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.
Looking at the pale grey, sun-drenched stones from a distance, one is reminded of Tolkien’s mythical city Minas Tirith. This is no fantasy, however, but very much a real-life place, steeped in thousands of years of history and tradition.
Broken stećak depicted by Hugo Charlemont, 1901.
The Bosnian writer and philosopher-poet Mak Dizdar once remarked that the secrets of Bosnia are hidden in the words inscribed on the ancient marble of the stecci (medieval tombstones). Dizdar was so fascinated by these ancient objects (some dating as far back as the 12th century) that it inspired much of his writing and creative contributions to BiH’s literary heritage.
Like a flock of migratory birds, Bosnians all over the world look forward to summertime with great yearning. It means the smell of cevapi and lamb over coals, the sight of family and friends that were only available over phone and computer monitors for most of the year, and the sounds of the mosque’s call to prayer mingled with church bells. It means the sight of ancient stone bridges, rolling green landscapes, and roaring waterfalls breaking the silence of the day. It means a return home. It means a return to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The academic in me writhed in pain even at the idea of writing something like this. An uncited, cliff-note style summary of hundreds of years of rich Bosnian history? To top it off, incredibly well written with a sharp sense of humor? (OK, maybe not). Don’t do it. Just don’t. It’s not worth it. It goes against everything you’ve been trained to do.
One of the earliest and most potent memories in my mind is the wafting of cigarette smoke, the smell of Turkish (or Bosnian) coffee and rakija at my grandfather’s house.