There is so much more to Sarajevo than the Vijećnica, the war-time tunnel and the Sebilj fountain. Here I present my alternative guide to attractions for this amazing city.
Bosnian cuisine, in my opinion, should definitely be one of the main attraction in Sarajevo especially because of its authenticity and diversity. I would recommend drinking boza (fermented millet) salep (made from orchid root) and zova čaj (elderflower tea). Uštipci (dough balls) with sour cream and the revered burek (meat pastry) or non-meat pita (spinach or cheese) are also worth hunting out. If you are walking along Ferhadija it is well worth going into the yellow, column-fronted market Gradska tržnica where you can get many regional products from local producers including the especially strong cheese: Travnički Sir. If you’re in Sarajevo during Ramadan make sure you try a Ramazani somun, Bosnia’s tasty flatbread which has added nigella seeds for this special occasion.
Another cultural asset Sarajevo should be celebrating more is its literary heritage. This is something not immediately apparent to the casual visitor but in fact most of Bosnia’s most famous authors have had some sort of connection with Sarajevo. Actually, many of the streets of the city are named after poets and authors such as Safvet-beg Bašagić, Enver Čolaković and Musa Ćazim Ćatić. You can find the grave of Bašagić inside the Gazi-husrev Beg mosque’s courtyard and Isak Samokovlija is in the Jewish Cemetery (more on this later). There’s a number of good bookshops in Sarajevo and I would highly recommend Klub Knjige on Ćurčiluk veliki in the bazaar.
If it’s off the beaten track Ottoman heritage you are looking for then Alifakovac graveyard should really interest you. The oldest dated gravestone is from 1751 but many date as far back as the 15th and 16th centuries. The stones, which are known by the name nišan, come in a wide variety of styles. The carved turbans on top denote whether the deceased was a judge, scholar, Islamic teacher, or even which dervish order they belonged to (i.e. Mevlevi, Naqshbandi, etc.) There are also two mausoleums (called turbe) in the middle which are both from 1780 and from this area there are great views across the city’s rooftops. Not too far away, in a street of the same name, is the Jedileri. Also known as Turbe Sedam Braće, or Tomb of the Seven Brothers, this religious site has become a place where local people come to offer sadaqa (offerings) in the hope it will give them answers to their problems.
If you’re interested in investigating Sarajevo’s Jewish heritage there are a number of interesting sites. The old Jewish cemetery (Jevrejsko groble) is the resting place of famous Bosnian and Sephardic Jewish author Isak Samokovlija. The cemetery is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the Balkans with rounded Hebrew inscribed stones dating from as far back as the 16th century. More recently this graveyard acted almost as a frontline in the Bosnian War (1992-1995) and was an area from where Serb snipers used to shoot at civilians in the city below. Sarajevo is also home to an ancient Jewish artefact, the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated manuscript believed to have been brought to Bosnia by Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492. During the Second World War it came close to destruction but was saved by the quick thinking librarian who entrusted it to a Muslim cleric to hide. There’s also the Jewish Museum of BiH in the centre, part of the Museum of Sarajevo.
Finally, I would also suggest taking a walk away from the central bazaar area either East or West. A really interesting and easy walk starts from the Sebilj fountain and goes uphill through Kovači until you reach a cemetery. This is the Šehidsko mezarje, where casualties of the BiH Army who lost their lives in the Bosnian War are buried along with a monument to Alija Izetbegović, the first President of independent Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the top of the cemetery, the path re-joins a road which climbs past the spectacular and recently refurbished dervish house: the Mevlevi Tekke. This road continues uphill until you get to the crumbling remains of the Žuta tabija (Yellow Fort). There is a small café here and you can get excellent, panoramic views over the city. It is also from here that a cannon is fired at dusk during Ramadan to signal the end of the fast.
Aside from this if you follow the river eastwards from the centre you come to the historic Kozija ćuprija or Goat’s Bridge. On the other hand, if you follow the river west towards the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina you can see the new Festina Lente bridge in front of the impressive Academy of Fine Arts.
Sarajevo is one of my most favourite cities in the world and I feel it’s an injustice that it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. There is so much to see and do in Sarajevo and I look forward to returning quite soon!