War and Peace in Sarajevo


cemetery in sarajevo

I really didn’t know what to expect from Sarajevo.

I was apprehensive about visiting, knowing very little about the city aside from the siege of the 90’s that I vaguely remember from my childhood.

I arrived exhausted and drained. The overnight train from Zagreb had no sleeper carriages, a broken window that blasted us with a constant stream of ice cold air and a couple of Bosnian women who spent the entire night gossiping loudly. As we pulled up the train station, all I wanted to do was find my hostel and sleep.

Navigating the tram system in a daze, we had no idea if we were even going in the right direction, let alone which stop to get off at. Somehow we managed to guess correctly, arriving right in the heart of the Old Town. The smell of coffee, cigarettes and smoked kebabs filled the air as the call to prayer rang out from a nearby mosque.

Despite my lack of sleep, I was in awe.

Sarajevo felt like another world and I instantly fell in love.

rooftops in sarajevo

Over the next three days, I came to learn just how important Sarajevo is; that it is arguably the place that defined and shaped human history in the twentieth century, more so than anywhere else.

So many of the terrible things that occurred over the last hundred years happened right here in Bosnia and Herzegovina and much of it in Sarajevo. From the collapse of empires to devastating wars, the rise of nationalism, communism, and their demise.

No event was more significant than the bullets fired on the streets of Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia triggered a series of events that culminated in the world’s first global war. In fact the origins of both World Wars, the Cold War and its conclusion can be traced back to the gunshots fired that day.

sarajevo assassination sign

These days, Sarajevo can offer so much more than just bullets and bombings and there are so many things to love about this city.

Sarajevo is rich in religious diversity.

A five minute walk through the Old Town will take you past mosques, synagogues, Orthodox and Catholic churches – a mixture that frequently leads to Sarajevo being described as the Jerusalem of Europe.

Below is Sarajevo Cathedral, often used as a symbol of the city.

religion in sarajevo

Sarajevo also has an amazing cafe culture. 

Wander down a narrow cobblestone alleyway in the Old Town and you’ll find dozens of tiny coffee shops serving thick Bosnian coffee and plenty of bars selling the local Sarajevsko and, to my delight, cider!

However, this was probably the first time in my life that I wished I was a coffee drinker.

For once, I didn’t want to drink the cider – I wanted to sit down with a brass pot full of coffee, a small ceramic cup, some sugar cubes and a Turkish delight, mix them all together and have a life-changing experience.

Having tried the coffee in Mostar when I visited last year, I knew that there was no way I’d be able to handle it – it’s one of the richest and strongest coffees I’ve ever come across and had me retching and scrubbing at my tongue for minutes afterward.

sarajevo old town

Aside from the coffee, you can’t visit Sarajevo and not try cevapi, considered a national dish in Bosnia – in fact, it’s loved so much in Sarajevo that you’ll see magnets of it in every gift shop!

 

Cevapi consists of rolls of spiced lamb or beef served in a flatbread with a huge pile of chopped raw onion. It’s much better than it sounds and I pretty much lived on this while in Sarajevo, even having it for breakfast.

cevapi in sarajevo

However, I didn’t come to Sarajevo just to eat the food.

While Sarajevo may now be at peace, reminders of its violent past are never too far away.

The siege of Sarajevo in the nineties lasted for nearly four years and killed an estimated 12,000 people.

Subsequently, bullet-ridden buildings are everywhere and holes in the pavement caused by shells and later filled with red resin are scattered throughout the city. These concrete scars are labelled Sarajevo Roses due to the floral-like pattern created in the ground by the explosions.

bullet holes in buildings sarajevo

Like the bullet holes, it’s impossible not to notice the number of cemeteries this city has.

The surrounding hillsides glimmer white in the distance, thousands of gravestones reflecting sunlight during the day and street lights at night. The tombstones carry dates noticeably clustered in the early nineties, many of the victims the same age as me.

There are far too many cemeteries for a city of this size.

Passing through one on our hike up to Yellow Fortress, Dave and I walked in silence among the white stones, stopping occasionally to read an inscription or take a photo. Like most cemeteries, it managed to be beautiful as well as somber; and like other cemeteries in Sarajevo its conspicuous position overlooking the city means that those who were killed will never be forgotten.

cemetery in sarajevo

Reaching Yellow Fortress, which overlooks the entire city, the amount of cemeteries was even more apparent. 

Dangling our feet over the edge, we spent most of the afternoon sunbathing, enjoying the gorgeous view and discussing how viable it would be to live here for a few months.

views over sarajevo 

views over sarajevo

views over sarajevo

I loved my time in Sarajevo and I could have stayed for so much longer.

I think it’s safe to say that Sarajevo is now in my top five cities in Europe and will probably end up being the highlight of my entire Interrail trip.  

 

My trip through Central and Eastern Europe was made possible by the lovely people at Interrailnet.com.

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39 Comments

  1. DebbZie
    October 25, 2012
    Reply

    This is one beautiful city ! I can’t wait to visit it next year and taste their cevapi and coffee :)

    • October 26, 2012
      Reply

      It’s so beautiful! Will you be visiting next year?

  2. Scarlett
    October 25, 2012
    Reply

    This city looks so beautiful – I can’t believe how many graves there are though. Such a heart wrenching reminder of the violence :( (love the sausage wrap-butty though!) xx

    • October 26, 2012
      Reply

      It’s such a beautiful city, I think you’d really like it :)

  3. Lux
    October 25, 2012
    Reply

    The cemeteries should not have been the higlight of your trip to Sarajevo, I personally think that it has to offer much more than its war history.

    • October 26, 2012
      Reply

      Hi Lux,

      I didn’t once say that the cemeteries were a highlight of the trip. In fact, I said “These days, Sarajevo can offer so much more than just bullets and bombings and there are so many things to love about this city.”!

  4. Sarajevan
    October 25, 2012
    Reply

    ”Below is Sarajevo Cathedral, which is often used as a symbol of the city, its towers the main feature on the flag of Sarajevo.”

    Although The Cathedral is one of the symbols of the city, it’s towers are NOT what you see on the flag of Sarajevo, those are bridge towers ;)

    Glad you enjoyed our town, spread the word and come again :)

    • October 26, 2012
      Reply

      Hahaha, whoops — I nearly deleted that line too! Corrected now :)

      And thank you, I’ll definitely be revisiting :)

  5. Sarajevo girl
    October 25, 2012
    Reply

    Dear Lauren,

    as you can see your text was translated and published on a very wide read website in B&H.

    Thank you for so many beautiful words about my hometown.

    You are welcome again, any time :)

    Best,

    • October 26, 2012
      Reply

      Wow, that’s amazing! Thank you so much for letting me know!

  6. Amanda
    October 26, 2012
    Reply

    It looks beautiful, and the history is really fascinating. I definitely need to make it here the next time I’m in that part of Europe!

    • Lauren
      October 29, 2012
      Reply

      Yes, you do! I think you’d really like Sarajevo! :)

  7. Juliann
    October 26, 2012
    Reply

    I can’t say that I’ve ever imagined what Sarajevo might be like. It’s beautiful. Not what I would have pictured. Your photos made me think that I’d like to spend some time there to. It’s inviting, somehow, isn’t it?

    • Lauren
      October 29, 2012
      Reply

      I know! I had no idea what to expect before I arrived but was really surprised by how beautiful the city was.

  8. Lauren H. of Sobremesa In Spain
    October 26, 2012
    Reply

    It’s so nice to let travel remind of us of the bigger things that happened in history. I’ve gone years, at least since 2004, thinking that Franz Ferdinand was only the name of a UK rock band. Thanks for proving me wrong Lauren! Have a blast on the rest of the Interrail.

  9. Sarah
    October 26, 2012
    Reply

    Sarajevo looks amazing! I have been to Mostar too, but am definitely inspired now to visit the capital.

    • Lauren
      October 29, 2012
      Reply

      I visited Mostar last year and Sarajevo is SO different! Mostar had a few too many tourists for my liking :)

  10. Steve
    October 27, 2012
    Reply

    Despite that not-so-good history, Sarajevo, I think, has improved into better place or even a tourist destination. It’s very striking that Sarajevo can offer so much more than just bullets and bombings and there are so many things to love about this city. I couldn’t agree more!

  11. Thanks for bringing me back to Sarajevo :) Not only is it a beautiful city, but the people are extremely friendly too!

  12. Alex Smith
    October 27, 2012
    Reply

    Now, that mouthwatering Saravejo dish had me hooked. How much did it cost you to buy one?

    And in a scale of 1-10, how good is it? :)

  13. October 27, 2012
    Reply

    Coffee and cevapi. Both look and sound amazing!

  14. Elle of Solo Female Nomad
    October 27, 2012
    Reply

    Thanks for putting Sarajevo on the travel map for me – it looks beautiful. However, I think its the cevapi thats really pulling me!! Yum!

  15. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy
    October 27, 2012
    Reply

    Seeing the bullet holes in buildings really puts this city’s history in perspective. It’s nice to see that it seems to be rebounding and has a bright future.

  16. Jade - OurOyster.com
    October 29, 2012
    Reply

    I’ve wanted to go to the Balkins for quite some time now – very jealous!

  17. Gayla LaBry
    November 1, 2012
    Reply

    I’d love to go to Sarajevo for the coffee experience alone, but the beauty of your photos and the history of the city and its people are a big draw. Thanks for an insightful post about the rebirth, so to speak, of the city.

  18. November 3, 2012
    Reply

    That whole part of Europe really intrigues me, and I’d love to visit and learn more. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed your time there!

    • March 14, 2013
      Reply

      I think you’d really like Sarajevo, Ali. And you’re so close too so there’s no excuses not to visit!

  19. Amanda
    March 14, 2013
    Reply

    Any recommendations for a hostel in Sarajevo? Maybe a hostel with organised activities? Female travelling on my own :) Thanks

    • March 14, 2013
      Reply

      Hi Amanda!

      I stayed at Hostelmills Sarajevo. It was pretty good, we liked it a lot. They had tours available… but I don’t think there were any dorms so unless you want a private room maybe not so good? :)

  20. October 6, 2013
    Reply

    I loved Mostar when I went this summer and am kicking myself for not seeing more of Bosnia. Sarajevo is definitely high up my European hitlist after reading this – shame it’s such a pain to get to.

    • October 7, 2013
      Reply

      I found Sarajevo to be quite easy to get to. Mostar is great too, though! :-) I’d like to see more of the country too.

  21. Raffaella
    December 3, 2013
    Reply

    I hope I can make it there before it becomes the next Prague or Dubrovnik; love the beautiful towns and important history.

    • December 10, 2013
      Reply

      I hope so too. It’s a wonderful city!

  22. July 28, 2017
    Reply

    The country where I was born and lived for 9 years, Bosnia! I’m happy to see someone else enjoy chevapi, I’m a huge huge fan. It’s one of those foods I consider my weakness. Thank you for writing this post, I’ve enjoyed reading it immensely. Btw, love your blog!

    • July 28, 2017
      Reply

      Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed the post :-)

  23. Claire
    April 18, 2019
    Reply

    Did you get a direct train from Zagred to Sarajevo? I’m currently planning a eurotrip and having issues finding a way between then both.

    Love your blog!

  24. Deshawny Jones
    May 15, 2019
    Reply

    How about settling down with a good man and having babies before your eggs are stale? Travel won’t keep you company when you’re 60, if you make it there.

    • May 15, 2019
      Reply

      How about not being a dick to a complete stranger on the internet? You realise not everybody is straight, right? You realise also that lots of women deal with fertility problems?

      And for what it’s worth, I can’t travel anymore because I suffer from an excruciating autoimmune disease. But thanks for trying to make me feel like shit.

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