I’ll be the first to admit that a description of the trajectory of an assassin’s bullet is not the normal way to jumpstart a guided walking tour of a city, but this is Sarajevo after all, where images of wars past dot the landscape, and where the “band of merry media” and I — 18 intrepid travel writers and photographers invited by Insight Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its Bosnia and Dalmatian Riviera itinerary — are being schooled by a local expert.
Just a little over a century ago, June 28, 1914 to be exact, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sofia, the Duchess of Hohenberg, were gunned down in broad daylight on a flagstoned street in the Stari Grad (Old Town) of Sarajevo by Gavrila Princip, a Bosnian Serb.
“Princip was a member of a six-person assassination team,” Dino, Insights’ thirtysomething local expert, explains, “dispatched to Sarajevo by the Black Hand, a secretive military society within the Army of the Kingdom of Serbia.”
“The fatal shots from Princip’s pistol,” Dino pauses slightly for effect, “triggered the start of World War I, the so-called ‘war to end all wars’.”
Passing by Sarajevo’s City Hall, the late 19th century storybook building highlighted by its prominent Neo-Moorish facade, we enter the heart and soul of the Old Town: the Baščaršija neighborhood.
Here, the centuries-old Ottoman bazaar, filled with mom-and-pop shops, is alive and well along its labyrinth of flagstone alleyways and intimate courtyards that provide the camera lens with an endless array of postcard-perfect, peekaboo scenes that are suitable for framing.
Baščaršija — repeat after me, bahsh-CHAR-shee-jah — means “main marketplace,” and started out in 1462 with a caravanserai (small inn) and several shops and reached its peak sometime during the 16th century when over 12,000 shops, featuring 80 different kinds of crafts, filled the space.
“The alleyways took their names from the kinds of crafts that were being made and showcased,” Dino tells us, “like Kazandžiluk, or Coppersmith Street,” as we pass by storefronts filled with polished copper items for sale, including pens made from brass bullet casings.
Over time, earthquakes, fires and wars reduced the old bazaar neighborhood to a fraction of what it used to be during its heyday, but it’s still Sarajevo’s main tourist area, especially around the Sebij, an ornamental, gazebo-like water fountain smack dab in the middle of Pigeon Square.
The Baščaršija is chock-full of artisan workshops, bric-a-brac storefronts, cafes, hookah bars, inviting little restaurants and Ottoman-era mosques, like the Gazi Husrev-beg, where a custodian awaits our arrival and ushers us all inside for a quiet look around.
“This mosque is considered the most important Islamic structure in the country and is one of the world’s finest examples of Ottoman architecture,” Dino informs us. “And, it was the very first mosque on the planet to receive electricity, installed back in 1898.”
Gazi Husrev-beg, the man, is widely considered Sarajevo’s greatest patron, as he bankrolled much of Sarajevo’s Old Town.
Even after his death, a living trust that he bequeathed the city nearly 500-years ago continues to work its magic even to this day.
Departing the mosque, we exit through its courtyard where an ornate šadrvan (fountain) stands. Used daily to cleanse oneself before entering the grand Islamic house of worship, the sweet-tasting spring water is surprisingly drinkable.
Back out on the pedestrian-only flagstone alleyways, we cross over the symbolic demarcation line, where the cultures of the east and the west cross paths, and leave the confines of this atmospheric Ottoman neighborhood and head into the more modern bustle of the Austro-Hungarian side of Sarajevo.
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Join me in about 20 minutes, just around the corner, when you’ll hear the waiter ask me, “One lump, or two?”
©The Palladian Traveler