Today we took a city tour of Sarajevo. Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only place that religion decides your ethnicity. Our local guide, Ajdin, doesn’t understand it, so don’t even try.
There is a dividing line between east and west. This is where Ottoman (Eastern) Sarajevo meets Austro-Hungarian (Western) Sarajevo.
Within seven minutes of each other, we encounter four different religious buildings: Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish.
The Catholic Church was built in the city square and modeled after Notre Dame in Dijon, France. Pope John Paul II came here in 1997. This church was 99% reconstructed after the war.
In the 15th century Ottomans helped the Sephardic Jews by allowing them to settle here when they were expelled from Spain.
The oldest Jewish building is in the city center. In WWII, the Jewish population was 14,000. Twelve thousand were killed. Their names are written in a book kept in the Jewish house.
During WWII, they had a special book called the Sarajevo Haggadah that was located in the National Museum. Knowing that destroying culture and heritage will serve to control a people group, a German came to get the book. The person who handled the inquiry said that a German soldier had already been there and took it, which wasn’t true.
Even though it was at great risk, the Muslims hid the book in the mosque. Then during the Seige of Sarajevo, the book was hidden in the vault of the National bank.
The Jewish cemetery is the second largest cemetery in Europe, and it was part of the front line. The Serbs used the tombstones for protection. Now you will see them riddled with bullets.
Today only 2,500 Jews live in Sarajevo.
The Orthodox Church was built in 1874 under pressure to have more religions in the city like other large cities did. The Sultan gave money and land. The Orthodox women gave their gold jewelry for the objects in the church.
The tower of the church was higher than the mosque so this made the Sultan mad. He ordered that the minaret be extended. There are few buildings that were not damaged in the 1992-1995 siege. This is one of them. (Serbian Orthodox would not want to target this church.)
The old town is in the east and was built in the 15th century by the Ottoman Empire.
In 1561 a mosque was built in the Istanbul style with separate spaces for men and women. Later, it would be the first mosque to have outside lighting. During Ramadan the muezzin climbs to the top of the minaret five times a day for the call to prayer.
The Sultan of Bosnia built many things in Saravejo: library, bazaar, schools and baths.
Nearby, there is a “lunar” clock called “Little Ben”. It is the only public clock in the world that keeps lunar time. It looks like the time is wrong but it starts at 12:00 when the sun goes down, marking the end and start of Muslim days. It has to be calibrated every three days as days grow longer or shorter. The same man has climbed the tower for 50 years to do the calibration.
The first public toilets were built here. The bathroom is still in use. It isn’t much to look at, but it’s free.
All fountains have potable water. It is said that if you drink from a fountain, you will return someday.
The city hall is an icon of the city. It was built in 1897. It held 3 million documents. During the seige two million documents were destroyed as well as 99% of of the building. It was restored and reopened in 2014.
The American Embassy takes up an entire city block. It is the second largest in Europe.
World War I
The Ottomans sold Bosnia to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They modernized the city. Saravejo was the center during the Austro-Hungarian times. But there was growing unrest with Austro-Hungarians and their occupation of Serbia.
The Archduke traveled to Sarajevo to inspect the army. There were seven young men who belonged to the Black Hand who wanted to get rid of the Austro-Hungarian occupation. They had planned meetings to assassinate the Archduke. Each of them had poison pills to take when they accomplished their task. One threw a grenade at the Archduke’s car and missed but wounded several men following behind him. Later the Archduke was going to the hospital to check on them. His car unexpectedly turned in front of one of the assassins, Gavrilo Princip. He was standing just a few feet in front of the car at a bakery. Princip was a bad shot but managed to kill the Archduke and his wife with two shots. The original car is in a museum in Vienna.
Because of this event the Austro-Hungarian empire waged war on Serbia. Other countries chose sides. It was the start of World War I. Princip is still considered a National Hero of Yugoslavia.
During the time of Tito people referred to their life as nice and shiny. They had jobs, took holidays, etc. The worse thing that Tito did was that he died!!!
Tito did not plan for a successor and his successors had different ideas from Tito.
Seige of Sarajevo
There is a huge ring of mountains surrounding Sarajevo.
The Serbian Army was able to shoot down into the city. Everyone was a target. It didn’t matter if you were young or old, soldier or civilian, male or female. If it moved, they shot at it.
Where a grenade hit, the shrapnel made dents in the cement as well. They have been colored in with red resin and are called Sarajevo Roses. They serve as a silent and poignant reminder.
Also, there are markers on buildings with the names of those who died from the shelling. Here is one where 26 people died while waiting for bread.
We went to a museum to see what life was like in bunkers and homes during the Seige of Sarajevo. It lasted 1,425 days and nights.
We went up to a fortress for a sunset view of Sarajevo.
On the climb we saw numerous graveyards similar to those found all over Europe marking graves from WWII.
The big difference here is that all of these massive graveyards are within the city limits.
From this fortress a cannon is fired to signal to end of Ramadan. Hopefully, it isn’t aimed at anyone.
When we had dinner out, I noticed so much conversation. Very few were on their phones. Perhaps they are thankful for moments together??
We were walking behind a tour group of about 25 Asian tourists. When we turned the corner, everyone’s cell phones went up to take the perfect photo. Another tourist began to laugh at the scene and took a picture of them.
One tour guide felt he was just transportation from one photo stop to another. He was sad that they cared more about a photo than history.
The dress of some tourists are often unique if not bizarre. Lots of long sleeves, gloves, umbrellas and face masks. I wonder if they suffer from Vitamin D deficiency?
All that being said, I am sure that we look a little goofy and raise a few eyebrows as we travel.