Words: Tahira Khan
Healing from the aftermath of war, our writer Tahira Khan explores many hidden wonders of Bosnia’s cities, just waiting to be rediscovered in 2021.
The reaction from people wasn’t one of the best when I told them that I was heading to Bosnia, there were immediate exchanges of confused glances between people in the room wondering, “What the hell is she travelling there for?” with looks of uncertainty as they recalled disturbing memories from the early 90’s of news reports and the horrific attacks in Sarajevo.
My mum, bless her, thought I was either going to fight in a war, or that I was on some kind of secret mission.
Although this was very amusing, I shrugged it off and anticipated the enlightening adventure ahead.
Arriving in Sarajevo
Although many parts of the city are still recovering from the war in 1992, there were elements of beauty clearly displayed, which were evident even when you looked through the damaged buildings. Surprisingly, Sarajevo has so much to offer to people of all religions and cultures, not just Muslims. Throughout Ramadan the city is treated and respected in a very special way I was told. It still has lots of unseen culture and natural beauty to offer its visitors, alongside so many amazing festivals, events and places of interest.
The airline carrier, ‘Fly Bosnia’, is very efficient and now departs three times a week with flights taking off from Luton Airport. Driving through the city, we arrived at the Swissotel hotel, a modern glass tower block rising above the main City Centre. One of the best modern 5 star hotels situated amongst neighbouring shops and restaurants and all within walking distance. Sarajevo has a distinctive, picturesque charm and as I was observing the view from my hotel room, the tiny houses on the hills looked like tiny villas, something you might see in Spain or Portugal. Taking just a few minutes by car, we headed to the Sarajevo cable car ride and visited the mountains of Trebevic, overlooking panoramic views of the city through the glass.
As I viewed the scenery of the hills beneath me, I imagined that the mountains would look even more magical when the city is covered in snow.
Touring through the Capital City
The first stop we made was at the Tunnel Museum, where we went underground through the trenches used during the war, viewed the displays of artefacts and war heroes, and watched videos of the war in 1992, seeing how the people survived through that time was an eye opener. We took a series of tours visiting all the historical layers.
Our walking tour included some traditional visits to the handicrafts market place, known as Kazandziluk Street, and the main square of Bascarsija, Brusa Bezistan, The Gazi Husrev-bey’s Foundation and market. We experienced specialities of Bosnian popular cuisine; the pies are a popular choice for meat lovers. The pita is a pastry wrapped around a sausage; all the meat is obviously halal.
Bosnian coffee is also a popular part of the Balkan culture with a specific etiquette and special coffee cups for this interesting ritual. We also paid a visit to the place of Archduke Franz Ferdinand who was assassinated in WW1, The Latin Bridge, synagogue (The Old Temple) The Roman Catholic Cathedral; The Orthodox Church Museum, which is considered to be one of the five most important Orthodox museums of the world.
The Architecture of the historical buildings displayed origins of the Ottoman Empire, Balkan rule and mosques and buildings such as the Morica Han Hotel. Not far away we walked back through ‘The Vijecnica’, which is the main city hall, Sarajevo’s greatest emblem, built by the Austro-Hungarians and was an amazing building with arches, roofs and lots of displays of exhibits, which tell interesting stories about major periods in the history of Sarajevo. The City Hall is amazing and is located parallel to a relaxing riverside walk on the main stretch.
The Hotel and Spa
Swissotel is one of many luxury hotels located in the city but the best thing about this hotel is the ultra violet themed futuristic spa, located across two floors with a separate ladies spa area which was great, (ladies take note). On the last day it felt great to unwind after all the hustle and bustle: You can also choose a selection of spa treatments, after an energising swim in the rooftop pool.
The natural scenery of Mostar, Jablanica and Konjic
The second day was all about nature and arriving into Mostar took about two hours, but the views of the aqua blue crystal rivers and mountains were breath taking and a pleasure to drive through, exploring the Bosnian scenery. Not forgetting that Croatia, which is known for its natural wonders and waters, is the neighbouring country to Bosnia.
The bridges of Bosnia are very captivating and great places for taking photographs; I spotted a couple having wedding photographs taken on one of the bridges. The most iconic place to stop off, however, was the historical and famous Old bridge built by the Ottomans in the 16th Century which is one of Bosnia’s and Herzegovina’s most recognised landmarks, the bridge is considered to be an exemplary piece of Islamic architecture. You will see the men who get paid to dive into the waters from the highest point of the bridge, and on either side of the bridge you will walk alongside a handicrafts market selling, tourist goods, clothes and leathers, as well as restaurants: It has a historical charm of its own. Meanwhile Konjic is famous, and home to the museum of woodcarving. The traditional craft has been placed on UNESCO’s list of Intangible heritage and local families love to preserve this trade.
Must Visit Destinations
If you do go out there, you must try to obtain the Sarajevo Navigator booklet, which you can get from hotels or information points; an invaluable guide when visiting these handpicked attractions. The Efeill Bridge, The Islamic Science Faculty, Despic House Museum, Igmir mountains, The Jahorina is a ski resort for the family. Bosnia also has an Olympic Museum, The Sarajevo Museum, which looks at the Austrio-Hungarian rule and the Sarajevo assassination, which was carried out in front of the building.
The Cravica waterfalls are meant to be a beautiful natural sight for those of you that love nature. The Clock Tower, The Emperor and Ali Pasha’s Mosque, The Neretva is the perfect river for rafting and passes through Konjic. Great for fashion and accessories shopping is HiDesign. Talks and Giggles is a well known coffee and cake shop whilst Kod Bibana is one of the places where you can enjoy local cuisine on a hilltop whilst enjoying the panoramic views outside. A must visit destination is the Bosnian Pyramids in Visoko City. The Sun’s electromagnetic energy makes this a mystical and sacred place, with the Sufis using sacred geometry, and was built in the 12th Century. Many Festivals and Sporting events take place during September and The Jazz Festival is also a popular activity to explore, and last year they held the 2nd AJB Doc film festival organised by the Al Jazeera Balkans that present filmmakers and films that focus on social phenomena and universal human values. For foodies, the Sarajevo Food market situated in the city centre does a variety of food such as Mexican, Italian, Spanish and Asian and all halal, whilst Jadranka, which has recently opened its doors again, is a place where you can relax outside in the gardens and enjoy some sweet treats in the sunshine. There is so much to see and to do, I was amazed, and you will be too, at the diversity and versatility of Bosnia, yet it still remains a humble Muslim country, with the people being so welcoming and warm, it’s a must have on the bucket list for everyone in 2020.
For more information visit: www.bhtourism.ba and www.flybosnia.ba