I think everyone should play the tourist in their own town. So often, we get wrapped up in “living” that we forget about “experiencing.” It’s normal. I do it all the time (and of course, I’m super normal, so you should feel better about yourself!). I do spend a lot of time walking and driving around with my camera, but I have so many questions about what I am seeing through my lens as I do. Every city has a story. Sarajevo has a Greek tragedy, Shakespearean sonnet and redemption of Biblical proportions all wrapped up in one.
In order to spend a little time experiencing our new city, we did what all awesomely attentive parents who want their children to have a well-rounded view of the world would do… we got a babysitter. Then, we played the tourist, and went on a walking tour of Sarajevo. It was a little less than two hours, on a dreary Saturday afternoon. We met our tour guide, Aaron, near the Museum of Sarajevo, a museum set up on the corner where Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated. Remember them? Their deaths were just a little thing that started WWI? Yeah. That happened in Sarajevo.
I learned a lot of fascinating things on our tour, but as Brady can attest to, I have only 25% of the memory I had on February 19, 2006, the day before Tristan was born. The miracle of life is wonderful and all. Blah blah blah. But it sucks your brain dry. Next time I will bring a journal to write all the interesting facts down. For now, you’ll have to settle for the MOST interesting things that decided to linger in my mind. And please excuse me if I jump around a bit. It’s just the way my brain works.
One of the first places we went to was the oldest mosque in Sarajevo. We didn’t actually go into the mosque itself, but we did walk around the grounds a bit. Part of living in Bosnia means you have to get used to seeing cemeteries everywhere. There are small ones around every mosque in the city. There are also cemeteries or small clusters of grave stones throughout the city, in the middle of parks, next to restaurants, and in back yards. This mosque had a very old cemetery on its grounds. I learned some important facts about how Muslims are buried (or at least Muslims in Sarajevo.) There are two grave markers for each deceased person. One is at the head, the other is at the feet. You can tell a man’s grave from a woman’s based on the adornment of the headstone. The men have a “turban” top on their stones. The women’s are much plainer. The body is also always pointed toward Mecca.
There was a beautiful courtyard inside the gates of the mosque. You can see signs of age and war throughout that gives it such amazing character.
Like I said earlier, it was a yucky, dreary day. Thankfully, the rain held off for us (mostly).
So this is the National Library…
Besides having a very distinctive look, this building has a long history. The original building was built well over 100 years ago. At the time of its construction, there were homes where the city wanted to put the building. There was no eminent domain, but they did pay everyone for their land. All but one homeowner agreed to take the money and build somewhere else. So, this particular person held out for a really long time (not sure how long… remember, I’m only firing at 25% anymore). Eventually, he was willing to take the money, but under his conditions. First, he wanted to stay on the river. The city said, no problem. Next, he wanted his house to look the same. The city said, ok. Oh, and did he mention, he wanted his home moved piece by piece to that new location? Oh yeah, that too. So, in order to get this prime real estate, the city agreed and moved his home to the other side of the river. It is called Inat Kuca, which translates literally into “House of Spite.” I think that says it all.
You may have noticed that I stated earlier that the library’s “original building” was built over 100 years ago. One of the saddest casualties of any war is when priceless artifacts are lost. The Siege of Sarajevo devastated this library. As in, destroyed almost everything in it. In 1992, the library burnt to the ground, with over 155,000 rare books and manuscripts, amongst many other things. Only a very few artifacts survived. But just like the phoenix, out of the ashes something beautiful is reborn. Or shall I say, is in labor for a long while. When you have the most over-governed country in the world, nothing happens on time. Proof in point, this library was slated to open over a year ago. It’s still not open.
We also saw the only clock in Europe (maybe the world, but honestly, I can’t remember that detail) that is set on Islamic time. If you aren’t familiar, the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, not the Gregorian one that we are all used to. That’s why Ramadan is at a different time during the year every year. That also means that even the time of day changes based on the moon. There is a family that is responsible for changing this clock every day so it is timed appropriately to the Islamic calendar. Living here, you get used to hearing the call to prayer five times a day, but I never really paid attention to when during the day it happens. I suppose I could check this clock out to see when it will happen, but since I still have to subtract 12 in my head every time someone gives me the time after noon, I think it’s a lost cause!
So here’s a funny little tidbit… There were several Americans on this tour with us. Aaron, the tour guide took us by a building and asked us what it meant to us. Here it is:
Of course, I jumped right to Rod Blagojevic, the former mayor of Chicago (and not just because he was on the Celebrity Apprentice). We then had a short discussion on the corruption that took place. Aaron told us how the Blagojevic name is synonymous with corruption in Sarajevo as well. I’m not sure how true that is, because we were clearly getting a one-sided view of the Sarajevo based on Aaron’s views, but it was an interesting tidbit nonetheless.
By far the coolest story we heard was happened during WWII. Sarajevo is called “Little Jerusalem” for a reason. For a very long time, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in peace together here. During WWII, Hitler was very interested in destroying any and all books/artifacts that were Jewish, amongst other things. One of the oldest Haggadahs in existence is known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. The Haggadah is the text that is used in the Passover Seder. Originally, it was housed in the City Museum. When Hitler sent his men to retrieve it, the librarian smuggled it out of the city and asked his friend, a Muslim cleric, to hold onto it in his Mosque in Treskavica. This fourteenth-century Jewish script was kept safe in a Islamic house of worship. This is a prime example of what I mean when I say the majority of Bosnians are amazing people.
Throughout our walk there were constant reminders of the Siege of Sarajevo. Like, shelled out buildings.
And the Sarajevo Rose.
But perhaps the most poignant reminder are the people. The ones that struggle every day. The ones who have had to cope with loss, death and violence in an unimaginable way. A whole
city country with PTSD. We saw this man at the Eternal Flame, staying warm in the drizzly weather. He was clearly very drunk. But to me, he appeared a sad man with a wounded soul. Every person has a story here. Some are beautiful stories of redemption and rebirth. But many are darker stories of loneliness, sadness and despair. I suspect this man hasn’t found his happy ending yet. I pray if not for happiness, at least he may find peace.
Your writings are so interesting. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
It’s not worth experiencing if it isn’t worth sharing!
Excellent post about the greatest, most beautiful city on the planet. Thanks for this!
Despite the memory deficiencies (of which I’m already sharing with you!), I think you did a great job of retelling BiH’s history! I’m not good with history anyway and never do well with that in my blog, so my hat goes off to you! Love this!
From your writings, I see Sarajevo as a city of total opposites: immense beauty and immense ruins and sadness…all wrapped into one. It’s breathtaking, yet it’s painful.
You’ve shared more photos that are simply amazing. The gloomy day made the “bridge” photo extraordinary and I love when you capture the human spirit, evident in the man next to the fire. That photo is worthy of the cover of National Geographic!