Find out about Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This cosmopolitan city has poignant reminders of a violent past, enterprising museums and a thriving social life.
Olympic city in 1984; surrounded city 1992-95. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has a past shot through with history but is now looking to a brighter future.
A multi-ethnic city, with a skyline of mosques, minarets, and spires, it also has Ottoman buildings and imposing Austro-Hungarian mansions. There is an international airport as well as bus and rail links to neighbouring countries such as Croatia.
The Siege Tour
To try to get the most recent war of the 1990s in perspective we booked the Siege Tour (50 KM; £1=2.5 KM) through the helpful tourist office (Bascarsija 34). Nedim collected us in a Land Rover and we drove to all the iconic war sites.
The Holiday Inn, where all the journalists were holed up; Sniper Alley, on which citizens became targets to the soldiers in the surrounding hills; the cemeteries and the tunnel, all helped to create a picture of life under siege conditions.
The tunnel was the only route for essential supplies to enter the city and it was fascinating to explore part of the original subterranean route. The building which housed the start of the tunnel contained memorable photographs, film and artefacts of this lifeline.
Our guide, who as a sixteen year old had fought in the army against the aggressors, was able to give us a first hand account of those traumatic years.
Before the siege, Sarajevo had already made an indelible mark on history. In 1914 a young man, Gavrilo Princip, had assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife next to the Latin Bridge and events irrevocably led to the outbreak of World War 1.
A small but interesting museum, (Zelenih Beretki 2; +387 33 533 288) commemorates that fateful day. Original film footage, the assassin’s gun and his footprints set in concrete featured in the exhibition.
Another museum complex helped complete the historical picture. A short trip on tram number 3 took us to the History Museum (Zmaja od Bosne 3: +387 33 668 026) which had harrowing but moving accounts of the siege. Nearby, the National Museum (www.zemaljskimuzej.ba ) had priceless exhibits from the Greek period and an informative ethnographic wing.
To get a flavour of an earlier era, Svrzo House (Svrgina Kuca; +387 33 535 264) gave an intriguing insight into a typical eighteenth century Ottoman house.
This is a city that breathes history but the local people seem intent upon creating a new future. Every evening there was a parade of family groups in the old town whilst others sat around in outdoor cafes drinking Turkish coffee.
At the weekend we caught our favourite tram number 3 to the terminus at Ilidza. Here, there was a huge parkland area with lakes and Austro-Hungarian stately homes. This was a magnet for the Sarajevans. Pony and trap rides, picnics, paddling in the streams were just a few of the diversions on offer.
From our conversations with people, it was clear that their response to life was to treasure every minute of it. Today the city has become the chosen venue for international music and film festivals, continuing a tradition that even survived during the war.
Where to eat and sleep
Ada Hotel, (Abdesthana 8), has double rooms for 150 KN, including breakfast, and a delightful old-fashioned ambience. We have never received such hospitality anywhere in the world. The staff, particularly Aldana and Sofia, greeted us with drinks and cakes whenever we returned to the hotel. Breakfast was lavish and we were given expert advice on local restaurants and attractions.
Kibe Restaurant (Vrbanjusa 164; +387 33 441 936; www.restaurantkibe.com) was tucked away, a short taxi ride from our hotel, with bird’s eye views of the city. Sandro, the head waiter, presided over dishes which include many Bosnian delicacies. We had chicken and peppers, liver and onion rings, green salad, and local red wine, the whole meal being excellent value at 67KN.
Dveri Restaurant (Prote Bakovica; +387 33 537 020; www.dveri.co.ba) was a very atmospheric setting where we chose spicy goulash, homemade bread and local red wine for a very reasonable 53KN.
Pod Lipom (+387 33 440 700), next door to Dveri, was understated but was justly proud of some of its celebrity patrons like Bill Clinton. We enjoyed tasty stuffed vine leaves, mixed grill and local wine for 44 KN.
Sarajevo is the definition of café society. There were countless tables around Pigeon Square and a shady garden option at the Tito Café behind the museum complex, complete with memorabilia of the communist era.
Zlatna Ribica, (Kaptol 5) was one of the most eccentric bars that I have encountered. It was like walking into an antique shop with a unisex toilet complete with television and a comprehensive display of cosmetics. The local rakija and friendly service ensured a memorable evening
It was a novel, ‘The Cellist of Sarajevo’ by Steven Galloway (Atlantic Books), that had inspired us to visit the city. Based on fact, it celebrated the way that during the siege, Vedran Smailovic, a local cellist, had played Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor, at the site of a massacre. For twenty two days, risking his life, he played this piece to commemorate the twenty two people who had been shot dead whilst queuing for bread.
The spirit of Sarajevo could not be broken then and it was evident, even from our three day break there, that this vibrant energy is still alive.