FROM SLAVIC TRIBES TO OTTOMAN EMPIRE AND FINAL INDEPENDENCE
Written by Jim Marshall
Photographs courtesy of Historical Archive
Sarajevo’s first human settlements date back almost 4,500 years to the Butmir area (close to where Sarajevo International Airport is now situated). More than 90 urban settlements, as well as a plethora of weapons, tools and domestic utensils have been unearthed at this location. Remains of Illyrian settlements from the Bronze Age have been located in Debelo brdo, Zlatište, and at Soukbunar, all of which are areas still inhabited and are close to the center of present-day Sarajevo. The Romans, having conquered the Illyrians in the 1st century A.D., established the town of Aquae Sulphurae in modern day Ilid�a, as evidenced by villas, baths, mosaics and sculptures unearthed. Slavic tribes arrived from the north in the 7th century and asserted dominance over the course of the following centuries. Bosnia established itself as an independent state in the 12thcentury, with a number of fortified citadels established around this time in close proximity to present-day Sarajevo.
In the middle of the 15th century the settlements that existed in the Sarajevo valley were annexed by the Ottoman Empire, with 1461 accepted as the date of the establishment of the city by the Turks. The name of the city relates to the Ottoman governor’s castle, ‘Saray’. The city grew significantly over the next two centuries, with intensive building in the 16th century leading to a population estimated at over 80,000 by the middle of the 17th century. During this period from the 15th to 17th centuries, many of the buildings that comprise the present-day Old Town were constructed, including a number of the city’s most notable mosques, such as the Emperor’s Mosque and the Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque, as well as drinking fountains, market places, inns, and the Old Orthodox Church. Also of note during this period was an influx of Jews, firstly Sephardi fleeing Spain and Portugal, then Ashkenazi fleeing Hungary.
The Old Roman Catholic Church in what was then the Latinluk area of the city was destroyed along with much of the rest of the city when Prince Eugene of Savoy’s forces sacked Sarajevo in 1697 during the Great Turkish War. Ottoman Sarajevo never fully recovered from this and subsequent fires, plagues and periods of social unrest, coupled with the transfer of the seat of Bosnian government to Travnik, weakened the city’s status and prospects. However, libraries, schools and places of worship were built and rebuilt, and the city’s tradition of pluralism remained relatively intact.
In the early 1830s, as the Ottoman Empire’s fortunes continued to decline, Bosnians openly revolted against the Empire. Other subsequent rebellions were suppressed up to the middle of the 19th century and the political and social fabric of Ottoman rule continued to unravel over the coming years.
Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the Treaty of Berlin resolved that Bosnia and Herzegovina was to nominally remain under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire, though it was de facto ceded to Austria-Hungary. Austro-Hungarian rule ushered in an age of rapid cultural and political development as well as broad-based industrialization of Sarajevo. The Latin alphabet became more widely used, tramways and rail lines were established, and the city was electrified prior to the 20th century. Many buildings that comprise present-day Sarajevo were constructed during this period, such as the Town Hall, the National Theatre, the National Museum and the Post Office.
However, following the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908, hostility toward Austro-Hungarian rule increased dramatically, famously culminating in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian heir, and his wife Sofia on the 28th of June 1914 in Sarajevo. Following the First World War, Sarajevo became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but experienced little growth during the inter-war years.
During the Second World War Sarajevo became part of the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet state of Nazi Germany. The holocaust claimed the lives of an overwhelming majority of Sarajevo’s pre-war Jewish population, estimated at having been around 10,000. Sarajevo’s Serb population was also widely persecuted, with many sent to concentration camps during this time. The city was bombed from the air by the Germans in 1941 and by the Allies during 1943 and 1944. On the 6thof April 1945, the city was liberated by the Partizans.
After liberation, Sarajevo was the capital of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and expanded rapidly over the course of the following decades. The population increased four-fold, from 115,000 at the end of the Second World War, to as many as 600,000 four decades later. In 1984, a confident, diverse and highly multi-ethnic Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympic Games.
Just eight years later, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, Serb forces besieged the city and reduced much of it to ruins.