Take a walk through the multi-ethnic Balkan city with rich architecture and turbulent history that was a former venue for the Winter Olympics and a very special location where you can taste a variety of culinary delights, including grilled sausages (sudžukica ), burek pies, potato pies, and stuffed peppers, while listening to traditional sevdah, ganga, and sefardi music. Welcome to Sarajevo!
A few days ago, editorial at the Adriatic Journal decided to test the waters with Twittersphere to find out what capital in the Balkans is the most popular. In the shortlist we included four capitals, each with its own charm and many possibilities for living and exploring: Ljubljana, Zagreb, Sarajevo and Belgrade.
Difficult choice? Absolutely. But the Twitter community had the final word and picked Sarajevo, which received almost half of all votes. Here we include an in-depth guide to the city that was originaly published in the Adriatic Journal’s printed editon at the beginning of the year.
Where east meets west
By Faris Kočan
With a skyline decorated with mosques and minarets, Romanesque towers of Catholic churches and the onion-shaped domes of Orthodox holly places, while Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Yugoslavian architecture adorn the city, it was just a question of time before Sarajevo’s beauty was recognised beyond the region’s borders. In 2017, the US news outlet the Huffington Post included Sarajevo on the list of ten most beautiful cities in the world. U2’s frontman Bono Vox was also wooed by its charm, saying that “Sarajevo is the most beautiful city due to its sophistication, complexity, and multiculturality”. In Sarajevo, in line with the words of Mike Leight, English writer and director, you experience life.
Coffe and Sevdah
The tradition of drinking Turkish/Bosnian coffee has a long beard in Sarajevo as the first coffeehouse to operate in this part of the world was Hajji Šabanaova Kafana, which opened in the middle of the 16th century and remained open until 1942. When trying to understand the meaning of Bosnian ćejf (pleasure), which is one of the 6.876 Turkish words that are still used in Bosnia and Herzegovina, one should try their finely-ground coffee when listening to traditional folk music called Sevdah or Bosnian blues. The best place to experience this is Sevdah Art House, a museum dedicated to this genre and its interpreters, which also offers traditional coffee in fildžani (demitasses without handles). The most popular music genre in Sarajevo is jazz, and every November the city hosts the international Jazz Fest Sarajevo, which in the past welcomed giants like Dave Holland, Dhafer Joussed, Merchan Dede, Dianne Reeves, and Gregory Porter.
History in the midst of great powers
History of Sarajevo dates back to the Stone age, but the Sarajevo as we know it today was founded by the Ottoman Empire in the 1450s. The period of early Ottoman rule will be long remembered as the city’s golden age, as Sarajevo was the most important Ottoman city in the Balkans after Istanbul. The city’s occupation by Austro-Hungarian empire in 1878 was the beginning of violent events that marked the city’s history in the last century – the battle of Sarajevo and Austro-Hungarian revenge, the occupation by the independent state of Croatia in 1941, and the longest siege of a city in the history of modern warfare from 1992 to 1996 (1.425 days).
Arts and troubled past
The war, which ended in 1995, damaged the relations and dynamics in the city that led to the political quagmire and struggle of Sarajevo’s cultural institutions, such as National Museum and National Arts Gallery. The National Museum or Zemaljski muzej, as the Bosniaks call it, was closed for three years until 2015 due to the lack of funding. Otherwise, film, theatre and music have been the traditional artistic trademarks of Sarajevo. Sarajevo Film Festival was born in 1994 in the midst of the siege, and is now one of Europe’s must-visit festivals. It is also a festival that offered a platform for Jasmila Žbanić, who won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale in 2006 for her film Grbavica; Danis Tanović who took home an Oscar for his film No Man’s Land in 2002; and theatre director Haris Pašović who won major awards from Edinburgh to Singapore. However, in the words of Duplex100m2Gallery curator Pierre Courtin: “There is a great disconnect in Sarajevo between art and economy. It is easier to see Bosnian art in Berlin or Belgrade than in Sarajevo.”
IT sector is booming
The IT sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been flourishing in the last few years and represents a rare growth area in the country’s economy. The number of IT companies is growing steadily with around 1.400 companies registered to date. The sector now contributes EUR 75m to the GDP, and the income of companies operating in this sector has increased by 60% compared to 2014. Sarajevo-based IT professional Milad Čerkić, CEO of ATLANTBiH, said that local companies are now focused on their own projects after working for foreign enterprises for some years. Recently, they have been designing mobile apps for the purposes of local population, such as apps for restaurants, media outlets, taxi companies, and shops. One of the Sarajevo-based IT companies named genijalno(genious)was part of an international consortium and co-designed apps like book-n-drive Carsharing, Rawr, Teachpoint, and CoinDesk.
In the last five years, Sarajevo was part of five major development projects launched by the World Bank, EBRD, EU, and USAID. By far the most important infrastructural projects were financed by the World Bank, which reserved around EUR 64m to improve road safety and connectivity. Apart from Corridor 5C that is vital for Sarajevo and for which BiH borrowed EUR 750m, the Belgrade-Sarajevo motorway, planned to be built with the joint initiatives of Turkey, BiH and Serbia, is something that is viewed as a sign of regional peace and stability. Like in other Western Balkan capitals, Sarajevo is also one of the top destinations for numerous investors from the Arab world. The Sarajevo City Centre and Sarajevo Waves have so far been the biggest Arab-driven investment in the capital.
Sarajevo and Beijing neck and neck in air quality
Sarajevo is one of the most polluted cities in the region and in Europe. The U.S. embassy installed an air quality equipment on its compound to measure fine particulate matter as an indicator of air quality in the city centre which showed that Sarajevo is close to Beijing, the most polluted city in the world. To tackle the problem, a strategic partnership was formed between BH Futures Foundation and CityOS Air, a community driven air monitoring network. They have come up with CityOS Air devices, which can be placed on balconies to track air quality. In November 2018, Sarajevo also joined BreatheLife, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition initiative led by WHO and UN Environment. The city is currently working to introduce soot-free buses, trucks and passenger vehicles, and establish a Traffic Control and Regulation Center. The focus is also on energy consumption in households and public buildings which is three times higher than the EU average.