The name “vratnik” comes from an old Slavic word meaning “knot” and the settlement was probably given this name because it was very much like a knot or crossroads of important routes.
There was Carska Džada (Emperor’s Road), a road that ran from Sarajevo, passed through Vratnik and then continued on to Višegrad and all the way to Constantinople. This is how one of Vratnik’s gate towers got the name, Višegrad Kapija (Višegrad Gate).
Sarajevo was located deep within Ottoman territory and, up until the time of Prince Eugene of Savoy’s campaign, it had been an open city without a protective fortress, as there was just a small fort up on Bijela Tabija. This fortification could accommodate 150-200 soldiers and provide a safe haven for only a few hundred civilians.
In 1697, Eugene and his cavalry of 6,500 sacked, pillaged and burned the city to the ground. This incident left people feeling not only fearful and insecure, but also aware that, in the future, the city needed to have a proper defense.
However, work on the fortifications around Vratnik did not commence until after the Požarevac Peace Agreement in 1729, during Governor Ahmed Pasha Rustempašić Skopljak’s administration.
He and members of the Sarajevo elite had decided to build a fortification that would “enclose 450 houses and retain enough empty land to accommodate that many more homes” and to make the wall “as long as a sahat hoda (the area that could be walked in one hour on foot), two aršins (Ottoman measurement for length) thick and 10 aršins high…”.
Rustem Pasha asked the Dubrovnikans to help by sending five quarrymen and five stone masons who specialized in fortresses. He put his son, Rustem Bey, in charge of overseeing the entire project.
When Ahmed Pasha was sent from Bosnia in 1730, construction came to a halt or was put on hold for some time.
Work was continued by Vizier Hećimoglu Ali Pasha, who had defeated Austro-Hungarian forces during a battle in Banja Luka in 1737, the same year that he spent the winter in Sarajevo.
Ordinary Sarajevans and members of the ulema (intellectuals) assisted with construction and one legend says that Hećimoglu Ali Pasha ordered that stone grave markers to be taken and used, since there were so many cemeteries in Sarajevo at that time.
Five towers - tabijas
The Vratnik stronghold was a formidable edifice, taking up 495,596 m2 and having an irregular shape.
The defensive fort had five towers (tabijas): Bijela, Strošićka, Žuta or Jekovačka – Yellow Fortress, Ravne Bakije and Zmajevac.
The Old Town Vratnik also had three fortified gate towers, Višegrad, Ploče and Širokac, plus five other gates and a few smaller ones.
After the Austro-Hungarian troops broke the last line of defense the Sarajevans had, they captured Sarajevo on August 19, 1878 and Vratnik’s fortifications gradually lost their original purpose.
Bijela Tabija and Žuta-Jekovačka Tabija are still in relatively good shape and a canon is fired from the latter during the Islamic month of Ramadan to mark the end of the daylong fast.
The Višegrad Gate Tower is in good condition, but the only section of the defensive wall that is still fully intact is the part between the Ploče and Širokac Gate Towers and together they make up part of the Alija Izetbegović Museum.