If you’re looking to visit a European city that hosted a pivotal moment in the continent’s history may I suggest the under-rated Sarajevo. It was in the Bosnian capital that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his pregnant wife Sophie took place on 28th June 1914. The incident triggered a continent-wide conflict.
But Sarajevo’s history is more extensive than that one incident may indicate. Sarajevo is Europe’s crossroad, a city where east meets west and where empires have come and gone, leaving layers of culture and architecture behind. I consider Bosnia and Herzegovina the best destination in Europe for solo female travel.
The centre of Sarajevo is relatively compact so a bountiful amount of sites can be encompassed in a walking tour. I highly recommend Neno at Sarajevo Walking Tours as a lot of the great places to visit in Sarajevo are included in his tour.
Along with the below list, I also recommend visiting the Sarajevo War Tunnel.
PLACES TO VISIT IN SARAJEVO
- Ottoman Sarajevo especially the Baščaršija area.
- Latin Bridge
- National Gallery
- National Theatre
- Town Hall
- Galerija 11/07/95
- Markale Market
- Sarajevo Roses
The historical context of these sites is outlined below.
The east and south side of the city houses fine examples of Ottoman architecture including the Baščaršija area which was the main market place in Ottoman times.
Mosques can be found all over the city accompanied by public fountains installed by the Ottomans for pre-prayer ablutions and bakeries for post-prayer breaking of fasts.
The next empire to roll into Sarajevo was the Austro-Hungarian Empire whose relatively short stay (1878-1918) had a pronounced influence on the architecture and industry. Sarajevo was the site of Europe’s first tram system although locals believe the city was chosen as the guinea pig to trial the potentially hazardous transport.
Examples of Austro-Hungarian architecture can be found all over the western side of the city most notably the National Gallery and National Theatre. The Town Hall, which houses the National Library, is the Austro-Hungarian ode to Moorish culture and can be found near Baščaršija.
Sarajevo is indelibly linked with the start of World War I. A more detailed examination of early 20th Century Europe would suggest that it was merely the catalyst rather than the cause as European monarchs were itching to wage war against each other. The corner near Latin Bridge is where the assassination of the Archduke and his wife took place.
AFTER WORLD WAR I
Post-WWI Sarajevo found itself in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia which became occupied by Nazis during World War II.
Post-WWII Yugoslavia was ruled by Josip Broz Tito and is remembered by many as an era of security despite being a communist dictatorship. Most of the central office blocks and western residential tower blocks date back to this era
Surprisingly but understandably many yearn for the Tito era to return as genocide followed during the 1990s Yugoslav wars with political division in Bosnia and Herzegovina remaining to this day.
Galerija 11/07/95, dedicated to the memory of those killed in the Srebenica massacre, is an excellent and disturbing exposition of genocide using photographs, interviews and interactive maps to both illustrate the suffering of victims and cruelty of the perpetrators. Of all the places to visit in Sarajevo, I believe this is the most important for visitors.
Another reminder of this insane period is Markale Market where two separate mortar attacks in February 1994 and August 1995 killed over 100 shoppers. I can recall the actual news footage of the February attack with images of bodies being loaded into the boot of a navy VW Jetta burned into my memory.
Red resin has been poured into the crater left by the mortar shell here and around the city. These are called the Sarajevo Roses.
History and debate never seems to stop in Sarajevo and in the wider Bosnia and Herzegovina context, and a walking tour will allow for this discussion.
I was in the city for the centenary commemoration of the Archduke’s assassination. A subdued re-enactment of the event took place under tight security while in the Republic of Srpska a statue celebrating the assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was controversially unveiled.
A story carried by a UK news agency suggesting that Bosnia and Herzegovina wasn’t doing enough to commemorate the start of WWI was not well received locally. As part of the commemoration the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra played a concert in the National Library drawing tears of joy and pride during the performance of the Bosnian National Anthem.
I managed to charm the Sarajevan overseer of the seating reserved for embassy officials and found myself among the French Embassy staff who were as disrespectful to me (there were plenty of spare seats) as they were to the German National Anthem (they sat down in the middle of it).
Will Europe ever be at peace I asked myself at the end of the day?
SARAJEVO TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
Essential travel information on getting to Sarajevo and where to stay is detailed in my Visiting Bosnia post.
My Sarajevo War Tunnel post looks at the break up of Yugoslavia in more detail and the effect it had on Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Author’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.