The week before last and over the weekend I was in Sarajevo for work.

I was involved with a workshop at the Faculty of Islamic Theology at Sarajevo University working with colleagues from around the world. I think we all fell in love with Sarajevo. A few of us wanted to make plans to move there.

river3 old town

If you drink the water from here you are destined to return to Sarajevo so we all drank – I drank twice just to make sure


The workshop and discussions were about religious conversion, co-existence and tolerance. We were from all different faith backgrounds and none (I am the none).

We were based in the Faculty of Islamic Theology  (as a little aside, the link here takes you to an article by Stefan Schreiner who was with us at the workshop and took us on a personal tour of the city) which was originally the Islamic School for Theology and Sharia Law established by the Austro-Hungarian administration at the end of the 19th century when they occupied the country. The college trained Islamic judges and other civil servants who were responsible for regulating affairs for the Muslim community in Bosnia in accordance with Islamic law. This I found very surprising and encouraging.

I didn’t take a photo, but in architectural style it is similar in style to the rathaus which is by the same architect.


We visited the newly rebuilt Sarajevo library that was badly damaged in the 1990s war. There is a reason that invading or occupying powers destroy or appropriate libraries and archives – its a means of silencing alternative stories.


While we were at the library the former Grand Mufti (who was also my friend’s teacher many years ago) spoke to us and made us laugh. I also bought some calligraphy – I really like Islamic calligraphy.

Sarajevo used to be a very multicultural city, before the horrific religious/cultural ethnic persecution, murder and horror of the second world war and the Bosnian war in the early 1990s.


There were and are beautiful old mosques, churches and synagogues in the city

orthodox church.jpg


Gazi Husrev cami.jpg

and reminders of the conflict in the 1990s.

war damage.jpg

As we were leaving the city on the last day, the driver of the mini bus (whose name I don’t know) pointed out to my friend (who translated from the Bosnian) and I, the hills where the Serbian artillery was positioned during the siege of Sarajevo. He and his family were living in the city during the siege and he volunteered to try and defend it, getting injured during the fighting.

view from sebil

We also walked passed the place where Archduke  Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914 thereby, according to some historians, beginning the horrors of the First World War. This is a lazy explanation and excuse. Wars don’t start and then drag on for years simply because one person gets shot, it takes the small and large decisions of many people and administrations to keep this type of mass slaughter going for so long. So often history is used to incite difference and hatred and to excuse the deplorable decisions of dominant interests under the guise of clearly explaining what actually happened. Historians should stop being complicit in helping states and governments excuse their involvement in such conflicts and instead tell stories that encourage tolerance, co-existance and understanding – or go and get a different job.


12 responses to “Sarajevo

    • Not sure i could do the city justice, I thought about what to say and nothing was really right. Plus I didn’t take many good photos as i was talking a lot and just looking …..

  1. Wonderful post Claire. As always, thank you for sharing all of this. I will say though, you’re making your own yogurt now, how could you possibly move off your farm? With the polytunnel of dreams?! I guess I could come and take over for you??? But ONLY if you insist!!!
    Love to you and James.

  2. J > The best way to try out somewhere new to live is … to live there! Certainly not as a tourist – or even just a brief work-trip. Life in Bosnia is complicated. Just as life in the Outer Hebrides is much more complicated than stunning scenery and incomparable wildlife. There are people. And people are complicated. Frying pans and Fires spring to mind!

    • It certainly is the best way to find out if you really like living in a place :). I used to live in Turkey and loved it – I quite like living in complicated places, it means I have to reflect and think in a different way to when things are easy and taken for granted. I also like living in places where I have to learn a different language and I like living in countries where I can hear the ezan. Personally I quite fancied a little farm up in the mountains keeping goats with maybe the odd trip to the new library to read Ottoman manuscripts ….. it is a dream as basically we are staying here, but you never know what will happen …..

      • J > You suffer the same disease as D and I. We’ve always lived in border regions, or in places that are foreign in some degree or other. It’s addictive! You’re very very fortunate to be able to combine homebodiness and travelphilia. That said, doing so inevitably brings tensions.

        • I kind of prefer the homebodiness now. I used to like travelling more, but now I want to stay home – however sometimes I have to travel for work. But, like you, I do like borders and if my life was slightly different I would no doubt be living abroad now – instead we have different adventures here 🙂

  3. Hi Claire, If you get the mood (and chance) to wander back to that amazing city, try to also take a sidetrip to Mostar, an hour or two south. It’s got the famous bridge and a great ancient mosque. Dry and isolated, I have no idea how people make a living there!
    Bosnia is a fascinating mix – people work side by side for a few generations, then erupt into mindless and cruel sectarian violence. Glad you were able to experience it and thanks for posting the lovely photos!

    • Hi Ron, Oh Mostar sounds great. I do hope I get a chance to return there one day, I loved it. I have a feeling that the sectarian violence is usually incited by those seeking to dominate political power, land or resources rather than the people who live there. Have you travelled in the region much?

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