It is thought that during the Middle Ages there was a settlement and smaller trading area, called Stara Varoš, which served as a precursor to today’s Baščaršija. In around 1460, Isa Bey Ishaković laid the foundations for Sarajevo, and this trading center on the right bank of the Miljacka River would grow to become a bazaar.
In Turkish, the name “Baščaršija” (baş = top or main, and çar şu = crossroads or trading center) originally indicated that it was the main trading square, located on today’s Baščaršija Square, and it later became the name for Sarajevo’s entire “Old Čaršija”.
Isa Bey had the first inn and shops built here but, between 1521 and 1541, it was Gazi Husrev Bey, Sarajevo’s greatest benefactor and patron, who built numerous facilities, like Bey’s Mosque, a medresa, library, tekke, public bath, covered bazaar, Tašlihan (inn), public kitchen, plus more than 200 shops….
The construction of such facilities saw the development of trades and, by the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th, there were 46 separate bazaars which were all named after the guilds operating within them. Some of these trades now feature as street names in Baščaršija.
During its golden age, Baščaršija was not only Sarajevo’s economic center but also the largest trading hub in the Balkans, with approximately 12,000 shops and even trading colonies set up by merchants from Florence, Venice, Dubrovnik….
Baščaršija’s golden age came to an abrupt end when the Habsburg prince, Eugene of Savoy, waged a campaign of destruction all the way to Sarajevo, burning down most of the city.
Čaršija was rebuilt but again damaged by fire in 1857. This was when the current demarcation between the greatly reduced Baščaršija and Ferhadija St. became established, marking the spot where East and West meet.
Baščaršija Square has been adorned by Sebilj (a kiosk-shaped public fountain) since 1754. The original structure, which was commissioned by Mehmed Pasha Kukavica, was destroyed in a fire about a century later and then the current Sebilj was erected in 1913, as designed by the architect, Alexander Wittek.
As Ottoman influence began to wane and Austro-Hungarian authority gained a foothold, the arrival of cheap industrial goods spelled hard times for Baščaršija’s artisans.
Čaršija endured its hardest period right after WWII, when some communist leaders began playing with the idea of completely razing it to the ground. Fortunately, this did not come to pass, and the renovation carried out as part of the organization for the 1984 Olympics helped breathe new life into Baščaršija.
The sands of time have failed to totally snuff out traditional handicrafts and now products made by Sarajevo’s artisans serve as the most sought-after souvenirs (plus there’s the popularity of Baščaršija’s renowned culinary offering…).
As home to the Old Orthodox Church, Gazi Husrev Bey’s Mosque, Medresa and Library; Sahat Kula, the Old Jewish Temple, Brusa Bezistan and Gazi Husrev Bey’s Bezistan, Vijećnica and many other attractions, Baščaršija is not just a national monument – it’s the cultural and historical nucleus of Sarajevo and a must-see place for Sarajevans, as well as for those who visit BiH’s capital city.