Bosnia’s surprising capital

Bosnian flags flutter proudly outside the Parliament building, Sarajevo.

Bosnia & Herzegovina is home to a capital with a fascinating mix of cultures and religions. The history of this area is complex, with many comings and goings of tribes and empires through the centuries, and this has left Sarajevo with a delightful mix of cultures and experiences. The ‘East meets West’ trope is commonly applied to Istanbul, but you need look no further than the Bosnian capital to find this alluring atmosphere. In the old town, mosques and churches sit nearly side by side amongst alleys brimming with cafés, shops and market stalls.

I’ve managed to find some great local food, quite an achievement for a long-time vegetarian. I’ve just finished a delicious krompiruša — Bosnian pie with spiced potato. These are made by rolling a large circle of pastry 2m in diameter into a tube stuffed with meat, cheese or potatoes; then coiling it into a tight spiral and baking.

Though the centre is charming to wander around in, go outside the old town and you can’t help but notice the scars of Sarajevo’s recent past. After Bosnia’s secession from Yugoslavia, Serb forces descended on the city, almost completely surrounding it and blockading the city. Events stayed this way for nearly four years, with Sarajevans trapped in the city without electricity or running water. The city was bombarded by mortars, artillery and tanks from the hills but it was the snipers who were the most deadly. Camped out as they were in the hills and concealed in high rises, no open area in the city was safe, and no citizen was exempt from drawing the snipers’ fire.

This map, taken at the tunnel museum, shows the extent of the Serb occupation around the city (click to enlarge):


Eventually, the UN stepped in and took control of Sarajevo airport. Crossing the airport was still too dangerous, so a tunnel was built underneath to supply food and arms, and later a communications line. I visited this tunnel as part of a road tour organised by my hostel, Residence Rooms. Only a small section of tunnel remains. During the siege it was cramped, wet and dirty but arguably saved the city.

The war ended just 17 years ago, and it’s amazing how much the city has bounced back since then. Many destroyed buildings have been restored, and it has become a popular tourist destination. Despite some economic troubles, the people here seem to enjoy life. In fact, it’s easy to forget you’re treading through a recent war zone, that is until you catch a glimpse of the many bullet-scarred walls and blown-out windows, or pass this: a heartbreaking memorial to the children killed in the siege, which represents a mother trying to protect her child.

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3 Responses to Bosnia’s surprising capital

  1. Simon Ridgewell says:

    Did you expect Bosnia to be so intriguing?

  2. Steve says:

    History shows us that when a country fragments, is does so in the most disastrous, uncivilised way possible. Why is that? Is it human nature?

  3. This is my kind of travel destination. Complex, beautiful, full of history and contradiction and incredible stories. I really hope I get there some day. Did you interact with people there much? I’d be curious to know if they get a lot of tourists.

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