When the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for dedicating itself to world peace, many voices in radio and television got the facts wrong and enthusiastically called out: ‘No war in Europe for over 60 years!’ – But this rashly said phrase should have been examined more closely before being used as a picture for what Europe sees itself. It’s not only the fact that European armies took part in armed conflicts all over the world – and they still do – that shouldn’t be forgotten, but even more should we remind ourselves of the taking place of a bloody and brutal war in Europe’s middle: The so-called Bosnian War, less than 20 years ago, did cost the lives of more than 56,000 soldiers and nearly 40,000 civilians. Battles, massacres under the eyes of UN troops, rapes, tens of thousands of refugees and a devastated landscape filled by the ruins of homes and a rich cultural heritage were the results. By forgetting the Balkans we ridicule those who survived the cruel post-Yugoslavian conflicts; we give the wrong answer to those who ask: What is Europe? Where does Europe end? The peoples of Eastern and Southeastern Europe could get the impression that for many ‘Westerners’ the ‘old’ Europe still ends in front of the gates of Vienna.
I visited Bosnia’s capital in August 2013 for the second time, but again I was amazed by the singularity of this city. It’s the perfect fusion of East and West: Today’s Sarajevo is a picturesque example of the melting of Orient and Occident. Mosques and churches, Ottoman and Austrian architecture, headscarves, summer clothes and red wine. When I came to this place in March last year it was a grey city, covered by the smoke of countless funnels and surrounded by hills that still held icy pieces of the remaining snow. In summertime the city turns into a tourist hot spot, the cafés are crowded and the streets are filled with picture-taking Italians, Turks, Arabs and, of course, Germans. As German people love city trips, they’ve already discovered Sarajevo as an unknown, but promising summer destination. Turkish tourists like to visit their old Ottoman heritage and Arabs take the chance to explore a widely Muslim country in European shape.
With a bit over 310,000 inhabitants, the city of Sarajevo doesn’t look too spectacular on the map, but it holds an unmatchable variety of culture and history. For centuries the Ottoman Empire influenced the religious and cultural life in Bosnia. The big Gazi Husrev beg Mosque (built 1531) is only one of dozens of historic Muslim prayer houses. Later, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire enlarged the city by building new quarters along the Miljacka river, for example the city hall, the Hauptpost (post office) or many other official buildings. Aside with mosques and Serbian Orthodox churches the townscape was completed by Catholic and Protestant churches and monasteries. And one shouldn’t forget the important Jewish community that settled in the city after being expelled from Spain in 1492.
|Gazi Husrev beg Mosque|
After the 1992-1995 Bosnian War the city of Sarajevo, which was under siege by Yugoslavian and Bosnian Serb armies, was built up again. You still can see the many bullet holes in most of the streets, but restaurateurs did a great job, restoring historical buildings. Even if the mental wounds of a city need decades to heal, the outside image of Sarajevo is getting more beautiful than ever.
Kovači war cemetery
Different from Mostar, you can still take a walk around the cities bazaar, the Baščaršija, in August without being sun-struck. It’s the best time to take a coffee and an ice cream in mid-day or to have dinner in the evening. In Sarajevo you can find all the treasures of Balkan cuisine: grilled meat in all shapes, famous Yugoslavian food ćevapčići (grilled meat balls), fish or stuffed vegetables. You also should try sarma (cabbage rolls).
You’re looking for a young, emerging city, that is both European and Oriental, both modern and traditional.
Come to Sarajevo. Let yourself be inspired by my photos. :)