Sarajevo Farewell and Isa-begov Hamam

Isa Begov Hamam Hotel – Getaroom India

I spent my last day in Sarajevo walking around enjoying the beautiful city. Late afternoon I had a hamam at Isa Beg Hamam Hotel in the Bistrik neighborhood. The process was invigorating but different from Turkish hamams I’ve experienced.

Isa Begov Hamam Entrance to Stone Sitting Area

Isa Beg Hamam Process

The hamam had a large Jacuzzi and steam room divided by a warm stone sitting area. Before the bath process began, I loosened up by going back and forth between the Jacuzzi and steam room. There was no göbek taşı – a central, raised marble platform above the heating source or “kurna stone”. Laying on the göbek taşı is the first step in most Turkish hamams. It’s meditative and special, especially if you’re looking up at a beautiful dome.

Jacuzzi Isa Begov Hamam – Destination Sarajevo

The thorough bath process included four different washings, scrubbings, and exfoliation. At the end I was literally squeaky clean! After the scrubbing I had an aromatherapy massage with rosemary and rose oil.

Steam Room Isa Begov Hamam Hotel – A-HOTEL.com

Hamam has been the “meaning of clean” through history. The old Arabic word means the “spreader of warmth” and dates back to ancient Rome.

Isa-begov Hamam Sarajevo – sarajevo.co.ba

Isa-beg Ishakovic – BNN.ba

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The main idea of the hamam is “using steam and hot water to cleanse and relax the body”.

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Sarajevo Old Town Flags Bosnian Independence Day March 1

Šeher Ćehaja Bridge Sarajevo

Depending on the culture, hamams have different structures. Earlier blog posts describe the Turkish bath process I experienced in Istanbul and Cappadocia.

Pomegranate Juice Stand

Sarajevo from Mt. Trebević

Hamams consist of three parts. The first step is heating your body and relaxing. The second part is opening your pores and sweating. After these steps, the “tellak” (masseuse) massages and washes you vigorously with a traditional olive paste soap and thin cloth. Bowls of water poured over the body wash away the dead skin cells.

Mostar Bridge

Jajce Waterfall

The next step is an “intensive scrubbing with a rough mitten called a kese” followed by another extensive rinse with alternating hot and cold water. My tellak was a Bosnian woman who spoke little English but enough to tell me she had a degree in physical therapy, a common occupation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Latin Bridge Sarajevo – Wikimedia Commons

The whole process lasted 3 hours leaving me rejuvenated but feeling like rubber. The cost, including a 60-minute massage, was $50.

Travnik Bridge

History Isa Beg Hamam

Isa Beg Hamam is Sarajevo’s first and oldest bath. It has over 500 years of history and was an old Waqf building donated by Isa-beg Ishakovic. His family came from Saruhan in western Turkey. In the first half of the 15th century the Ishakovic family “played a significant role in Macedonia, Serbia, and Bosnia”.

Abandoned Building Near Isa Beg Hamam Hotel

Sarajevo City Hall Vijećnica – Sarajevo Times

Isa-beg Ishakovic built the Sarajevo hamam in 1462 during the era of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The building is of “great importance and symbolizes the transition between the rule of the Bosnian Kingdom and Ottoman Empire”.

Kriva Ćuprija Bridge Mostar

Lašva River Travnik

Isa-beg Ishakovic

Isa-beg Ishakovic – known as the “founder of Sarajevo” – was a successful Ottoman General and the Beg (Governor) of Bosna Sandzak. He’s credited with Sarajevo’s urbanization and creating many “magnificent buildings”.

Orthodox Congregational Church of the Holy Mother Old Town Sarajevo

Mt. Trebević Balkan Vista

Isa Beg Hamam is next to Careva (Sultan’s) Mosque which Ishakovic founded and gifted to the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The Mosque and hamam were built at the same time.

Careva Mosque Bistrik Sarajevo

Sarajevo Old Town Clock Tower and Mosque

Damage During the War

The Hamam suffered serious damage during the war 1992-1995. After renovation by architect Ferhad Mulabegovic it became the Isa Begov Hamam Boutique Hotel. The hotel is protected and preserved as an important cultural heritage icon.

Modern Art Sarajevo

I’ll miss Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sarajevo – a special place! Photo memories are attached. More later from Belgrade Serbia.

Old Town Building

Sacred Heart Cathedral

Sarajevo Cable Car and War Bunker

View from Mt. Trebević Cable Car – Monocle

This week I explored new areas of Sarajevo mostly on foot. Sarajevo’s famous cable car (Sarajevska Žičara) was on my list, but I didn’t do much research before the ride. It’s the fast way up Mt. Trebević to popular recreational areas and favorite picnic spots of locals escaping the city. Riding the cable car made me think of alpine skiing which I miss but so far have not tried in Europe.

Houses from Mt. Trebević Cable Car

Mt. Trebević Cable Car

The cable car base station is on Hrvatin Street in Bistrik, one of several neighborhoods on the mountain’s northern slopes. It’s a short uphill walk from Old Town, Latin Bridge, and Obala Kulina Bana along the Miljacka River. A round-trip ticket is $12 with tourists paying four times more than locals. It costs extra for bicycles and pets. The new system has 33 cable cars accommodating a total of 1,200 people. 

Trebević Cable Car – Dijspora.tv

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Mt. Trebević became a “deadly sniper position on the frontline”.

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Trebević Cable Cars – Sarajevo Travel

I shared a gondola with three fun German guys from Hanover. One of them pointed to a village below where his grandmother had lived during the siege. As we worked our way up the mountain, the area along the lift line was full of ice, snow, and protruding rocks.

Trebević Cable Car – Balkan Insight

Before the 1990s Siege of Sarajevo millions of passengers rode the cable car. Built in 1959, it was one of the “most recognizable symbols of Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Sadly, it was destroyed during the early days of the war, and Mt. Trebević became a “deadly sniper position on the frontline”.

Inside Sarajevska Žičara

Mt. Trebević – Lungs of Sarajevo

With its fabulous panoramic views and fresh mountain air, Trebević is known as the “lungs of Sarajevo”. I’ve explored a few of the lower hiking trails but in winter the upper ones have snow and ice and are difficult to transverse on foot.

Mt. Trebević Vista

Like everything in Sarajevo, the war had a devastating effect on Mt. Trebević. Shortly after Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence in 1992, a guard on the old Trebević gondola, Ramo Biber, became the first victim of the war. “The Serb-dominated Yugoslav army shot him dead as they began a campaign to encircle Sarajevo and capture key strategic positions.” The 1,425-day Siege of Sarajevo began four weeks later and became the “longest blockade of a capital city in modern history”.

Makeshift Homemade Rifle

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Ramo Biber, the guard on the Trebević gondola, was the first war victim. The Yugoslav Army shot him dead as they began encircling Sarajevo…

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Mini Snowman Mt. Trebević

Front Line Sniper Position

“Hundreds of mortars and countless bullets rained down on Sarajevo from Mt. Trebević, killing a large proportion of the 11,541 people slain during the war. Gunfire was a part of daily life for more than three years.”

Mt. Trebević Vista

In 1995, NATO intervened by bombing artillery encampments on Mt. Trebević forcing the Bosnian Serbs into retreat. The Dayton Peace Agreement followed. The nation was “split along ethnic lines with two autonomous entities – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska“.

Inside Mt. Trebević War Bunker

The boundary line between the two entities “skirts the mountain”. Disagreements between the Federation and Republic on redevelopment “turned Mt. Trebević into a ghost town”. The remains of destroyed houses, restaurants, hotels, sports facilities, and mountain huts “were left to rot”.

Cable Car Ticket

After the war, the arduous process of clearing thousands of landmines moved slowly. Bandits “roamed the hills attacking tourists visiting the bobsleigh tracks”.

Cable Car Entrance Hrvatin Street Bistrik

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“With death hot on their heels people sprinted from one side of Sniper Alley to the other to deliver supplies to family and friends.”

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Top of Mt. Trebević

Reconstruction

Rebuilding the “cable car wasn’t a top priority”. Sarajevans drifted away from a troubled mountain divided between two entities and strewn with dangerous landmines.

Inside Mt. Trebević War Bunker

Over the years, Sarajevans slowly returned to their “favorite excursion site”. An “awareness that the cable car could be renovated” began to grow. After 25 years, renovation was complete and the cable car began running again on April 6, 2018.

War Bunker Makeshift Radio

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“PAZITE SNAJPER! – Beware Sniper warning signs appeared along Sniper Alley – the name for Sarajevo streets exposed to marksmen looking through telescopic sights from the top of Mt. Trebević.”

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Mt. Trebević Snipers – Kurir

Reconstruction of the cable car may be a final step in the restoration process. Despite frustration that it took so long, there’s a sense of optimism with the reopening of access to beloved Mt. Trebević.

Village Water Supply During Siege Mt. Trebević

March 1 was Bosnia-Herzegovina Independence Day. It was only observed by half of the country – the Bosniak-Croat-dominated entity called the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the other half, the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, March 1 was an ordinary working day.

Bunker Map of Encircled Siege Territory Mt. Trebević

For a few days before and after the March 1 holiday, police patrolled the area near my apartment along the Miljacka River. Since I wasn’t certain of the right spot to turn off toward the cable car, I asked a machine-gun-carrying policeman for directions. He didn’t speak English, so I pointed toward the mountain and said, “cable car”. He gave me a slightly funny look – now I understand why… Of course I should have asked for directions to “Sarajevska Žičara” :o(. He may have been too young to have experienced the snipers first hand, but I’m sure their parents had a tale or two to share!

PAZITE SNAJPER Sign – haber.ba

Views from the cable car are great but the outing was somewhat disappointing. Unless you have skis, hiking up and down the mountain is better than riding the cable car, and summer is definitely a better time of year. Interesting hikes include remnants of the Olympic bobsled and luge trackPrvi Šumar recreational area, and the Observatory (Čolina Kapa), formerly Bistrik Kula, an Austro-Hungarian fortification.

Map of Mt. Trebević Hiking Trails

War Bunker and Museum

As I walked back down to Sarajevo Old Town, I saw a makeshift sign for a “War Museum” and stopped to check it out. It was an amazing emotional experience. The man leading tours had lived through the siege with his wife and six-month-old son.

Mortar Shells and Landmines from the Siege

The museum was an underground bunker exactly like those used during Siege bombings. He described what it was like living in an overcrowded bunker without electricity, food, plumbing, or water. Despite great obstacles and the tragic deaths and injuries of friends and family, somehow, they survived. They used innovative methods to protect themselves, communicate, and get food, water, and the other essentials needed to survive. Their life was difficult and certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Trebević Mortar Shells

My photos aren’t great but they give an idea of what the bunker looked like inside. It contained mortar shell remnants and other items from the war. On a mountain full of booby traps and landmines, it’s amazing that these brave people survived!!

Trebević Landmine – Swissinfo

Barber of Seville and Lady of the Camellias Sarajevo

Boston Ballet – BosGuy

The Barber of SevilleCancelled

Sarajevo’s Opera and Philharmonic were set to perform The Barber of Seville on Tuesday night. Written by Italian composer Gioachino Rossini the popular comic opera first appeared in Sarajevo in 1948 with repeat performances over the years.

Co-produced with the Italian Embassy the opera is based on a play by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais. The performance got cancelled with short notice when the lead vocalist developed laryngitis.

Marie Duplessis Alexandre Dumas’ Lover – Kinuko Y. Craft

The Lady of the Camellias Ballet – aka Camille

Thursday night Sarajevo Ballet performed The Lady of the Camellias at the National Theater. Written by American choreographer and producer John Neumeier the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied the ballet with choreography by Russian Vasili Medvedev and Frédéric Chopin’s music.

Background and Plot

John Neumeier’s ballet is based on Alexandre Dumas’ novel La Dame aux Camellias written in 1848. In 1852 a play of the same name premiered in Paris and was “an instant success”. Giuseppe Verdi put Dumas’ tragic story to music creating the opera La Traviata, with female protagonist Marguerite Gautier renamed Violetta Valéry.

Italian Composer Giacomo Puccini – rhinegold.co.uk

Inspired by Verdi’s La Traviata, in 1978 Neumeier created a ballet using the same tragic theme with music by Frederic Chopin. His ballet is the story of a couple who meet in Paris at a performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. This is significant because Manon Lescaut characters are similar to those in Neumeier’s ballet.

Armand and Marguerite The Lady of the Camellias – Ooppera Baletti

The title role, Marguerite Gautier, is based on Marie Duplessis, the real-life lover of Alexandre Dumas. Set in mid-19th-century France, it’s a tragic love story between fictional characters. The female protagonist, Marguerite, is a famous rococo courtesan with terminal consumption. Armand Duval, a young bourgeois aristocrat, meets her in Paris and falls in love.

La Dame aux Carmelias Poster – Pictorem.com

Prologue

The ballet takes place after Marguerite’s death at an auction of the furnishings in her “luxurious Paris apartment”. The story evolves as a “series of memories” recalled by several people:

  • Nanina – Marguerite’s loyal servant
  • Armand Duval – Marguerite’s lover
  • Monsieur Duval – Armand’s father

Vasily Medvedev Russian Choreographer

Act I

Carrying Marguerite’s diary, Nanina says farewell to the Paris apartment. Among those at the auction is Monsieur Duval, whose son Armand “rushes in frantically overcome by his memories and emotions”. Armand tells his story about meeting Marguerite in Paris at a performance of Manon Lescaut and falling in love with her

Sarajevo National Theatre – Wikimedia

Aware of her fatal illness Marguerite needs the comforts of luxury provided by wealthy Dukes and Counts. She’s attracted to Armand and they enjoy a “series of adventures” in and around Paris. For the benefit of her other admirers Marguerite “insists their affair remain secret”.

Frédéric Chopin Polish Composer and Pianist – WRTI

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“While Marguerite continues her hectic life, hastening from ball to ball, from one ardent admirer to the next, from an old Duke to a young Count, Armand is always there — waiting for her.”

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Sarajevo Ballet Cast

Act II

As time passes Marguerite acknowledges her love for Armand. They move to the countryside and are finally together while she regains her health.

Monsieur Duval visits Marguerite to insist that living with a prostitute will “ruin his son”. Marguerite protests but realizes the truth of Monsieur Duval’s accusations. She “gives in to his demands and out of deep and sincere love” leaves Armand.

Alexandre Dumas French Writer – Smithsonian American Art Museum

Unbelieving, Armand follows Marguerite to Paris and finds her in the arms of the Duke. He takes revenge by flirting with a beautiful young courtesan, Olympia.

“Deathly ill, Marguerite visits Armand begging him not to hurt her by flaunting his affair with Olympia. Their passion ignites once more, but she remembers her promise to his father and leaves Armand a second time.”

Armand publicly humiliates Marguerite at a grand ball, by handing her money as payment for past services. She collapses.

John Neumeier American Choreographer, Dancer, Director – Nationale Opera and Ballet

Epilogue

Armand reaches the end of his story. Rejected because of her past, his beloved Marguerite dies alone. He will never see her again. Deeply moved, Armand’s father leaves. Marguerite’s servant Nanina approaches and gives Armand the diary containing Marguerite’s last thoughts of love for him.

The theme and characters from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut – where Armand and Marguerite first met in Paris – are ironically similar. The main character dies in the arms of her faithful lover. Armand silently closes Marguerite’s diary.

Italian Composer Giuseppe Verdi – Giovanni Boldini WQXR

It was a lovely ballet and all seats in the house were sold. The set, costumes, and symphony were exquisite. Talented dancers shined while performing difficult choreography and the audience clearly appreciated them. Throughout the evening I detected many Italian and Russian accents. There was no printed program listing names of the dancers, and photos were not allowed.

Symphony, ballet, and opera performances in Sarajevo are inexpensive. I paid about $10 for a great seat at this performance.

Bosnian Coffee

Kahveni Takum or Bosnian Coffee Set

Bosnian coffee is “part of Bosnian and Herzegovinian culture and national identity”. A big deal, it’s a tradition and social ritual. Preparing Bosnian coffee isn’t as easy as using a French press or drip machine or making espresso. At first, I was clueless and asked my landlord if there was a French press coffee maker for the kitchen. The response was a slightly offended “no”, followed by a funny look.

I bought the powdery local coffee – no other choice – measured a teaspoon, put it in a cup, added boiling water, stirred, and it was awful! I mentioned this to a Bosnian who seemed approachable on the subject. He lifted his eyebrow, stared at me in disbelief, and explained the complicated process of making “proper” Bosnian coffee!

Ground Bosnian Coffee – visitbih.ba

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“In a country under foreign rule for centuries, with the atrocities of war still fresh in the collective memory, national identity gains new importance. Coffee is part of  BosniaHerzegovina’s identity.”

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Rahat Lokumi Početna – GA-ME-HA

Making Bosnian Coffee

This is how to make Bosnian coffee:

  • Boil water in a small pot – šerbetnjak.
  • Put 2-3 teaspoons of Bosnian coffee in a copper-plated pot – džezva.
  • Heat the dry coffee on a hot stove for a few seconds.
  • Pour boiling water into the džezva but not all the way to the rim.
  • Stir and let it settle for a few seconds.
  • Place the džezva back on a hot stove until it boils (rises but doesn’t spill over).
  • Remove the džezva from the heat when a mousse-like foam appears on top.
  • Let the foam settle and repeat the process.
  • Scoop up the foam.
  • Pour the coffee into a tiny cup – fildžani.
  • Add the scooped up foam on top.
  • Take a sip of water and place a bite from a sugar cube under your tongue.
  • Sip your hot coffee and enjoy!

You don’t have to use a fancy copper džezva and cups but you must follow the steps precisely. One thing you should never, ever do is order “Turkish” coffee in Bosnia-Herzegovina! The two are not the same. It’s a different process.

Bosnian Coffee Utensils

“Bosnian coffee is served in a full džezva (which holds three cups of coffee) placed on a round copper tray with a ceramic cup, a glass of cold water, a dish of sugar cubes, and sometimes rahat lokum, Bosnian candy that foreigners call Turkish delight.

Bosnian Coffee Presentation

There are advantages to serving coffee in a džezva. The sludge of unfiltered coffee that forms in the bottom remains in the pot instead of your cup. This “decreases the chances of an amateur drinker ending up with a mouthful of grit” :o(. Copper-plated džezvas keep coffee hot a long time – important because “while a cup of Bosnian coffee might be small, it’s also very strong” and better when sipped slowly.

Bosnian Coffee – SaveMoney.es

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Bosnians sit for hours drinking coffee, making conversation with their companions, and enjoying the small things in life.

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Rahat Lokum Orah Vizual – DAN.ba

A complete Bosnian coffee set is called a kahveni takum and includes a tabla (copper tray) with a džezva (pot with a handle for boiling the coffee), šećerluk (container for sugar and Turkish Delight), and fildžani (demitasse cup without handles).

Bosnian Coffee – CoinaPhoto

Drinking Coffee Throughout the Day

Morning coffee – razgalica – is made strong enough to refresh and wake you up. At some point later in the morning but before afternoon coffee, there’s razgovoruša, coffee drinking to encourage socializing and conversation.

Bosnian Coffee – visitmycountry.net

Šutkuša is coffee enjoyed in the peace and quiet of early evening. Dočekuša is coffee for entertaining guests. Sikteruša is very strong coffee given as a “subtle hint that it’s time to wrap up the socializing and guests should take their leave”!

Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra

Toshio Yanagisawa Conductor and Boštjan Lipovšek Horn Soloist

Last Thursday I attended a Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra performance at the National Theatre – literally around the corner from my apartment. The Philharmonic is more active in summer, so it was lucky finding this special winter performance. Samra Gulamović, a native of Sarajevo, is the orchestra’s principal conductor. Toshio Yanagisawa was guest conductor with Boštjan Lipovšek as horn soloist.

History Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra

Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra is the first professionally organized symphonic orchestra in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The orchestra is “rooted in ensembles established during Austro-Hungarian rule”. Created in 1923, it’s a “significant pillar of music culture for Sarajevo and the Bosnian region”.

National Theatre Sarajevo – visistmycountry.net

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“Counting decades in an environment where social developments ruthlessly affected cultural circumstances, the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra repeatedly reprinted the pages of its history.”

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Samra Gulamović Principal Conductor Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra – Spettacoli

During World War II 1941-1945, the Sarajevo Philharmonic stopped working. In 1948 the orchestra resumed its activities and pursued several goals:

  • Perform symphonic music by national and international authors
  • Encourage new symphonic works
  • Raise the quality of performances
  • Satisfy the cultural needs of citizens
  • Support institutions developing music culture

Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra – Uroš Lajovic

Beginning in 1992 the Bosnian War and Siege of Sarajevo destroyed much that was built during the previous decade. The Sarajevo Philharmonic “suffered great material and human losses and stopped performing for two years”.

Zubin Mehta Conductor – thenationall.ae

A “turning point for the Philharmonic” was a concert in 1994 conducted by Indian maestro Zubin Mehta. The orchestra performed Mozart’s Requiem in the bombed remains of Sarajevo’s City Hall.

City Hall After Siege of Sarajevo – Wikipedia

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The Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra will celebrate its 97th anniversary in 2020.

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Boštjan Lipovšek French Horn

February 21st Performance

The evening included brilliant music and interesting company!  It was my first time inside the National Theater, a small but spectacular hall! The performance sold out.

Sarajevo National Theatre

Japanese guest conductor Toshio Yanagisawa led the orchestra. The horn soloist was Slovenian Boštjan Lipovšek. This was the program:

Chandelier National Theatre Sarajevo – visistmycountry.net

Toshio Yanagisawa Guest Conductor

Born in 1971, Toshio Yanagisawa studied conducting at Ecole Normal de Musique in Paris. He has conducted throughout Japan, Europe, and the US including Tokyo, Osaka, Kosovo, Macedonia, Vienna, Geneva, and New York. Yanagisawa is Music Director of the Balkan Chamber Orchestra, Chief Conductor Kosovo Philharmonic Orchestra, Honored Principal Conductor Beograd Sinfonietta, and Principal Guest Conductor Serbia Nis Symphony Orchestra. He’s a fantastic, humble conductor, always deferring applause to the soloist and orchestra.

Toshio Yanagisawa Conductor

Boštjan Lipovšek Horn Soloist

Boštjan Lipovšek comes from a “Slovenian musical family of horn players”. He graduated from Ljubljana’s Music Academy and attended the Salzburg Mozarteum. As a soloist he’s received many awards and played with the Slovene Philharmonic Orchestra, Maribor Philharmonics, Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonic Orchestra from Udine, Chamber Orchestra Padova e Veneto, Jeunesses Musicales World Orchestra, La Monnaie Opera House Brussels, Berlin Symphony Orchestra, and Mahler Chamber Orchestra. He teaches at Music Academies in Ljubljana and Zagreb.

Toshio Yanagisawa Conductor

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On June 19, 1994 Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra performed Mozart’s Requiem in the ruins of  City Hall.

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Boštjan Lipovšek Horn Soloist

The atmosphere and music were spectacular. Sarajevo’s Philharmonic ended with an exceptional performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5! Opera and ballet performances are on the February schedule, so I will visit the National Theater again.

Travnik and Jajce Central Bosnia-Herzegovina

Jajce Pliva Waterfall Bosnia-Herzegovina

Wednesday was another warm, beautiful day in Sarajevo. We’ve had a run of “false spring” weather – perfect for a tour of Travnik and Jajce in Central Bosnia-Herzegovina. The two towns are historically significant and known for their national monuments.

Map Central Bosnia-Herzegovina

Travnik Clock Tower

Again, the group was small – me, Kathryn from Frankfurt, and Samir our Meet Bosnia guide. A native and former history professor, Samir was a phenomenal guide!

Travnik from Medieval Fortress

Kathryn is traveling with the German team for Sarajevo’s 2019 European Youth Olympics Festival (EYOF) held February 9 – 16. The EYOF is the largest sport festival for young athletes between 14 and 18. It’s organized by the European Olympic Committee and occurs every two years in Sarajevo. After the competition she decided to stay on for a few days to explore Sarajevo and nearby areas.

Fortress Stari Grad Travnik – visitmycountry.net

Lašva River Valley, Travnik, Ethnic Cleansing

Travnik is part of the Lašva River Valley surrounded by two mountains – Vlašić to the north and Vilenica in the south. Both mountains have great hiking trails. As we headed west through a valley shrouded in fog, Samir adjusted the route to improve visibility.

Travnik Tree

For years Travnik was known as the Vizier City and “capital of the Eyalet of Bosnia”. In the Ottoman Empire the powerful Grand Vizier was the Sultan’s prime minister.

Vlašić Mountain – Feel Bosnia

Ethnic Cleansing

Lašva Valley is the area where horrible ethnic cleansing crimes occurred during the Bosnian War 1992-1995. Although Samir was a child then, he told us about the torture and imprisonment of his father and grandfather who witnessed the horrific murder of most people in their village. They both survived.

Samir and Kathryn Travnik Medieval Fortress

On a lighter note, Travnik is the best preserved city from Ottoman times. It has protected cultural and historical buildings and is the birth place of Yugoslav novelist, poet, and short story writer Ivo Andrić. Andrić won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. His Bosnian Trilogy includes – The Woman from Sarajevo, Bosnian Chronicle, and The Bridge on the Drina. Later a collection of his short stories Tales of Sarajevo was published. They present a “comprehensive picture of Sarajevo during the turbulence in 1878, social turmoil of 1906, and WW II violence and destruction 1939-1945“.

View Restaurant – Konoba Plava Voda Travnik

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“Ivo Andric’s masterwork is imbued with the richness and complexity of a region that has brought so much tragedy to our century and known so little peace.”

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Travnik Sulejmanija Mosque

Along the way we passed mountains, valleys, farms, rivers, and traditional Bosnian houses. Many of them were damaged or abandoned.

Travnik from Medieval Fortress

Plava Voda River

Travnik is known for its small river Plava Voda (blue water). The source runs right through the center of town. We ate uštipci – a doughnut-like pastry – and sampled Travnik or Vlašićki cheese made in the nearby mountains. On the way back to Sarajevo we enjoyed a leisurely lunch of traditional Bosnian food at Konoba Plava Voda, a riverside restaurant.

Najbrži Uštipci

Travnik (Vlašićki) Cheese – Turisttotal

Stari Grad Medieval Fortress

Stari Grad Fortress is Travnik’s most significant historical landmark. We climbed to the top marveling at views of the valley and villages from the 15th century Ottoman period. Some historic buildings in the fortress include Sulejmanija Mosque, Our Lady Vrilo Jesuit grammar school, and Elči Ibrahim-Pasha madrassa which is still used today. There are two 18th century clock towers and a sundial.

Jajce

After Travnik we continued to Jajce, the capital of the Kingdom of Bosnia – a medieval “city of stone, light, and water”. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site candidate. The fortress, castle, and open air museum are on the banks of the brisk Pliva and Vrbas Rivers – a significant source of hydropower in the area.

Jajce Fortress – elenarts.ch

Waterfall, Fortress, Catacombs

Jajce Waterfall appears at the point where the “Pliva River tumbles abruptly into the Vrbas”. The formidable waterfall dominates Jajce Old Town.

Jajce Pliva Waterfall

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“In one glance, Jajce Fortress “captures the architecture of four empires – Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, three kingdoms – Bosnian, Hungarian, Yugoslav, and three world monotheistic religions – Christianity (Orthodoxy and Catholicism), Islam, Judaism.”

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Pliva Lakes – Come Enjoy Bosnia

During the 14th century, a Bosnian duke built catacombs in the fortress as a “last residence” for his family. In 1943 Josip Broz Tito hid there. During 1945, the conference establishing the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was held in the catacombs. The Commission for the Protection of National Monuments of Bosnia-Herzegovina registered the catacombs as a national monument in 2003.

Jajce Catacombs – Bosnia-Herzegovina

Traditional Bosnian Architecture – Alterural

Pliva Lakes and Watermills

Pliva Lakes and Watermills are near Jajce. They’re a popular picnic spot and great for fishing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, volleyball, biking, and hiking. During the Middle Ages the watermills provided power for grinding seeds and grain to produce flour. In 2009 they were declared National Monuments of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Church of St. Mary or the Sultan Suleyman II Mosque

Another important national monument is the Church of St. Mary or the Sultan Suleyman II Mosque, considered Jajce’s “symbol of coexistence”. It burned in the mid-19th century. Today only the stone walls remain.

Symbol of Coexistence Church of St. Mary or the Sultan Suleyman II Mosque – Sarajevo Times

Throughout history it was used as both church and mosque. There are “visible reminders of different religions within the church”. The Bell Tower of St. Luke is on the northeast side of the church walls. It represents the “only surviving medieval bell tower in the continental Balkans”. In 1892, the Austro-Hungarian government declared the church and bell tower cultural heritage icons.

Jajce Historical St. Mary Church Ruins and St. Luke Bell Tower

At the end of the day we drove back to Sarajevo reflecting on the history and nature of Travnik and Jajce. I’m still processing the outing. Of course the longer you remain in a country the better you understand and appreciate its history and culture. I plan to stay in Sarajevo until early March.

Bosnian Chronicle Ivo Andric

The Bridge on the Drina Ivo Andric

The Woman from Sarajevo Ivo Andric

Last night I attended a Sarajevo Philharmonic concert at the National Theater. It was a fantastic experience!

Plava Voda Travnik – ahlanbosna

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“Underneath us in the purple dusk old Sarajevo is sinking more and more, with its buildings of all time and styles, its churches – old and new – synagogues and mosques along which apple trees grow, lean and tall as a minaret… But the veil of dusk, who lives all the more denser, all the more equals them and merges into the unreading story of a common night, which now covers the history, legends, and accomplishments of foreign invaders and domestic small and great tyrants and oligarchies, the movements of the masses, long and complicated accounts and accounts between those who have and not are given by those who have nothing to their needs.”  Ivo Andric

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Pearls of Herzegovina

Blagaj Tekija Sufi Monastery River Buna Pocitelj

Monday the weather was warm and beautiful so I took a long day tour of Herzegovina – 8 am until 9 pm. There were three of us – me, a German tourist from Frankfurt, and Adnan, our Meet Bosnia Guide.

Ducks River Bruna Pocitel

It’s hard to say which places were favorites because everything was exceptional. The main points included:

  • Konjic
  • Jablanica
  • Mostar
  • Blagaj
  • Počitelj 
  • Kravice Falls
  • Wine Cellar Begić

Dome Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

Guides from Meet Bosnia are very good. They’re gracious and provide clear and thorough information. Without taking sides or injecting personal beliefs, our guide filled a few gaps in my understanding of Balkan history and politics – a complicated subject!

Konjic Stone Bridge

Konjic – Stone Bridge, Tito’s Bunker

Our first stop was Konjic’s beautiful Ottoman Stone Bridge on the emerald-green Neretva River. Built in 1682, the bridge was destroyed during World War II, eventually reconstructed, and reopened in 2009. It’s known as a “point where Herzegovina joins Bosnia” and is on the list of National Monuments.

Konjic

Konjic and the Neretva River Canyon are surrounded by spectacular Balkan mountains rich in cobalt, minerals, agriculture, and forests. Although we didn’t visit Tito’s Bunker, our guide provided information about it. Josip Broz Tito, president of The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, built a bunker near Konjic that could “withstand a nuclear attack of 20 – 25 kilotons” – not sure exactly what that means.

Tito’s Nuclear Bunker – Hit Booker Mostar

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Tito’s Bunker was “the biggest secret of former Yugoslavia”. Between 1953 and 1979 it was built under Zlatar Mountain and cost $4.6 billion U.S. dollars!!”

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Hajji Alija Mosque Počitelj

It had eight alternative exits, one hundred rooms, and Tito’s luxurious private residence and office. In case of a nuclear attack it “was to be used by 350 people from Yugoslavia’s political and state leadership”. They could live in the bunker for six months without contact from the outside world.

Sunny View Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque Minaret

I’m pretty sure Tito alone is a whole chapter of Balkan history. Although he looks mean and evil in photos, many of his countrymen consider him “one of the most benevolent dictators in modern history”. He led the Yugoslav partisan forces to liberation from Nazi occupation without help from the Soviet Red Army.

View from Tower Kula Fort Počitelj

After the war, Tito was the unifying figure in his country and led Yugoslavia from 1943 until his death in 1980. He maintained a “highly favorable reputation abroad in both Eastern and Western Cold War blocs”.

Church of St. John the Baptist Konjic

Minaret Steps Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

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“Josip Broz Tito, president of The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, received 98 foreign decorations, including the Légion d’Honneur and Order of Bath.”

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Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque Mostar

Jablanica

“Tucked into the peaks of the Cvrsnica and Prenj Mountains” along the Neretva River, Jablanica has a mild climate between Mediterranean and Continental. It’s a small town known for the destruction of a railway bridge during the Battle of Neretva.

Jablanica Battle Spot Near Neretva Bridge

During WW II, Jablanica was the site of the battle “where Yugoslav Partisans won an unlikely battle against the Axis forces”. Today, the remains of the destroyed bridge are a “symbol of wartime difficulties and sacrifice”.

Battlefield Jablanica

Jablanica Railway Bridge Neretva River Destroyed by Yugoslav Partisans WW II – Wikivoyage

Mostar

This was my second trip to Mostar. The first visit from Dubrovnik wasn’t ideal for many reasons including heavy rain. This time the city at the foot of Velez Mountain was a delightful feast for my eyes! I wrote about Mostar in an earlier blog post but this time really saw the beautiful historic city!

Kravice Waterfalls – earthpron.org

The Old Bridge is Mostar’s most famous attraction. Built by a Turkish builder in 1566  it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We also enjoyed beautiful Kriva Ćuprija, the oldest arch bridge in Mostar.

Mostar’s Old Bazaar Kujundžiluk

Best of all I climbed the minaret of Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, the second largest mosque in Mostar. I’ve always wanted to climb a minaret! The inside was interesting but after climbing the narrow tower, the spectacular panoramas on top were indescribable! Sadly the sun wasn’t at a good angle for photos.

Kriva Ćuprija Arch Bridge Mostar

Kujundžiluk, Mostar’s Old Bazaar looks better in sunshine. Vendors, crafts, cafés, and tourists lined the buzzing cobbled streets.

Mostar Bridge

Blagaj

Blagaj, a “haven of peace and natural harmony”, was a special part of the tour. It’s the location of Tekija – the Sufi Dervish Monastery. Built around 1520, the monastery is an important monument of the early Ottoman period in Bosnia-Herzegovina. On special occasions Dervishes perform rituals there, including Sufi Dhikr (praise to God).

Blagaj Tekija Dervish Monastery

The Blagaj Tekija is on River Buna, cooled by the water and surrounded by spectacular mountain views. It’s easy to understand why visitors enjoy the fresh water, warm sun, and blue skies. It’s truly a peaceful place. You can tour the inside of the monastery.

View Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

We had a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Vrelo on the river bank across from the monastery. Since it’s off-season it wasn’t crowded.

Restoran Vrelo Blagaj

Steps Počitelj Tower

Počitelj

After lunch we headed to Počitelj, a stepped Ottoman-Era Fortress village. It’s a magic place. We climbed the stone steps past medieval houses and pomegranate bushes to Počitelj Fortress. At the top, we scrambled up the narrow tower to unbelievable views across the village and River Neretva!

Neretva River – commons wikimedia.org

The view is “dominated by Hajji Alija’s Mosque, the mekteb (primary school), imaret (kitchen), medresa (high school), hamam (public baths), han (public inn), and sahat-kula (clock-tower)”. The most “dominant residential structure in the village is Gavrakanpetanović House, which has hosted thousands of artists and cultural actors from all over the world at the International Art Colony”. Sadly, many of the artists moved away.

Pocitelj Citadel

Kravice Falls, Trebižat River

Next stop was Kravice Falls on the Trebižat River. Hidden in the Balkans southwest of Mostar, Kravice Falls forms a “natural amphitheater”. For its “amazing beauty and untouched nature, it’s protected by Bosnia-Herzegovina as a natural rarity”. In the summer the waterfalls are a popular swimming hole and picnic area. They’re at their best in early spring.

Wine Cellar Begić

Our last stop was not part of the itinerary but the day had gone so well our guide asked if we’d like to stop by a small family winery – Wine Cellar Begić in Ljubuški Herzegovina on the way back to Sarajevo. We agreed and arrived shortly before sunset.

Winery Spread

It’s a lovely isolated vineyard started by a man who made wine for his family and friends and slowly got involved in the commercial market. Some of their wines are made from plavac mali grapes indigenous to the area. As the winery grows, they plan to expand and add a larger wine cellar and small restaurant. The Plavac Mali is fantastic!

Wine Cellar Begić in Ljubuški Herzegovina – wine-cellar-begic.com

We went on a tour of the grounds and wine cellar and listened to interesting wine making notes. At that point my brain was already saturated with details of the long day, so I don’t remember much. It was a pleasant experience watching the sunset, enjoying a full moon rising, and sampling local figs, cheese, and other products made and grown on the winery. A true Bosnian experience, it was time well spent with gracious hosts. We stayed longer than planned and didn’t begin our drive back to Sarajevo until late.

Winery Presentation