Coppersmith Street

June 8, 2015 • Balkans 2015, Online Content, Reporting Trips • Views: 961

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By Olivia Burton

In Sarajevo’s Baščaršija, the old Ottoman trading quarter, visitors can buy wool socks, rugs, scarves, knockoff purses, baklava, sladoled (ice cream, one of the few Bosnian words I’ve picked up), and Bosnian coffee sets among the stalls and shops set up alongside the old stone road.

Bosnian coffee sets are popular souvenirs in Sarajevo. Most of the vendors sell sets that can range from plain, matte brushed copper to shiny, ornate sets with a large džezva, orcopper-plated pot, and six or eight separate cups. Many sets are clearly made by machine; you can tell by the seam running down the side of the pot. But on Coppersmith Street, an alley branching off from the main plaza around the Sebilj Fountain, old men sit outside or in their small shops painstakingly beating detailed patterns onto copper vases, plates, and pots with tiny hammers.

One of the oldest streets in the Baščaršija, Coppersmith Street seems to maintain its sense of authenticity in spite of the encroaching knockoff purses and cheap souvenirs. The street is also home to jewelers and antique stores selling Yugoslavian money, Austro-Hungarian mirrors, retired military uniforms, political pins, and old photographs. But looking down the narrow alleyway from its entrance near the Sebilj Fountain, the warm, muted shine of copper dominates the scene.

The tradition of the copper craft extends back to the 16th century, when Ottoman craftsmen brought the art to Sarajevo. Today, the skill is passed down through families. Mensur Aganović of the store Kazandžija Sarajevo said that his father taught him the art of copper working when he was a boy and the store has been in his family for over 100 years. Although he sells machine-made items such as Bosnian coffee sets, pepper grinders, and plates, he also sells his handcrafted goods, though at a steeper price.

Mensur Aganović stands in his store.

Mensur Aganović stands in his store.

“Where do these designs come from?” I asked Aganović, pointing to a set of copper vases with different kinds of flowers beaten into them. “Here, look,” he replied, pointing to his head. He explained that the handcrafted copper pieces are more expensive because they require creativity and many hours of work. After I purchased a small vase, he went outside to smoke with two of the other coppersmiths. The three of them sat back in their chairs, puffing on cigarettes and watching crowds of people stroll by.

Olivia Burton ’18 is in Morse College. Contact her at olivia.burton@yale.edu

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