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Change comes to Sarajevo

Orthodox and Catholic Cathedrals (curvy and pointy respectively) - Copyright © by Alan Grant

In the seventeenth century Sarajevo's population peaked at about 24,000 people declining to about 20,000 or, as Donia says, "fewer in the 1860s". The city itself remained largely unchanged following reconstruction after the devastation of 1697 but at last, signs "of widespread revitalization first appeared in the 1860s."

Two major changes in the third quarter of the nineteenth century brought about a new alignment of population and political forces in the city. First, the expansion of the Serb merchant class, made possible by the improved legal status of the empire's non-Muslim citizens, added demographic diversity to the city. Second, the city's Muslim elite lost its intransigence and propensity for armed rebellion....

One of the changes that helped foster the change was the abolition of guilds in 1851, "leaving Muslim craftsmen without the influential organizations that had helped ensure their economic dominance".

Serb and Jewish entrepreneurs enjoyed close ties with those in neighbouring lands of their faith and ethnicity, and they excelled in importing cheap manufactured goods from abroad that challenged the more expensive locally produced handicrafts. The Bosnian historian Iljas Hadžibegović summarized the process: "As early as the second half of the eighteenth century, many Serb craftsmen expanded into commerce and, together with Jews, took almost all external trade into their own hands, while the Muslims retained a dominant role in crafts and domestic retail trade."

With growing numbers and increasing affluence, Serbs organized Serbian Orthodox communes in major Bosnian towns to support their church and promote the education of Serbian youth. Acting in part through the commune, Serb merchants helped fund the first permanent Serb school in Sarajevo in 1850-1....To the dismay of both Ottoman officials and the Habsburg authorities who superseded them, the communes also brought together nationally conscious Serbs who promoted their identity and closer ties with neighbouring Serbia.

The most enduring achievement of Sarajevo's Serbian Orthodox commune was the monumental Assembly Church (Saborna crkva), begun in 1863 and dedicated in 1872.... it was the first building to break the Muslim monopoly on monumental edifices in Sarajevo's central city. Built with the approval of Ottoman officials, it was dedicated under the protection of Ottoman troops. Financing and constructing the church was a multiconfessional and international success story of its time. Most of the 36,000 dukat cost was borne by Sarajevo's Serb merchants, led by Manojlo Jeftanović with a donation of 2,000 dukats. In a symbolic act of equality, the Ottoman sultan and the prince of Serbia each donated 500 dukats. Russia's Tsar Aleksandar ll sent expert craftsmen to construct the iconostasis. The church remains Sarajevo's most prominent structure from the Ottoman reform era.


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

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