While the region had its attractions for those who populated prehistory, it wasn’t until the Romans arrived that Sarajevo gained a significant mention on the pages of history. Their legions, always on the lookout for a new bathhouse for ‘R and R’, founded the settlement Aquae Sulphurae around the sulphur springs at Ilidža.
Sarajevo then slipped back into obscurity until the Turks arrived in the mid-15th century and their governors set up house and stayed until 1878. The city then became an important market on the east–west trading routes, and during this time acquired its name, which originates from the Turkish saraj (palace).
The ‘on the go’ Austro-Hungarians, who replaced the fading Ottoman Empire, built railways that connected Sarajevo with the West. Sarajevo even had street lighting before Vienna – there were doubts about the safety of electricity and it was deemed wiser to first test it in the colonies. In 1914, Austro-Hungarian rule was effectively given notice on the Latin Bridge by the fatal pistol shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Seventy years later, in 1984, Sarajevo again attracted world attention by hosting the 14th Winter Olympic Games. Then from 1992 to 1995 the infamous siege of the city grabbed the headlines and horrified the world. Ratko Mladić, the Bosnian Serb commander, is reported as having said, ‘Shoot at slow intervals until I order you to stop. Shell them until they can’t sleep, don’t stop until they are on the edge of madness.’
Sarajevo’s heritage of six centuries was pounded into rubble and the only access to the outside world was via a 1km tunnel under the airport. Over 10, 500 Sarajevans died and 50, 000 were wounded by Bosnian Serb sniper fire and shelling. The endless new graveyards near Koševo stadium are a silent record of those terrible years.