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Ancient Times

Archeologists can safely say that the Sarajevo region has been continuously inhabited by humans since the Neolithic age. The most famous example of a Neolithic settlement in the Sarajevo area is that of the Butmir culture. The discoveries at Butmir were made on the grounds of modern day Sarajevo suburb Ilidža in 1893 by Austro-Hungarian authorities during construction of an agricultural school. The area’s richness in flint was no doubt attractive to Neolithic man, and the settlement appears to have flourished. The most stunning aspects of the settlement are the unique ceramics and pottery designs which identified the Butmir people as a unique culture. This was largely responsible for the International congress of archeologists and anthropologists meeting in Sarajevo in 1894.
The next prominent inhabitants of Sarajevo were the Illyrians. The ancient people that considered most of the West Balkans as their homeland had several key settlements in the region, mostly around the river Miljacka and Sarajevo valley. The Illyrians in the Sarajevo region belonged to the tribe “Daesitates”, a war-like people who were the last to resist Roman occupation. Their defeat to the Roman emperor Tiberius in 9 A.D. marks the start of Roman rule in the region. The Romans never built up the region of modern day Bosnia that much, however it is known that the Roman colony of Aquae Sulphurae existed on top of present day Ilidža, and was the most important settlement of the time.

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages Sarajevo was part of the Bosnian province of Vrhbosna near the traditional center of the kingdom. Though a city called Vrhbosna existed, the exact settlement of Sarajevo at this time is debated. During the high Middle Ages various documents make note of a place called “Tornik” in the region. By all indications however, “Tornik” was a very small marketplace surrounded by a proportionally small village not considered very important by Ragusan merchants.
Others meanwhile say that Vrhbosna was a major city located in the middle of modern day Sarajevo. Indeed, Papal documents say that in 1238, a Cathedral to Saint Paul was built in the city. Even disciples of the famous Saints Cyril and Methodius had stopped by the region, establishing a church at “Vrelobosna”. Whether this city was indeed located at modern day Sarajevo or not, an important city called Vrhbosna did indeed exist at the time and the region was of great importance.

Early Ottoman Era

Sarajevo as we know it today was founded by the Ottoman Empire in the 1450s upon conquering the region, with 1461 typically used as the city’s founding date. The first Ottoman governor of Bosnia, Isa-Beg Ishaković, transformed whatever cluster of villages there was there into a city and state capitol by building a number of key objects, including a mosque, a closed marketplace, a public bath, a hostel, and of course the governor’s castle (“Saray”) which gave the city its present name. The mosque was named “Carova Džamija” (the Tsar’s Mosque) in honor of the Sultan Mehmed II. With the improvements Sarajevo quickly grew into the largest city in the region. Many Christians converted to Islam at this time.
Under the wise leadership of people such as Gazi Husrev-beg (the city’s greatest donor who built most of what is now the Old Town) Sarajevo grew at a rapid rate. Sarajevo became known for its large marketplace and numerous mosques, which by the middle of the 16th century were over a hundred in number. At its height, Sarajevo was the biggest and most important Ottoman city in the Balkans after Istanbul itself. By 1660, the population of Sarajevo was estimated to be over 80,000. Comparatively, Belgrade in 1838 had a mere 12,963 inhabitants, and Zagreb as late as 1851 had a lowly 14,000 people. Things went mostly downhill for Sarajevo from there.

Late Ottoman Era

In 1699 Prince Eugene of Savoy led a successful raid on Sarajevo. After his men looted all that they could, the city was set on fire. In a mere day, nearly the whole city was destroyed except for a handful of neighborhoods, some mosques, and the orthodox church. Numerous other fires weakened the city as well, so that by 1807 it only had some 60,000 residents (although this was still considerably more than New York City at the time).
In the 1830s the area around the city was ground to several battles of the Bosnian rebellion, led by Husein Gradaščević. Today, a major city street is named “Dragon of Bosnia” in his honor. The rebellion however, failed, and the crumbling Ottoman state remained in control of Bosnia for several more decades.

Habsburg Empire

In 1878, Bosnia was occupied by Austria-Hungary. Architects and engineers who endeavored to rebuild Sarajevo as a modern European capital rushed to the city. They were unexpectedly aided by a fire that burned down a large part of the central city area (čaršija). This has resulted in a unique blend of the remaining Ottoman city market and contemporary western architecture. Sarajevo hosts some shiny examples of Secession and Pseudo-Moorish styles that date from this period.
The Austria-Hungarian period was one of great development for the city as the Western power brought its new acquisition up to the standards of the Victorian age. Various factories and other buildings were built at this time, and a large number of institutions were both Westernized and modernized. For the first time in history, Sarajevo’s population began writing in Latin script.
In the event that triggered the World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg were assassinated in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip.


Modern Sarajevo

The recent Bosnian War resulted in large scale destruction and dramatic population shifts during the siege of the city between 1992 and 1995. See Siege of Sarajevo.
Reconstruction of Sarajevo started as soon as the war ended in 1995. By 2003 most of the city was rebuilt, with only a few remaining visible ruins in the city center.

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