Things to Do in Sarajevo
The Sarajevo Tunnel (Tunel Spasa) is an underground tunnel turned war museum, and the best way to learn about the Siege of Sarajevo in Bosnia. Dug out by hand with shovels and picks, the 2,625-foot (800-meter)tunnel served as a lifeline for the city in 1993, connecting the Dobrinja and Butmir neighborhoods to the free Bosnian territory just beyond the Sarajevo Airport. After the Bosnian War ended, the house whose cellar served as an entrance to the tunnel was turned into a museum.
Visitors can watch an 18-minute movie about the war, the blockade and the tunnel experience, and view photographs, maps, military equipment and uniforms, as well as a variety of tools and documents. Visitors can also enter about 20 meters of the tunnel. The museum is a stop on nearly all war-themed tours of Sarajevo and guides can offer valuable insight and perspective.
Lying north of the River Miljacka and forming the original heart of Sarajevo’s Old Town (Stari Grad), Bascarsija Bazaar is a vibrant, bustling Oriental marketplace where several mosques and hammams (baths) date back to 1462, when the country was under the Ottoman rule. Starting life as a caravanserai, with accommodation for travelers and stabling for horses, its foundations were laid by Isa-Beg Ishaković, who was the first Ottoman governor of Bosnia. Over time, Bascarsija grew into a labyrinthine district of cobbled alleyways and shaded lanes, and by the 17th century it was a thriving trading hub with thousands of workshops practicing scores of crafts from coppersmiths to potters and jewelers, all existing amid the mosques and minarets.
Despite an 1879 fire destroying almost half of the bazaar, today its intriguing spider’s web of pedestrianized backstreets spans out from the landmark 19th-century Sebilj Fountain. Many of the alleyways and are still crammed with cluttered artisan stores spilling over with copper pots, gold, ceramics and hand-embroidered shawls, as well as cozy little cafés offering eastern delicacies such as stuffed dolmas and meat-filled burek.
Bascarsija is the medieval Oriental bazaar lying at the heart of Sarajevo’s Stari Grad (Old Town), where mosques and hammams (baths) date right back to 1462. The most important and grandest of Bascarsija’s mosques is Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, named after a Turkish governor of Bosnia and built in 1530 in Ottoman style by the Persian architect Adžem Esir Ali. Originally a complex of prayer halls, madrasa (Koranic school), medieval soup kitchen for the Muslim poor, wash room and library, the mosque was badly damaged during the Balkan wars of the 1990s but has been extensively reconstructed; today its distinctive dome once more forms the heart of Bascarsija and its spiky minaret is a landmark visible all over Sarajevo.
The ornate entrance to the mosque is surrounded by marble and decorated with gilding; inside its gleaming white walls are adorned with Arabic inscriptions, the ceilings hung with golden chandeliers and the floors covered in handmade carpets gifted by Muslim visitors from overseas. The mosque’s peaceful courtyard is dominated by an elaborate wrought-iron fountain – once used for ritual washing – and is the resting place of many pre-eminent Bosnians, including the 19th-century poet Safvet Bey Bašagić and the leading politician of the 1930s, Dr Mehmed Spaho.
Curiously innocuous considering its momentous role in 20th-century history, the Latin Bridge (Latinska Ćuprija) spans the River Miljacka between Obala Culina Bana and Obala Isa-Bega Ishakovića in Sarajevo. Built in Ottoman times, its four stone arches date back to at least 1565 – although a wooden one may have preceded it – making it one of the oldest bridges in the city.
By the advent of the 20th century, Turkish rule in Bosnia had long been superseded by the expansion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and unrest was brewing across Europe. On June 28, 1914, Serbian mercenary Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie while they were on a state visit to Sarajevo, choosing the northern corner of the Latin Bridge to commit his crime and sparking the political events that lead directly to the outbreak of World War I. Today a plaque marks the spot, and there are portraits of Princip and Franz Ferdinand on the exterior of the Museum of Sarajevo 1878-1918, which stands by the Latin Bridge and chronicles the saga of the assassination and its tragic aftermath.
The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Zemaljski Muzej) was founded in 1888 when Bosnia was under control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and moved to its present, regal Art Nouveau accommodation in 1913 as its collections grew. It was closed during both world wars and its complex of galleries was heavily damaged during the 1,425-day Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. Due to political in-fighting and lack of funding, the beleaguered museum shut again in 2012 but happily reopened in September 2015 to display some of its four million artifacts in a series of light-filled galleries; during this
last closure staff worked unpaid to conserve the museum’s exhibits.
Along with a 300,000-volume reference and research library, the museum has three departments (archaeology, ethnology and natural history) crammed with medieval art, ancient armor, stuffed bears and countless other treasures covering thousands of years of Bosnian history. The ethnology selections are particularly strong, highlighting the multi-cultural nature of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s culture with an appealing mix of Bosnian, Serbian, Muslim and Jewish ethnic costumes. Neolithic ceramics from the excavations at suburban Butmir are the centerpiece of the archaeology collections; and to view the museum’s prize piece, the priceless Sarajevo Haggadah (Jewish Passover manuscript), call two days in advance of your visit.