We will start with today’s bathing area Bentbaša, which was once known as medieval village of Brodac. The founder of Sarajevo, Isa beg Isaković thought this location was just perfect for establishing a city, so first of all, he had the Careva džamija (Emperor’s Mosque) built, followed by Tekija (Khanqah), lodgings, administrative center and housing court he named Saraj, which would later become Sarajevo. In Baščaršija, he builds Kolobara Han (Kolobara Inn), a hotel in modern terms, which was soon surrounded by a multitude of shops creating the economic basis for the development of the city.
Kozja ćuprija bridge (Goat Bridge) was built upstream from the village of Brodac in the 16th century, and today is an easy, half hours walk from Bentbaša along the Dariva Street. Not much is known about Kozja ćuprija, but it is certain that everything came to town through it: armies, caravans, religions, cultures and influences.
There are two traditions about the origin of Kozja ćuprija. According to the first legend, the bridge was built by the Romans, and the second claims it was built by Mehmed Paša in memory of his childhood when he was just a poor goat shepherd. According to the legend, one of the goats in his care discovered the hidden treasure. Mehmed used it for his education, became elected to the rank of Pasha and constructed a bridge he called “Goat’s Bridge”.
Another permanent stamp was left by Gazi Husrev Beg (Gazi Husrev Bey), the conqueror of Belgrade, the irreplaceable warrior in campaigns of Suleiman the Magnificent, triple Bosnian Steward and Builder. In 1530, with his own money, he built the most monumental building of Islamic culture in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the largest sacral object of Islamic architecture in this part of the world, Gazi Husrev Beg Mosque, sitting on the right bank of the river Miljacka. Bey Mosque, together with mekteb, wudu inn, two octagonal mausoleums and the clock tower building is the central and largest complex of the “čaršija”, and has had a significant influence on all construction activities in the city. It is also the first mosque in the world to install electrical lighting. A clock tower – Sahat kula about 30 meters high was constructed next to the mosque. At the time, few people owned a watch, so it was an important landmark for Muslim believers who perform their prayers five times a day, at certain times. Following the example of Constantinopole madrasas, Gazi Husrev Bey also built a madrasah with a library across from the mosque, which he dedicated to his mother Sultana Seldžuka.
Generally, over 100 mosques were built in Sarajevo during the 15th and 16th century, most famous ones apart from Gazi Husrev Beg are Alipašina and Ferhadija mosques. All Sarajevo mosques had not only religious role, but also cultural and educational and represented hearts of residential areas, surrounded by 5 or 6 streets.Sarajevo, like many Levant cities at the time, was divided on Čaršija – a commercial area and the peaceful residential areas – Mahala. Mahalas were built on the surrounding slopes from the center towards the outskirts. People lived in mahalas and they did their business in čaršija. The commercial center of the city is Baščaršija. There are over 1000 shops located there. The streets of Čaršija bare names of old crafts: Kazazi (button makers), Kujundžiluk (jewelers), Kazandžiluk (copper smiths), Sarači (sewing quilts and rugs), Mudželiti (bookbinders), Kovači (blacksmiths), Sarači (leather workers), Bazerdžani (head of trade), Ašćiluk (restaurants), while the streets of residential areas had names like Behar (buds), Cvijetna (flower), Karanfil Mahala (coronation mahala), Pod Trešnjom (under the cherry tree), Višnjik (black cherry), Podhrastovi (under the oak tree), Sedam šuma (seven woods).
If you want to experience Baščaršija in the best way, you should, by all means, take a stroll down Bravadžiluk Street. Within the Blacksmiths (Haddan) Bazaar, which was formed in the 16th century, over time individual craftsmen specialized in making locks and padlocks, which is how this street was named. However, nowadays Bravadžiluk represents a gastronomic paradise in Baščaršija and along this street you will find some of the most famous Sarajevo čevapčići, pita and ašćinica food shops.
Sarajevo is also famous for its large number of public taps, shadirvans and fountains (sebil), which supplied the city with water, as well as decorating it. Sarajevo had water supply system as early as mid-15th century which was not the case in many European cities at the time.
The Islamic tradition of building charitable city fountains – Sebil goes back 13 centuries. Today, Baščaršija Sebil is the only facility of its kind, although famous Sarajevo chronicler Mula Mustafa Bešeskija states that there was once over 100 Sebils. They all burned down in the great fire of 1697.
Just a short walk from the Bey Mosque is the old Orthodox Church. Although it is unclear exactly when it was built, it is considered one of the oldest religious monuments in Sarajevo.
There are two traditions about its origins. The first one credits Andrija, the brother of Prince Marko. Supposedly, the church was built with Bey’s permission, with a condition that it was not to be higher than the surrounding mosques. Second tradition claims the initial church was destroyed during the Turkish occupation, so the Sultan ordered the construction of a new church with a condition that it was not to be bigger than the skin of one ox. Some wise old man cut the skin into strips and used them to enclose a space large enough to build a church.
About 350 meters from the old orthodox church is Svrzina kuća (Svrzo’s house), representing the culture of living of an urban Muslim family from the late 18th and throughout the 19th century. The richness of the interiors was not reflected in their furniture, but rich variety of fabrics, carpets, carved wood, gold and silverware, silk mattresses, pillows made from brocade and atlas silk, ebony tables, large mirrors, wide rooms and functional layouts.
During the mid-16th century, Sarajevo was also inhabited by Jewish population, who, when fleeing Spain found refuge only within the Ottoman Empire. Jews have settled some 200 meters below the old Orthodox Church where han (inn) was built for them by Major Sijaruš-Paša using his own funds. Veliki Hram (Great Temple) was built in Velika avlija (Great Courtyard) and it was the first Jewish place of worship or kortidžo, as they called the complex in their own language. Today, Velika avlija Laure Papo Bahorette, the oldest synagogue in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a home to the Museum of BiH Jews, while the Great Temple is now “galerija Novi Hram” (New Temple Gallery).
At the beginning of the 17th century, the population of Sarajevo was almost entirely Muslim. But that was not always the case, nor will it be in times to come. This area is the borderline between Eastern and Western Roman Empire and the Romans were never able to Romanize ancient Illyrians. The Slavs managed to impose their language and culture between 5th and 11th century. Between 11th and 15th century, a multireligious state was created and is still remembered for not belonging to anyone but its own people. This self-confident Bosnian nation could allow a mosque, a Catholic and an Orthodox church to be built in the middle of Čaršija, all within a 200m diameter. Books and records were written in everyone’s own language using Latin, Cyrilic and Arabian script, as well as preserving one of the oldest Jewish books – Hagada.
It will forever be remembered that in October 1819 in Sarajevo, about 3000 Muslims rebelled against the Bosnian governor Mehmed Ruždi-paše (Mehmed Pasha Rushdie), using force to liberate several unfairly arrested Sarajevo Jews. For a long time after, that day, 4th Marcheshvan (August) was celebrated in Jewish community as the day their distinguished people were liberated.
A short distance from Velika avlija, in Logavina Street, is Muzej ratnog djetinjstva (War Childhood Museum), the first museum in the world devoted to the experience of growing up during the war. It features a collection of personal items, stories, audio and video testimonies, photographs, letters, drawings and other documents which all together paint a unique picture of growing up in wartime Sarajevo.
To continue our journey, we will return to the river. Maybe it’s time to take a break and relax in the beautiful garden of the Museum or one of the many cafes in Baščaršija. Actually, the first cafes in Sarajevo were opened 100 years before their Paris counterparts, and most popular were the ones that opened in the mornings and served good coffee. Coffee here is still enjoyed and drank with “merak” (pleasure) or not at all.