Founded in 1888, the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the oldest western-style cultural and scientific institution in the country. The idea of establishing a museum goes back to the mid-19th century, to a time when Bosnia and Herzegovina was still a part of the Ottoman Empire. Yet it would take four decades and a change of government for the idea to be realised. In 1878, Bosnia was occupied by the Austro-Hungarians, who brought with them new political and social goals, customs, and values. These included the furthering of science through research and academic and institutional development.
The original museum facilities in the town centre soon became inadequate for the growing collection, and so in 1909 construction began for a new museum complex comprising four pavilions and a botanic garden. The facility was completed and inaugurated in 1913. It would long remain the only purpose-built museum complex in the former Yugoslavia. It houses the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina to this day. In the most recent post-war era, the museum has at times struggled to keep its doors open due to lack of financing. With the help of local NGO’s, ordinary citizens and cultural grants from the US Embassy, the movement to finally reopen Bosnia and Herzegovina’s oldest official cultural institution succeeded.
If we were to pick the brightest gems from the treasure trove of material and intangible heritage kept in the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is no way we could leave out the illuminated Jewish codex, brought by Sephardic Jews from Spain, known around the world as the Sarajevo Haggadah. The haggadah (Hebrew for story, account) is a collection of religious rules and traditions arranged into the order of the Seder observed on Passover, the holiday celebrating the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.