Eating in one of Mrs Safija’s four rooms

Sunday night. Sarajevo. Dinner. The restaurant was already booked by our hosts – we had an address and a taxi and assurances that our table would have full view of the TV. Yes, our hosts were Italian and Euro2012 was being its usual pervasive self.  As we wound our way up the hill, the city fell behind us and the air became noticeably cooler. I had no idea what to expect – no concept of what posh restaurants might look like in Sarajevo or even what the menu might offer.

4 Sobe Gospode Safije is what’s called a fusion restaurant. Situated on three floors of an original 1910 Austro-Hungarian house set just outside the centre, the restaurant is based on a love-story between the Bosnian Safija and Johan, her Austrian lover during the transition from Turkish to Austro-Hungarian rule.

Safija, a woman of remarkable beauty, was only daughter of Ahmed-Bey Magbulija. She dressed to embolden her beauty and loved to walk the old streets of the city. Some approved; others didn’t. Safija understood that times were changing but many in the city were not ready to let go of the past.

She dreamed of a man with golden hair – an Austrian – who helped her to her feet when she fell. It was 1914. The city was agog with activity in preparation for the visit of the Archduke Ferdinand. Safija went to watch.

New carriages had appeared in the town, beautifully painted and carrying ladies in long light colored dresses and jeweled headbands garlanded with flowers … Safija had never seen anything like it in her life. The ladies were accompanied by gentlemen dressed in black, without belts or waistcoats. Their white shirts were fastened at the neck in a strange way and they had polished shoes. On their heads they wore a different kind of fez Safija knew that it was called a hat. She knew too that the ladies’ headbands were called tiaras.

And the she saw him. The man in her dream. Baron Von Herberstein. He later came to call on her parents, along with his two sisters. A friendship ensued and the Baron fell in love. But Safija ignored his entreaties. They came from two different worlds and she couldn’t  cross that divide. He arranged with his sisters to invite Safija on a walk to the Old Town and to wait for him to join them. It all went to plan. One minute the sisters were there, the next they’d been replaced by the Baron. He professed his love and asked her to run away with him.

I have been looking at you for a month; I have followed your shadow; you have burned my heart more deeply than the sun. I have called to you in my dreams; I have called you my own. You are not destined to live or die here. We will run away … far away from everything. I will give my life if need be to fulfill your desires. I will build you a paradise … a house with four rooms and each one of I will sprinkle with silver and gold. Everyone will know that you are my queen … a bird of paradise.But Safija didn’t know what to do. How could she tell her parents that she was in love with a Christian. If her father knew they were alone, he would have them killed. But when the Baron took her in his arms and kissed her, she knew that she was prepared to  shame her religion, lose her reputation, destroy her father; she was prepared to die. She knew she was guilty, and yet not guilty. She loved … not an Omer-Bey or an Adem-Bey or anyone she had been meant to marry. She knew she loved Johan Von Herberstein.

She asked him to dig their graves. She said she would rather have him hang her than her father.

It was a story that passed among imams and among travelers and among the people of the town. Before God and the whole world the foreigner and the Bey’s young daughter had become one and then taken shelter in the otherworld. And those who heard the story did not know whether to cry or to pray. .. Twenty generations have passed since then. Sarajevo has suffered much and changed much … But there on the corner, in all its beauty stood the house of gold. It had four rooms, rooms that still glisten, rooms that are still talked about … Stories about Miss Safija are still being told … [Read the full story]

As we sat in the garden of the restaurant, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the love story. The menus showed old photos of Safija and Johan. The food was excellent. The wine superb. A beautiful atmosphere. If you’re ever in Sarajevo, make sure you drop by.  Čekaluša 61, 71000 Sarajevo, BiH. It’s open from 9am to midnight.

5 replies
  1. Bernard Adams
    Bernard Adams says:

    What was wrong with living happily ever after, like people are supposed to do in romantic stories? That Austrian displayed a startling lack of initiative, and just fancy asking the man you love to dig your grave and hang you . . . It’s beneath defeatism. A lovely day here by the Balaton, so I shall concentrate on the sunshine and hope to feel better soon.

    Reply

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