Guide to SKOPJE

Vozdra! Hi! From Sarajevo…:)

MK TR GR

Vozdra, sha ima – “Hi! What’s up?”- this is the way the “raja” (people) greet each other in Sarajevo. I was greeted with the same words although it was my first visit to the city and I was far from being part of the raja. However, my host definitely is, and since a very young age belonging to the “small raja” as people in Sarajevo like to call their junior citizens. Nihad, my dear friend and host during my short stay in Sarajevo, is a young man in love with the city he regards as his best friend. I could not have asked for a better guide round Sarajevo and I am thankful for that.

I had an opportunity to see and feel the life of the “mahala” (neighbourhood) in the mahalas above Bascarsija, modern Sarajevo, Ottoman Sarajevo, Austro–Hungarian Sarajevo and finally Sarajevo living with consequences of life under siege. One thing they have in common is the spirit of its people who have kept their serenity, respect and their smile… despite everything.

I arrived quite early and immediately took the chance to visit Bascarsija that was still asleep in the early-morning hours. The empty alleys were being swept waiting for the craftsman, the raja and tourists to arrive. The Carsija (market) was built in late 15th century. In the beginning only the area around Sebilj was called Bascarsija (main market) but later the whole market was called by that name. In the past each craft had their own street and today there are only a few craftsmen who mostly produce souvenirs. Workshops have been turned into coffee bars, tea houses and kebab restaurants.

In the past there were about 80 different crafts with 12 000 workshops and craft shops. Earthquakes and fires have partly damaged Bascarsija but what is now left of it testifies of a bustling life on the north bank of Miljacka river. Several bezistans, mosques and baths bear witness of the people who built the Carsija such as Gazi-Husrev Bey who was buried in the mosque that he built. The citizens of Sarajevo are hardworking, humorous and witty people. You can recognize their wit in the souvenirs they offer: Vucko, the official mascot of the 1984 Winter Olympics, bullet shells and hand grenades as souvenirs and other handcrafted products. One of the most impressive creations are bomb shells engraved with different sights of Sarajevo and the Carsija. Their positive attitude and cheerfulness try to ease the painful memories of Sarajevo at war.

 

It is a brilliant feeling when you can hear the bells of the Catholic cathedral, the Orthodox church and the singing of a Muslim priest (hodza) from the mosque minarets.  That is the sound of Sarajevo. The true Sarajevo.

People really enjoy having coffee with friends and this tradition wakes up the Carsija. A few hours later after I first stepped into the Carsija, it was crowded with people. Foreigner usually meet at Sebilj – a fountain that is the only survivor of several other fountains that functioned in the city. It was built in 1891 and in the beginning there was a person who worked there giving water to the thirsty.

The cultural heritage of Sarajevo can be divided into several periods in history starting from the pre-historic era, the Roman period, Middle Age, Ottoman period and Austro-Hungarian period. The remains from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian period are most evident round the city. One of the Austro-Hungarian most important marks is the City Hall building, although it had different functions during its history.

It is situated near Bascarsija, built in pseudo-Moorish style resembling the mosque of Kemal II in Cairo. It was open in 1896 as City Hall, than it was a District Court, a National and University Library that was set on fire in 1992 during the siege of Sarajevo, when 80% of books and documents about Bosnia and Herzegovina were destroyed. It has been restored recently but it is still not open to the public. It is designed to house the City Hall, University Library and has enough space to host cultural events.

There is an interesting story behind this building. Before it was built there were two baths and a house standing in that place that needed to be knocked down. The owner of the house opposed the authorities but when he realized he could do nothing about it he asked for two things: a bag of golden coins and that his house is transferred, brick by brick, and built the same as it was on the other side of the river, opposite the City Hall, where it still stands. It is called the “Spite House” and is now a traditional restaurant.

The Miljacka river is the bloodstream of Sarajevo. It divides the city into the sunny side and the shady side. People often joke about it, saying that citizens of the shady side have to clean snow even in May.

There are several older bridges over the river and a new one in front of the Academy of Fine Arts with quite an unusual name. Still, when you get to know the people of Sarajevo you realize it is just the perfect name for it – “Festina lente” or “Hurry up, slowly”.

Sarajevo and I fell in love at first sight, and we already have a date in winter ambient. An atmosphere so recognizable, so typical for Sarajevo.

PS: I deliberately left out the stories about the famous Sarajevo kebabs, burek and its nightlife. That’s another story and another reportage…soon to come.

Jordan Dukov

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