The capital city of Bosnia, Sarajevo, stands out to many Americans as the site of a brutal years-long siege waged during what has been erroneously called the "Bosnian civil war." Some people fortunately also remember the Sarajevo of 1984 when the Olympics made their home in the Golden Valley. But aside from these two vastly different events, one threatening to tear a country up and the other bringing the world together, Sarajevo remains somewhat mysterious in the general psyche. Sarajevo is nestled inside a valley of the Dinaric Alps. The mountains create a sense of comfort as the arms of a mother cradling her child. They were in use for the 1984 Olympics and some of them have recently begun sprouting ski resorts in order to attract more tourism. Sadly, in the war, the valley proved to be a disadvantage to Sarajevans as the surrounding hillside was used as crucial attack points. Access to the city was made easier this way for enemy forces. However, Sarajevo has persevered through it and is slowly on its way to recovery and the continuation of its long and rich history.
Sarajevo was born centuries ago as an Ottoman stronghold. Under Turkish rule, it grew and matured over the years and went through its puberty when the Austro-Hungarian empire flew in, bringing modernity and high culture along with it. Consequently, Sarajevo now boasts buildings and structures that hearken back to both eras of its history. The Turkish influence is most felt in the Old Town, or Bascarsija, where the streets resemble a sort of market square, somewhat akin to that seen in Disney's Aladdin—a poor analogy, but one that seems to fit the best. No cars are allowed to pass down its cobblestone streets which are usually packed with people shopping, meeting friends, or eating outside in the many courtyards. There is a mosque in the center, its minarets towering over the rest of the Old Town. One of the most important sites in Bascarsija happens to be the fountain that flows from the side of the mosque's exterior wall. It is said that those who drink from it will never leave Sarajevo again. The water is so cool and delicious that one taste of it can make you think that maybe the myth really is true. The other buildings of Bascarsija, all interconnected, stand squat, like hunched over grandmothers. Their roofs angle into the street. Along the side streets, various small shops sell brass cookware and platters, particularly those used in the preparation and serving of Turkish coffee—a strong presence in the Bosnian culture. A strong nightlife scene also flourishes in Bascarsija. Manyrestaurants and bars pump loud music into the streets on weekend
evenings. Some of them have specific themes and décor to match. There are also various bars and clubs strewn throughout the rest of the city, even one dedicated to Marshall Tito, the former leader of Yugoslavia.
Culturally, Sarajevo is home to many museums and hosts various events throughout the year. Each summer, the city hosts its annual Sarajevo Film Festival, an event which has been going on since 1995—while the siege was still in effect—and continues to this day. Each year more and more people come to the festival and it is slowly gaining momentum in the film world. It has attracted notable figures from all around the world and even some American actors have served as jurors. Another famous festival is the Jazz Festival, which happens during the winter months, a time when the so-called Sarajevo Winter is in effect. Sarajevo Winter takes place during the entirety of the winter months and helps to keep the intellectual world alive with stage performances, concerts, and art exhibitions. Acting as a sister to the Sarajevo Winter festival is Bascarsije Nights, centered in the Old Town during the entire month of July. During the Nights, many cultural events are offered for free: plays, ballets, and even concerts of some mainstream artists. A popular ex-Yugoslav singer, Djordje Balasevic, who tends to sell out at his concerts, held a free concert in 2005 in front of a large crowd of admirers. Sarajevo has become the place to visit in recent years. It is still reconstructing after the war but has done a great job thus far in rebuilding. Its people are loveable and charismatic, and contrary to misguided belief, they generally get along. For centuries, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews have lived together in this wonderful city and hope to continue on doing so.