This week’s dream
Imagining a storybook ending in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Bosnia-Herzegovina presents a jarring duality, said Sarah Khan in The New York Times. The country’s minaret-accented hillside villages “fit the Platonic ideal of a fairy tale.” But artillery-pocked building façades offer a constant reminder of the ethnic war that shattered the Balkans in the early 1990s. In Sarajevo, site of a Serbian siege that lasted nearly four years and claimed 10,000 lives, I found more physical scars at nearly every step, in the so-called Sarajevo Roses—blossom-like gashes in streets and sidewalks that were created by artillery shells and have been filled with red resin to preserve memories. Hillside cemeteries seem to cut through every neighborhood, “rising from the slopes like forests of slender white obelisks.”
But to stroll Sarajevo’s old quarter is to experience a city resurrected. Its historic City Hall, a 19th-century “neo-Moorish fantasy,” reopened five years ago with a museum included. And you see everywhere the layering of religious cultures that has won the city the title “Jerusalem of Europe.” On one street, I passed a mosque, a synagogue, and two churches in quick succession. “When I glanced one way, I was convinced I was in Istanbul; if I turned my head, I traveled to Vienna.” Though many young people have left the country seeking greater opportunity, those who remain are building on the best of the past. I visited a boutique, Bazerdzan, where city native Zana Karkin sells chic clothing that blends modern cuts with traditional Bosnian handicraft. At a cozy café, I shared coffee with owner Reshad Strik, a former Hollywood actor who a decade ago was so taken by the soul of his father’s home city that he decided to stay.
When I crossed into Herzegovina, the nation’s southern region, the landscape continued to enchant. While fantasizing about buying a cottage in Konjic, though, I glimpsed the scorched stub of a bombed-out minaret behind it—one of 614 mosques destroyed by the war. But if you visit picturesque Mostar, with its famously elegant bridge leaping between two facing cliffs, you might do as I did and, at least for a moment, “indulge the fantasy that, for Bosnia, happily ever after might finally be within grasp.”
At Sarajevo’s family-run Aziza Hotel (hotelaziza.ba), doubles start at $45. ■