“Welcome and good day,” says Zoran Ćatić, director and radio host. He’s sitting in a moving cable car, a massive city spread out behind him. “Your hosts for the day are Nenad—” motioning towards the man next to him. “And Zoran,” he continues, motioning towards himself. “I hope you’re all ready for the tour.”
This is not an unusual start to a tour of Sarajevo. What’s so unusual about it is that Zoran and Nenad aren’t talking to anybody; rather, they’re talking to a small camera Zoran is holding up in front of him and pointing out the window of the cable car. This virtual tour is how the Association of Language and Culture ‘Linguists’ circumnavigated recent epidemiological measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how they allow students from thousands of kilometres away to glimpse into everyday city life.
Zoran happily starts the tour with an explanation of the city we all love. Sarajevo was founded sometime around 1450s by the Ottoman Empire. The first governor of Sarajevo, Isa-Beg Ishaković, is held responsible for the transformation of a few shacks to the grand capital it is today. By 1660, Sarajevo was as important as Istanbul, with a population of 80,000. Now, Sarajevo has a population of 275,000 within city lines, with over 555,000 in the metropolitan area, and can be seen perfectly from the Trebević cable car.
The cable car was built in 1959 and was used during the 1984 Winter Olympics before it was destroyed by the war. However, it was recently rebuilt in 2018. It connects the city of Sarajevo to the mountain Trebević, crossing an elevation of over 600 m in 9 minutes. Less than a 5-minute walk away from the cable car is the Sarajevo Brewery. Founded in 1864, it is considered the first industry-based profession in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bells from the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua ring in the background. On some days, the bells will ring at the same time as the adhan from the Emperor’s Mosque. The same neighbourhood holds both as a testament to Sarajevo's diversity and history—both buildings are hundreds of years old.
Next up, Zoran and Nenad take their virtual watchers to the Latin Bridge. Not just one of the oldest preserved bridges in Sarajevo, it is also the location of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Gavrilo Princip in 1914. This ultimately led to the start of World War One. Because of this well-known fact, it is also known as Princip’s Bridge.
“I’ll just take the opportunity to say Franz Ferdinand wasn’t actually planning on using this path at all,” Zoran says, pointing at the bridge. “But there was another assassination attempt just before this, and some of his men were hurt, so he asked to see them after going past the City Hall… they even offered Sophie (his wife) to stay behind, but she didn’t want to, and that was a fatal decision.”
They continue down to Baščaršija, passing by Despić House (the home of a wealthy Serb merchant family and the location of the first ever theatre play) and the Museum of Literature & Performing Arts (a collection of cultural and historical items on literature and theatre, as well as some preserved works and items of Bosnian-Jewish writer Isak Samokovlija). The streets of Baščaršija are lined with cobblestone streets and domed ceilings, with the Sarajevo Clock Tower looming from above. Next to and constructed with the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, the clock shows lunar time, allowing the local Muslim residents to plan for the next prayer.
“You've all seen that scene with Walter and his partners shooting (Nazis) from that Clock Tower,” Zoran says, referencing the cult classic Valter brani Sarajevo (Walter Defends Sarajevo), which holds the record as one of the most-watched war films of all time. The film would go on later to inspire an entire sub-culture of punk music, with the famous band Zabranjeno Pušenje even naming their first album Das ist Walter.
Previously mentioned, the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque is one the largest historical mosque in Sarajevo. Built in 1531 and acting a symbol of unity and progress, it was also an obvious target for Serbian forces. The mosque was heavily damaged, which resulted in the complete inner reconstruction of the mosque in 2001. Today it is surrounded by traditional tourist shops and water fountains. One of the fountains, attached to the side of the mosque gates, is said that anybody who drinks from it will eventually return to the city. It is also considered the heart of the Old Town.
Zoran jumps to explain the Old Town a bit better. “Baščaršija was made during the Ottoman Empire,” he shouts over the sounds of traditional music and shopkeepers haggling. “It used to be twice as big, it was actually two times the size it is today. ‘Baš’ came from the Turkish word main, meaning the main ‘Čaršija’. It was the place for people to meet up, barter, and exchange experiences.”
They continue down Baščaršija. One short tangent is into an alcove holding Morića Han, a roadside inn where the activist Morić brothers rebelled against the Ottoman Empire. Another is just down the path, the Sebilj wooden fountain built in 1753. But the real focus are the smells.
“Sarajevo is really distinct for having good food for relatively low prices,” Zoran says. “By that I mean ćevapi, burek... when you speak with people from Sarajevo, you'll notice that everybody has their own opinion on where the best ćevapi are, and that used to be how Sarajevo was divided—along with whether you lived on the ‘damp’ side of Baščaršija or on the ‘sunny’ side, and whether you cheer for the football club Željezniča or Sarajevo.”
The end of Baščaršija is marked by the City Hall. It is one of the younger historical landmarks, having been built in 1894. However, like so many other buildings in Sarajevo, the City Hall was destroyed during the war, resulting in a damaged building and the loss of thousands of valuable books and city records. Now, it is headquarters of the Mayor of Sarajevo, and a popular photography spot for young couples.
The last spot of the day is on the other side of the neighbourhood. Rather than wait for erratic trams (in fact, Bosnians can boast that the first ever public tramlines in Europe were installed in Sarajevo), Nenad and Zoran walk their way through tiny streets overflowing with greenery and traditional metalwork shops. On the way, they stop to admire the Sacred Heart Cathedral, the largest cathedral and the centre of Catholic worship in the city. But their goal is the Eternal Flame.
The Eternal Flame is at the mouth of Baščaršija, and is a memorial to the victims of World War Two. A dancing gas flame sits in front of a stone inscription, thanking the soldiers and civilians of all ethnic and religious backgrounds for coming together and protecting the city. The flames have been burning since 1946.
Zoran and Nenad finish the tour with the suggestion to think and research about the effect of Yugoslavia on Sarajevo. After a full tour just barely scratching the surface of this detailed city, they leave their viewers wanting more. The final shot is of the other, modern side of Sarajevo, teeming with life.
“That’s another thing for which Sarajevo is so special,” Zoran says, seconds after they run into the Ambassador of the United States of America taking a stroll. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, why you’re walking around—nobody bothers you.” Sarajevo is free for all who love it. Anybody who was lucky enough to watch Nenad’s and Zoran’s tour left with a list of films, foods, and places to try out on their next visit to Sarajevo.