Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina – the Jerusalem of Europe 2


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.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Sarajevo. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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).

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ruins of the Taslihan Caravanserai built in 1543. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Baščaršija, the old bazaar. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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).

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Moorish-revivalist National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Avaz Twist Tower is the tallest building in the Balkans. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Photo credit: Benjamin White

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.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Latin Bridge. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Martyrs’ Cemetery Kovači (Šehidsko mezarje Kovači) where many of the victims of the 1992 – 1996 siege are buried. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bullet-damaged grave stones in the OId Jewish Cemetery. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Many of the city’s mortar strikes have been filled with a hard-setting red resin, and have since been dubbed Sarajevo roses.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

A Sarajevo rose. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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.

Sarajevo: 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.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Academy of Fine Arts building and Festina lente looping bridge. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Sarajevo is on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status.


More on Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Mostar – home of the legendary Stari Most bridge


More on the Balkans:

Ohrid, Republic of Macedonia – a lake both deep and blue

Plovdiv, Bulgaria – 3rd oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe

Berat, Albania – Ottoman Architecture and Illyrian Remains

Kotor, Montenegro – medieval walled city on an Adriatic fjord

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2 thoughts on “Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina – the Jerusalem of Europe

  • Karen White

    It must be quite sad to see that cemetery and know how many people died in that siege. It doesn’t seem that long ago even for us, it must seem even closer for them. It’s great that they can have such diverse releigions in such a close aea. It’s good that the city is growing again.
    Kazzieandkitty