Tracing History (and Chevapi) in Sarajevo and Mostar

Streets of Sarajevo

Sarejevo, Bosnia and Herzigovina:

To ignore Sarajevo’s history is to ignore the heart of the town itself.  Although the captial city of Bosnia and Herzigovina has developed into a modern city complete with designer boutiques and chic cafes, the remnants of years past still show through and the memories are still too near to forget.  Sarajevo has found itself on the world’s center-stage at various times throughout its history, being a pivotal city in the former Ottaman empire, the sight of the assasination of the Austria-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinad (an event that proved to be the spark that set off World War I), the venue for the 1984 Winter Olypmics, and most famously, the city held hostage for nearly 4 years by the Serbian army in the mid-1990’s.  And unlike what I found in Serbia and Croatia, the Bosnians who lived through the war don’t shy away from this issue, but are more than willing to share their stories from nearly 15 years ago — many of which can be quite heart-wrenching and emotional.  And even if you tried to imagine the events of the past never took place, you would find constant reminders everywhere you look, as the facades of appartment complexes and city buildings — though remodeled on the inside — still bare bullet holes and schrapnel scars visible to all.  The city’s many years and the sense of history are almost as palpable as the ever-present fog that holds the city captive in a hazy-mist.

The city itself is wedged into a valley carved into the mountains by the Miljacka River and is surprisingly small and manageable for a capital city.  The atmosphere is a captivating blend between the Muslin and Turkish highlights leftover from the Ottaman empire (especially in the old town) mixed with the Catholic influences from the Austria-Hungarian era.  You can waste an entire afternoon simply strolling through the bazaar, sipping on Turkish coffee, admiring the many minarets that dot the skyline, and enjoying a plate of chevapi at one of the many restaurants.  Having gone into it with a relatively blank slate as far as what I would find, Sarajevo definitely surprised me and has actually turned out to be one the highlights for me of my entire trip so far.  Here are a few of the images you’ll see if you ever get the chance to visit:

Sebijli Drinking Fountain, marking the start of Bascarsija (the tangle of shops and street vendors tucked into small alley-ways)

The Latin Bridge and 1878-1918 Museum, the sight of the assasination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife

Gazi-Husrevbey Mosque

View of Sarajevo from atop the Yellow Bastion

The Eternal Flame burning brightly at night

View over the Miljacka River

Monument depicting a mother and child, in memory of the children lost during the war

Houses dotting the hillsides

As mentioned above, the shopping streets in Sarajevo range from high-end designer stores all the way down to street vendors peddaling their wares.  Anyway you look at it, though, it creates a colorful blend that adds to the unique character of the city:

The Central Market

The Turkish influences can be seen in many of the shops in the bazaar like streets

A selection of copper ldezva, which are used to prepare Bosnian (or a variation of Turkish) Coffee

One of the more memorable experiences from my time in Sarajevo was a personal tour given by the father of the owner of the hostel where I stayed.  Throughout the day, he drove several of us around the city, giving both historical background to the events that took place here when the city was being held captive by the Serbians and his own personal stories of lost friends and relatives.  It was hard not to become emotional when hearing someone describing in detail the constant fear and danger that the Bosnians lived through for nearly 4 years, but the experience  was still uplifting, as you came to understand how far the Bosnian citizens went to defend their home and take care of their families and neighbors, all while trying to maintain their human dignity and establish a “normal” lifestyle despite the war waging around them.

One of many damaged buildings that still remain

The pock-marked entrance to the “Tunnel of Life”

This 1-meter wide tunnel was the only lifeline to the outside world during the occupation, where supplies were smuggled into Sarajevo, beneath the spying eyes of the Serbian forces

On a positive note, Sarajevo isn’t only stoic monuments and scarred buildings.  For one, it is the home of the exceedingly delicious dish known as Chevapi (technically cevapcici — the lightly spiced minced meat fingers served in a soft bread called somun), which can be procured at almost any restaurant for next to nothing.  Secondly, there are dozens of great restaurants serving traditional Bosnia meals and even more cafes offering a spot to unwind with a glass of wine or a cup of tea.  And finally, the city is also home to its own brewery, appropriately named Sarajevsko, giving me something to wash down all of the Chevapi and Burek that I stuffed into my face during my stay.

I’m not a fan of labeling anything “the best,” as I recognize that everyone has different tastes and preferences, but I will have to submit that Bosnia leads the pack when it comes to Chevapi.  Seen here, it is served with a creamy, liquid yogurt drink.

Muckalica (grilled pork cubes with vegetables), served with homemade bread and kaymek (the same sour-ish cream cheese I had in Serbia)

The comforting interior of a local restaurant

As in Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia, Burek is the king of late-night street food in Bosnia

The Sarajevsko “Dark” enjoyed in the beer hall attached to the brewery

A cafe with a lot of character

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzigovina:

After leaving the city of Sarajevo, another excellent Bosnian city to visit is that of Mostar, which is only a few hours away by bus.  Notebale for its Stari Most bridge — which was famously destroyed in the conflict in the mid-90’s and subsequently rebuilt — Mostar offers up some of the most scenic vistas in Bosnia, as the mountains that hem in the city act as a perfect backdrop to the quaint streets of the Old City.

The landscape just outside of Mostar

The town of Mostar

The Stari Most bridge. If you’re brave enough, you can even attempt the 22-meter jump down into the icy waters below

Another memorable, if not haunting, experience to be had in Mostar is to climb what is known as the “Sniper’s Nest.”  During the war, the city was badly damaged, and one tower that ominously stands over the entire city was a favorite spot for the snipers to take up position, as it offers the best views of the city.  The concrete skeleton of the Sniper’s Nest has remained relatively untouched since the war — with broken glass and pieces of rubble still laying about everywhere — but it is open for anyone willing to make the climb (though admittedly, it has become a bit riddled with beer bottles and graffiti by this point).

The “Sniper’s Nest” seen from a distance

The vantage point from the top of the tower

And finally, it never occured to me before traveling to Bosnia and Herzigovina that this might be a place where I could really indulge in a variety of culinary delights, but I was pleasantly surprised at the continuing parade of new entrees.  Here are a few more examples:

Burdzici – a variation of Burek in which the pastry rolls are filled with beef and then smothered with a yougurt and garlic mixture

Though endemic to the entire Yugoslovian region, it took me until Bosnia to finally snag a picture of Rakija. It is a plum brandy that is often homemade and enjoyed before a meal to “open up the stomach,” or really anytime the locals want to get drunk

Fried Brain (though I couldn’t figure out from which animal). The taste was mild, but the creamy texture was reminiscent of cooked soft tofu

A delicious plate of grilled squid

Now that my time in Bosnia and Herzigovina is coming to an end, I’m getting ready to head back into Croatia to take in some of the famous Damatian coastline.  Until then, Zivleji from Bosnia!

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

11 Responses to “Tracing History (and Chevapi) in Sarajevo and Mostar”

  1. When you look at Sarajevo now, you wouldn’t think it had the 1984 (winter) Olympics.

    I have not been to Bosnia-Herzegovina yet, but have been to Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Kosovo and I think the Balkans are one of the most fascinating travel regions.

    • I did get a chance to go visit what was left of the Olympic Park, but it hasn’t aged as well as one would hope. And, unfortunately, much of the ski slopes, bobsled, and luge tracks were all destroyed, too, during the war, so there isn’t as much left as there once was.

      But I do agree with you about visiting this area. There is an amazing balance between historical significance, culture, and amazing scenary. Thanks for reading!

  2. Love the pics – the pic with the beer stein start calling “It’s Happy Hour Somewhere!”.

  3. Thanks so much for the photos and insight into what this area is like now!

  4. Wow!! The food looks incredible! The scenery too!

  5. We’ve visited Mostar twice and it’s been an amazing city to see. And we love Burek too, we have it in Timisoara too, since we’re pretty close to Belgrade. Love the pics and your story, it’s nice seeing people visit those amazing places 😉

  6. I feel like Eastern Europe has been the most interesting read thus far and the pictures are amazing. There is so much history and a lot of people that have been put through a lot by the most western Europeans. It just seems like a very real area of Europe with wholesome people that are humble and thankful. Serajevo is beautiful.

  7. For really good Cevap
    in Banja Luka i would recommend a place called
    Kod Muje.

    love your photography

  8. Hey I am glad that you liked *my country* and that it was highlight for you! yes, I couldn’t agree more with you on food and everything else in fact 🙂 although you can find burek and chevapi anywhere nowadays in western balkan, they come from Bosnia in fact (in this form, modified from turkish one)

    I could go on and on about what more you can do and see in Bosnia (winter sports, rafting, culture, night life) but it seems that you’ve done already a good selection yourself.


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