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Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It was the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, touching off World War I.

The high point in the last century came when Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.

Sarajevo was besieged during the Bosnian war for nearly four years, the longest siege of a city in recent times.


Ottoman control: 1450-1878

Shortly after the arrival in 1435 of the Ottomans in the area of what is now Sarajevo, work began to transform the collection of villages that then existed into an Ottoman town. The city was founded about 1450 AD.

It had two bursts of growth and architectural splendor, the first under the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Of special significance in the urban development of Sarajevo was the waqf (endowments). Wealthy merchants, craftsmen, and other citizens invested heavily in the construction of mosques, covered markets '(bezistan),' public baths '(hamam),' caravanserais, inns '(han),' bridges, schools and other buildings.

The firman of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror dated 1464 gave the city of Sarajevo freedom from any type of extraordinary taxation, a privilege which was retained throughout the epoch of Ottoman rule. The privilege was granted in return for the strong defense of the Sultan's territory against the invasion of King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. Sarajevo's peculiar position allowed the development of self-confident local government, which rivaled the administrative center of Travnik as the focal point of Ottoman Bosnia.

Sabit Alauddin was a famous South Slav poet who used Turkish in his writings. He was a 'cadi' (judge) and mullah in Sarajevo, 1700–02, when the town's population was decreasing due to war, pestilence, and hunger.

As the Ottoman Empire disintegrated in the 19th century, the city send soldiers to fight. Sarajevo Serbs were active in the first Serbian uprising against the Turks in 1804-13.

Austrian control: 1878-1918

The second burst of growth came under the Austro-Hungarian regime, 1878-1918 when Bosnians, Serbs, Austrians, Czechs, and Croats made it a cosmopolitan city. A classical Ottoman town, Sarajevo began to acquire a European flavor after the Austrian Habsburg monarchy took over the city and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878. The physical transformation of Sarajevo is attributable to Josip Vancas (1859-1932), an influential architect who sought to introduce certain Viennese features to the regional center, such as the Ringstrasse and scores of buildings emulating those in the Habsburg capital. Demographically, Ashkenazi Jews and Evangelical Christians migrated to Sarajevo during this period of Europeanization. A limited form of democracy began to take hold under the leadership of conservative, neoabsolutist Benjámin Kállay von Nagy-Kálló (1839-1903), the Habsburg joint minister of finance in Vienna from 1882 to 1903, who believed that government, besides being absolute, should be fair and generous.[1]

Yugoslavia: 1918-1990

In World War II the city was the center of operations by Tito against the Germans in a 1945 campaign to attack and destroy the 'E' group of German forces retreating from the southern Balkans across Yugoslovia, with the aim of liberating the country.

1992-96: The Bosnian War

The 1992-96 war between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs (supported by Serbia) erupted after the disintegration of Yugoslavia and devastated the city. Serbian forces in the hills shelled the city continuously for nearly four years; only a tunnel linked the capital with the outside world. The United Nations, which has branded Milosevic the aggressor in the conflict tried to intervene, as did the European Community (EU). The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) proved impotent; its troop convoys have repeatedly came under Serbian fire and took casualties; U.N. troops had to leave the Sarajevo airport Serbian forces simply drove up their tanks and began shelling the Bosnian defenders from right in front of the neutral U.N. Serbs hate the Bosnians Muslims, saying that Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic represents the opening wedge of an Islamic fundamentalist power grab.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, injured, or fled the city during the 1991-95 Balkan war, and much of the infrastructure was ruined. Many of its great treasures were lost. For example, the Oriental Institute and its 5,263 manuscripts and archives of more than 300,000 documents was totally destroyed in May 1992.

Finally NATO intervention ended the war, through the NATO-led Implementation Force in Bosnia (IFOR) and the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia (SFOR). The threat of allied air attacks finally forced the Serbs to compromise. The U.S. sent 38,000 troops in Bosnia; the last ones left in 2006.

The 1995 Dayton Agreement, signed by leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia and brokered by President Bill Clinton, divided Bosnia into separate ethnic regions; the goal was to settle peace between the Bosnians and Serbs. Dayton, however, unintentionally ensured that the Serbian inhabitants of Sarajevo and its suburbs would be forced to leave during 1996-98. Though many envisioned that following Dayton, Sarajevo would be governed by three ethnic groups, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic unexpectedly allowed the Bosnians to control the city and much of the surrounding region. Although they were strongly urged to encourage the Serbs to stay in Bosnian-controlled Sarajevo, Bosnian authorities appeared unwilling or unable to control the sometimes violent intimidation of Serbs by Bosnians. Many Serbs who decided to flee Sarajevo participated in looting of local factories, businesses, and homes, and coerced fellow Serbs to also leave the region. Unable to provide adequate security for the remaining Serb population, NATO organizations also failed to maintain a multiethnic region and stem the Serb exodus from Sarajevo.[2]

Sarajevo survived and bounced back quite well. By 2002 the city boasted a bustling tourist economy, a host of reconstructed historical buildings, and a relatively stable and modern path of urban development.

See also


  1. Robert J.Donia, "Fin-de-siecle Sarajevo: the Habsburg Transformation of an Ottoman Town," Austrian History Yearbook 2002 33: 43-75,
  2. Louis Sell, "The Serb Flight from Sarajevo: Dayton's First Failure," East European Politics & Societies 2000 14(1): 179-202,