-see cities in 2009 for no reason.

Sarajevo, the town of contrasts, is indeed worth seeing. The blend of cultures and religions that have shared this space for centuries make it unique! Here you will find a mosque, a Catholic cathedral, an Orthodox church, and a Jewish synagogue within 200 meters of one another. The Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, nicknamed the Beg Mosque by the locals, is the first mosque in the world that got electric lights, back at the end of the 19th century. The oriental-looking old part of the town is still full of narrow streets named after the type of crafts they house – tailors, saddlers, coppersmiths and others – working hard at their crafts, trying to interest the tourists and sell their products to passers-by.

Bezistans (markets) and hans (inns) are among Sarajevo’s specialties. A bezistan is a roofed-over area housing a number of small shops, something between a modern market and mall. Gazi Husrev-beg’s bezistan from 1555 is the oldest and most famous. A han is a type of inn for merchants and travelers with stables downstairs, topped off by rooms upstairs. Morića han from 1551, preserved almost in its original form, is open to sightseers today. In Sarajevo’s golden age a han would put you up for full ten days free of any charge together with your horses and your merchandise. Translated to modern terms, this would mean that 500 years ago there used to be a town that offered free hotel accommodation in immediate vicinity of the shopping mall to all guests for ten days. It seems one could get some pretty affordable travel deals in the past!

People are often inclined to “adopt” a town and call it their own to let everyone know it is a place where they feel good, where they like to come and spend their time. If you do not have such a town yet, give Sarajevo a chance, as everyone who really gets to know this town, its spirit and its charm, wants to come back and relive the entire story from the beginning.

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