National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo
Sarajevo holds a lot to see with history just emanating from everything, you can just explore around the city that at times is like a living museum. So you have high hopes for the national museum. But like so much in this part of the world, politics and old divisions hold things down. I was told half the actual museums are either shut or struggling due to funding shortfalls. Indeed this museum mostly survived the Siege of Sarajevo but not funding disputes – shutting for three years – only reopening again late last year. Well let me agree straight up that it was definitely worth a hour or two of viewing. The museum has proud frontage and is made up of four grand buildings that surround a small botanic garden. The standout I felt was the natural history department, which had a very extensive collection of collections. At a small entry cost (6 km) it is highly worth it.
Often national museums can be a hit or miss, reflecting local funding and maintenance conditions of civil institutions. The Museum of New Zealand for example is modern and kept well as opposed to The Philippines where their museum in Manila felt just holding on at times. In Sarajevo the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina sits impressively with of four 100+ year old buildings housing different departments and exhibits with a botanic garden in the middle. The front building is half used to exhibit two floors of archaeological history from the pre-Roman to Ottoman times.
Their most precious exhibit is the Sarajevo Haggadah. Being worth millions and having a lengthy history of walking, it now has a very secured and climate sealed home through international donors. Unfortunately this is as good a look as you can get easily.
Behind the front building and department for Archeology sits a botanic garden complete with fountain. It was raining when I visited so I didn’t get to enjoy it.
To the right is the administration building. On the left is the department of ethnography. This had a rather small exhibit upstairs, displaying local life in home, business and justice primarily around the Ottoman era. I was overhearing a small group being given a tour, otherwise I saw nobody else enter this building. Unfortunately it is a field of study that doesn’t produce as many physical exhibits as the others.
The stand out for a visitor is the natural history department based in the back building. This is by far the largest exhibition space covering a wide range of areas.
There is large library of thousands (ten of thousands?) of insects and more both local to the region and international. It would be hard not to explain evolution in that room. The geology area was locked up when I visited but I could see the sample cabinets from above.
Finally there were very extensive animal exhibits again local and globally. From birds to sharks in the ocean to ivory and a mounted rhinoceros head. One may debate on the worth of having these, but I won’t discuss that now. If taxidermy gives you nightmares then it would be best to avoid, there’s a good thousand animals here and some were not perfect – those smiles…
The variety in the natural history department’s collection is great, but the archeology helps give historical context to the city of Sarajevo. There are no interactive exhibits and it helps to have a bit of background or use your phone when you’re there. The museum has some of the fastest (50+ Mbit) free wifi connectivity in the city. Definitely worth a visit if you have a spare half-day in Sarajevo. You can access the museum easily from the tram line or walk. The museum holds more than just exhibits, with important collections, including a huge library for researchers so one hopes it can be maintained with appropriate funding.