If Sarajevo is indeed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s heart, the baščaršija (pronounced baash-char-shiya) is its shining historic, and cultural heart within a heart. Centrally located within the old city, the baščaršija is a remnant of Bosnia’s Ottoman past, but has been reclaimed as a point of national pride and living history within the country. This central market may be hundreds of years old, but its busy activity has not ceased since its construction in 1462.
Sarajevo’s bascarsija (from the Turkish root words baş – roughly translated to main or head, and çarşı – meaning market or bazaar), is an ancient urban oasis that embodies Sarajevo’s multicultural character in its variety of crafted goods, food, architecture, and cultural markers.
A Must Visit
” The čaršija has in everything, one thousand and eighty stores that are a model of beauty. The čaršija is very attractive and built according to plan.” – Evliya Çelebi – 17th century Ottoman explorer and writer
It is estimated that the baščaršija will draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to Bosnia and Herzegovina every year. In fact, it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country to date. It is no wonder travelers from all over the world are attracted to its romantic crafts shops, charming small alleys, cobblestone squares, and aromatic restaurants. If it is food you are looking for – few have left it with empty stomachs.
Sarajevo is famous for its delicious street food, and local burek and cevapi shops. Moderately priced, even if they don’t appeal to you at first, their aroma will undoubtedly draw you to a cevabdzinica around the corner. There are also restaurants serving more traditional Bosnian dishes, cakes, and Turkish coffee (prepared the old fashioned way).
As far as historical importance – the baščaršija was established in the 15th century by the city’s founder Isa-beg Isakovic. The baščaršija holds many historically significant structures, belonging to the city’s four major religious groups, including the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, the Old Church, the Old Temple and the New Temple, and many other structures such as the sahat-kula, Morica Han, the Vijećnica (town hall), and others. One of Sarajevo’s most important benefactors, Gazi Husrev-Beg was responsible for the construction of many of the surviving structures in Sarajevo’s central market, including many public buildings that benefitted Sarajevo’s local population.
At the dawn of its construction, the carsija served as a central trading post and over time, steadily grew into one of the most important centers of economy and trade in the region. With Bosnia and Herzegovina’s annexation to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century, the baščaršija’s influence waned and has only recently experienced a tourism boom that is helping people rediscover this special place.
In 1984, Sarajevo was the host of the Winter Olympics. The world descended upon the Bosnian city and the baščaršija was often a central gathering ground and a hub for activity for athletes and spectators alike. The “Olympic spirit,” of this event lives on in Sarajevo and visitors can even check out some of the abandoned venues a little outside of the center of the city.
Explore, explore, repeat
Historic significance aside – the baščaršija today is still a fully functional market, complete with independent crafts shops, many of which still create goods according to the traditional methods, passed down from one generation to another over hundreds of years. In the Kazandžiluk Street, you will see a lot of artists belonging to the city’s coppersmith guild, as was the case hundreds of years ago.
These talented artists usually hand-make pieces of jewelry, decoration, and souvenirs. Many even convert shell casings and bullet casings left over from the Siege of Sarajevo (the longest siege in modern military history) into works of art.
Whatever your motivation for visiting Sarajevo, your visit will not be complete without a visit to one of the most historically and culturally significant places in the city and the country.