JEDDAH- When Europe as a tourists attraction destination is mentioned most of tourists including people in the GCC area would think first of the following cities: Paris, London, Munich, Amsterdam, Vienna and others without least occur to them the other parts of Europe or the so-called Eastern Europe. It is not very known for many tourists from the GCC area and most Saudis that Sarajevo the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina was listed on top ten of the cities must to visit according to the famous Virtualtourist – a free travel community website.
I was invited –for the first time – to visit this lovely country over a familiarization trip (Fam-trip) organized by the Turkish Airlines with collaboration of the Ministry of Tourism in Bosnia and the Bosnian SEIC DMC investment company – the legal and official company promoting tourism in Bosnia.
My stay was quite short but full of great experiences where I stayed 3nights and four days starting in Sarajevo , Mostar, Balagai-Pocitelj, Travnik and Jajce.
Sarajevo as the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city is famous for its traditional cultural and religious diversity. Sarajevo is surrounded by Olympic Mountains and nice spring of River Bosnia.
Sarajevo found itself heavily influenced by the Roman, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire, which can still be seen everywhere. On Bascarsija (Baščaršija), the old town from the Ottoman period, there is a Sebilj,( public water fountain). Among the many tourist attractions are the Cathedral ,the Academy of Fine Arts and the Latin Bridge over the Miljacka river, where Arch duke Franz Ferdinand was killed, which was the trigger for the start of the First World War. Besides the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the list are the Ukrainian ,Hamburg, Porto, Zagreb, the capital of Malta-Valletta, Budapest, the capital of Latvia-Riga, and Valencia.
Regarding the list of the most popular cities on the continent, Sarajevo is listed in front of Dubrovnik, Granada and Manchester.
Arguably the most popular is Paris, and after the French capital, London, Amsterdam, Rome, Barcelona, Venice, Vienna are the most popular.
When you suggest a Bosnian destination to any Saudi tourist he would just raise questions like , Is the war still going on there? Is it safe?.
In fact , Bosnia and mainly Sarajevo is a place which is aptly described as rising from the ashes where the capital and other effected cities by the war have been rebuilt and got ready again to welcome travelers as one of the best destinations in Europe. I would say, now is the time to visit this great city, which is seeing new hotels, shopping malls and other developments spring up, but remains affordable, welcoming and untrammeled by mass tourism.
Sarajevo sits at a historic crossroads between East and West, where four major religions – Islam, Judaism, and both Latin and Eastern Rite Catholicism – all meet. All four have stamped their visual legacy on the city: Minarets, bell towers and onion domes sit almost side-by-side all over town.
Here, you can walk from a mosque to a cathedral, and then to a synagogue, all in a matter of five minutes, so that it is called by some people as the Jerusalem of The West . You can even climb up on the hillside and hear the prayers off all the religions, all together.
The major sights of Bascarsija , the oldest part of Sarajevo’s Old Town, which could be mistaken for a quarter on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. Sarajevo was an important city under the Ottomans, who ruled here for more than 400 years, founding the city around 1450 and shaping it in their own – Turkish – image. A walk through Bascarsija’s warren of tiny lanes is a journey of discovery: a little alley lined with coppersmith shops, where artisans craft trinkets out of found mortar shells and bullets; a tiny mosque with men saying their prayers; a 15th-century han (Khan), a traditional inn and remnant of the old Silk Road, where stylish young Sarajevans drink tiny cups of tea and smoke hookah pipes.
After seeing the Old Town, you can go to the “Tunnel of Life,” a narrow, leaky 800-metre passage that ran under the United Nations-controlled airport and served as Sarajevo’s only physical link to the outside world during the siege. Through it, the Bosnian Army brought food, supplies and weapons. After walking the 25 meters that have been reopened for visitors, you can watch a video that includes war footage.
In 2009, the Lonely Planet guidebook company prophesied that Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Eastern European country perhaps still best known for its ethnically charged war in the 1990s and for hosting the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, had a bright future ahead of it. The country was poised to become Eastern Europe’s year-round center for adventure. Since then, skiers, hikers, and whitewater enthusiasts have indeed made their mark—and now mountain bikers are starting to do the same. The ancient highland caravan routes that linked mountain towns for centuries now make for a heavenly single track system for the knobby-tire set.
My second stop was in Mostar, the largest and most important city in the Herzegovina region. It’s situated on Neretva river and is the fifth largest city in the country. Mostar was named after the bridge keepers (natively: mostari) who have guarded the Old Bridge during medieval times. The Old Bridge is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks and under the protection of UNESCO. We had the opportunity to see the Koski Mehmed-pasha’s mosque, Turkish hammam, Clock tower, sinagogue (1889.), Nesuh-aga Vucjaković Mosque, Hadzi- Kurt Mosque, Metropolitan Palace (1908.), Karadjoz-Bey’s Mosque (1557.), Ottoman Residences (16-19th century). After sightseeing. A visit to Pocitelj, an old pass keeper on the banks of emerald Neretva riv was really worthy with an excursion took us to Buna springs (Blagaj) – the strongest spring in Europe that takes out more then 45 000 liters per second. Buna springs is the home to the most famous dervish convict (tekke) in the Balkans. Thus, I could learn why people in Bosnia call Herzegovina “The place it never snows, there, where it is never cold“.
On my third day , we have been taken to Travnik which is a city in central B&H, famous for being the capital city of the governors of Bosnia from 1697 to 1850 and having a cultural heritage dating from that period. Through the city tour we were able to see the house of Ivo Andrić who won the Nobel prize for literature, the Suleimania Mosque, the Clock towers, the Travnik Castle, Blue water and the Old town. One of the best ever greenful scene I have viewed and took the best shots was in Jajce (Yaytsi) especially its unbelievably picturesque waterfalls . Jajce was first built in the 14th century and served also the capital of the independent Bosnian kingdom during its time. Eventually, in 1527, Jajce became the last Bosnian town to fall to Ottoman rule. There are several mosques and churches built in different times during different rules, making Jajce a diverse town in this aspect.