Sunday, June 30, 2013

SARAJEVO, Part III, Religion

At the beginning the Bosnian War of 1992-1995, Bosnia-Herzegovina had three main religious groups: Muslims (known as "Bosniaks), 44%; Orthodox Serbs, 31%; and Catholic Croats, 17%. There was also a small Jewish community.

An official census has not been taken since the war, but in 2002, according to Wikipedia, it is estimated that about 80% of Sarajevo's citizens were Muslim Bosniaks, 11% were Serbian Orthodox, 7% were Catholic Croats, and 2% were others--Jews, Romas, etc. The war obviously had a great impact on the city's diversity.

Each of the four main religions has a major building within a few blocks of each other in Sarajevo.  All four buildings miraculously survived the war, although the Muslim mosque was severely damaged and required extensive renovation.

The neo-Gothic Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral was built in 1884-1889 during the Austro-Hungarian period and was modeled after Notre Dame in Paris. It was damaged but not destroyed by shelling during the siege, and has been beautifully restored.
Note our terrific guide Neno in lower right corner of photo

An elderly Sarajevan couple walks through the cathedral courtyard in front of the beautiful main entrance:

The stripes on the arches remind me of churches in Italy:
The photo on the right is the detail from the pulpit on the left:
Sarajevo's most famous Catholic is probably Josip Stadler, the first modern Archbishop of Sarajevo and a candidate for sainthood. The Catholic Church had not had a presence in Bosnia since the 13th century, so when the Croatian Stadler was appointed by Pope Leo XIII in 1881, it was a big deal. This cathedral was built under Archbishop Stadler's direction, and he did much to strengthen the church in Bosnia, including building many other churches throughout the country, establishing a seminary, and forming orphanages, schools, and homes for the elderly. He died in 1918 and is buried in this cathedral.

When Pope John Paul II visited Sarajevo, he prayed in front of Archbishop Stadler's grave.

The beautiful woodwork on the end of the pew uses a common trinity motif:

The Baroque-style Serbian Orthodox Cathedral Church of the Nativity of Theotokos (the Greek name for Mary, mother of Christ) is just a five-minute walk from the Catholic Cathedral.  Built between 1863 and 1868 (about 20 years before the Catholics came to town), it is one of the largest Serbian Orthodox churches in the Balkans.

It has a unique iconostasis with empty windows above the first level. I've read that the church is "awaiting additional icons," but I wonder how it came to be empty in the first place.

An even closer look shows the crucifix behind the altar:

The chandelier as seen from below. The blue circle is the interior of the dome:

I love the marble floors, visible because Orthodox Churches expect worshipers to stand, and so the floor is not obscured by chairs or pews:

I was stunned to learn that this cathedral sustained only minor collateral damage in the war. In her book Logavina Street, Barbara Demick quotes Mustafa Orman, a man who ran a Muslim prayer house in Sarajevo during the siege: "No matter what the Serbs do, we will never destroy a church or any other religious monument. Islam is very forgiving. Islam is tolerant. We respect all religions."  He said these words just three days after his wife was killed in the shelling of the Sarajevo marketplace mentioned in my last post.

Not very far from the two Christian churches is the main Muslim mosque, the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque.
It was completed in 1531 and was financed Gazi Husrev-Beg, who was governor of the area and, more importantly, the grandson of a sultan ($$). The mosque is the most important one in the country and is considered the finest example of Ottoman architecture in the world. Gazi Husrev-beg financed many other projects in Sarajevo, and is a beloved benefactor.  He said, "Good deeds drive away evil, and one of the most worthy of good deeds is the act of charity, and the most worthy act of charity is one which lasts forever. Of all charitable deeds, the most beautiful is one that continually renews itself."

We had to be on our best behavior. We left our guns at home, wore modest clothing, ate our PB&J sandwiches before entering, and avoided any unseemly PDA.

However, Bob did make friends with a feral cat just before we entered the courtyard:

The Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque has a particularly beautiful ablution fountain, where Muslims wash their feet, hands, forearms, and faces before they pray:

Muslim men congregate outside the mosque, chatting, praying, and preparing to pray:
This mosque was targeted by the Serbs during the war and heavily damaged (which makes the fact that the Serbian Orthodox church sustained only collateral damage all the more amazing).  It had to be substantially rebuilt in 1996.  

The front door is heavily ornamented and capped by a resplendent dome:
The mosque has 51 windows, so the interior is very light and airy. 

The floors are covered with dozens of expensive carpets.

Although the paintings on the ceilings and walls seems fairly intricate, the post-war remodel of the mosque has been heavily criticized for having too much white wall space, a style more common in Wahhabism, the ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam.  Apparently the original mosque was far more colorful.

I liked this electric ceiling light hanging from a high central dome. In 1898, Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque was the first mosque in the world to be wired for electricity.

Calligraphy of a verse (or two?) from the Quran:
The women's section:

The imam preaches from the top of the minbar, the stairs that are found in every mosque:

There are between 140-150 mosques in Sarajevo, most of them quite old. In the original city plan, the Ottomans made sure that every hill or neighborhood had its own mosque. In other areas of Bosnia controlled by the Serbs during the war, virtually all the mosques were destroyed, including some of the oldest, most beautiful, and most historic.
Another mosque we wanted to visit, the Ali-Pasha Mosque, was closed.

The minarets are lit up at night in a way that makes them look like a carnival ride:

Finally, the fourth religious group is the Jews.  Before World War II, a thriving community of 8,000 to 10,000 Jews lived in Sarajevo, but 85% were murdered in the Holocaust, and many of the survivors emigrated to Israel after the war. Now there are approximately 600 Jews in Sarajevo. At one time there were eight synagogues, but now there is only one, the Sarajevo Synagogue, a Moorish-style building. It is supposed to be beautiful inside, but unfortunately we were there on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, and the building was in use.
The synagogue is next to what our guide called "The Ugliest Building in the World." It is a bit of a stark contrast.
The Bosnian War did not specifically target the Jewish community, putting them in a unique position to be able to support their fellow Sarajevans without being drawn into the conflict.  They organized soup kitchens, provided medicine, and organized what are considered to be some of the most successful humanitarian evacuations of the war.

In 1997, Italy gave this statue, entitled "Multicultural Man Builds the World" to Sarajevo. Located in what is known as "Liberation Square," it shows a man holding the meridians. 
While a rather unattractive piece of art, the statue does point to Sarajevo's unique attitude towards cultural diversity. Demick writes that in 1994, the third winter of the siege, "At the Christmas Eve mass, leaders from all religions sat in the front row at the Roman Catholic cathedral--thumbing their noses at [those] who said the people of Bosnia could not live together." The 200-person capacity cathedral had a standing-room only crowd made up of 2,000 Orthodox Serbs and Muslims along with the usual Catholics. This was in a cathedral that had taken a few hits, including one that struck the crucifix behind the altar. The cardinal who delivered the sermon wore a cross around his neck made of molten shrapnel.

Much later in our trip, in a bakery in Split, Croatia, we were chatting with a girl about where we had been on our trip. When we said "Sarajevo," she replied with, "Ah, Sarajevo. That city has soul." We found that to be true. It is both tragic and heroic, a city of both suffering and reincarnation.


  1. Love the post. Touched by the imam's comments shortly following his wife's death. Americans tend to demonize Islam, particularly following 911. These are nice reminders that Muslim extremists are extremists, like the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity. Sarajevo does have soul.

  2. What an interesting place of war and forgiveness. Love the beautiful floors.

  3. Quite the tour of the city's churches. (I kind of like the look of that building next to the synagogue.) And the last comment is interesting, too, from the bakery girl.

  4. Actually there's been at least two attacks on that Serbian church in recent months, and last year, 2012, a (Muslim) guard was shot dead.
    Here's a video of a Serbian church in Bosnia being desecrated by laughing Bosnian soldiers

    And just because they (perhaps cynically) kept the church intact to "prove" they were multicultural and tolerant doesn't mean they actually were when they had over a hundred concentration/torture camps and illegal prisons for Serbs in the part of Sarajevo they controlled. One concentration camp was a grain silo - search for "Silo at Tarcin" - and read about that horror story.

    Also, currently in Serbian news is of a mass grave found in Sarajevo which is believed to be Sarajevo Serbs. Human remains have been found beneath 27-feet of debris. The silence of the mainstream media is typical - they've hid the mountain of crimes by the Bosniaks and Croats (both huge Nazi-allies of the past - the Bosnian Muslims were even a special project of Himmler who believed in the Muslim-Nazi connection.)

    If you have Google Chrome it will translate the article for you: