This post may take a while folks so get yourself a cuppa and have a seat.
Down to late breakfast and then ready to join our walking tour of Sarajevo. Did not get to see much last night beyond getting some Bosnian Mark money and then finding somewhere for dinner.
This morning, in the light of day, we could see a most incredible city as we made our way around with our guide Edin. We were the only 3 taking the tour so it was not rushed at all. Please read the names however you wish, I have no intention of even trying to write them all phonetically as well.
The first stop we made was in front of the Church of Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel which is a Serbian Orthodox Church. The first mention of this church was made in Ottoman times around 1539 but it is understood to have been built on top of foundations of another such building. There was no belltower on the original church as, although the Ottomans and Islam permitted the building of such structures, it was not allowed to be any higher than the mosque. The tower was added in the Austro-Hungarian era.
We made our way to the main square called Baščaršija Square. The Sebilj is an Ottoman-style wooden fountain in the centre of the square built by Mehmed Pasha Kukavica in 1753. Basically, under the Ottoman rule it was decreed that all people have access to water on a daily basis, it being necessary for them to wash 5 times a day before prayer. There was a man employed to stay inside the fountain specifically to ensure that anyone who came to the fountain received water. Today there is running water available at all times. A cute sight at the fountain were the hundreds of pigeons sitting on the electricity wires around the square. Sort of reminded me of the very first Pixar short I saw about the flock of birds on wires.
We crossed over the Miljacka River which was moved slightly during Austro-Hungarian occupation and walled along the city edges with many bridges crossing over. Very similar to St. Petersburg we saw last year which was modelled on Vienna. The Habsburgs did same thing in Sarajevo to make it look more Western European. Crossing back over the river we stopped at the Sarajevo Town Hall known as Vijećnica. It was originally built in Austro-Hungarian era and opened in 1896 and used by the city until 1949 when it was handed to the National Library
On 25 August 1992, Serbian shelling during the Siege of Sarajevo caused the complete destruction of the Library. Amongst the losses were about 700 manuscripts and a unique collection of Bosnian serial publications, some from the middle of the 19th century Bosnian cultural revival. Before the attack, the library held 1.5 million volumes and over 155,000 rare books and manuscripts. Some locals and librarians tried to save some books while they were under sniper fire, at least one person died. They only managed to save about 10% of the books. Some books were the only copy and were lost to history. The Library was deliberately targeted by the Serbian Army as they knew of the cultural importance of the library.
The Town Hall has been completely rebuilt to its former style. It is a triangular building to connect the 3 religions Muslim, Christian and Jewish. It was completed in 2014 and is now a national monument.
Might as well get yourself another cup of tea and biscuit, the day had only just begun and this city has piqued my interest.
We now made our way through the modern day bazaar or old streets which housed specific crafts. We wandered along the locksmith street, today the home of copper and silversmiths before we walked along the saddlery street. Today a bustling small market area displaying souvenir craft goods for sale.
We went into Morića Han which was a roadside inn or caravanserai. These stops were established mainly along the Silk Road as a place for traders and their animals to stop for a maximum of 3 nights free. It provided a safe haven as well as the ability to trade with each other. This one was established in in 1500s the rebuilt in its current form in 1659 after a fire. It could hold 300 traders and up to 70 horses. It is part of the endowment left to Sarajevo by Gazi Hrusev-beg (a Governor in Bosnia in the early 1500s). He had many buildings constructed and till today his descendants still contribute to the upkeep. We will visit a few more of these along the way.
Our next point was, in fact, at Gazi Hrusev – beg Mosque which is the largest historical mosque in Bosnia. His mausoleum is adjacent to the Mosque and a smaller one sits beside that, not for his wife, but for his friend and town administrator.
Also adjacent to the mosque is a clocktower which is designed to show the remaining hours till sunset which was classified as the beginning of the new day. A clock
keeper is employed even today to keep the clock adjusted.
We walked past the first public toilet in Sarajevo, once again establish by Gazi Hrusev-beg in 1530. It was free then and still operates today. Hope they have updated the equipment inside though, We didn’t bother going in to look.
Just along the street we had a look at Gazi Hrusev – beg Bezistan or first indoor shopping mall built, you guessed it, in the 1530s. It was initially used for the selling and trading of fabrics and cloth but today houses genuine Louis Vuitton (well, genuine copies) as well as your usual souvenir trinkets etc.
We stopped at a point on a street which is denoted as the point where east meets west in Sarajevo. If you look in one direction you see European style buildings and turn 180 degrees you are looking at an eastern style market place.
As we left this area we move past the Old Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter as well as the New Synagogue on the opposite side of the street. There was a large population of Jews in Sarajevo who fled here after the Spanish Inquisition and thrived here. Jews maintained generally good relations with the majority Christian and Muslim communities. They prospered as merchants, artisans, physicians and pharmacists – at one point in the 19th century, all the doctors in Sarajevo were reported to be Jewish. During WWII the Croatian Ustase helped eliminate 8,000 Jews from Sarajevo during the Holocaust.
We then came to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral which was built in 1887. It was also damaged during the Seige of Sarajevo and still has some damage to the façade. There is a statue of Pope John Paul II in front. He wanted to visit Sarajevo during the war but it was too dangerous.
Just in front of the Cathedral, Edin pointed out to us a Rose of Sarajevo. These are sites around the city which show the landing place of mortar shells where 3 or more citizens were killed. At some stage people decided to colour them with red paint and they are spotted frequently around the city. At one stage it was estimated that there was an average of 329 mortar attacks per day for each of the 1,425 days the siege lasted.
Our last stop on this walking tour was the one we had all been anticipating. We walked back to just down the street from Town Hall to the intersection where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a 19 year old member of Young Bosnia. When Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were travelling to a reception, 9 member of the Young Bosnia threw a grenade which bounced and hit the car travelling behind the Archduke. For some reason the reception went ahead and during a return back along the street, the plans were changed for the Archduke to visit the hospital where those injured in the previous attack were being treated. Their driver followed the original plan of turning right off the main street as he had not been told otherwise. He stopped to turn around and stalled the car. Sitting in a café was Gavrilo Princip who seized this opportunity and raced over to the car carrying the two royals and he shot them both.
Princip tried to kill himself by jumping in the Milijack River after having swallowed a cyanide pill. Unfortunately for him it was summer and the river was at a low level (even today it was only about 2-3 feet deep) and also the cyanide pill he swallowed was old and ineffective. He was quickly arrested. He died in jail in 1918 from tuberculosis caused by prison conditions.
So ended our extremely interesting walking tour this morning. Returned back to the market area where we bought a supply of freshly baked burek. This consists of flaky pastry heavily laden with butter with a mixture of fillings – we had to buy one of each to sample them all – beef, potato, cheese, pumpkin and cheese and spinach.
Filled to the brim with Burek it was soon time to return to the tour office to take a driving tour this time called “The Fall of Yugoslavia”. Once again there were the three of us joined by a young Chinese tourist from Shenzen.
Firstly, we learned about the Seige of Sarajevo which was the longest siege of a capital city in modern warfare. It was initially surrounded by forces of the Yugoslav Peoples Army then by forces from the Bosnian Serbian Republic of Srpska from April, 1992 until April, 1996, a total of 1425 days.
Our tour guide drove us along “Snipers Alley” which was about 3.5km of the main road through Sarajevo which was targeted by the Bosnian Serbian army of around 30,000 soldiers who were stationed around the mountains surrounding Sarajevo. He pointed out many buildings along the way which were occupied or damaged by the Serbians. One building which largely remained unscathed was the Holiday Inn Hotel as that is where the world’s press contingent were housed to report on the war.
The first of two stops this afternoon was at the Tunnel of Hope. Although Sarajevo was surrounded, under the Geneva Convention, they could not control the land where the airport is situated. Although no flights were allowed, the airport was to be available for use and control by the United Nations.
The Bosnians put into action the digging of a tunnel under the airport which went a distance of 800m and it was this tunnel which was the saviour of Sarajevo and prevented it from having to surrender to the surrounding army.
It was constructed over a period of 4 months and as many as 300 crossings a day were made by people bringing in essential goods. The tunnel was a metre wide and 1.5m high and at times during winter was waist deep in water. We visited the museum and actually went down into a short section of the tunnel where it was difficult for even short me to walk. I had to hunch over to walk through so it is hard to imagine how difficult it was for people to carry goods through initially. At a later point, tracks were put in to allow trolley access through the tunnel.
The Bosnian Serbs knew that there was some sort of passage of goods but they could never establish where. The entrance to the tunnel was actually in a house which had been given to the army for the construction of the tunnel. An intriguing aspect of the Bosnian War
This ended the main part of the tour as it is a shortened version of that which runs in summer. Our only other stop will take us through the Republic of Srpska where graffiti still praises the thoughts and actions of the Bosnian Serb leader Ratko Mladic and refer to him as a hero, even though he was sentenced in the International Court at Hague to 44 years imprisonment.
From our young guides talk through this area, one gets the feeling that there is still a lot of unrest between all the ethnic groups in Bosnia. He hopes that war will not return but there seemed a little doubt in his mind.
Now to make our way up Mt Trebevic to the Bobsleigh and Luge track built for the Winter Olympics held in Sarajevo in 1984. Some way up the mountain we stopped at a war damaged shell of a restaurant which gave the most spectacular view over the valley of Sarajevo under its blanket of winter now.
As we climbed higher it began to snow and our guide explained it used to be a great family destination before the war and only now were locals beginning to return to the area. There is now a hotel built at the top of the mountain.
The road to the site of the Bobsleigh track was not cleaned so our guide did some expert snow road driving to get us down to the track. There it was in all its concrete glory covered in most spots in bright grafitti. The track itself is still operational and is used for summer training with wheels. However, the starting house, refrigeration house and each refrigerant unit were all significantly damaged during the war, although there are plans to restore it fully at some stage in the future. We were actually able to mount the track and take a little walk along it and see further up the mountain.
It was an agreeable -5C up on the mountain and a light fall of snow was coming down. We made an even slipperier exit along the road and made our way back down the mountain as night began to close in. Some of the streets we came down were so steep and we were glad they were not iced over today.
Back at the hotel, I opted to stay and type up my journal but the girls returned to the Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide Museum across the street to see the rest of the exhibits. Bit heavy for them as the remaining rooms covered schools and children in the war.
Brought back some pizza for dinner as we are all still recovering from our burek lunch. Are going to settle down to watch the latest episode of Outlander kindly uploaded by Megzy last night before we hopefully get an early night
Leaving at 8am in the morning for our last full day of this trip with an all day tour to the Herzegovina region and the town of Mostar.