The Ottoman history of Sarajevo can easily be split into two halves. One is the city golden age, the early Ottoman era, lasting from 1521 to 1697.
The other is the late Ottoman era, from 1697 to 1878, which saw the decline of the empire, the city, and a number of disasters. There is evidence that the Ottoman Turks had already made foray into Bosnia even before the Battle of Kosovo in 1389.
It is known that, having been invited by the feuding feudal lords, they took part in coflicts and skirmishes such that, in 1428, they were able to capture the Hodidjed fortress to the east of present-day Sarajevo, as well as the fortified town of Vrhbosna to the west.
Matko, the duke of Hungarian-Croatian king Sigismund, took back Vrhbosna for a while, and through many battles, the city was gradually destroyed, although its name was, for a time newly built town of Sarajevo.
By the year 1458, the citizens of Dubrovnik regarded Isa-Bey Ishaković, the founder of the city of Sarajevo, as the true lord and master of Bosnia. The nucleus of old town Sarajevo was situated in the first mahala (residental quarter) around the present-day Emperor's mosque, which is probably one of the first builings erected in 1462 in the area of old Sarajevo.
At the same time, the construction was begun of Saraj or Konak, guverment buildings and barracks, the first bridge (Emperor's bridge) across from the entrance to the Emperor's mosque, as the great caravansaray (stopping place for caravans) or Kolobara Han.
All these building were built on tillable soil where no buildings previously existed. The single exception to this was that the Baščaršija (main market place) square was built on intersection of the old Roman road running east-west with the road which crossed Miljacka river from Trebević at the point where the Sultan’s bridge was built.
On this square goods were exchanged between farmers from surrounding villages. In the nearest village Brodac, which was, of course, Christian, in the area of present “Nadmlini” and “Bentbaša”, Isa-Bey Ishakovic built “Zavia” (room for dervishe’s meetings) with “tekija” (house for dervish rituals) of the (13th century) Mevlevia Order.
But the time of its establishment by its founder Gazi Isa-Bey Ishaković, Sarajevo was only a provincial town (casaba), and it kept that status until Gazi Husrev-Bey, without a doubt the greatest benefactor of Bosnia and Herzegovina for all time, become deputy. During his governing of Bosnia and Herzegovina, from 1521 until his death 1541, he had undertook construction like which had never existed in Sarajevo before.
The Gazi Husref-Bey's mosque was built in 1530, the Gazi Husref-Bey's Madrassa (high school), in 1537, the Gazi Husref-Bey's Bezistan (warehouse) in 1540, the Gazi Husref-Bey's Imaret (public kitchen) with hostelry and mekteb (high school) 1530 (if this is the correct date it should be listed earlier), the Gazi Husref-Bey's Hammam (bath) in 1555.
Gazi Husref-Beg also built the city’s Sahat Kula (clock tower). This encouraged other benefactors to build other places of worship, education and general welfare, and Sarajevo became known as the “Šeher kasaba” (“big town”). By the middle of the 16th century, it had reached the peak of its territorial development.
Thus, Sarajevo then extended from Bentbaša in the east to Marijin Dvor in the west, for a length of approximately 3 km, and from Sedrenik in the north to above Komatin in the south for a length of approximately 2.5 km.
These parameters did not change until the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Sarajevo, at which time the town consisted of 106 mahala (residential quarters), and a mahala consisted of 30 – 40 dwelling units, a mosque, a primary school, a fountain or water source, and a bakery. Many of these mahala had grocery stores and other shops, or even their own marketplaces.
Since its founding, Sarajevo was an open town. This meant that there was a condition of law and order which would permit craftsman and merchants to live and work in a secure environment. This is also evidence that the Ottoman Empire was, at least here, a state based upon law.
Further proof of this is the fact that here all members of all faiths could live and work and practice their faith, including their religious rituals, whereas in Europe at this time (in the late Middle Ages), it was the rule that the state and the religion were linked, which made it possible to outlaw these religions.
The Jews were exiled from Spain and confined to ghettos throughout the rest of Europe. The Sephardic Jews who came to Sarajevo, however, were not confined to ghettoes and they conducted their business freely and were able to practice their religion and educate their children.
This happened in the 16th century, when the Sarajevo Haggadah came to Sarajevo along with Sephardic Jews refugees from Andalusia. For the first time in its history, Sarajevo was the city of four religions.
The Jewish population made note of this, naming the city "The European Jerusalem". It is true that there were some governors of the Bosnia and Herzegovina who tried to interfere with this freedom. There were incidents of attempted blackmail of members of certain faiths (such as incident of Ruždi-Pasha and his blackmailing of wealthy Jews).
In these incidents, eminent members of Sarajevo society protested such behavior and had such governors recalled. Because of such actions, some European chroniclers would depict Sarajevo as a special republic (or a state within a state). These same writers, in their description of the old Sarajevo, note that here one could find the highest quality goods from the east as well as from west.
Thanks to this significant trade, the prosperous handicraft and trade guilds were able to prevent discrimination on the basis of different faiths.
All of the “Latin Section” belonged to owners who were Catholics. Tradesmen of Dubrovnik, while along the two longest streets of the old Sarajevo market, Veliki and Mali Čurčiluk all the furriers were member of the Orthodox Church. The Jews engaged in money exchange, as well as the grocery and tinsmiths trades.
Such harmonious relations among the craftsmen in the Čaršija spread over into the residental slopes of the mahala where people lived their daily lives with an urbane code of decency and consideration for their neghbours, such that it would never happen that there was violation of the unwritten rule against hindering your neighbor’s view of the city or of interfering with the privacy of his walled-in garden.
Based upon the fundamental rules from the Orient of the symbiosis of buildings, green areas, and running water, this architecture raised them so that European travelers described the residents of Sarajevo as living in “villas” – using such term not to mean material luxury but luxuriance of space.
Each house had a yard for the men and a separate yard for the privacy of the women, as well as a garden and either a fountain or a well. In addition, there were about 200 public fountains on the streets. Sarajevo became one of the most advanced cities in Europe. It had its own water system, clock tower, bathhouses, and schools. In a time when education was merely for the wealthy, and most Europeans considered baths to be unhealthy, Sarayliyas (Sa-ray-lee-yas, residents of Sarajevo) were among the cleanest and most culturally advanced commoners on the continent.
A famous Sarajevan poet of the time wrote:
"There it seems to man that he can live for a long time, for in a thousand places in Sarajevo flows water from the well of longevity".
This heritage of the mahala residential quarters has been only partially preserved, and even the Čaršija itself suffered from standardized forms of reconstruction. The Čaršija would have such an important value if it were not for the religious-educational centers of the world’s major confessions with their places of worship and the buildings very close to one another, as they are preserved even today.
Sarajevo was the biggest and most important Ottoman city in the Balkans after Istanbul itself. By 1660, the population of Sarajevo was estimated to be over 80,000. Comparatively, Belgrade in 1838 had a mere 12,963 inhabitants, and Zagreb as late as 1851 had a lowly 14,000 people. If Sarajevo’s fortune would have prevailed until 1700, it would have been the 10th biggest city in Europe.
Had its population continued to grow significantly during that period of time, it would have likely been the 7th largest, just under Rome and Milan. It is no coincidence that the beginning of the late Ottoman era in Sarajevo’s history begins with the end of the Austro-Ottoman War.
Following the failure at the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the western reaches of the empire were suspect to numerous raids. It was the raid of 1697 by Prince Eugene of Savoy that would have the biggest impact. Brushing aside weak and unorganized defenses, Eugene was able to enter Sarajevo with ease. There, he pillaged the city like it had never been pillaged before, and once he was through with this he set the city to the torch. Sarajevo was desolated by this attack.
Very few structures survived the flames, and these were only ones built out of stone or subject to rare circumstance. The citizens of Sarajevo at that point had to start rebuilding their city from square one, not just structurally, but culturally and politically as well. By then, the seat of Bosnian government had already been transferred to Travnik, and the fire made the situation no better. For ten years between 1747 and 1757, the city even experienced anarchy.
If the city was no longer what it used to be structure wise, its intellectualism didn’t suffer the slightest. In fact, the 18th century held many of Sarajevo’s great thinkers, such as Mehmed Mejlija Guranij and Mula Mustafa Bašeskija. Significant libraries, schools, and mosques were built, as well as significant new fortifications.
The late 1700s however were not very good times. In 1788 another fire raged through Sarajevo, and this came only 5 years after an outbreak of plague. By the early 19th century, things did not get much better as Serbia gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire, creating a wedge between Sarajevo and Istanbul.
This would all lead to the revolt of Bosniak national hero, Husein Gradaščević. Demanding Bosnian independence from the Turks, Husein-Kapetan Gradaščević fought several battles around Bosnia. The last and ultimately most significant was the Battle of Sarajevo Field of 1832 where Husein-Kapetan Gradašćević was betrayed by a fellow Bosniak and lost a hard fought battle.
There he uttered his famous words: "This is the last day of our freedom".
For the next several decades no major developments occurred, as Sarajevo withered away in the "sick man of Europe".