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1697: Sword and Fire

Prince Eugene of Savoy

Following the breaking of the siege of Vienna in 1683 the Austrians soon began to roll back the Ottoman advance. Dalmatia, Slavonia and Hungary were retaken and in the summer of 1697 Prince Eugene of Savoy led his troops into north-western Bosnia. There his offensive stalled but then "he led his troops across the Sava River into northern Bosnia at Brod and followed the Bosna River south to Sarajevo."

Encamped on the city's outskirts, Prince Eugene promised to "destroy everything with sword and fire" unless the city capitulated. The city leaders remained defiant, and soon Eugene fulfilled his promise. The Habsburg army entered Sarajevo and burned most of the city on the night of October 23-4, 1697. Most wooden structures were destroyed, and some of the city's stone mosques and other religious buildings were damaged. An anonymous Sarajevo writer suggested that desecration of Islamic institutions and practices was a deliberate part of the destruction:

Austrian infidels came with an army, they burned prayer books and mosques, ravaged mihrabs [the niche in a mosque in the direction of prayer] and beautiful Šeher-Sarajevo, from one end to the other. They herded men like sheep, shed bloody tears from their eyes, imprisoned and ruined many a man, and even girls, heavenly beauties with faces that saw neither sun nor moon, were driven barefoot and bareheaded from their happy lives and sent as a present to the king, for an infidel came and seized their belongings and food while ten thousand imprisoned people cried.

Within a few years, most of the mosques were repaired and being used for worship or calls to prayer, and eventually most of the burned structures were replaced. But Sarajevo's population and prosperity did not return to its pre-fire levels until the early 1900s, ironically, under the administration of the same Habsburg Monarchy that had nearly destroyed it in 1697.


Sarajevo: A Biography. 2005. Robert Donia [C. Hurst & Co]

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