Sarajevo Walking Tour Bosnia-Herzegovina

Latin Bridge Near Assassination of Franz Ferdinand 1914

I’ve been exploring Sarajevo on my own but decided to join a guided walking tour today. We walked several hours mostly covering territory in Old Town. Several Bosnians started the tour group – Meet Bosnia – a few years ago. They’re clearly passionate about their city. The tour was rich in history and stories.

The Meet Bosnia office in Old Town is at the corner of Gazi Husrev-Begova and Mula Mustafa Baseskija Streets. With its jewelry shops, Gazi Husrev-Begova is also known as Zlatarska – Goldsmith’s Street. Mula Mustafa Baseskija is near the Eternal Fire, a monument to Sarajevo’s liberation in World War II.

Austro-Hungarian Architecture

Baščaršija  Square – Churches, Fountains, Mosques, Towers

The tour started at Baščaršija Square, the lively “core of Old Town” and home to Sarajevo’s oldest streets and most notable landmarks. Except for churches and temples next to mosques, the area is like a scene from Istanbul. We walked by the Old Orthodox Church dedicated to Archangels Michael and Gabriel. Built in the 16th century, it suffered from fires and destruction, but was repeatedly reconstructed.

Sarajevo Post Office – Destination Sarajevo

Old Town Wall

We paused at Sebilj, a famous wooden fountain on Baščaršija Square. According to local legend, if you drink water from the fountain you’ll come back to Sarajevo.

Bezistan Bazaar – Muzel Sarajevo

Gazi Husrev-Bey Mosque – National Geographic Your Shot

We passed Gazi Husrev-Bey Mosque, a beautiful building from the 1500s considered Sarajevo’s “most important architectural monument from Ottoman rule”.  We walked through the Bezistan, Sarajevo’s oldest shopping area. It’s near the 16th century Clock Tower which has an unusual clock that keeps lunar time. The clock indicates the five times for daily Islam prayer – dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and night. With the lunar system, “the day begins at sunset and the time shown is 12:00”.

Old Orthodox Church

Sarajevo City Hall

The group admired beautiful Sarajevo City Hall (Vijećnica), the most recognizable Austro-Hungarian building in Bosnia. It was the National and University Library and seat of Sarajevo’s city council. Now it’s a venue for major exhibitions and concerts.

Isa Begov Hamam Hotel – Sarajevo Construction

Isa Begov Hamam

We passed Isa Beg’s Hamam, one of two hamams in Sarajevo. The hamam is named after Isa Beg Ishakovich, a successful Ottoman General and the Beg (Governor) of Bosnia Sandzak. Ishakovich is known as the founder of Sarajevo.

Isa Begov Hamam – Cicelićka Portal

I’ve enjoyed a few invigorating Turkish hamams. Visiting Isa Beg’s Hamam is on my list of things to do before leaving Sarajevo. I’ve never felt so clean, relaxed, and refreshed as after the hamam process! This blog post explains the experience.

Sebilj Baščaršija Sarajevo

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“The main idea in the Hammam is to use steam and hot water to cleanse the body and create a sensual relaxing.”

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City Hall

Diversity

Our guide highlighted Sarajevo’s exceptional diversity and the mutual respect among Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, and Islam religions. Sarajevo’s Jewish community has existed for almost five centuries. The Old Jewish Temple is within walking distance of churches and mosques. Today it’s a Balkan museum.

Tombs Governors Gazi Murat and Gazi Husref

Old Jewish Temple

Meeting of Cultures and Roses

We stopped at the “Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures” point on Ferhadija Street – a  location tied to the Habsburg MonarchyThe Cathedral of Jesus’ Sacred Heart with a statue of Pope John Paul II is one of many iconic buildings on Ferhadija. Toward the eastern end there’s a marker showing the spot where “East meets West”.

Bosnian Copper Coffee Set

Our guide talked about Sarajevo Roses, “craters left by fatal mortar strikes that were filled with red resin to remember those lost during the Siege of Sarajevo”.

Ćevapi – Hostel Franz Ferdinand

Bosnian Food

The group listened to pointers on restaurants, cafés, and the best places for local treats like ćevapi and burek. Coffee is a very important part of Bosnian culture. Drinking their special strong brew – never to be mistaken for Turkish coffee – is a must. As you drink the coffee you must linger and enjoy the time and your companions.

Burek – Destination Sarajevo

Baklava Dućan Sarajevo

Latin Bridge and Ferdinand’s Assassination Site

We walked over famous Latin Bridge and stopped at the sight of Franz-Ferdinand˙s Assassination. The story of the nearly botched assassination is fascinating.

Sarajevo Roses

It was a beautiful clear day with temperatures in the high 40s. I’m smitten with Bosnia . Since the weather forecast is good, I’ll take full-day tours tomorrow and Wednesday:

Sarajevo Hilltop Fortress

Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina

Gazi Husrev-Beg Mosque – Bjoertvedt WikiCommons

I love Sarajevo – a cool European city with a laid back atmosphere! It’s a treat exploring such an agreeable place. The people are friendlier than Berlin, Croatia, and Montenegro. They make things comfortable and it’s easy to blend.

Austrian Architecture Old Town

Performing Arts and Architecture

My apartment is along the Miljacka River which has 20+ bridges. It’s near Old Town close to restaurants, markets, museums, and the National Theatre, a venue for symphony, ballet, opera, and theater performances. Sarajevo Philharmonic is more active in the summer, but there’s a concert February 21.

Cathedral Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos – Bjoertvedt WikiCommons

The University of Sarajevo and Sarajevo’s Academy of Performing Arts work with Open Stage Obala, an “alternative theatre scene”. Students present their works along with professional actors, directors, and writers. I remember thoroughly enjoying an alternative theater performance in Ljubljana a few years ago. There are plays almost every day at the National Theatre. 

Franz Leo Ruben Bascarsija Sarajevo

Architecture in Sarajevo reflects Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Yugoslavian, and Soviet influences. The churches, mosques, and synagogues are spectacular!

Sarajevo City Hall – Lasserbua WikiCommons

Bumpy Trip Kotor to Sarajevo

The trip from Kotor was a bit bumpy. I booked the bus not only because it was economical but also to enjoy glorious Balkan scenery – the sunset was gorgeous! Later I learned that Internet bus bookings aren’t the best option. It’s better to make reservations in person at the station. Apparently, no buses go directly from Kotor to Sarajevo, so the trip involved a layover. The drivers (there are two who switch) looked at my ticket and had a lively conversation in Montenegrin. Neither spoke much English.

Sarajevo Vista – Luke McCallin

One driver approached speaking Montenegrin. He quickly realized I didn’t understand and tried to speak English asking where I was from – the other driver said Netherlands, I shook my head, then Denmark, UK… When I smiled and said US, they both laughed – not sure what that meant, but people in the Balkans seem to like Americans. Gruff and unfriendly when I boarded the bus, the drivers warmed up.

Sarajevo National Theatre – Youth History Blog

Border Crossings, Other Passengers

There weren’t many passengers but several pick-up and drop-off stops. At each border crossing – Montenegro,  Croatia, Bosnia – we got off the bus. After immigration agents checked and stamped our passports, we walked a few meters between countries and the bus picked us up on the other side. This reminded me of border crossings in South America. During the process I met other passengers. Two young guys from Sabah Malaysia seemed a bit lost. Mountain climbers, they were working up to the Himalayas. We chatted about Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia which I climbed many years ago.

Sculpting Old Town

Bus Change, Taxi Drama, Early Arrival

Several stops later the drivers suggested I switch buses and take one going directly to Sarajevo – another passenger on the bus translated. The change would bypass a layover and cut 2 hours off my travel time. I agreed.

Sarajevo Clock Tower – KB Abroad

It was slightly unnerving when we pulled off the highway in the dark to meet the other bus and make the change. There were only a few passengers on board. The drivers were smoking so much it almost made me sick. After a pit stop at a small café, we arrived in Sarajevo around 10 pm. It was snowing!

Ali Pasha Mosque Sarajevo – Damien Smith

The next hurdle was notifying my accommodation I was arriving early. There was no Internet and I didn’t have a local SIM card yet. I asked the bus driver about taxis – big mistake. He immediately called a friend who gladly picked me up – ha no taxi sign on the car or meter inside, but since no “real taxis” were in sight… With few options, I got in and asked the driver to call the accommodation to explain I was checking in early. We arrived at the apartment before the landlord.

Sarajevo Scene Near Apartment

Then the dodgy driver said the charge for the “taxi ride” was 20 Euro (that’s almost 10 times too much) for such a short drive! I had no opportunity to get local currency – Bosnian Marka (BAM). Fuddled I didn’t ask the fee before getting inside his car :( which clearly was not a taxi. I gave him a piece of my mind as he grabbed the 20 Euro note, jumped into his car, and sped off leaving me standing in the cold and dark.

Old Town Vista

Just as I was about to scream, the landlord arrived to welcome me. I told him the taxi story. He rolled his eyes agreeing that local taxis weren’t always reliable or trustworthy.

Latin Bridge Miljacka River Near Apartment

I take responsibility for the taxi fiasco. The situation caught me off guard – difficult to think out all scenarios. Word of advice for travelers – always beware of taxi drivers! I seem to relearn that lesson often. Uber isn’t available in Bosnia but a local company supposedly has a mobile app – couldn’t find it… In transit between countries I’ll remember to use my international SIM card.

Sarajevo Old Town – World Nomads

More later…

Kotor Montenegro to Sarajevo

Sarajevo Vista – samed

Tomorrow I leave Kotor for Sarajevo – the capital and largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s exciting to visit Sarajevo even in the winter when it’s cold with snow flurries in the forecast.

Sarajevo – FIBA

Emperor’s Mosque Sarajevo – otarikkic Pizabay

Although I appreciate the medieval cities, exceptional nature, and beautiful coastal areas in Croatia and Montenegro, I also enjoy the energy of cities. Sarajevo is the “political, social, and cultural center of Bosnia and a prominent cultural center in the Balkans”. It’s also known for religious and cultural diversity.

Sarajevo Rooftops and Catholic and Orthodox Cathedrals – Charles Bowman

Roman Bridge Sarajevo – Elvira Bojadzic Islamic Arts Magazine

There’s a cable car and like San Francisco, Sarajevo has an electric tram network running through the city. I’m staying in Old Town near the city center and looking forward to exploring!

Sarajevo Trebević Cable Car – Monocle

Sarajevo Bridges Miljacka River – Sarajevo Travel

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“Sarajevo is one of few European cities with a “mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church, and synagogue all in the same neighborhood”.

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Sarajevo Tram – commons.wilkimedia.org

In 1914, Bosnian Serb teenage activist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria sparking World War I and “ending Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia“.  Years later during the Bosnia and Yugoslav Wars, Sarajevo suffered the “longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare”. The city is still undergoing post-war reconstruction.

Princip Gavrilo – Wikipedia

Sacred Heart Cathedral Sarajevo – Sygic Travel

Latin Bridge Sarajevo – FlixBus

Festina Lente Looping Bridge Sarajevo – Dezeen

More later…

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Počitelj, Medjugorje, Mostar

Stari Most Mostar Bosnia – Travel Is Beautiful

The day tour to Bosnia was interesting, and since my time in Dubrovnik is over soon, I decided to go rain or shine. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible putting a damper on photos and exploring. Our guide shared history and entertained us with folktales and side stories about his life in Bosnia and Croatia.

Pocitelj Bosnia – cherylhoward.com

I’m still confused about Balkan history and rivalry between Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia. I think others find it confusing too. The expression “forgive but never forget” is used often in Croatia. Like Germany, the longer I stay in Croatia, the clearer it becomes there’s more to learn about the country…

Franjo Tudjman Bridge Dubrovnik – Croatia Week

There were two others in the group, a couple who had sailed to Dubrovnik. Their sailboat was undergoing maintenance. Sadly, they were the worst tour companions imaginable. Details are inappropriate for a blog but included mean and nasty fights followed by making up – insane, disturbing behavior. The uncomfortable scenes could have been from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf :o( and they didn’t seem concerned that two other people were captive to their bickering – what a pair! Luckily, we split several times for exploring.

Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque Mostar – karim74.wordpress.com

Mostar Old City – Vera Kailova

Twelve Croatia, Bosnia Border Crossings

On the way from Dubrovnik to Mostar and back we crossed a total of 12 borders. Thankfully the crossings were quick and painless and didn’t require stamping 12 separate passport pages!

Počitelj Old Town Wall – Hit Booker

The borders are a “legacy of the wars that tore Yugoslavia apart two decades ago”. You pass a six-mile stretch of Bosnia-Herzegovina near the resort town of Neum. Then the road circles back to Croatia through the Neretva Valley before you enter Bosnia again. In the past, the road was all in one country without borders.

Franciscan Monastery Mostar

Neum Agreement Croatia and Bosnia

Croatia and Bosnia signed the “Neum Agreement” in 1998 guaranteeing free passage from Croatia’s northern Port of Ploče through Bosnia-Herzegovina. Neum is close to Dubrovnik International Airport. Non-EU/EFTA citizens passing through Neum who plan to stay in Bosnia a while need Croatian exit and Bosnian entry stamps in their passports. Not obtaining them is “illegal and causes issues when exiting”.

Počitelj Bosnia and Herzegovina – commons.wikimedia.org

Dubrovnik’s Daksa Island and Arboretum Trsteno

We departed via Dubrovnik Bridge heading north along the coast passing Daksa Island. The island was the “site of a brutal massacre in 1944 by Yugoslav partisans“. The Yugoslavs arrested hundreds of Dubrovnik citizens from the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska – NDH). They accused some of being Nazi sympathizers and executed them without a trial. Today Daksa Island is abandoned. Locals claim the “ghosts of those executed” haunt the island. With minimal research, it seems the NDH era is its own chapter in Croatian history.

Metković – Stjepan Jozepovic

We passed Arboretum Trsteno in the small Croatian village of the same name. The beautiful gardens have an interesting story. Dubrovnik’s Gozze family started them in the 15th century by “asking the city’s sailing community to bring back seeds and plants from their travels around the globe”. The gardens include an aqueduct and 18th century fountain with a statue of Neptune and two nymphs. The arboretum is home to some of the oldest trees in Croatia.

Neptune Fountain Trsteno Gardens – The Dubrovnik Times

Croatian Villages – Zaton, Slano, Zavala, and Ston

Wild boars inhabit the low, bushy terrain around the Croatian villages of Zaton, Slano, Zavala, and Ston. Boar hunting is popular and locals consider the meat a delicacy. Slano and Ston are famous for their salt pans and valuable salt sea factories along the Duboka River. The Duboka is a tributary of Bosnia’s Vrbanja River running near Međugorje Mountain and Bojići Village.

Eurasian Wild Boar – IUCN Red List

Yugoslavia

Bosnia – Neum and Počitelj

As we turned northeast and headed inland through Bosnia, Neum was our first stop. We sat inside enjoying coffee and escaping another torrential downpour. On the way to Počitelj, we passed more villages along the blue-greenish Neretva River.

Adriatic Terrain Neretva Valley

Hutovo Blato Nature Park is in the Neretva Valley near Capljina. Capljina has interesting archaeology and “untouched wilderness”. It’s a “unique Mediterranean swamp and wintering place for birds in Europe”.

Hutovo Blato Nature Park Bosnia – Parks Dinarides

Our Lady of Peace Medjugorje

Neum

Neum is the only seaside resort in Bosnia but the population is primarily Croatian. Motor traffic between the northern Croatian town of Ploče and southern Dubrovnik passes through the “Neum Corridor”. At the border, there are two lines – “one for travelers into Bosnia and another for those in transit to other parts of Croatia. At this border sometimes they check passports, sometimes not. Ours weren’t checked.

Medujugorje Pilgrimage – Anna Nuzzo

Počitelj

Built on a hillside near the banks of the Neretva River, Počitelj (stone town) has the longest operating international art colony in southeast Europe. The remains of Počitelj’s medieval wall surround 15th century Turkish houses, mosques, and a tower and citadel. Architecture reflects a strong Ottoman influence.

Mostar Bridge

Počitelj “fell into neglect in 1878” when Bosnia-Herzegovina was taken over by Austro-Hungarian rule. In 1992 during the Bosnian War Počitelj was bombed and most of its population displaced. In 1996, World Monuments Watch added Počitelj to a list of the world’s 100 most endangered cultural heritage sites. In 2000, the government started reconstruction encouraging Počitelj refugees to return home.

Tito’s Palace Neretva River – cherylhoward.com

Croatian Metković and Bosnian Medjugorje

Continuing through Metković and Opuzen on the way to Medjugorje, we stopped to visit the celebrated Catholic church. It’s a major spiritual site and one of the “most famous pilgrimage destinations in the Catholic world”. Since the Our Lady of Peace Apparition occurred in 1981 it’s visited by pilgrims and tourists from all over the world. I sat for a while inside the church with two other people who were praying.

Abandoned Building Mostar

Relentless rain showed no sign of letting up and made exploring uncomfortable. It’s off-season, so except for a few tourist shops selling religious statues, most businesses were closed.

Mostar Street Art – TakeUsAywhere

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“In Medjugorje six trustworthy witnesses testified under oath that since the 24th of June 1981, the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Gospa has appeared to them every day up to the present.”

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Mostar Vista

Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina

We continued to Mostar, the focal point of the tour, and spent three hours walking around the city. A local guide led us through Old Town in the rain. Afterwards I found a restaurant – Hindin Han – on the riverside with views of the Neretva River and enjoyed a Bosnian lunch with interesting locals.The restaurant building is a refurbished historical home, with wooden balconies and white-wash walls.

Stari Most Mostar – cherylhoward.com

Mostar looks depressed and parts of the city are full of trash and rubble. During summer tourists bring needed income. Off season it almost seemed deserted.

Blagaj Tekke Blagaj Buna River – turizam.mostar

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Mostar holds a Street Art Festival in spring, when artists from all over the world come to create new murals and works of art.

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Mostar Old-Town – intheknowdventures.jpg

Through the centuries Mostar became the meeting point of various cultures and religions. The old city is divided by east and west. The east is mostly Muslim and the west Catholic. I detected some tension in the air even between our tour leader and the local Mostar guide who was clearly Muslim.

Abandoned Building Mostar

Minarets in mosques on the east side sang out the Islamic Call to Prayer – something I hadn’t heard since a trip to Istanbul in 2017. Church bells tolled in Catholic monasteries and cathedrals on the west side. Our Muslim guide told us that many Catholics converted to Islam after the Bosnian War.

Stari Most Mostar

Stari Most and Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

Mostar’s symbol is its beautiful Stari Most, a 16th century Ottoman-style bridge that connects east and west. The bridge has rich history and it’s been bombed and damaged many times. Stari Most stood for 427 years until it was destroyed completely in 1993 during the Bosnian War and then rebuilt in 2004.

Mostar Street Art – TakeUsAywhere

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Bosnia and Herzegovina has three Presidents – Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian.

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House Mostar

Locals dive off the Old Bridge plunging 20 metres (65 ft.) into the river. The “practice of Bridge diving started in 1664” and became a tradition for the young men of Mostar. In 1968, the city held a formal diving competition, which continues today.

Restoran Hindin Han Mostar – Moj Restoran

Old Bridge is breathtaking and the color of the Neretva River is such a vivid bluish-green it’s almost surreal. Slowly the city is becoming a popular destination with its varied architecture, art, forests, mountains, holy sites, waterfalls, bridges, and street art. I would love to do some hiking and explore the area further during better weather.

Mostar Street Art – cherylhoward.com

Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque is another Mostar icon. You can climb the stairs following a narrow tower to the minaret where panoramic views are amazing!

Sniper Tower Mostar – Picgra

Like Istanbul, Mostar has small cafés serving Turkish tea and coffee. I had a piece of baklava – the best I’ve ever tasted!

Pocitelj Bosnia – cherylhoward.com

Abandoned Buildings and Street Art

Mostar is known for its interesting street art and abandoned buildings, many riddled with bullet holes from the Bosnian War. “Today, young artists use the buildings as canvases to protest oppression and express themselves creatively.” It reminded me of artists in Maputo Mozambique who make creative art using civil war remnants.

Neum Seaside Resort Herzegovina-Neretva Canton

Sniper Tower

Some of the abandoned buildings include a sniper tower, Neretva Hotel, and an old airport hangar. At one time the sniper tower was a bank. It’s positioned along the city’s front border. During the Bosnian War it became a “base for snipers who hid in the tower to take aim at targets”.

Interior Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque Mostar – cherylhoward.com

Today, the tower is decorated with street art and homeless people sleep there at night. You can jump over the back wall (near the Nelson Mandela quote) to explore the street art and enjoy a great view of Mostar from the top.

Počitelj Old Town Wall, Citadel, and Tower – Hit Booker

Neretva Hotel

Hotel Neretva was a grand hotel nicknamed “Tito’s Palace” after Yugoslav communist revolutionary Josip Broz Tito. It’s now a ruin. “After years of deadlock,” restoration continues at a cost of 9 million Euros.

Stormy Day Neretva River Mostar

Mostar Secret Aircraft Hangar – The Minimalist Ninja

Abandoned Airport Hangar

I didn’t see Mostar’s former top-secret underground airport hangar. It’s disguised in the mountains near the airport. Tito stationed fighter planes there to hide them from the Soviets. You can tour the hangar on your own or book a “Death of Yugoslavia Tour“. It wouldn’t have been much fun in the heavy rain.

Zrinjevac Park Mostar – Hit Booker

Bruce Lee Statue

A “weird, offbeat” sculpting of Bruce Lee is in Zrinjevac Park. Croatian sculptor Ivan Fijolic created the statue in 2005. At the time it was in Spanish Square and the artist intended it to be a “fun, lighthearted symbol of peace”. Some locals took a dislike to the statue and vandalized it. Replaced in 2013, it’s still there.

Međugorje St. James Church – commons.wikipedia.org

We didn’t visit Kravice Waterfalls outside Mostar – probably best on a hot summer day. People swim in the lake and under the waterfalls.

Rakija

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“Rakija – the local moonshine – destroys bacteria, relieves stomach and muscle pain, annihilates viruses, and disinfects wounds instantly.”

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Mostar War Ruin – Mostar Travel

Blagaj Tekke – The Dervish Monastery

Blagaj Tekke is another interesting place near Mostar. It’s “one of Bosnia’s most holy and ancient sites.” Built around 1520 it’s known as the Dervish Monastery and was built for Sufi gatherings. It “rests beside the fast-flowing blue-green Buna River, which spills out of a darkened cliff-cave”. Miraculously, the Monastery wasn’t damaged during the Bosnian War.

Mostar Street Art

Rakija – Local Moonshine

Our guide told us about Rakija, a homemade brandy that’s said to be “the secret weapon against all that’s enemy to man”. On the way back to Dubrovnik we stopped at a roadside café where they make and sell Rakija. Conversation was fun and lively. :)

Destruction of Stari Most Bosnian War – subir.pw

Three Presidents of Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia has three presidents! Not sure why?

  1. Milorad Dodik Serbia
  2. Šefik Džaferović Bosnia-Herzegovina
  3. Željko Komšić Croatia

400 Year Old Plane Tree (Sycamore) Trsteno Arboretum – Panadea

All in all it turned out to be an amazing, educational day in Bosnia!