History of Sarajevo

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This article is about the history of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is part of the "History of Sarajevo" series, and includes separate articles for each of the discussed periods of time.

Ancient history[edit]

The present day site of Sarajevo has a long and rich history dating back to the Stone Age. There were no people in the region in the Paleolithic era, although the remains of ancient animals have been found, including those of the ancient bear species, Ursus spelaeus. Excavation for the period has never been very comprehensive, and if the Sarajevo area was indeed inhabited during the Paleolithic era, the residents were probably Neanderthals.

During the neolithic era, the Sarajevo region was home to the Butmir Culture. Specifically, these people found themselves in Butmir, a satellite neighborhood of Ilidža, Sarajevo's chief suburb. The area is rich in flint, essential for making tools and weapons, and was attractive to ancient man, as was the Željeznica river which flows nearby.

The Butmir culture is most famous for its ceramics. Unique and artistic, it is one of the reasons why the Butmir people are identified as a unique culture today.[1] The finds were so sensational when they were made in the late 19th century, that the International Congress of Archeologists and Anthropologists was held in Sarajevo the following year.[citation needed] Today, all excavated material can be found in the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Butmir Culture disappeared around 2400 BC, probably conquered by the next prominent inhabitants of Sarajevo; the Illyrians. They lived primarily in the West Balkans, mostly around the river Miljacka and Sarajevo valley. The most prominent of these was Debelo Brdo (Literally "Fat Hill") in today’s Old Town, where an Illyrian fortification stood during the later Iron Age. Numerous Illyrian forts also existed in other parts of the city, as well as at the base of Trebević mountain. The Illyrians in the Sarajevo region belonged to the tribe Daesitates, a war-like group who were the last to resist Roman occupation. Their last revolt occurred in 9 AD, and was crushed by the emperor Tiberius, marking the start of Roman rule in the region.

During Roman rule, Sarajevo was part of the province of Dalmatia. A major Roman road ran through the Miljacka river valley connecting the rich coastal cities of Dalmatia and the Adriatic coast with Pannonia to the North. The importance of the road can be seen by the numerous Roman artifacts found in the heart of Sarajevo itself over the years. On the left bank of the Miljacka there were once found Roman bricks and an inscription indicating a construction yard and, nearby, a bathhouse. The biggest known settlement in the region was known as ‘’Aquae S...’’ (probably Aquae Sulphurae) on top of present-day Ilidža.

Middle Ages[edit]

The Slavs came to Bosnia in the 7th century, but details of their movement and settlement through the country remain a mystery. Some Slavic artifacts remain from the time however, and it is fairly certain that they settled in the Sarajevo valley, replacing the Illyrians. Katera, one of the two original Bosnian towns that were mentioned by Constantine Porphyrogenitus in De Administrando Imperio, was found to the southeast of Sarajevo. By the time of the Ottoman occupation there was little settlement left in the region, leaving the history of the Sarajevo region during the Middle Ages not well understood.

The first mentions of Bosnia describe a small region, which was basically the Bosna river valley, stretching from modern-day Zenica to Sarajevo.[citation needed] In the 12th century, when Bosnia became a vassal of Hungary, the population consisted primarily of members of the Bosnian Church. The area of present-day Sarajevo was part of the Bosnian province of Vrhbosna, near the traditional center of the kingdom. Though a settlement called Vrhbosna existed, the exact settlement of Sarajevo at this time is debated. During the High Middle Ages, various documents make note of a place called 'Tornik' in the region. By all indications, 'Tornik' was a very small marketplace surrounded by a proportionally small village, not considered very important by Ragusan merchants. Even the local fortress of Hodidjed was defended by a mere two dozen men when it fell to the Turks.

Others say that Vrhbosna was a major settlement located in the middle of modern-day Sarajevo. Papal documents indicate that in 1238, a cathedral dedicated to Saint Paul was built in the city. Disciples of the notable saints Cyril and Methodius stopped by the region, founding a church at Vrelo Bosne. Whether or not the city was located at modern-day Sarajevo, the documents attest to its and the region's importance.Perhaps a village existed on the outskirts of the city itself, near present-day Ilidža, one of the most attractive regions for settlement in the area, which had been significantly populated for pretty much every other period of its history. Vrhbosna was a Slavic citadel from 1263 until it was occupied by the Ottoman Empire in 1429.[2] Given the importance of Saint Peter, this would likely have been a very important cathedral, its exact location is unknown. Some have speculated that it was located in the present-day Sarajevo neighborhood of Skenderija, as it is said[by whom?] that during construction in the late 19th century, there were found Roman-style columns dating to sometime around the 12th century.

Whether this city was indeed located at modern-day Sarajevo or not, an important city called Vrhbosna did indeed exist at the time and the region was of great importance. Still, it is considered somewhat strange that the location of such an important city is unknown. It is possible that the city may have been destroyed sometime between the 13th century and the Ottoman occupation. It is a well-known fact[citation needed] that foreign armies had often made their way to Vrhbosna in wars with Bosnia, and perhaps one of them razed the city, leaving it in the condition that the Turks found it in the mid 15th century.

Early Ottoman Era[edit]

Sarajevo as we know it today was founded by the Ottoman Empire in the 1450s upon conquering the region, with 1461 typically used as the city’s founding date. The first known Ottoman governor of Bosnia, Isa-Beg Ishaković, chose the tiny local village of Brodac as a good space for a new city. He exchanged land with its residents, giving them today's Hrasnica neighborhood in Ilidža), and soon began building his provincial capital as he envisioned it. He quickly built a number of key objects, including a mosque, a closed marketplace, a public bath, a bridge, a hostel, and the governor’s castle ("Saray") which gave the city its present name. The mosque was named "Carova Džamija" (the Emperor’s Mosque; the Imperial Mosque) in honor of the Sultan Mehmed II.

With the improvements Sarajevo quickly grew into the largest city in the region. Many Christians converted to Islam at this time, as Ottoman reports from the period often tell of residents with Muslim names but of Christian named fathers, such as "Mehmed, son of Ivan." Meanwhile, an Orthodox population first appeared in Sarajevo at this time, as the Orthodox Church was built. A colony of Ragusan merchants also appeared in Sarajevo at this time. Soon after, in the early 16th century, the Sarajevo Haggadah came to Sarajevo along with Jewish refugees from Andalusia. For the first time in its history, Sarajevo was the city of four religions. The Jewish population made note of this, naming the city "The European Jerusalem."

Under the leadership of Gazi Husrev-beg, a major donor who was also responsible for most of what is now the Old Town, Sarajevo grew at a rapid rate. Sarajevo became known for its large marketplace and numerous mosques, which by the middle of the 16th century numbered over a hundred. Numerous other buildings appeared, including religious schools, such as the school of Sufi philosophy. Gazi Husrev-Beg himself established a number of buildings named in his honor, such as the Sarajevo library which, in its prime, was in the same category as the Madrassa of Beyazid II.

Gazi Husrev-Beg also built the city's clock tower (Sahat Kula). Sarajevo became one of the most advanced cities in Europe. It had its own water system, clock tower, bathhouses, and schools. In a time when education was merely for the wealthy, and most Europeans considered baths to be unhealthy, Sarayliyas (Sa-ray-lee-yas, residents of Sarajevo) were among the cleanest and most culturally advanced commoners on the continent. A famous Sarajevan poet of the time[who?] wrote, "There it seems to man that he can live for a long time, for in a thousand places in Sarajevo flows water from the well of longevity."

At its height, Sarajevo was the biggest and most important Ottoman city in the Balkans after Istanbul itself. By 1660, the population of Sarajevo was estimated to be over 80,000. Comparatively, Belgrade in 1838 had a mere 12,963 inhabitants, and Zagreb as late as 1851 had only 14,000 people.

This period of early Ottoman rule will be long remembered as Sarajevo's golden age. The 16th century was its peak, when nearly the whole city area (that would last until the late 19th century) was built. During the 17th century, Sarajevo didn't expand, although its population continued to grow. Its residents lived luxuriously, and Sarajevo was the richest city in the West Balkans after Dubrovnik. However the 17th century also brought the start of the decline of the Ottoman Empire. With the defeats at Vienna, the empire grew weaker, and along with the empire as a whole did its various regions. Although Sarajevo would remain prosperous until the very end of the 17th century, the latter half of it proved to be the beginning of the end.

Late Ottoman Era[edit]

The late Ottoman era, from 1697 to 1878, saw the decline of the empire, the city, and a number of disasters.

It is no coincidence that the beginning of the late Ottoman era in Sarajevo's history begins with the end of the Austro-Ottoman War. Following the failure at the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the western reaches of the empire were subject to numerous raids. It was the raid of 1697 by Prince Eugene of Savoy that would have the biggest impact. Brushing aside weak and unorganized defenses, Eugene was able to enter Sarajevo with ease, subsequently raiding and torching it.

Sarajevo was desolated by this attack. Very few structures survived the flames, and these were only ones built out of stone or subject to rare circumstance. The citizens of Sarajevo at that point had to start rebuilding their city from square one, not just structurally, but culturally and politically as well. By then, the seat of Bosnian government had already been transferred to Travnik, and the fire made the situation no better. For ten years between 1747 and 1757, the city even experienced anarchy.

If the city was no longer what it used to be structure wise, its intellectualism didn't suffer the slightest. In fact, the 18th century held many of Sarajevo's great thinkers, such as Mehmed Mejlija Guranij and Mula Mustafa Bašeskija. Significant libraries, schools, and mosques were built, as well as significant new fortifications.

The late 18th century however were not very good times. In 1788 another fire raged through Sarajevo, and this came only 5 years after an outbreak of plague. By the early 19th century, things did not get much better as Serbia gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire, creating a wedge between Sarajevo and Istanbul. This would all lead to the revolt of Bosniak national hero, Husein Gradaščević.

Demanding Bosnian independence from the Turks, Husein-Kapetan Gradaščević fought several battles around Bosnia. The last and ultimately most significant was the Battle of Sarajevo Field of 1832 where Husein-Kapetan Gradašćević was betrayed by a fellow Bosniak and lost a hard fought battle. There he uttered his famous words "This is the last day of our freedom". For the next several decades no major developments occurred, as Sarajevo withered away in the "sick man of Europe".


Bosniak resistance during the battle of Sarajevo in 1878 against the Austro-Hungarian occupation.

In 1878, Bosnia was occupied by Austria-Hungary. Architects and engineers who endeavored to rebuild Sarajevo as a modern European capital rushed to the city. They were unexpectedly aided by a fire that burned down a large part of the central city area (čaršija). This has resulted in a unique blend of the remaining Ottoman city market and contemporary western architecture. Sarajevo hosts some shiny examples of Secession and Pseudo-Moorish styles that date from this period.

The Austro-Hungarian period was one of great development for the city as the Western power brought its new acquisition up to the standards of the Victorian age. Various factories and other buildings were built at this time, and a large number of institutions were both Westernized and modernized. For the first time in history, Sarajevo’s population began writing in Latin script.

In the event that triggered the World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg were assassinated in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 by Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip.


After World War I Sarajevo became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Though it held some political importance, as the center of first the Bosnian region and then the Drinska Banovina, it was not treated with the same attention or considered as significant as it was in the past. Outside of today's national bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina, virtually no significant contributions to the city were made during this period.

During World War II the Kingdom of Yugoslavia put up a very inadequate defense. Following a German bombing campaign, Sarajevo was conquered by the Ustase Croatian fascist Independent State of Croatia, a puppet state of Nazi Germany. On October 12, 1941 a group of 108 notable Muslim citizens of Sarajevo signed the Resolution of Sarajevo Muslims by which they condemned the persecution of Serbs organized by Ustaše, made distinction between Muslims who participated in such persecutions and whole Muslim population, presented informations about the persecutions of Muslims by Serbs and requested security for all citizens of the country, regardless of their identity.[3] Many of the city's Serbs, Romani, and Jews were taken at this time and killed in the Holocaust bringing a sad end to the prominence of Sarajevo's Jewish community. In 1941, the atrocities committed by the Ustase were strongly condemned by groups of Sarajevo's citizens.

The Sarajevo resistance was led by a NLA Partisan named "Walter" Perić. Legend has it that when a new German officer came to Sarajevo and was assigned to find Walter, he asked his subordinate to show him Walter. The man took the officer to the top of a hill overlooking the city and said "See this city?", "Das Ist Valter". Walter was killed in the fighting on the day of Sarajevo's liberation, April 6, 1945. He has since become something of a city icon.

Following the liberation, Sarajevo was the capital of the republic of Bosnia within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The communists invested heavily in Sarajevo, building many new residential blocks in Novi Grad Municipality and Novo Sarajevo Municipality, while simultaneously developing the city's industry and transforming Sarajevo once again into one of the Balkans' chief cities. From a post-war population of 115,000, by the end of Yugoslavia Sarajevo had 429,672 people.

The crowning moment of Sarajevo’s time in Socialist Yugoslavia was the 1984 Winter Olympics. Sarajevo beat out Sapporo, Japan; and Falun/Gothenburg, Sweden for the privilege. They are widely regarded as among the most successful winter Olympic Games in history. They were followed by an immense boom in tourism, making the 1980s one of the city's best decades in a long time.


The Avaz Twist Tower is the headquarters of the Sarajevo newspaper Dnevni avaz

The history of modern Sarajevo begins with the declaration of independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina from Yugoslavia. The city then became the capital of the new state, as the local division of the Yugoslav People's Army established itself on the surrounding mountains. That day, massive peace protests took place. In the midst of the largest one, a protestor named Suada Dilberović was shot by unidentified gunmen from a nearby skyscraper.

The following three years found Sarajevo being the center of the longest siege in the history of modern warfare (See: Siege of Sarajevo). The city was held without electricity, heating, water, and medical supplies. During this whole time, the surrounding Serb forces shelled the city. An average of 329 shell impacts occurred per day, with a high of 3,777 shell impacts on July 22, 1993.

Asides from the economic and political structures that were destroyed, the besieger targeted numerous cultural sites. Thus places such as the Gazi Husrev-beg's Mosque, Cathedral of Jesus' Heart, and the Jewish cemetery were damaged, while places like the old City Hall and the Olympic museum were completely destroyed. For foreigners an event that defined the cultural objectives of the besiegers occurred during the night of August 25, 1992, the intentional shelling and utter destruction with incendiary shells of the irreplaceable Bosnia National and University Library, the central repository of Bosnian written culture, and a major cultural center of all the Balkans. Among the losses were about 700 manuscripts and incunabula and a unique collection of Bosnian serial publications, some from the middle of the 19th century Bosnian cultural revival. Libraries all over the world cooperated afterwards to restore some of the lost heritage, through donations and e-texts, rebuilding the Library in cyberspace.

It is estimated that 12,000 people were killed and another 50,000 wounded during the course of the siege. Through all this time however, the enemy forces were unable to decisively capture the city thanks to the effort of the Bosniak forces inside it. Following the Dayton Accords and a period of stabilization, the Bosnian government declared the siege officially over on February 29, 1996.

The next several years were a period of heavy reconstruction. During the siege, nearly every building in the city was damaged. Ruins were present throughout the city, and bullet holes were very common. Land mines were also located in the surroundings.

Thanks to foreign aid and domestic dedication, the city began a slow path to recovery. By 2003, there were practically no ruins in the city and bullet holes had become a rarity. Sarajevo was hosting numerous international events once again, such as the extremely successful Sarajevo Film Festival, and launched bids to hold the Winter Olympic Games in the city in the not so distant future.

Today Sarajevo is one of the fastest developing cities in the region. Various new modern buildings have been built, significantly the Bosmal City Center and the Avaz twist tower which is tallest skyscraper in the Balkans. A new highway was recently completed between Sarajevo and the city of Kakanj. The near-future for Sarajevo is hoped to hold continued development of the city, including construction of impressive modern buildings and population growth. The Sarajevo City Center will be one of the biggest and most modern Shopping and Business centers is South-East Europe when its gets completed 2012. If current growth trends continue, the Sarajevo metropolitan area should return to its pre-war population by 2020, with the city following soon after. At its current pace, Sarajevo won’t surpass the million resident mark until the second half of the 21st century. The most widely accepted and pursued goal was for the city to hold the Winter Olympics in 2014; that bid failed, so they will try again perhaps in 2022 or 2026.

Trebević ropeway (cable car) transportation system has been announced to be rebuilt following the use of the same during 1984 Winter Olympic Games. Trebević cable car was one of Sarajevo’s key landmarks. The cost involved will be 12,109.000[4] euros and it is planned to be competed by late 2016.[5] Cable cars and equipment have been donated by the Graechen ski centre in Wallis Canton, Switzerland. The selected cable cars are ideally suited to the project and meet the highest quality standards. The new Trebević cable car will have 6 sitting cabins and between 11 and 13 pillars, with a capacity to transport 1,200 passengers an hour. [6] Further monetary donations (approx 3,000,000 euros) have been made by Dutch national Edmond Offermann. [7][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Butmir Culture Pot"
  2. ^ "Sarajevo", Columbia Encyclopedia, edition 6, Retrieved on 3 August 2006 Archived 29 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Hadžijahić, Muhamed (1973), "Muslimanske rezolucije iz 1941 godine [Muslim resolutions of 1941]", Istorija Naroda Bosne i Hercegovine (in Serbo-Croatian), Sarajevo: Institut za istoriju radničkog pokreta, p. 277 
  4. ^ "Sarajevo: Za obnovu trebevićke žičare potrebno još 5 miliona KM". faktor.ba. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  5. ^ "Trebevićka žičara: Grad do maja 2015. mora postaviti stubove". radiosarajevo.ba. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  6. ^ "Bosnia; Sarajevo to regain the Trebevic cable car!". bosniavolimte. Retrieved 17 July 2011. 
  7. ^ "Trebevićka žičara: Uskoro rješavanje imovinsko-pravnih odnosa". klix.ba. Retrieved 11 August 2015. 
  8. ^ "Fizičar Edmond Offermann donirao više od 3 miliona eura za Trebevićku žičaru". klix.ba. Retrieved 12 November 2013.