The whole world was shocked when Mostar’s famous bridge was blown up in November 1993. Stari Most, the Old Bridge was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century and is considered one of the finest pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. War is not only about harming the “enemy” physically, but also its cultural and social fabric. The destruction of the Buddha statues in Bayan in Afghanistan is another horrid example.
Travnik was the capital of the Ottoman Empire for 150 years. This is one of the reasons why this scenic small town has so much to offer. The 16th century castle is the best place to get a view of Travnik, the quaint houses, the 19 minarets, all embedded in gentle hills. Not many cities can pride themselves of having a river starting its journey into the world from the very heart of town. It is also the home of Bosnia’s most famous writer, Ivo Andric. All in all, Travnik is a place where I felt at home, where I ate the best Ćevapčići and where I finally overdosed on this diet.
The receptionist of my hotel asked whether I had heard of Idlidza, it was where locals would go on a sunny weekend like this. No, I had not. I looked it up: a spa town outside of Sarajevo and the place where the Bosna River merges from a rock, simply take tram Nr 3. Seemed easy enough.
My visit of Srebrenica in March 2017 was an emotional rollercoaster ride. Nothing prepares you for facing over 8000 tombstones, one for each Muslim boy and man killed during a few days in July 2015. Srebrenica, this small Bosnian town, has since then become a synonym for genocide, for the single largest massacre to take place on the European continent since World War II. The same day brought incredible kindness from locals and a humorous run-in with an Austrian countryman.
Traveling those wo weeks in Bosnia I have the chance to meet local journalists, NGOs workers and of course my hosts were a valuable sources of information.
In Sarajevo cemeteries are everywhere, the patches of white pillars clinging onto the hills can be seen from afar. I have been fascinated with cemeteries since I can remember. The tranquility is one reason that, another one is the history they tell. In Argentina I once found the overgrown grave of an Austrian in the ruins of a deserted Jesuit mission.
Sarajevo – the Jerusalem of Europe – churches and synagogues all squeezed into the tiny center of Sarajevo are witnesses to the turbulent history of what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina. Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain had their synagogues built and so had their Ashkenazi brothers. Ottoman rule lasted till the beginning of the 20th century and then the very catholic Habsburg annexed the area. Religious and secular architecture alike reveal the varies rulership that Sarajevo suffered from and strived.
Considering the century-long multiculturalism that defined Sarajevo, it is hard to imagine how Bosnia was drawn into the atrocious war (1992-95) that meant the final disintegration of Yugoslavia. A war where once friendly neighbors turned against each other and that resulted in the genocide in Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo. The Tunnel of Hope, Sniper Alley or the grave of Sarajevo’s Romeo and Juliet are now part of tourists’ itineraries. Being a history buff I was particularly eager to see them all.