As cliché as it may sound, Sarajevo is truly a city where East meets West. Walking around Bosnia & Herzegovina’s bustling capital, you’ll find medieval mosques standing side by side with Central European structures and Neo-Moorish masterpieces. In this Sarajevo architecture guide, we’ll be covering the top landmarks to seek out during your time in the city.
But what events transpired to make Sarajevo such a unique city? It was officially founded by the Ottomans in 1462 and long thrived as a center of silk trading. Later in the 1530s, the area was controlled by Gazi Husrev Beg, who commissioned many of the city’s mosques, hammams and bazaars.
Sarajevo was burnt down by the Austrians in 1697, but the Ottomans would maintain control, rebuilding the city and adding a new citadel.
But for much of the Ottoman period, the empire’s main outpost in Bosnia was Travnik – now just a small town. They only moved their base of operations to Sarajevo in 1850. But not long after, the Austro-Hungarians arrived again, this time taking Sarajevo from the Ottomans for good.
When looking at the timeline, Austro-Hungarian rule was relatively brief, lasting from 1878-1918. But the legacy of this era remains strong thanks to the abundance of architecture constructed in such a short span. And many of the administrative buildings still serve their original function.
Austria-Hungary also rapidly modernized Bosnia, building the first power plants, the first National Museum and the first asphalt roads. And in only several decades, Sarajevo’s population tripled.
Following the Yugoslav era, Sarajevo was under siege for years during the ’90s, during which many of its historical buildings were badly damaged. Thankfully, the city has largely been rebuilt, and Sarajevo’s classical architecture can be appreciated by visitors once again.
Sarajevo Architecture Guide
The Ottoman Period
The Austro-Hungarian Period
- Despić House
- Along the Miljacka River
- The Latin Bridge & City Museum
- City Hall
- St. Mark’s Sacred Heart Cathedral
- Landesbank Building (Eternal Flame)
- National Museum
- Even More
The Ottoman Period
Baščaršija is the name for the Ottoman-era Old Town, where visitors can explore the bustling bazaars and historic mosques built here centuries ago. While the narrow streets around here feel distinctly Oriental, by simply walking a few minutes to the Miljacka River, you’ll suddenly feel as if you’ve teleported to Central Europe. But more on that below.
As one might expect, Baščaršija is the most touristy area of Sarajevo. But in a city that’s not all that touristy overall, it still maintains its charm.
Walking around, you’ll find local craftsmen selling their wares and plenty of cozy cafes serving Bosnian coffee. Baščaršija is also one of the architecturally rich sections of the city.
Aside from the structures we’ll be covering below, Baščaršija is home to landmarks such as the old Clock Tower and the Bursa Bezistan.
Baščaršija’s most iconic landmark is a fountain known as Sebilj, which has come to symbolize Ottoman Sarajevo as a whole. Erected by Mehmed Pasha Kukavica in 1753, the Sebilj has served as a public fountain for centuries.
Interestingly, its original location was several meters away and it was damaged by a fire during the Austro-Hungarian era. Architect Alexander Wittek is credited with rebuilding it and moving it to its current location.
More recently, Sebilj, along with the square around it, was renovated in 2015. As one of the most popular spots in Sarajevo, you’ll have a hard time encountering the Sebilj without large crowds of people (and pigeons) gathered around it.
Interestingly, there are several replicas of the fountain in nearby countries like Serbia, Montenegro and Turkey. And there are even replicas in St. Louis, Missouri and Birmingham, England!
Gazi Husrev Beg Mosque
Also within Baščaršija is the Gazi Husrev Beg Mosque, Sarajevo’s most important mosque. Gazi Husrev Beg served as Sarajevo governor (1521-41) during one of the city’s most prosperous ever periods.
And before his death, he endowed all of his property to the public good, which in Islam is known as waqf. In addition to the mosque, which was constructed in 1530, he also endowed a madrasa, soup kitchen and dervish lodge.
The mosque features a large dome and a 45 m-high minaret which towers over its surroundings, including the nearby Clock Tower. The mosque is so large and Baščaršija so dense, that it can only be viewed in full from Srajevo’s hilly outskirts.
Just outside, meanwhile, is the turbe, or mausoleum, of Gazi Husrev Beg himself. And across the street, one can find a museum dedicated to the influential figure’s life (5 KM).
Right on the edge of Baščaršija are the ruins of an old caravanserai, or inn, which provided lodging for traveling merchants. Known as Tašlihan, it was built in the 1540s during the reign of Gazi Husrev Beg.
In addition to a space for unloading goods, it also contained a row of shops. Originally consisting of two floors, it was designed by artisans from Dubrovnik.
But why is it in this dilapidated state, while many other buildings from this era remain standing? Sadly, it was largely destroyed by a large fire in 1879.
Just next to the ruins is the Bezistan, a covered bazaar which not only remains in pristine condition but still functions as a shopping center to this day.
If you’re traveling through multiple Balkan countries, you’ll encounter countless Ottoman-era houses which now function as museums. And for many travelers, this can start to get repetitive. But whatever you do, don’t miss the Svrzina House.
Together with the fortified houses of Gjirokastër, Albania, this is one of the top historical houses in the entire region. Situated outside of the main Baščaršija district, the Ottoman-era house receives relatively few visitors, meaning you’ll likely have the place to yourself.
Originally constructed in 1640, it was later rebuilt in the 18th century following a fire in 1697.
The house was divided into two sections: the seramluk, for hosting guests and housing servants, and the haremluk, the private quarters of the family. Each had its own courtyard which remain intact today.
For much of its history, the house was occupied by the Glođo family. But in 1848, following a disagreement with the local ruler, the last heir of the family was exiled to Crete, and he died without any successors.
The house was later taken over by a merchant family called the Svrzo family, who were connected to the Glođos through marriage. Eventually, in the 1960s, it was sold to the city.
In contrast to other Ottoman houses in the Balkans, which often only consist of a single surviving structure, the Svrzina House is unique because the entire complex remains in place.
Architectural features include the kamarija (balcony), a coffee hearth, the halvat (reception room), a dining room, a room in which girls carried out embroidering, a kitchen and a party room. What’s more, is that most of the rooms maintain their original furniture and decorations.
If you were to walk east along the Miljacka River and turn right (south) at the Latin Bridge, you’d find yourself in an old district known as Bistrik.
And Bistrik’s most famous landmark is the Konak, the former residence of the Ottoman governor. It was constructed in the 1860s, just after the Ottomans moved their Bosnian administrative center from Travnik to Sarajevo.
As the Austrians would take over shortly after, this is one of the final Ottoman buildings built in the city. Unfortunately, the complex is surrounded by walls and not easy to view, but what can be seen is nonetheless impressive.
More Ottoman Sarajevo Architecture
Considering how the Ottomans ruled Sarajevo for centuries, it’s not surprising that there are even more Ottoman landmarks to seek out around the city.
Among them is Isa Bey’s Hammam, Sarajevo’s oldest bathhouse that has recently been restored and reopened for customers. It sits just next to the Emperor’s Mosque on the south side of the river.
In the western part of the city is the Ali Pasha Mosque. Established in the year 1560, it was once the focal point of a large residential quarter which no longer remains.
Those with some extra time in the city should also be sure to explore the Vratnik district in the far east. Not only can you find a large collection of Ottoman-era houses which remain occupied by local inhabitants, but you can also find remnants of the citadel established by the Ottomans.
The Austro-Hungarian Period
A particularly unique landmark that often gets overlooked by tourists is the Despić House (4 KM). Within this single two-story house, visitors can clearly see the transition from the Ottoman to the Austro-Hungarian periods.
The house was originally built in the Ottoman era in 1780, but the upper floors were designed later. But even during the Ottoman period, the house was occupied by a family of Orthodox Serbs who worked as merchants and craftsmen.
Incredibly, brothers Makso and Mićo Despić established a theater within their home which was technically the very first in the country.
The house went through many renovations and reconstructions over the years, and the current structure actually consists of a few neighboring houses that were fused together under the same roof.
While the ground floor represents the typical Ottoman style (albeit with some Christian iconography), the upper floor feels completely European. It was designed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Along the Miljacka River
The best way way to appreciate Sarajevo’s Austro-Hungarian architecture is to simply stroll down either side of the Miljacka River. Amazingly, this district is just a stone’s throw from Ottoman Baščaršija.
Many of these buildings were designed by Czech-born architect Karel Pařík (1857-1942). Some of his designs include the Palace of Justice, the Sarajevo National Theater and the Academy of Fine Arts.
Further down the river, Pařík even designed the iconic Ashkenazi Synagogue in 1902. In addition to the traditional Austro-Hungarian style, he also experimented with Neo-Moorish architecture, as evidenced by the synagogue and Sarajevo City Hall.
You can find both the City Hall and the iconic Latin Bridge a bit further down the river (learn more below).
The Latin Bridge & City Museum
On 28th June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was touring Sarajevo when he was suddenly killed by Gavilo Princip, a Yugoslav nationalist. The assassination of both Ferdinand and his wife Sophie is widely considered to be the event that triggered World War I.
And the Latin Bridge will forever be associated with this event. Technically, however, it didn’t happen on the bridge itself, but right by it, in front of what’s now the Sarajevo Museum (4 KM, closed Sun.)
Just out front is a replica of the car which Franz Ferdinand was riding during the assassination (the original is apparently in Vienna). And a plaque on the wall nearby commemorates the impactful event.
The museum is small yet informative. It features comprehensive info on the events that transpired on that day in 1914, and you can even see Gavilo Princip’s original gun.
What’s more, is that the museum also provides a general overview of what daily life was like in Austro-Hungarian Sarajevo. If you’re on a budget, however, you may want to save your money for the City Hall, as the museum there largely contains the same info.
Sarajevo City Hall
Sarajevo’s defining building of the Austro-Hungarian period wasn’t built in the traditional Central European style, but in the Neo-Moorish style that was in vogue at the time.
Influenced by the Moorish buildings of North Africa and Spain, this mix of Islamic of European architecture is befitting of a city like Sarajevo. While not quite reminiscent of the architecture left behind by the Ottomans, the City Hall, known locally as the Vijećnica, still fits in nicely with the rest of the city.
The City Hall was first designed in 1891 by Karel Pařík, who, as mentioned above, was behind many of the city’s other notable landmarks. But objections from officials caused him to resign from the project.
The project was next taken over by Alexander Wittek for a few years, but he tragically died in 1894. Finally, the project was completed by Croation architect Ćiril Iveković.
Officially opened in 1896, the building functioned as the city hall up until 1949, after which it was taken over by the National and University Library. Sadly, the building was largely damaged in 1992, and many of the National Library’s books were burnt. The building, at least, has since been repaired.
While this crown jewel of Sarajevo architecture is stunning from the outside, it’s just as impressive from within. Inside, you’ll find a mesmerizing stained-glass ceiling and a staircase that resembles the pedestal of a mosque.
The building also functions as a museum which requires a fee of 10 Km to enter. But is it really worth the price of admission?
Earlier in my trip, I gawked at the price and turned around, as all I wanted to do was quickly admire the ceiling. It wasn’t until my last day in Sarajevo that I decided to return here to spend my remaining Bosnian marks .
Now having done it, I’d say that the price is well worth it. While the City Hall and its museum are inadequately explained and promoted, the museum within is actually very well done, giving viewers an overview of Sarajevo from Ottoman times to the present. One section even features a modern art gallery.
As mentioned, you’ll also find a detailed exhibition on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, eliminating the need to visit the City Museum. There’s also plenty of info on the tragic civil war and genocides which took place in the region throughout the 1990s.
St. Mark's Sacred Heart Cathedral
Consecrated in 1889, the Sacred Heart Cathedral is the largest in the country. Built in the Neo-Gothic style, it was designed by architect Josip Vancaš. It has since become a symbol of the city.
Landesbank Building (Eternal Flame)
The Landesbank Building is yet another creation of Karel Pařík and was completed in 1893. Situated at the end of the Ferhadija Pedestrian Street, it now hosts the Eternal Flame, dedicated to victims of WWII.
The National Museum
The National Museum, also designed by Karel Pařík, was formally opened in 1913 after four years of construction. The large, imposing building is typical of the Austro-Hungarian style and quite befitting of what’s considered to be the country’s flagship museum.
The main focus here is archaeology, with over 105,000 items on display ranging from Prehistoric times to the Middle Ages. The museum’s most famous item is the Sarajevo Haggadah, created in the 14th century and renowned for its beautiful illustrations.
Created in Spain, it traveled across Europe before ending up in Sarajevo in 1894. Unfortunately, the room in which it’s kept was off-limits at the time of my visit, and it was still inaccessible when I contacted the museum a month later.
There’s still more noteworthy Sarajevo architecture to explore during your time in the city. Yet another fine example of Austro-Hungarian architecture is the Olympic Museum.
The elegant building was constructed in the early 20th century but was largely destroyed during the civil war of the ’90s. It reopened in 2020 and now functions as a historical museum (12 KM) dedicated to the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics.
The surrounding area is also home to more interesting buildings, such as Villa Rädisch.
And of course, there are plenty of interesting buildings around the city that were not mentioned in the Sarajevo architecture guide above.
As what’s arguably the most architecturally diverse city in the Balkans (and possibly Europe as a whole), you won’t regret giving yourself some extra time in the city to aimlessly wander.
As Bosnia & Herzegovina’s capital and largest city, Sarajevo can be reached by a number of different methods. But given the complex political situation in the country and the Balkans as a whole, transport isn’t as straightforward as one would think.
Coming from afar, the Sarajevo Airport has connections with numerous cities in Europe as well as Istanbul and the Middle East.
Sarajevo also has direct rail connections with Zagreb, Croatia.
The train station is right next to the main bus terminal. But confusingly, there are two large bus stations in the city.
The Main Bus Station is right next to the Railway Station and not far from the US Embassy and National Museum. This is the station most tourists will be using during both arrival and departure.
Domestically, you can find direct connections with Mostar, Trebinje, Visoko, Travnik, Jajce, Banja Luka and more. Internationally, there are direct connections to cities like Budapest, Ljubljana, Vienna, Dubrovnik and others. There are also direct connections to Belgrade, Serbia, but only a 6:00 am and late at night.
If you want to visit Belgrade at a more convenient time, you’ll have to go to the East Bus Station, which is actually located to the west, nearby the airport. It’s technically part of East Sarajevo which lies within the Republika Srpska part of the country.
Bosnia & Herzegovina’s political situation is far too complex to get into here, but there are numerous towns within Republika Srpska that can only be accessed from the East Bus Station. The problem is that it’s not easy to reach from the city center, requiring a combination of tram and taxi.
Hoping to visit the historic town of Višegrad at some point during my trip, I gave up on the plan simply because the East Bus Station was such a pain to reach!
Sarajevo has both a public bus and a tram system. While I didn’t ride the bus, I found the tram system to be quite convenient and affordable. It’s a great way for those staying in the western part of the city to travel to Baščaršija.
Just be sure to activate your ticket, which can be purchased either at a stall outside or directly from the driver, by sliding it through the green card machine immediately upon boarding.
But if you’re already staying nearby Baščaršija, Sarajevo is largely walkable overall. Most of the landmarks in the Sarajevo architecture guide above can easily be reached on foot.
In terms of convenience, the closer you are to Baščaršija the better. However, if you’re basing yourself in Sarajevo longer term and want to take numerous day trips, you may want to stay somewhere closer to the Main Bus Station.
Needing a break after extensive travels throughout the Balkans, I decided to make Sarajevo my base for an entire month. I stayed in my own studio apartment called Pink Apartment which was an incredible value for a month-long stay in a capital city.
It was within 15-minutes on foot from the bus station, and about 40 minutes on foot from Baščaršija, though I could also take the tram. While it suited my needs perfectly, I’d recommend somewhere more central for those only staying in town for several days.
If Sarajevo is your first destination in the country and you also plan on leaving Bosnia & Herzegovina by bus, be sure to ask your host for a copy of the police registration form. You may be asked to show it when crossing the border, and without it you risk being fined.