Eugene of Savoy's surprise attack

The end of the 17th century was marked by Eugene of Savoy's surprise attack, which reduced Sarajevo to ashes. At that time, Baščaršija was not only the city’s commercial core, but the largest trading center in the central Balkans, with around 12,000 shops, and trading colonies set up by Florentines, Venetians, Dubrovnikans….


A prince with Italian-French origins, and supreme commander of the Hapsburg Imperial Army, Eugene is among those most responsible for breaking Ottoman power through a series of battles between Ottoman forces and those of Europe that had united with the Holy League.

After defeating the Turks in Zenta, while the rest of the Ottoman Army was dispersed to other fronts, Eugene decided to penetrate deep into Bosnia and attack Sarajevo. He made his approach on October 23, 1697 with 6,500 soldiers.

War journal

His war journal offers a detailed description of how he sent buglers and standard-bearers to city leaders, asking them to surrender:

- Our warning is well intended, but we state that, should it go unheeded, and if you remain obstinate, our goodness will be twisted into severity, then we will destroy everything by sword and fire. We won’t even spare a child in its mother’s womb, for heavy artillery lies in wait.

Most residents fled in fear, and, while the announcement was being read in town, the defenders killed the buglers and wounded the standard-bearers. Eugene then entered Sarajevo, lined up his army, and, on the night of October 23, ordered that the town be sacked and set aflame:

- I organized the forces upon a hill that dominated the town. From there I ordered certain units to loot. The Turks had already removed the most valuable things, but, all the same, they left behind all manner of goods in large quantities. The town was aflame before evening. Anyway, it is located in a wide space and totally open; it has 120 lovely mosques. I remained in Sarajevo the next day. We left the town and its surroundings to be consumed by fire. Our cavalry, which had pursued the enemy, returned with plenty of booty and many women and children, as it had wiped out all the Turkish forces.

City in ashes

He had already ordered a retreat by October 25, but not before plundering and reducing pearls of architecture, the core of the old town and whole neighborhoods to ash.

Some took refuge up in Vratnik, where they averted a bigger slaughter, but most of the Christians, fearing reprisals, left with Eugene’s army.

After this cataclysm, defensive forts were built around Vratnik, and houses were no longer made of wood. However, the attack brought an end to Ottoman Sarajevo’s “golden age.”

In 1914, the Austro-Hungarians had the Prince Eugene Barracks in Vratnik built in the shape of the letter E, and a sculpture of him with a sword stood in the courtyard. The figure was destroyed at the end of WWI, the facility’s name was changed a few times and is now known as the Jajce Barracks.