Balkans Day 12: Sarajevo is a sly seductress

My first impressions of Sarajevo, arriving in pouring rain and heavy traffic two nights ago after a long day of driving, were not so good. The city seemed dank and crowded and not ready for prime time.

Even yesterday, after that wonderful day spent with Amir, I was more enamored of the stories than of the city. Perhaps it was the rain, being cold and wet all day.

But today I just let myself wander and explore, with no agenda except the tour I took to the tunnel museum and the concert this evening by the Sarajevo Philharmonic at the National Theatre (more about those later). And I'm starting to fall in love with this city. Even in the rain and the cold, even with the traffic, Sarajevo, it turns out, is a stunning city of beautiful people, varied and interesting architecture, a rich mixture of cultures, a lovely setting surrounded on all sides by hills, and a strong sense of history.



Yesterday I had Bosnian coffee. Today for the first time in my life I entered a mosque. I also visited the Bosnian Jewish Museum that is located in the Sephardic Synagogue dating from the 16th century, built by Jews who escaped the Spanish Inquisition and were welcomed here. For lunch I ate burek cooked over open coals and drank a glass (literally - it was served in glasses in the refrigerator case on a shelf above the plastic bottles of Coke and Nestea) of yogurt at a tiny hole in the wall place. I walked through a small section of what Sarajevans call the Tunnel of Life, which saved many lives by enabling supplies to come into the city and people to escape. For dinner tonight I ate a plate of things I have never tasted before. Tonight I saw the Sarajevo Philharmonic perform music of Mozart and Beethoven. Between yesterday and today I saw enough of Sarajevo to come to admire its juxtaposition of old and new, of sacred and secular, of east and west, of different faiths and different cultures. As I walked I was reminded of several different places I've been, and I was struck by how Sarajevo is unlike every other place I've been.

I'll just include some sample pictures here. The rest are in my Picasa web album, and I still have to get them organized.

A Sarajevo Rose is a concrete scar where a mortar shell exploded. These were later filled in with red resin. They are being removed gradually as the asphalt is being replaced, but I imagine one or more will be left as a memorial.


Sacred Heart Cathedral, built in the 1880. The sculpture in front is John Paul II. It was unveiled just last month.

The Cathedral Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos is one of the largest Serb Orthodox churches in the Balkans. It was built in the 1860s.  Theotokos literally means "one who gives birth to God," so this church is dedicated to Mary.

A building that was destroyed in the war

Interior of the Sephardic synagogue and museum. The synagogue was built in 1581. Jews came to Bosnia after they were expelled from Spain in 1492. They were welcomed and integrated into the life of the city. Before WWII there were an estimated 10,000 Jews in Sarajevo. Today there are about 700.

The minaret of the Gazi Husrev Bey mosque, visible through the Star of David in the synagogue

The interior of the Gazi Husrev Bey mosque. The mosque dates from 1531. It was heavily damaged during the siege, but the walls are 2 meters thick, so it survived and was restored. It is the first mosque in the world to have electric lights, dating from the 1890s, illustrating the Habsburg tolerance of Islam.
The plaque is on the side of a small museum about the Habsburg period in Bosnia and highlighting this event. Because there is controversy over whether Princip was a national hero or a murderer, the plaque simply states the facts. 

Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sofia riding in their car just before they were assassinated 100 years ago
Buregdžinica Sač, where I had lunch

Burek at Buregdžinica Sač: best in the city!

Cheese Market. I bought a hunk of smoked cheese for 2 KM (about a buck and a quarter US).

Ashkenazic Synagogue across the Miljacka River, which is flowing at the highest level in recent memory

An Olympic map with an overlay showing the Bosnian and Serbian-controlled territories in and around Sarajevo

The tunnel. The entire tunnel was 800 meters long and ran under the runway of the airport. It opened in July 1993. Every day between 3,000 and 4,000 soldiers and civilians, and 30 tons of goods, passed through the tunnel. It took about 2 hours to get through, and it was not high enough to stand upright.

I had dinner at this restaurant on Amir's recommendation. It was originally a house and it stood across the river, but when the Habsburgs wanted to build the City Hall, the owner refused to sell. He finally agreed only if they moved the house, which they did. The name of the restaurant means "Spite House." I had a plate of mixed traditional Bosnian specialties, a sparkling water, baklava, and espresso. The bill came to 21.50 KM (about $15 US). Have I mentioned that this is a very inexpensive city?

The Sarajevo Philharmonic at the National Theatre. I would like to say it was a brilliant concert, but it was not. I imagine this orchestra lost many of its players during the war and is still rebuilding. The members seemed mostly quite young and about 2/3 were women (including the conductor). There were only about 40 players. And they struggled. There were some lovely moments, but they played worse than many college orchestras I've heard. I hope they are able to build up to something more worthy of the city. Still, my ticket was 20 KM (about $13 US) for a seat in the sixth row center, and there were many empty seats in the small auditorium.

Tomorrow I move on to Mostar, but I am leaving a piece of my heart behind. I hope Sarajevo has a future as bright as its people deserve.