Sarajevo: The city of broken hearts

Sarajevo, the capital of the small Balkan country, possesses a peculiar robust charm, distinctive for cities of rich history, struggling with demands of politics and economy. While people do what they do best, daily endure the existential dread; the town is slowly evolving, but into what?

We arrive at the city in the evening, just early enough to see the outlines of the surrounding green hills, glimmering in the face of thousands of street lamps, resembling early summer fireflies. There is a familiar smell of grilled meat in the air, combined with the trace of rain, washing the streets recently. The daily hustle is slowly retreating to the night whisper, but the city is far from going to sleep. Undoubtedly is the Balkans, remember!?

Sarajevo

Sarajevo is changing. One can no longer hear the loud singing of Mu’adhins, their song remains quiet, noted only in the neighbours near mosques. The buildings are slowly getting a new skin, the kind without scars and debris this time around. But not all of them, one can still find tired, dusty houses, squeezed between modern facades, their inhabitants living their lives exactly the same as they used to. 

Modestly, slowly and carefully, because you never know, who you can trust. It used to be the neighbours, but since the war, no more. Stray dogs gathered in gangs, now oversight the streets on the outskirts of the city centre. Only the bravest ones wander off into the tourist hustle and bustle, distrust gleaming from their eyes, bleakly being used to persecution and the struggle for survival. Young men, dressed and styled up in the similar recognisable manner, cautiously but proudly march on the sidewalks. Although the atmosphere is calm, the conflict can inflict any time. The graffiti on the house facades state that there are many contradictions in this country, even if they smoulder underground, it’s impossible to fail to notice them. The past is still way too painful, poverty as well. The cemeteries scattered all over the city, some even in parks, are a manifestation of death that never left the town. Violence remains, no matter how people manage to live on.

Sarajevo

Love and conflict most often flare between forces which perceive one another as something contrary, even though this holds valid only on the surface. In Sarajevo, antagonisms lie everywhere, on the road, inside of the people, in history. Polished vehicles of expensive brands, parked alongside rusty remains of another time, another common country, are not an unusual sight to see. The modern city centre is filled with restaurants and cafes, furnished in style of the latest interior design guidelines, as well as same fashion stores that supply most of the European cities.

Sarajevo

The West is fairly close, but a thorough view reveals its ways hasn’t really absorbed profoundly in the pores of the social life yet. Cafes, known as “kafane,” are full of men of different ages. Spending their days drinking, conversing and engaging in table games, stirring up the everyday events and scouring for the possible intruders. Women are not in sight, they linger in the modern part of the city and residential neighbourhoods, being subjected to some other rules. Home and family for those who follow tradition, or cosmetic salons for younger generations whose primary goal is the look of a plastic doll. The dolls are by far the most sought-after commodity in this part of the world. Silent beauties, supporting their alpha males from the background. Although proverbial Balkan explosive temperament doesn’t skim over the women population, a female’s mind or opinion is still generally a trifling matter.

Sarajevo

Gallery 11/07/95

In the modernized part of the city, amidst cafes, a large black sign invites the courageous to visit the first memorial gallery in BiH. An invite to another world, a place of feelings, impressions and tears. The inscription in the elevator, “You are my witness”, recalls what people would most like to forget. But they can’t, at least Bosniak not. The initiator of the Gallery 11/07/95 project is Tarik Samarah, noted Bosnian documentary photographer and the author of the photographs which compose the permanent exhibition in the gallery, mostly dedicated to the Srebrenica tragedy. A wide range of multimedia content such as the Map of Genocide, the sixteen-meter Wall of Death with the names of all buried victims, portraits of sufferers, various shots, and photographs, keep the memory of 8372 people who lost their lives in the summer of 1995.

Sarajevo

By cause of, they were different as those who killed. By reason of, they believed that the supreme heads of the country would know how to resolve the situation before it was too late. In addition to the permanent exhibition, the gallery space is filled by various authors such as Ron Haviv, Narciso Contreras and Paul Lowe, as well as other foreign and local names. The purpose of the gallery museum is not to accuse, but to draw attention to the problem of violence throughout the world: “Srebrenica is a symbol, not just of the war in BiH, but a symbol of the suffering of innocent people and the indifference of others who could help.”

Let that sink in. The indifference of others who could help.

Sarajevo

Vijećnica City Hall

The biggest architectural gem in Sarajevo is undoubtedly the Vijećnica City Hall. The building with distinctive triangular layout opened its doors to visitors again in 2014, after a 15 year period of restoration. The eclectic architectural style combines influences from Islamic art, distinctive for Spanish, south Italian and Northern African regions, but represents the power of north, since it was built to assert the Austro-Hungarian reign in the country. During the siege of Sarajevo, the grenades of Yugoslavian and Serbian army struck Vijećnica building several times, with the culmination of war terror taking place on the night of the 25th August 1992, when the significant part of the city hall burned to the ground. The fire seized most of the collections of the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as much as 80 percent of the documents giving evidence about the history of the country. Today a memorial of cultural genocide, as the building is sometimes called by the locals, is thriving again. Sandwiched between Baščaršija area, the roads and a river, its glory is best admired from a distance. Successfully revived, like only Balkan people know how the Vijećnica City hall is as intriguing as only young ladies can be. But books, burnt in the fire, will not be written again.

Baščaršija
The famous Baščaršija is a real delight for all those with a built-in Balkan’s coffee, rakija and tobacco culture gene. The old bazaar, built in the 15th Century, is full of tourists and locals, enjoying a sunny morning or late afternoon. One is lost in a maze of narrow streets, full of shops, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, masters of filigree and other trades. Mandatory intermissions in the form of delicious food places, which offer čevapčiči (a ground meat local dish served with lepinja bread and kajmak cheese), burek (famous Balkan & Mediterranian pastry) and heavenly baklavas spread throughout.
The traditional “pet v pol” čevapčiči dish is one of the best at Hodžič 2, with tight competition two blocks away, where not only čevapčiči are served, but some genuine warmth and infectious smile too. True Sarajlija, Dževad, speaks about his days, spent in Slovenia, while migrating to Austria to find work. He spends the warmer half of the year in Sarajevo, but when cold keeps the tourists away, there is not much work left for him in BiH. With an average salary of 400 euros, it’s difficult to survive, the money covers necessities and nothing more. While the corrupted political elite drains the national and international funds, the country economy hasn’t recovered from the war years. Balkan’s character is certainly alive and present, the rules are for the weak ones, on this spot a brutal force and dishonesty are still winning.
  
But a person can live regardless if one values what one has. Family and friends, an appetizing meal and some refreshing liquid. Therefore, social gatherings are loud, loving and sincere, not a trace of the remoteness, the characteristic of those who prefer to pretend, instead of actually live. Even if living means to suffer, to pick oneself up, over and over again. This is something Sarajevo has mastered to perfection, how to gather the broken pieces of time, sewing them up through love and ache, while living to the fullest. With sevdalinka songs in their ears!

Restless Heart Blog

Read also: Sarajevo photo essay.

 

 

69 Comments

  1. December 11, 2017
    Reply

    oj, hvala za čudovit članek 🙂
    malo smo že pozabili nanj in sedaj smo ga obnovili, skupaj z lepimi slikami vred

    • December 12, 2017
      Reply

      🙂 prenovili 😉

  2. December 12, 2017
    Reply

    Wonderful article, Balkans have been on my bucket list for a while, Vijećnica City Hall will be on top of my list on things to see, will be sure to try čevapčiči and burek.

  3. December 12, 2017
    Reply

    What a wonderful blog post! Honestly, I was never thinking about visiting Sarajevo, but this impressions are great. I would love to wander around the old bazar – and try some cevapcici 🙂
    Thanks for sharing this with us!

    Have a fantastic day 🙂
    Martina

    • December 15, 2017
      Reply

      I am glad if you will consider visiting Sarajevo in the future 🙂

  4. December 13, 2017
    Reply

    Sarajevo sounds like an interesting city to visit but I have never actually gone into the details of their troubled past until now. After reading your post, I find myself more interested in their history. The memorial gallery is a place I’d like to visit, although I know its tough to go through the darkness of the past. I’ve been to Bosnia but only to Mostar and that too only for a day, from Croatia. I found the people very nice and friendly but also a bit unused to foreigners. I guess they’re not used to tourists.

    • December 15, 2017
      Reply

      Yeah, these are not the most touristic areas in the world! But much more authentic I think 🙂

  5. December 13, 2017
    Reply

    Love your journalistic-style photos. It’s cool to get a glimpse into people’s lives across the globe. Thank you for sharing!

  6. December 13, 2017
    Reply

    A beautifully written, moving and thought provoking piece. Sarajevo is a word that is virtually synonymous with the conflict in the Balkans, and all the attendant war-imposed woe therein. Which makes it all the more uplifting and powerful when you note the resilience of the locals as they forge ahead to a brave new future.

    • December 15, 2017
      Reply

      Thank you <3 Well, I think they have no choice ... Bosnia is actually in a shape of a heart, which resonates with Bosnian people a lot!

  7. December 13, 2017
    Reply

    Sarajevo looks like a laid back town with its own interesting history. It would take a few more decades for the war-torn land to get a normal feel..

    • December 15, 2017
      Reply

      A lot of time and also financial means, yes!

  8. December 14, 2017
    Reply

    very unique post and luved reading it..laid back place but as long as people have a motive and are happy..thanks for sharing this post

  9. December 15, 2017
    Reply

    Gorgeous city and relaxing. It doesn’t feel like its the city of broken hearts but hence still stunning.

    • December 15, 2017
      Reply

      It is very relaxing to wander around streets of Baščaršija and drink coffee all day indeed 🙂

  10. December 15, 2017
    Reply

    The article on Sarajevo will bring at least a drop of tear in the reader’s eyes. First memorial gallery in BiH for the 8372 (plus many more would have died, which may go unaccounted) lost lives in a single year is surely an apt memorial to remind the future generations of war.

    • December 15, 2017
      Reply

      Yeah, the gallery is hard to handle but these kind of thing shouldn’t be ignored …

  11. Alexander Popkov
    December 15, 2017
    Reply

    Actually I would love to go there! “Robust charm”, I think it is the right way to call it. I have a weird attraction to this kind of cities, traveled a lot to former soviet sites.

    • December 15, 2017
      Reply

      They are so interesting, i know! And cheap, haha, comes handy 🙂

  12. Rahul Khurana
    December 15, 2017
    Reply

    Such classy and calm looking city. I absolutely love such places which are not too fast and give you a feel of old age world. So much to do and explore here as you have mentioned Would love too explore the street sand markets of this city.

    • December 15, 2017
      Reply

      I am not sure if I would call it classy, but it is definitely slow paced and very laid back 🙂

  13. December 15, 2017
    Reply

    I see a lot of Islamic influence such as domes and towers, though Sarajevo still looks classical European to me. Your shots have given me a renewed sense of wonder in this not so trodden part of Europe.

    • December 15, 2017
      Reply

      There were many cultures and religions which impacted the city, Islamic influence but also very classical Austro Hungerian on one place, and many more! It really is diverse 🙂

  14. December 15, 2017
    Reply

    I recently fell in love with Bosnia! I always want to visit the bobsleigh track at Sarajevo and haven’t quite made it yet! Desperate to go back after my little taster!

    • December 15, 2017
      Reply

      You just fall in love with the country right away, right?!

  15. December 15, 2017
    Reply

    Wow, these are the types of posts I aspire to create. Your knowledge of the city and ability to step back and look at it in a larger context is phenomenal, particularly how you do this and co-opt it with your own experience. Great post!

    • December 15, 2017
      Reply

      Thank you so much, this means the world to me! I try my best 🙂

  16. December 15, 2017
    Reply

    This is a gorgeous post! It makes me regret soooo much that I didn’t spend more time in Sarajevo. I fell so in love with Mostar and kept extending my stay so in the end I only had a day to be in Sarajevo. Through this post though I felt like I got to travel through it properly 🙂 beautiful photos and writing!

    • December 15, 2017
      Reply

      I am noticing that Mostar is much more visited yes! I’ve spent only one day there, so I guess we have our experiences reversed 😉

  17. December 16, 2017
    Reply

    The visuals are so arresting that I went over them a couple of times before actually reading the post. This part of Europe is so modestly beautiful. The history captivates the heart.

  18. December 16, 2017
    Reply

    Sarajevo was amazing, I hadn’t really planned to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina but I’m really glad I did, and this essay reminds me why 🙂 Great read!

    • December 17, 2017
      Reply

      Definitely a good decision for you to decide to change your plans 🙂

  19. December 16, 2017
    Reply

    What a heartfelt story! Think this sounds like a very interesting destination, and great to get some context on its history.

  20. December 17, 2017
    Reply

    This is one of the places in Balkans that I would love to explore soon. I love how you described the city through this article. Amazing! 🙂

  21. Followingtherivera
    December 17, 2017
    Reply

    Thank you for a wonderfully written post, and on a place with a tragic past. I’d like to visit one day and see all the sights you mentioned for myself. I hope that peace continues to remain in the region.

    • December 17, 2017
      Reply

      Me too, most definitely!

  22. December 17, 2017
    Reply

    wow i couldnt believe how beautifull is this place plenty of history defenetley on my bucket list. By the way your pictures are amazing.

    • December 17, 2017
      Reply

      Thank you!! <3

  23. December 17, 2017
    Reply

    I really like the style of your photos -and prose!
    Being from Europe, I used to look at other continents for exotic destinations, but I’ve grown to notice the variety of landscapes, cultures and history that we have here. I’d love to visit the Balkans, and when I do, I will make sure to visit the Vijećnica City Hall and Baščaršija in Sarajevo 🙂

    • December 21, 2017
      Reply

      Thank you! Europe is super diverse, regarding it’s size 🙂

  24. December 17, 2017
    Reply

    Beautiful article. Very well written. I’m amazed by the history of this place… The details you share with us, the way you describe the people and the buildings. It’s brilliant and it makes you want to see it in person. It leaves you this feeling of wanting to witness it all. The photos are very good, I love the colours and the moments you captured. Great job!

    • December 21, 2017
      Reply

      Thank you! Mission accomplished <3

  25. December 17, 2017
    Reply

    This is a wonderful post! I actually do not think I have heard of this city/place before! I would love to go here one day as it looks so beautiful! Your pictures are stunning. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this beautiful place.

  26. December 17, 2017
    Reply

    I want to visit Sarajevo so bad since I saw the movie ”Twice born” with Penelope Cruz!!

    • December 21, 2017
      Reply

      I actually haven’t seen a movie yet! Thanks for the recommendation 🙂

  27. December 18, 2017
    Reply

    I love how you captured that Sarajevo is a city with a conflicted past that is focused on the future. Really interesting travel/history post.

  28. siddharthandshruti
    December 18, 2017
    Reply

    The architecture is so beautiful. Love the stained glass! It’s interesting that cafes are frequented mostly by men. It’s sad to hear stories of their past. Do you have any photos/ post about the food? We would love to know more.

    • December 21, 2017
      Reply

      I do have some photos, but not enough for a fair description!! Hope to get back and collect the missing parts soon :p

  29. December 18, 2017
    Reply

    An interesting destination to experience. Certainly not glitzy and touristy!

  30. December 18, 2017
    Reply

    Sarajevo has such a tragic past and I’m glad to hear it’s started to re-invent itself. You know from traveling all over the world, I’ve found in places that have a war-ridden past there is so much charm and beauty behind it. This post has been amazingly written and I for one would love to experience Sarajevo for myself one day 😀 – Thank you for writing this.

    • December 21, 2017
      Reply

      Thank you <3 I couldn't agree more, I usually find places with tragic history the most mesmerising ...

  31. Melissa
    December 18, 2017
    Reply

    I would definitely want to study the war more before visiting Sarajevo so I could truly understand and appreciate the city and all it has been through. This article definitely gives you a real feel for the city, its history, and its scars.

    • December 21, 2017
      Reply

      I is quite complicated to understand the Balkan conflicts actually, so many different forces!

  32. December 21, 2017
    Reply

    Holy! You are such a gifted writer! I am not a fan of history but the way you wrote it got me hooked! This place is not only rich in history but amazing architecture that I am sure will enjoy if I go!

  33. December 21, 2017
    Reply

    Sarajevo seems like an awesome city to explore and it is so rich in history, Godi. How many days would you recommend staying there?

    • January 31, 2018
      Reply

      I would say around four days, and you could also go to Vrelo Bosne, an amazing water spring very near … But the essence of Sarajevo is also in very easygoing and relaxed living so no extra day hurts in my opinion :))

  34. December 21, 2017
    Reply

    Loved the way you have written it.its integruing. Pictures of the city are really beautiful. Hope I could visit some day

    • January 31, 2018
      Reply

      Thank you! Keeping my fingers crossed you make it 😉

  35. March 24, 2018
    Reply

    I love Sarajevo! You are right there is a certain charm to this amazing city. Great photos 😀

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