The Forgotten City of Sarajevo

I booked my ticket to Sarajevo on a blind whim. I knew about Bosnia’s recent bloody history, and I’d read an article somewhere on how pretty the city was, but other than that, I really had no idea what to expect from this beautifully named place in the center of Southeast Europe. What I found was a conflicted city, where luscious natural beauty and regal charm clashed with the physical reminders of a horrific war.

Here were some of my highlights:

The view flying into Sarajevo is breath taking. Endless green hills and snow-capped peaks surround a valley of red roofed buildings. I was in love before the plane even hit the tarmac of the infamous Butmir airport.

Sarajevo is like a cross between Vienna and Istanbul. Beautiful art nouveu architecture mashes up against elegant mosques and domes. All around the city are street cafes perfect for a rest and a cold Sarajevsko beer. Spanning the Miljacka River is the famous Spanish Bridge, where the archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, sparking World War one.

On one edge of town is the neighborhood of Baščaršija, a Turkish market where the specialty is brass jewelry, plates and coffee sets. I bought a thin bronze bracelet which the craftsman engraved while I watched. Five times a day the hills echo with the Muslim call to prayer reminding you that Bosnia is one of the few Muslim countries in Europe.

It’s a beautiful and peaceful city now, but the past is never far from mind or sight. Although the worst ruins have been repaired or demolished, shattered, gutted buildings still dot the city. There is still shrapnel in the sidewalks. If you walk along the river you will come upon the formerly grand National Library of Bosnia. Serb forces bombed it in 1992, along with the 2 million volumes inside. The government doesn’t have the money to rebuild it or the heart to tear it down, so the building stands as a monument to all that’s been lost.

Even more jarring are the tombstones. They are everywhere. Glance up in any direction at the rolling hills which surround the city and you will see a sea of uniform white pillars. Get closer and you can see they are all dated within the same 5-year period.  The 1984 Olympic stadium is now a massive graveyard. Some of the other hills are still blanketed in unexcavated land mines.

On our last day we took a ride out see the Sarajevo Tunnel. Cut off from the outside world and surrounded by snipers in the hills, the people of Sarajevo banded together to dig a tunnel 800 meters long that stretches underneath the airport and into what was unoccupied territory. For two years this tunnel was the only means of sneaking food, drinking water and medical supplies into the city. Crawling through the short segment of tunnel still open to the public was strange and claustrophobic, but the drive of the city to survive was inspiring.

The most amazing thing about Sarajevo was the people. These are Bosnians who loved this city so much that they could not abandon it even as the bullets flew. They’ve turned that determination towards rebuilding their beautiful city, and towards welcoming outsiders back with open arms. It’s a city I would absolutely encourage anyone to visit. The rest of the country is equally beautiful and inspiring, and I will be talking about that in more detail on Tuesday.

About The Author

28 thoughts on “The Forgotten City of Sarajevo”

  1. Overall, a good piece–I’ve written something similar on my own blog,

    I do take issue with one thing–the idea that the Olympic Stadium has been turned into a cemetery. It’s not true.

    Yes, some of the practice fields have been converted to burial grounds (and not just of the ‘uniform pillar’ variety–but reflecting all of Sarajevo’s historical religious communities), and the seats in the Zetra Olympic Hall were used for wood to make coffins with. But the Olympic Stadium is now the main football ground in BiH, and Zetra has been reborn as a multipurpose sport and concert venue rivalling those in much larger European cities.

    Happy to share my other Bosnia reflections.


  2. Steph 🙂

    Just discovered your blog – love it.

    I know exactly what you mean – I fell in love with Sarajevo and Bosnia & Herzegovina in general. Beautiful country with beautiful people 🙂

    .-= Lana´s last blog ..Going Solo… =-.

  3. Hi Steph,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Amazing photos. My hubby and I are thinking of exploring the Balkans this fall; namely Bosnia, Serbia, Slovenia and Montenegro. What was your itinerary like? We don’t know where to start. Thanks!

    1. Hi Mel! I flew into Sarajevo then headed south towards Mostar and Montenegro. Took a LONG overnight bus ride up to Belgrade then from there went up to Slovenia for a week before heading down to Croatia. I’ve written a lot of other articles about my trip on the site so be sure to have a look (I’m going to do a round up post of all of them sometime this month). Enjoy! I really, really fell in love with the area.

      1. Thanks a lot Steph. We are still working out our itinerary. Sarajevo, Mostar, Dubrovnik and Zagreb are in but we are still undecided between Montenegro (Kotor Bay) and Slovenia. But I think we’ll give Belgrade a skip.

        Btw, I read your other blogposts, glad to know you’ve been to Malaysia. I’m from KL, so next time you are here again, do gimme a shout 🙂

      2. Ohh tough call. If you are going to Dubrovnik already then I might pick Slovenia, just for diversity. I loved both areas though.

        I actually haven’t been to Malaysia yet- but it’s on the itinerary for next year so I may get in touch!

    1. thank you! I was actually really frustrated. I kept taking pictures of the orange roofed hills and nothing seemed to quite capture the beauty.

  4. This is so beautiful Steph. I’ve never really stumbled upon pictures of Sarajevo. Mostar, yes. Sarajevo, no. And these pictures are stunning, not to mention your evocative descriptions.
    .-= Nancy´s last blog ..Analysis of Rock Music: An Oxymoron? =-.

    1. Thanks Nancy! I’m actually posting about Mostar on Tuesday. I didn’t know anything at all about either before I decided to go to Bosnia. Totally underrated part of the world.

      1. Not really underrated… for example Sarajevo got on Lonely Planet’s top 10 list..

        I could agree on “Totally unexplored” 🙂


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top