Sarajevo Apothecaries

The precursors to modern pharmacies first started appearing in Sarajevo by the end of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th century. These shops, with their herbs, medicines and different types of plants, were called attari, from the Turkish word, attar, which denotes a man who sells medicaments. Sarajevo's first attari (druggists) were Jews who had fled Spain.


With the Alhambra Decree, Jews were expelled from Spain, but they were granted permission to move to the lands of the Ottoman Empire by Sultan Bayazid II. With their modest bundles and keys to the houses they would never return to, the Sefardi made their way over the sea to Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia....

The words of Bayazid II were prophetic when he said: “That Spanish king is mad. He is going to impoverish his own land to enrich mine.” And, indeed, wherever the Sephardic Jews went, they brought a flourishing of science, medicine and trade.

Velika avlija

It was exactly 450 years ago that Sijavuš Pasha, an Ottoman official, was on hand to welcome the Jews and have a special place built for them right in the heart of Sarajevo’s čaršija – Velika Avlija – which was the only Jewish dwelling in Europe at that time whose doors were always open. It was for this reason that traveling merchants called it “Little Jerusalem”.

When they arrived in Sarajevo, Jewish doctors and apothecaries were given positions in the Turkish army. They followed soldiers into battle and treated them by making use of various medicaments and herbal remedies. Once a military operation had ended, they would dispense their goods in treating ordinary people from their shops in the city’s bazaar. By the 17th century Sarajevo even had a guild for attari.

Skilled individuals compiled guides and ljekaruše (medical books). The first of such books to be preserved date back to the early 19th century, and include Sefardska Ljekaruša in Ladino (1820), Sefardska Ljekaruša (1836 and 1840) and Attarski Manual (1850).

For centuries, intoxicating smells drifted from the shops, their shelves stocked with various boxes and containers full of medicinal herbs that were used in treating both physical and mental conditions. The wooden boxes were green and oval-shaped, much like those used in apothecary shops throughout Europe. Labels were written in Hebrew, Turkish and Bosnian and the shops also sold little vials of different drops, balms, ointments, pills, wax, essential oils and dyes.

Apothecary shop at the Museum of the City of Sarajevo

Over the centuries, a long line of apothecaries and doctors came from the famous Papo family. There are documented stories about the expert treatments given by Avram, Tijo Merkado, Roza Papo and many others. The shop belonging to Santo Papo, which used to be located at Sarači 6, was one of the last of its kind in the city.

The Museum of the City of Sarajevo bought the shop’s entire inventory in 1951. The preserved herbs and medicines are of both domestic and foreign origins. That same year, the museum also acquired a wooden mortar which had belonged to the shop, as well as David Papo’s ledger from Svjetlost’s antique bookshop in Sarajevo.

There is an exhibit of Papo’s shop on display at the Jewish Museum, an annex of the Museum, which is open weekdays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

The cost of admission is 3KM.