The Statesman’s Yearbook Online

edited by Dr Barry Turner


Image courtesy of wikipedia


Sarajevo, situated at the heart of the Balkans, is sometimes called the 'Jerusalem of Europe' owing to a long history of religious co-existence that brought together adherents of Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism. In 1914 the city was the scene of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that sparked the First World War. In 1984 it hosted the Winter Olympics and in the early 1990s it was a crucial battleground in the Bosnian war.


The earliest settlement in the Sarajevo valley dates back to the Neolithic period. Ilyrians flourished in the region until the area was merged into the Roman Empire in AD 9. After the Romans, the Slavs arrived and by the 1100s Bosnia was emerging as an independent state.

In the 15th century the region was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. Modern Sarajevo was founded in 1461 by Isa-beg Ishaković, the first governor of Bosnia, to house the region's Ottoman government. Under Ishaković's rule the nucleus of the city—the mosque, the central bazaar, public baths and the governor's castle, 'Saray', which gave the city its present name—were built. The first 150 years of the Ottoman rule saw Sarajevo grow into the largest city in the region. Most of what is now the Old Town was built during the administration of Gazi Husrev-beg, the city's second governor, after whom Sarajevo's most important mosque is named. By the mid-17th century Sarajevo had more than 100 mosques and an estimated population of over 80,000.

Prince Eugene of Savoy's raid in 1697 took a heavy toll. His troops pillaged Sarajevo and set it on fire, wiping out almost the entire city in a day. Despite efforts to rebuild, it remained weakened until 1878 when Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina and began steering it away from the East and towards Europe. The Viennese administration was eager to modernize the city, partly to justify its colonial presence to residents reluctant to embrace their new rulers. The city experienced a construction boom with numerous cultural and educational institutions being founded. Along with the standard architectural styles of the time, a unique pseudo-Moorish style was introduced. Urban planning in Sarajevo also served the function of a testing site for inventions. Before being introduced in Vienna, innovations like electric street lighting and tramways was put to the test in the colonies—Sarajevo became the first city in Europe and the second city in the world, after San Francisco, to have a fully operational electric tram network.

The growth of the city was interrupted on 28 June 1914 when Gavrilo Princip assassinated Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie during their visit to Sarajevo, an event which lit the fuse that ignited the First World War. After the war Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of the newly-formed Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Sarajevo was stripped of its primacy as a capital city.

Nazi Germany invaded Sarajevo in April 1941 and incorporated the city into the Croatian fascist regime. Thousands of refugees poured in looking for shelter. Following its liberation, large-scale clearing and rebuilding began. During its years as a part of the new socialist Yugoslavia, Sarajevo almost tripled in size. By 1984, when it hosted the 14th Winter Olympic Games, it was a modern city with a population of half a million.

Tourism underpinned the flourishing economy until 1992 when Sarajevo became the focus of one of the most dramatic events in the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia. The city was trapped in the longest siege in modern European history, lasting nearly four years during which Sarajevo's 400,000 residents were shelled and sniped, and cut off from food, medicine, water and electricity. Nearly 12,000 civilians were killed and the city lost over a third of its total population.

Although still bearing visible scars the city has risen above its violent past. Today Sarajevo is one the fastest-growing cities in the region, attracting visitors with a bustling and diverse cultural life.


Located on the river Miljacka, Sarajevo is the capital of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the two entities that make up the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and of the country itself. It is nestled among the Olympic mountains in the Sarajevo valley at the far southern end of the Dinaric Alps in the heart of southeastern Europe. Sarajevo stretches over 141.5 sq. km.

At the time of the last census in 1991 the total population counted 527,049, 49.2% of whom were Muslims, 29.8% Serbs, 10.7% Yugoslavs and 6.6% Croats. It is estimated that around 400,000 people currently live in Sarajevo; the biggest ethnic groups are Bosniaks, making up around 77% of the population, and Serbs, numbering around 12%. Much of the pre-war Serb population now lives in East Sarajevo, which forms part of Republika Sprska, the mainly Serbian autonomous entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.


The city government is formed of four separate municipal governments (Old City, Centre, New City and New Sarajevo) and has its own constitution. The executive branch comprises a mayor, two deputies and a cabinet. The legislative branch consists of a 28-member City Council.

The Major of Sarajevo is largely a representative post, as all the main executive powers are in the hands of local municipalities. The current mayor, Ivo Komšić, the first non-Bosniak mayor of the capital in 22 years, was elected in March 2013. He promised to work towards greater integration of East Sarajevo.


Numerous reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes after years of war have transformed Sarajevo into one of the strongest economic regions of the country. Its economy is fuelled by tourism, administration and manufacturing; foods and beverages, textiles, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and metalworking are produced. The cost of living is very low and a substantial informal market exists. Unemployment is among the highest in Europe, at 46%.


The centre of the city is served by a tram network that makes an anti-clockwise loop around the central area. All parts of the city are interconnected by a network of buses, trolleybuses and minibuses. Taxis are among the cheapest in Europe. Sarajevo International Airport, located 6 km southwest of the city, is the country's busiest international airport.



The Sarajevo Film Festival, held in August every year, is considered the leading film festival in southeast Europe. Founded during the siege of Sarajevo in 1995, the event now attracts about 100,000 visitors every year. The main focus of the programme is on the region of southeast Europe and the festival showcases both feature and short films.

Places of interest

Baščaršija, once a great bazaar, is the historical and cultural heart of Ottoman Sarajevo, situated on the northern bank of the river. It was built by the city's founder in 1462. Today it is only half of its original size thanks to a fire in the 19th century and its lanes bustle with people at all times of the day.

Just a stone's throw away is the Gazi Husrev-beg mosque, dating to 1531. It is widely considered the most important Islamic structure in the country and is the largest and most visited Islamic building in the Balkan region. In its original state it encompassed beautiful ornamentation and over 50 large windows. However, the siege left the structure heavily damaged. It was reconstructed with Saudi assistance, prompting claims that the renovated mosque now exhibits noticeable influences of Wahhabism.

On the southern bank of the river lies the Ashkenazi Synagogue, constructed by the Viennese administration in 1902. Currently the only active synagogue in Sarajevo, it stands out for its eclectic pseudo-Moorish style.

Another favourite site for visitors is the Latin Bridge, famous for being the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife were assassinated on 28 June 1914.


Sarajevo's more recent war years can be explored in the Tunnel Museum, located inside one of the two houses that provided the entry/exit points of a tunnel linking the besieged city to the free zone beyond the airport. The tunnel provided a life line through which passed the elderly and the injured, food, supplies and soldiers. The museum exhibits memorabilia and shows video footage of the siege.


Sarajevo's most popular daily newspapers are Dnevni Avaz ('Daily Voice') and Oslobođenje ('Liberation'). The latter is the longest-running continuously-circulating daily.


The Latin Bridge



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