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Sarajevo, the jewel of the Balkans

Sarajevo, the jewel of the Balkans

Pope Francis recently announced that he would travel to Sarajevo on June 6 to preach peace and interreligious dialogue. Unfortunately the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina is often associated with its recent status in the gory Balkan conflict by the rest the world.

Sarajevo was, however, under the banner of Ottoman Empire, one of the most prosperous cities of southern Europe. Its golden age, which spanned nearly two hundred years, from the 16th to 18th centuries, was the maximum extension period of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and South-Eastern Europe, but also, more generally, at the height of the Sublime Porte.

In pashalik (province) of Bosnia and elsewhere in pax Ottomana, development of agriculture, crafts and international trade were factors behind Bosnia’s prosperity. The city witnessed serious development in two periods: 1463 to 1583 and from 1851 to 1878.

In his famous travel memoir Seyahatname, the great Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi, who lived in the 17th century, wrote: “Of all the cities [of the Empire] Sarajevo is the more developed, most prosperous, the most beautiful.”

The city, founded by the Ottomans in the middle of the 15th century and indeed bears a Turkish name: Saray Ovasi , “The field around the Palace”

Due to its strategic position, the city was intended to serve as a base for the Ottoman conquest of the region (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Dalmatia, Albania, Croatia, etc.).

The beginnings of the city were modest, with, in 1460, the governor’s palace and a wooden mosque. Then a bridge was built over the Miljacka River that ran through the city, then a caravanserai, a bedesten (covered market; just like the Grand Bazaar), Turkish baths, a few houses, shops and a mill.

Two centuries after the city was found, Ottomans added 400 districts ( mahalles ), 17,000 houses, 77 mosques – including imperial mosque Careva Dzamija (built in 1566 on the orders of Suleiman the Magnificent) – 100 mesjids,  educational institutions in large numbers, 47 Sufi convents ( tekke ), a Catholic church, an Orthodox church, a synagogue, a library, 110 public fountains, 720 Turkish baths, 76 mills, 23 hostels ( khans ), 1080 shops in it Grand Bazaar, 7 bridges  and exceptional for the time, a clock tower!

The Ottoman governors who have succeeded have had in their heart indeed to beautify Sarajevo, covering the urban facilities and monuments.

They have thus focused on the development of economic activity: agriculture, the iron and the weapon industry, and international trade.

The strategic position of the city made it easier for the development of the city as well. The city was located on a caravan route which started in Istanbul and Thessaloniki towards the Western European markets.

Sarajevo’s prosperity attracted a growing population: indigenous Muslims (Bosnian Slavs who converted to Islam) and Ottoman civilian and military personnel including merchants, craftsmen, religious and administrative officers from the different religions and ethnicities of the Ottoman Empire. Similarly indigenous Christians, mostly Orthodox, were joined by the Catholic population from Ragusa, Italy.

A Jewish community was also formed especially after Ottoman Turks welcoming the Jewish populations kicked out of Spain and Portugal.

The shining city of Sarajevo also gave the European literature of Islam two great writers: Mehmed Nergisi Ka’imi and Hasan (1635 d.) (1690 d.).

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