As you walk along Baščaršija, at one moment the path will branch off, with Sebilj on the left side. A little bit prior to this unique structure, in a small street on your right side, you are slowly won over by copper souvenirs and the sounds of coppersmiths at work. This is how you know you have reached Kazandžiluk, the street of coppersmiths, masters of the old craft which came to B&H with the arrival of the Ottomans.
Back in 1489, the first coppersmith in Sarajevo was mentioned. Over time, the number of them grew, so that at the beginning of the 16th century they founded their own guild. Some families continually worked as coppersmiths for over 150 years and this was also the first guild whose members started trading copper, tin and copper products, as evidenced by records from the beginning of the 18th century. A special workshop for artistic crafts founded during Austro-Hungarian times provided additional incentive for the development of this trade.
You will enter the store of hajji Mirsad Brkanić with light steps; his work is on the UNESCO world heritage list of the coppersmith trade in 2005. As a child, he wanted to inherit the coppersmith trade from his father and older brother. That is how he was raised. When it comes to traditional trades, which date back to 500 years ago, he tells us that every married couple wanted a male child due to inheritance, not just because of the surname, but because of the trade, which would remain in the family.
Introduction to the business started when he was ten or eleven, when he was able to independently come to the store and bring his father his lunch. Wisely and unobtrusively, his father (who would motivate him with praise and reward his efforts while he was taking his first steps in this trade) would keep him in the store for some time, asking him to pass him some tool, which is how Mirsad began to learn the names of the tools, so that at the age of 12 he would start using them for easier tasks, such as decorating smaller plates.
“The first products were most often given as gifts to foreigners, and as kids when we would come to the store and see that the plates weren’t there, our father would say that he had sold them. We would be happy that our product had been purchased, so we would make an effort to make even prettier ones”, recalls Mirsad.
Apart from learning the family coppersmith trade, he also got a degree at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. However, he remained faithful to the trade, despite also doing other work, and his greatest pride are his close family members, twelve of them to be precise, and he describes them as good masters of the trade. The youngest member of the family, Mirsad’s nine-year-old grandson, surpassed tradition when he started coming to his store at the age of seven, starting with holding a hammer in his hand and getting used to its sounds.
In the immediate vicinity of Mirsad’s store, we made a quick stop at the store of his son Vedad Brkanić (41), who will have been in the coppersmith trade for a full 20 years this year.
In modern times, when other professions are more attractive, it is nice to hear someone say: “I’m happy with work.”
When asked whether work can become a routine, he explains: “That can’t happen, as you are always trying to make something prettier, you are actually competing with yourself. I always try to make a more challenging pattern, it’s kind of like a video game with no end. There are levels, but there is no final level.”
At Kazandžiluk, you will also come across the store of coppersmith Ismet Alagić. He started writing his coppersmith story when he was 15, when he was old enough to learn the trade.
“I learned the trade for three years from the best master at Baščaršija, the late Asim Jabučar. After that, I stayed for another two years to perfect my skills, and then I opened my own store, which I have to this day. I have been in this street for a total of 50 years”, tells Ismet, whose store you cannot enter without immediately noticing a one-meter tray on the left side, his masterpiece as he calls it, which is around twenty years old. It is not on its own, as the other walls of the store are decorated by two equally large trays, and the current price of all three is the same – BAM 2500.
On the same side, a little bit towards the entrance to Kazandžiluk, we came across a young coppersmith, 27-year-old Jasmin Muratović, who was attracted to the coppersmith trade two years ago. He learned its elements from famous coppersmith Nasir Jabučar.
“I see art as a great thing, it gives a person a lot of love, attention, as well as a profession, acquaintances, and it gives you the opportunity to avoid the bad things in life”, says Jasmin, pointing out the things he likes in his work.
“Nothing is too hard, you just need to have good will, logic and try hard.”
Kazandžiluk is “under the veil” of tradition. It is worth coming here and feeling how the creative past lives today.