A guide to Sarajevo's museums

There are 23 museums in Sarajevo whose exhibits explore the interesting history of Sarajevo and the rich cultures of the people who live here. The remains of the Butmir civilization, as well as the traces of the Illyrians, Romans and Slavs..., all testify to the long history of earlier settlements in this area.

The oldest remains of settled life in BiH can be found in Brusa Bezistan, the National Museum and the Historical Museum.

Brusa Bezistan, a 16th-century covered bazaar, is home to an annex of the Museum of Sarajevo and features the permanent exhibit, “From Pre-History to the end of the Austro-Hungarian Period”. This museum displays pieces of jewelry, as well as shards of pottery from Neolithic archeological sites in Butmir and Debelo Brdo, and other artifacts from these locations are kept at the National Museum.

Bosnian stećci decorate the space in front of the entrance to the National Museum, the most important museum facility of its kind in BiH. The institution houses items from the court of the Kotromanić dynasty, as well as the famous Sarajevo Haggadah and about four million other items which reflect BiH’s rich cultural and natural heritage.

The Historical Museum of BiH makes use of archival material, photographs and the various items in its collection to cover the full history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, from the first mention of the name Bosna (in 949 A.D.) all the way up to modern times.

Sarajevo under the Ottomans

The rule of Bosnia by its royal dynasty was replaced by Ottoman rule in 1463 and, over the course of the next 445 years, there would be far-reaching changes in state organization, religion, culture, customs, architecture….

Gazi Husrev Bey’s Museum is located in the old Kuršumli Medresa and is dedicated to the life and contributions of Gazi Husrev Bey (1480-1541) an Ottoman governor and Sarajevo’s greatest benefactor.

Gazi Husrev Bey’s Library Museum is also nearby, with a collection that contains more than 1,200 items that are divided into six main thematic areas: Islamic calligraphy, measuring time, ulema (scholars), mosques and tekkes, the hajj and everyday life.

If you’d like to become acquainted with how a wealthy Muslim family lived during the 18th and 19th centuries, when wealthier homes were divided into a public section (selamluk) and a family section (haremluk), then you should definitely visit Svrzo House.

Despić House is a permanent exhibit that depicts the life of a wealthy Sarajevo Serb family, from the 17th century up to the 20th century. Sarajevo’s first theater plays were performed in the Despić family home, which was later donated to the Museum of Sarajevo.

The Despić family donated another building that is now home to the Museum of Literature and Performing Arts of BiH, which is concerned with the collection, preservation and presentation of items that deal with the history of literature and the performing arts in BiH.

The items housed in the Jewish Museum attest to the many centuries that Jews have been in BiH, thereby showing the enormous contribution they have made to the country’s development.

The Sarajevo Brewery Museum is housed in the first industrial facility of its kind in BiH, and the first brewery in the Ottoman Empire. The collection depicts Sarajevo Brewery's 150-year tradition.

The Austro-Hungarian period

By the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was growing weaker, while the influence of the Habsburg Dynasty was growing and, following the Berlin Congress of 1878, it was able to carry out a full occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The period of Austro-Hungarian rule had its own specific character, which is readily seen in some of the museum exhibits, and it was during this time that many of Sarajevo’s famous buildings were built.

The Vijećnica Museum features the permanent exhibits, “Sarajevo 1914-2014” and “Sarajevo City Hall Revisited”. The former tells the story of life in Sarajevo during that 100-year period and the latter describes the nearly 20-year renovation process of Vijećnica – the most elegant building erected in Sarajevo during Austro-Hungarian rule and a world symbol for the meeting of civilizations.

Given its rich collection, the Old Orthodox Church Museum in Sarajevo is considered one of the five most important museums of its kind in the world. Thanks to the churchwarden, Jeftan Despić, a member of the famous Despić family, the museum was founded in 1889 and taken from Church holdings.

The Museum of Sarajevo 1878-1918 focuses on Sarajevo and BiH during Austro-Hungarian rule. The Sarajevo Assassination, which triggered the beginning of WWI, took place right in front of the building that is now home to the museum. The war caused the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the end of its rule in BiH.

At the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries

During the interwar period, Bosnia and Herzegovina found itself part of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs; the Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs; the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and later the Independent State of Croatia, which was created by the fascists.

After the end of the Second World War, and with the defeat of fascism, BiH became part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and it was during this period that Sarajevo hosted the most important event of its entire history – the Olympic Games.

Memorabilia related to the organization and realization of the XIV Winter Olympic Games held in Sarajevo in 1984 is kept at the Olympic Museum of BiH. As the original museum was engulfed in flames during the last war, the Olympic Museum is now housed at the Zetra Sports Complex.

The National Gallery of BiH is the most important gallery of its kind in BiH. Founded in 1946, the original collection was comprised of 600 items from the Gallery of the National Museum of BiH and the collection now contains more than 6,000 items that are divided into several units.

The last war and the Siege of Sarajevo gave rise to new museums based on specific themes.

The 11/07/95 Gallery is a memorial gallery that aims to preserve the memory of the Srebrenica tragedy, where 8,372 people were killed on July 11, 1995. Visitors may view documentaries and artistic interpretations of these tragic events.

The Tunnel of Hope is a museum that contains items that were used during the construction of the tunnel beneath the airport runway, as well as while it was still in operation. From July 1993 to February 1996 it was the only way to get out of besieged Sarajevo. The Alija Izetbegović Museum is dedicated to the life and works of the first president of an Independent BiH, and is located in the Ploča and Širokac Gate Towers, remains of the fortified old town of Vratnik, which date from the 18th century.

The collection at the War Childhood Museum has displays that tell interesting and moving stories of how children grew up during the war that raged in BiH from 1992 to 1995, while the multidisciplinary approach of the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide 1992-1995 allows visitors to explore and to become more familiar with the events that occurred during the last war.      

After the war, traditional urban folk songs – sevdalinka – also got their own museum, Art House Sevdah, which is located in an old merchant storehouse dating from the Ottoman period and is now dedicated to sevdah and its notable interpreters.

The Bosniak Institute has priceless works of art, as well as a library and a collection of archival material on BiH and neighboring countries. This facility is housed in a modern building next to Gazi Husrev Bey’s Hamam, a traditional public bath dating back to the 16th century which now serves as exhibit space and a venue for various social events.

The Ars Aevi Depot houses the entire collection of the Ars Aevi Museum, which enjoys the reputation of being one of the most important collections of modern art in Southeastern Europe.