From Sarajka to BBI Centar

Some twenty years after World War II, at a time when Sarajevo was undergoing rapid development and more residents were seeing a rise in their living standards, the city fathers decided that it was time for Sarajevo to get its own “consumer temple”, or a modern and well-stocked department store.


Author: Sarajevo Navigator

At the behest of Juraj Neidhardt, a well-known Sarajevo architect, a student from Vienna and professor at the Faculty of Architecture, it was decided that the department store should be built in the center of town, on the block surrounded by Titova, Radićeva and Miss Irbina Streets and the then Dositejeva St. – an area that would later become Trg Oktobra.


At that time there wasn’t a square, as such, but simply a number of buildings, including the one that housed the old café-restaurant Istra, a famous meeting place for Sarajevan Bohemians. There was Dubrovnik Cinema, a bowling alley, City Café, Mali Oloman Sweet Shop…. This development took its toll and the old symbols of Sarajevo had to go in order for Vladimir Vova Zarahović’s project – Unima Department Store – to rise up from the ground.

Unima, or “Sarajka”, as Sarajevans called it, opened in 1975 on April 6, the Day of the City of Sarajevo. The building had an irregular geometry, which looked like an enormous blue snowflake from the air. There was a home appliances shop and a supermarket on the lower level, while on the ground floor and upper levels there were saleswomen in Borosana shoes selling everything “from needles to locomotives”. There was also a restaurant at the very top, where generations of Sarajevans celebrated their graduation nights.

Sarajevans wouldn’t be Sarajevans if they didn’t find some fault with everything. They often ridiculed this new store (which, in truth, was not the most beautiful building in the world), saying that the best view of it was from the roof and, given its blue façade, they called it the biggest police station in the world.

Developing city’s center

Over time, the citizens of Sarajevo realized the necessity of developing their city’s center and they came to love the department store, embracing it as an important symbol of Sarajevo. In the coming years, Sarajka would see the Olympics, when the great Olympic snowflake was engraved on the square out front; as well as the last war, when it was severely damaged.

For some years after the war Sarajka stood as a symbol of a bygone era, only to disappear forever at the beginning of the new millennium when engineers were given the task of constructing a modern shopping center to herald the coming of a new era.

The design of Sarajevo’s new consumer “temple” was entrusted to Sead Gološ, a well-known architect. In place of Sarajka, he designed an open and airy foyer with shops and eateries on the lower level, ground floor and five other floors. There is an adjoining 10-storey business tower with office space, as well as an underground parking garage on three levels, which alleviates the city’s chronic lack of parking spaces in the center.

This new shopping complex, BBI Center, opened on April 6, 2009, complete with a lavish light show and fireworks. That day, Sarajevo not only got a modern shopping center, but also a beautiful square that has become a place to meet and socialize, as well as to hold cultural and entertainment events.

The square now bears the name of Sarajevo’s most important residents – its children.