The only thing I knew about Sarajevo, prior to my visit, was that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated there in 1914, and that his death led the Austro-Hungarian Empire to declare war on Serbia, which triggered World War I.
But there is much more to Sarajevo, the so-called Jerusalem of Europe, than this one tragic moment.
The founding of Sarajevo
The Ottomans founded Sarajevo in 1461 following their conquest of the greater Balkan region. The city was made the capital of the eyalet (province) of Bosnia, and the Ottomans were quick to embellish it with all the trappings of an Ottoman capital, including a mosque, a bazaar, a caravanserai, Turkish baths, and a palace (the Turkish word for palace is saray; this is how Sarajevo acquired its name).
The Ottomans were Sunni Muslims; the inhabitants of Bosnia were primarily Orthodox Christians. This was the beginning of the mingling of races and religions that would one day come to define Sarajevo.
Under the Ottomans Sarajevo grew to become the largest and most prominent city in the Balkans.
Exit Ottomans, enter Austro-Hungarians
In 1878 the lands of Bosnia and Herzegovina were stripped from the Ottomans and handed to the Austro-Hungarian Empire with the signing of the Treaty of Berlin (the Treaty of Berlin attempted to resolve the international crisis that arose following the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878).
The Austro-Hungarian government set about industrialising the city, bringing it up to speed with the rest of Western Europe. A tramline was installed in Sarajevo in 1885 (as a trial prior to doing the same in the Austrian capital, Vienna). It was the one of the earliest operational tramlines in the world.
On June 28, 1914 Bosnian revolutionary Gavrilo Princip shot Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie, as the royal motorcade passed Latin Bridge in downtown Sarajevo.
The revolutionaries (known as the Young Bosnia movement) had thrown a grenade at the Archduke’s party earlier that same day. The attack hadn’t dissuaded the unflappable Franz Ferdinand who continued to Sarajevo Town Hall where a formal reception was underway. He then insisted on visiting those injured in the grenade attack in hospital.
It was while the motorcade was on its way to the hospital that Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were assassinated.
After WWI Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and remained within Yugoslavia until their fight for independence in the 1990s.
The Siege of Sarajevo
Between 1992 and 1996, during the Bosnian War of Independence, Sarajevo was under siege for a total of 1,425 days – it is the longest siege of a capital city since WWII.
During the siege the Serbian Army positioned itself in the hills surrounding the city and periodically bombed, fired rockets, lobbed mortars, and took pot-shots with sniper rifles at the city’s citizens. 11,541 people were killed – many are buried at the Martyr’s Cemetery in Kovači.
Many of the city’s mortar strikes have been filled with a hard-setting red resin, and have since been dubbed Sarajevo roses.
Evidence of the war is slowly being erased from the city’s fabric, but it will remain in the public consciousness for some time to come.
The Jerusalem of Europe
How did Sarajevo gain the name the Jerusalem of Europe?
It’s due to the mix of religious groups that live side-by-side in the city. It is supposedly the only major city in Europe with a mosque, a catholic church, an orthodox church, and a synagogue in the same neighbourhood.