Reflections on My Latest Sarajevo Visit- Walking, Carpets, Coffee, and Museums

19 May 2018

It has been a few weeks now since I have returned from my latest visit to the Balkans. While there I continued where I left off on my previous visit- talking with anyone who would talk, seeing as much as I could see, and further developing my own ideas about the region.

Most of my visit was spent in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But I also went on to Mostar, and then to the island of Vis in Croatia. I was in Sarajevo late last year, but I felt a need to return, that I had not accomplished all I needed to do there.  I still feel that way, but after a couple of weeks alone in the city I feel I understand the city, the country, and the region a little better. It would take endless pages to record all my reflections; this post is but a snippet, an encounter or two recorded during that time.

Walking-
Journal entry, 13 April, 2018:
It is evening in Sarajevo; the sun has set, but its faint glow causes the still-wet streets to shimmer. Outside my windows, across the Miljacka River is one of the main east-west routes through the city. The Obala Kulina Bana not only moves cars, trucks, and buses through the city, the Sarajevo tram rails share the road. The tram, or tramvaj, is a natural part of the city, public transport being a necessity in a city of this size.  It is an easy way to get from one end of the city to the other, or to get one stop to the next cafe or market. Sarajevo has not only the tram, but trolley buses, and regular buses- all running very efficiently from my experience.  There are routes covering every neighborhood, and you can get just about anywhere in a very reasonable amount of time, if not by public transport, then by taxis which are everywhere. If you don’t feel like catching public transport, Sarajevo is a very pedestrian-friendly city. I have been walking and walking in every direction, discovering more than I ever imagined, and certainly more than any guidebook can relate.

Obala Kulina Bana, Sarjevo, Bosnia- Gerald Trainor photo

The Obala Kulina Bana and the Miljacka River, on a cold and snowy day in Sarajevo.

Yes, Sarajevo is a pedestrian city, and being so, it is a city where the openness of the people can be felt as you walk down the street. People are out every day, on their way to jobs, to the market, to meet for coffee where they talk and reflect and debate, to… walk and meet other people along the way. I was compelled to walk myself, everywhere, and at all hours of the morning, mid-day, and night, from one end of the city to the other.  What about safety? Sarajevo is a city that feels remarkably safe- not once did I feel uncomfortable anywhere I ended up. In fact, I was surprised time and again at how open and helpful people were.

Bsonian coffee at a cafe called Ministry of Ćejf, Sarajevo BiH. Gerald Trainor photo.

Bosnian coffee sitting outside at the Ministry of Ćejf cafe at Kovači 26, just up from the Sebilj- an absolute must if you visit the city.

Carpets-
On this visit I was introduced to the traditional weavings of Bosnia- the carpets that have long been a part of the culture, but seem curiously missing from guidebooks, from most online posts, from everyday discussions, and even from museums. I had heard nothing about the tradition on either of my previous visits. But this time, after finding the carpet below on the floor of the apartment I rented, I immediately started asking questions.

detail of Bosnian carpet- Sarajevo, BiH- Gerald Trainor photo

Detail from the corner of a 2 by 3 meter “Bosnian” carpet showing traditional patterning. Although I am calling this a Bosnian carpet, it may in fact have been produced in Pirot, a town in southeastern Serbia known for its weaving. Priot is on already on my agenda for my next visit.

Bosnian carpets have a long history, with their roots in Turkish kilims. In Sarajevo, there was the famous Sarajevo Carpet Factory, where rugs were made for over 100 years. Styles changed with the times, but the importance of the carpet did not, at least until very recent times when it seems the “new” has replaced the old. Yes, younger people seem to be turning away from the old styles and trending towards mass-produced, “stylish” rugs from Ikea and the like. At least this was what one person stressed to me.

Another reason for the declining importance of traditional carpets might be the fact that they were an essential part of the dowry, which I assume is no longer important in itself.  Still another factor might be that the important events and entertainments where the carpets were used are no longer centerpieces of life. Carpets were an integral part of both the dowry and  gatherings- they were woven, handed down, or purchased as a sort of investment in wealth. Thus the fact that some very beautiful, 100 year old carpets can be found in almost pristine condition if you look in the right place. You will also find newly woven carpets in a few shops in the Baščaršija. Just ask around for directions if you don’t see them.

Museums-
The bottom line: if you get a chance to visit Sarajevo, do it. The people there will welcome you, not just as a source of income through tourist dollars- which is incredibly important to the city, country, and region, but as a visitor to their city. While there plan to walk; you won’t be sorry no matter where you end up or what you see.  Some highlights for visiting: be sure to visit any or all- if you can handle it- of the war museums. I visited the War Childhood Museum for the first time on this visit, not an easy task, but necessary. There you will find items donated by people who were young during the war, along with their written and video accounts of that time. The war is ever-present and cannot be forgotten. It is a part of everyday life there, with reminders on every street in the city.

Histoey Museum of BiH. Gerald Trainor photo.

The History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I saw the permanent exhibit on the siege of Sarajevo. In serious disrepair, dark and cold inside, it felt like I might have stepped back into Yugoslavia. Don’t let that stop you from visiting!

Visit the Zetra Olympic Hall, the stadium, and museum and reminisce about the 1984 Olympics. See the National Museum with its fine collection of artifacts from the region’s early history, and the History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina- be sure to go below the museum to the Caffe Tito Sarajevo for an espresso and a look at their museum-like collection. If it is the right time of year, take in a football match- FC Sarajevo or Željezničar– either one will do. See the ancient fortresses, walk along the Miljacka, and sit for a while drinking coffee in the Baščaršija. And be sure to take the cable car up Mount Trebević. It was damaged during the war and has just reopened after more than 25 years!

Wrapping Up-
For current news from the Balkans, see the Bosnia and Herzegovina page at BalkanInsight.com, for what appears to be some of the most impartial and unbiased reporting I have come across.

My first “report” from Sarajevo and the Balkans can be found here. I have also written book reviews on Beyond NATO: A New Security Architecture for Eastern Europe (The Marshall Papers) and Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz, both of which are pertinent to the region.

For more reading on the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, see Silber and Little’s The Fall of Yugoslavia. It is an excellent place to start. For a more concise version, see The Collapse of Yugoslavia by Alastair Finlan. For guidebooks, I recommend the Bradt Bosnia and Herzegovina guide by Tim Clancy.

 

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