Burning down the bridges: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

In Bosnia, Travel Guides
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Bridges, what do they mean to you? What did they ever mean to me? I have passed bridges that connect two continents like in İstanbul, or seen bridges that have vivid details like in Ponte Vecciho.

Arriving to Bosnia and Herzegovina after our Serbia trip, I found myself rethinking about the symbol of bridges. Which feelings do I have connected with the Golden Bridge?  What about the Tower Bridge? Does a river divide a civilization, or give life to it? Can a bridge alone be able to connect different views?

The Bridge on the Drina, the award winning historical novel by Ivo Andrić portrays the 400 years of the Sokullu Mehmed Paşa (Mehmed Paša Sokolović) Bridge and Drina River, the silent witnesses of all good and evil humanity has ever done in Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This particular bridge shapes the lives and relations of Serbs and Bosnians for centuries. This particular spot becomes the bystander during the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian occupations and still welcomes you with a worn-out smile and open heart.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the symbol for bridges is transition. A continuous transition between war and hope.  And a connection between people from different faiths that have coexisted for centuries.

The Latin Bridge

ARRIVAL IN SARAJEVO

Travelling the Balkan countries by car was the best decision we could have ever made. After our not so long trip from Belgrade to Sarajevo, we were mesmerized by the geography of this city. The whole city was built in the middle of a graben and is surrounded by mountains. The hotel owner warned us about the pickpockets in the Old Town. So beware. It is better to travel with a taxi than with a car inside Sarajevo because data on a portable GPS car navigation system has not been uploaded yet. Also most of the street names are missing. If you are ever going to ask someone for an address, try to ask/or understand in German. Bosnians understand English, so they know what you are asking, but they only reply to you in German.

ARRIVAL IN OLD TOWN

Ask the taxi driver to drop you near the Latin Bridge. Latin Bridge, built by the Ottomans, is the most famous bridge of Milijacka River. “Milijacka” means “river that flows slowly”. My rethinking about bridges started right at that point. The famous bridge that witnessed the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip in 28th of June, 1914. A bridge that suddenly became the “casus belli” of World War I.

Gavrilo Princip’s and Franz Ferdinand’s pictures and an explanation regarding this particular date can be seen on the walls of the Museum of the Assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

The point where it all began

The second touristic attraction point is the Baščaršija, an old Ottoman market place where you can find various antiques, souvenirs, Ottoman goodies and even stuff from WWI and Bosnian War. “Bas” means “main” and “čaršija” means “bazaar”. Baščaršija is said to be the meeting point for locals and the main tourist attraction for tourists of all kind. Before coming to Sarajevo, I could have never imagined such a wide range of toursits from different cultural and religious backgronds coming here. I witnessed different people walking along side by side and enjoying the old Ottoman market. A guy with a full body tattoo, some girls with dreadlocks and a woman with burqa were shopping side by side. Since I am from Turkey, the Ottoman market was nothing new to me. Therefore I guess the variety of tourists has appealed me more.  Walking around Baščaršija, I came across many mosques, churches and synagogues which explained the main reason of this diversity. This part of the town is filled with cafes, restaurants, old narrow streets. Evliya Çelebi, an Ottoman Turk who travelled through the Ottoman Empire over the period of 40 years has written in this travelogue “Seyahatname” that 1080 stores were present in the Baščaršija back then.

A cat sleeping in Baščaršija

The Sebij (means public fountain) and the pigeon square is located at the center of Baščaršija. The name of the square comes from the pigeons that are fed by the tourists. The Coopersmith (Kazandžiluk) Street is just nearby. Copper coffeesets (dzeva, or cezve) of all sizes and shapes can be bought from this street. Please do not forget to bargain during your shop.

The Gazi Husrev Bej Mosque, Gazi Husrev Bej University and Library and Gazi Husrev Bej Bezistan Shopping Mall cannot be unseen during your old town travel. “Gazi” means “war veteran”, Husrev is the name of the guy and “Bej” means “Mr.”, so a guy called Mr. Husrev has built a university, a library, a mosque and many other things in Sarajevo. But why did he even bother? Gazi Husrev was quite a visionary governor back then and he wanted to make Sarajevo a so called “attraction” point for merchants, reserachers and clerics. So The Mosque was built by the architect Acem Esir Ali and has an Islamic bookstore, a šadrvan and the tomb of Gazi Husrev. The Bezistan, was built in 1555 and is covered with small shops.

The Taslihan (meaning stone inn) remains and Hotel Europe was a mixture of the old and the new. It is somehow different than the East Meets West Square. Here looking at the remains of Taslihan, and listening to the jazz music coming out of Hotel Europe, I found myself in a blend where the ancient eastern orient meets the revolutionary and radical west.  Taslihan, was also founded by our famous Gazi Husrev Bej and the purpose to build this inn was to provide accommodation for travelling merchants. This would make Sarajevo the attraction point for commerce.

The Srebrenica Museum, is not much mentioned in the tourist guides. I also did not know that such a museum existed, before studying the map our hotel owner gave us. But if you are into history a little bit, or if you would like to know the deep wounds of the country that you have visited. I suggest you to visit the Srebrenica Museum. The opening hours and tours are kind of weird, because a tour guide helps you around. After the tour, there are two documentaries which you can watch, if you have time.

22 (34) Srebrenica Museum

The first documentary is about the Bosnian War. The city was under siege by Serbian forces for 44 months between the years 1992 and 1995. The first documentary shows videos of university students, and children documented during the war time. The second documentary is about the Srebrenica massacre (Masakar u Srebrenici; Genocid u Srebrenici) that occurred in July 1995 where more than 8000 Bosniaks, mainly men and young boys were killed. The walls of Srebrenica Museum are filled with the pictures and the names of the people that were killed in the massacre.

Srebrenica Museum

Just outside the Srebrenica Museum, Pope John Paul II Monument can be seen with all its glory. The Sarajevo Clock Tower, City Hall and National Library are also touristic attractions. The clock tower was built in the 17th century and the mechanic parts were brought from London.

By the time we got out of the Srebrenica Museum, it was already dark. Everyone was going out for a drink of was watching the football match in the cafes. So we enjoyed the crows instead of visiting more touristic attractions.

Shopping

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EAT, DRINK, ENJOY

I cannot lie. For a Turk, the expression “traditional Bosnian food” is irrelevant. Because there is nothing in the cuisine that we have already not seen here in Turkey. However, I will make a list of what should be tasted.

For breakfast, try the pastry Burek. In Turkey, börek is common for pastry independent of its ingredients. Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, if you desire to eat meat-filled pastry you should order “Burek”. If meat is not your thing in the mornings, perhaps pastry with cheese “Simica” or spinach “Zeljanica” or potatoes “Krompiruša” can do the job. Also, please try eating a piece of “Somun” bread with honey and “Kajmak”. Thrust me, you will thank me for that.

For lunch or dinner, if you prefer meat, the typical common kebap is called “Cevapi”. If you prefer meatballs, order “Cufte” and if you would like to taste a more traditional dish, try “Sac”. Sac is a way of cooking meat under a metal or earthenware cup in hot coal. If would like some vegetables in your dish try “Sogan-dolma”, onions stuffed in minced meat or “Sarma”, meat and rice rolled in cabbage leaves. Something similar to “Sarma” is “Japrak”. Japrak is the same meal with grape leaves instead of cabbage leaves. If you like eggplants, try “Musaka” or “Sataras”. Please note that none of the mentioned dishes are vegetarian.

For dessert, try “Baklava”, “Halva”, “Kadaif” and “Tulumba”. I think Wikipedia has the best list and explanations that I have come across.

Leaving to see another Bridge: Mostar

Going around the old town and new town, it is still possible to see the gunshots and the ruins of the war. Sarajevo will be one of the cities I will remember with an ache in my heart.

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