Sarajevo: A crossroads of culture and history

In spite of its troubled past, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina has retained its cosmopolitan flair, says Mary Novakovich

There are more "crossroads of Europe" than you can count, more "east meets west" cities where cultures collide and, if they're lucky, mingle. In Sarajevo, these phrases go beyond the tourist-office jargon. Here you can stand on a compass point embedded in pedestrianised Ferhadija street and face east towards the 16th-century Ottoman quarter. Then turn 180 degrees and look west at Austria's 19th-century architectural legacy as the muezzins' call to prayer echoes to the sound of church bells.

Sarajevo's rich cultural and religious melange – Muslim, Orthodox Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Roma – changed for ever after the barbaric 1992-95 siege by Serbian forces. But sports-mad Sarajevo is in a jubilant mood after its national football team qualified for the World Cup for the first time. And from Tuesday until 10 November, its annual jazz festival (, one of the biggest in the region, adds an even more eclectic soundtrack to the cosmopolitan streets.

Despite the bombardment of the 1990s, Sarajevo has been reconstructed with incredible speed. Inevitably, though, scars remain. Start at the western end of Ferhadija Street, which is western in every sense. Austria's occupation after the 1878 Berlin Congress left typically Habsburg Neoclassical architecture lining the pedestrianised street. Its shops stock international brands and its cafés sell espresso rather than the thick Bosnian coffee on which most locals thrive. Look down to see unusual blotches splattered here and there: nicknamed Sarajevo roses, these red resin-filled holes are the scars left by 1990s mortar shells. Plaques on the walls commemorate victims of Serbian grenade attacks.

Within about 10 minutes at a slow pace, you subtly cross continents and step back a few centuries. To the right of the compass point are the low stone arches of the 16th-century Gazi Husref-begov Bezistan covered market. To the left is Velika Avilja street, which is worth a quick detour to visit the Jewish Museum (, housed in the oldest synagogue in Bosnia. Ahead is Bascarsija, the old Turkish marketplace, where the streets narrow and fill with shops selling crafts including the ubiquitous copper coffee pots used to make the famously strong bosanska kafa. Cafés have low, comfortable cushions where Sarajevans lounge smoking shisha pipes.

This is firmly Ottoman territory, established in the 15th century when Sarajevo was a major outpost of the empire. Gazi Husrev-Bey mosque looms on your right, its large courtyard dominated by an intricate wooden-roofed shadirwan, the fountain used for ablutions before prayer. Sarajevo's only intact caravanserai, Morica Han, sneaks up on your left. The restaurant and market stalls are touristy, and solicitors have taken over the upper-storey lodgings once used by travelling traders, but the atmosphere still contains an exotic sense of history.

Pass more stalls selling pots, jewellery and pens made of spent shells and bullets and enter the relatively open space of Bascarsija's main bazaar. Veer slightly to the left and squeeze into narrow Kazandziluk street. Kazandziluk means coppersmith, in keeping with the tradition of naming streets after the wares being sold and produced. At No 4, under a huge elaborate silver pot, is Stari Bazar (00 387 61 136 348), which has been making traditional copper crafts for 220 years and has an exquisite little museum in its basement. Ask the owner's English- speaking daughter, Azra, to show you around. You'll meet the only female coppersmith in the city.

As you head around the corner, you'll see Behar Bosanska Kafana at No 28. This would be a good moment to refuel with a powerful coffee. If you want something more substantial, turn right into Bravadziluk towards Cevabdzinica Petica at No 21 (00 387 33 537 555; Try a typical Bosnian lunch of cevapcici (meat rissoles), somun (flatbread) and a yoghurt drink for 5.50 convertible marks (5.50KM/£2.40).

Carry on straight ahead and you're back in Bascarsija's main bazaar. Turn left into Abadziluk towards Brusa Bezistan (, an enormous 16th-century former covered market that is now the history museum. While exhibits telling the city's history aren't particularly inspiring, it's worth the 3KM (£1.30) admission just to see the scale model of the city as it was centuries ago.

The narrow streets invite slow meandering along the stalls and into compact courtyards. But try to head towards Kundurdziluk street and turn left towards the Miljacka river. Within a minute you'll be at the location of one of the most significant events of the 20th century. Next year, when the world marks the centenary of the First World War, all eyes will turn to the humped Latin Bridge where, on 28 June 1914, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip assassinated Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. A plaque marks the spot, and the Museum of Sarajevo 1878-1918 on the corner ( tells the story of the day that changed the history of the world.

Fresh cuts

Watching all the Sarajevans puffing contentedly on shisha pipes, you would think the pastime had been part of the city since the Ottoman days. In fact, the pipes didn't really become part of the city's bars until 2004. At that time, travel was expanding rapidly between Turkey, Egypt, and Bosnia, and the souvenir pipes brought home by Sarajevans caught on in many the city's bars. One of the latest is Tuareg at 12 Halac (00 387 62 555111), where a shisha costs from about 10KM (£4) and lasts for about two hours. Tuareg is handily located beside the Visegrad rakija bar for a more fiery taste of Bosnia.

Travel essentials

Getting there

There are no direct flights from the UK to Sarajevo. Austrian Airlines (0870 124 2625; flies from Heathrow via Vienna; Lufthansa (0871 945 9747; flies from Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester via Munich and Croatia Airlines (020-8745 4683; from Heathrow via Zagreb.

Staying there

Hotel Europe (00 387 33 580 570; is a comfortable four-star hotel with good spa facilities. Its restaurant overlooks the recently uncovered ruins of an old caravanserai. Doubles from 260KM (£112) including breakfast.

Go guided

Sarajevo Insider (00 387 33 534 353; offers various themed guided tours of Sarajevo and the region, including a free tour of the city every day at 4.30pm.

More information

Sarajevo Tourism:

Bosnia and Herzegovina Tourism:

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine