The muezzin's sorrowful call sounds over the city and in the porch of the mosque the faithful kneel in prayer. Metres away, cafes continue their trade, the laughter and chatter as bright as the advertising on the umbrellas, the coffee as strong as the city's reputation. In the crowded streets and squares beyond, religions mingle. Christians and Muslims stroll together, sometimes arm-in-arm, while overhead, church spires, minarets and Orthodox domes rise like fingers of the same hand. It feels like the kind of place to which you'd point warring parties as a model of unity, if only it wasn't Sarajevo, a city filled so recently with its own warring parties. More often a headline than a tourist destination, Sarajevo has become a byword for war and destruction. Twentieth-century conflict virtually opened and closed in the Bosnia-Herzegovinan capital. Here, the gunshot that started the first world war was fired; here also, 11,000 people were killed during a four-year siege in the 1990s. These events shaped the world's opinion of Sarajevo, but they're not how Sarajevo views itself. The city prefers to evoke its greater history of religious and cultural harmony, its concordant blurring of east and west and a beauty unsung outside the Balkans. The truth may be somewhere in between. Certainly, the things I'd read didn't concur with what I saw; the atrocities of a decade ago against the casual sophistication of contemporary Sarajevo. The main strip, Ferhadija, with its architectural flourishes and fashion-filled windows, could be a shopping strip in any European city. Side lanes overflow with busy cafes, while at the city's edge, suburbs creep up ridgelines, looking more like peaceful Alpine villages than one-time sniper posts. But look up from Ferhadija's activity and recent history has left its scar on Sarajevo. Bullet and mortar holes pimple its plasterwork, giving the city a pixellated appearance. Higher still, the suburbs are brightened - at least visually - by a white forest of marble headstones. One morning I stumbled into one such graveyard sprawl that spread across three roads, creeping up hills and bumping against homes. Guarded by soldiers, each of the hundreds of Muslim headstones was engraved with a wartime date of death. It is such disparities - peace and war, east and west - that make Sarajevo fascinating. Walk a few steps beyond its retail centre into Bascarsija, Sarajevo's Turkish quarter, and the city switches from modern European to Ottoman relic: high fashion one moment, a bazaar the next. New paving stones become old cobbles and store windows are filled with carpets, copper coffee goblets and gold. The smell of cevapcici (spicy sausage) and the sound of artisans' hammers fill the souk-like lanes, while storekeepers pass the hours playing backgammon. If Europe and Asia hadn't already met in Istanbul, this might have been the place they'd have chosen. Here too Sarajevan tourism is being reborn. Among Bascarsija's swelling cafes and houses of worship, hotels and pensions are starting to blossom. Sarajevo is a place to step outside the uniform hotel experience. One of its most appealing features is that, like Eastern Europe a decade ago, there is a ready availability of unregulated rooms in private homes. Stand still for a moment and somebody will politely ask if you need a room. If they don't come to you, go to them at the Pansion Cobanija in Skenderija, across the river from the city centre. If it's fully booked, which it often is, it will arrange rooms in nearby apartments. My accommodation was the spare room of a family's second-floor apartment, 10 minutes' walk from Bascarsija. The bed was little more than sofa cushions and standing on my tiny balcony I could just read the menus of the pizzeria below and count the bullet holes in the walls above. It was characteristic, if not star-rated. Inevitably, my days centred on Sarajevo's unholy trinity: war, coffee and cevapcici. Sarajevo is as religious about its coffee as its myriad mosques and churches. Like the architecture of Bascarsija, their coffee is Turkish, a blend as thick as mud and superhero strong. It is to be sipped, not drunk, drawing Sarajevo afternoons into long, leisurely affairs. Almost as ubiquitous as the cafes are the cevapcici restaurants. Though the days of food shortages are over and restaurants of every stripe easy to find, nothing has replaced this staple. Slipped into pita bread, they are a distinct part of the Bascarsija experience. But the proximity of war is Sarajevo's big-ticket tourist attraction. Almost all of Sarajevo's travel agencies offer tours of city-centre war sites or further afield to its most fascinating relic, the Sarajevo War Tunnel Museum. Preserving the entrance to an 800-metre tunnel that ran beneath the airport, this family home offered the only escape from the city during the siege. At its peak, more than 4,000 people a day passed through the tunnel. In addition to the tours, cartoonish maps on newsstands and in stores show Sarajevo ringed by artillery. That Sarajevo wears its war wounds more like jewellery than disfigurements is unsurprising. Far from cowed by the bloodiness of its recent history, Sarajevans are proud of their epic tale of survival. For the 1,264 days of the siege from 1992 to 1995, Sarajevo burned almost perpetually. Food and water were scarce. But Sarajevo survived, blossoming again into a fully functioning, pulsating city. The most evident signs of the city's post-war pride are the Sarajevo Roses colouring the pavement. Shaped like giant handprints, these red splotches are filled-in mortar craters, bright reminders of the war, the city's equivalent of a peacenik sticking flowers into the barrel of a gun. I first noticed the Sarajevo Roses as I set out to walk along Sniper Alley. A decade ago this road, the major thoroughfare in and out of the city, was said to be the most dangerous in the world. With one side controlled by Serbian snipers and the other by the Bosnian army, walking between them was suicide. Now it runs with trams and cars, and pedestrians stroll casually past its replanted trees. As I left the city centre on Sniper Alley, bullet holes blurred the world even further, the decrepitude growing with distance. I came to the Holiday Inn, as bright and yellow as yolk. It was here that Sarajevo's war began when, on April 6, 1992, Radovan Karadzic supporters fired from the hotel's upper storeys into a peace demonstration in an adjacent park. The hotel would later serve as the international media's wartime headquarters. Across the road sits the concrete skeleton of a shelled building and the next block provides a glimpse of mid-90s Sarajevo - a line of wrecked buildings, windows still sandbagged and boarded, trees growing from rafters that once held roofs. At the university, where students sat, read or chatted on the lawns, I turned back towards the city centre, stepping again over the line between modern Sarajevo and timeless Bascarsija. I was drawn to a poster in a shop window that showed bleak, wintry images of Sarajevans queueing for water during the siege. Behind me, fresh water poured into the street from drinking fountains set into the wall of a mosque. People stopped, drank and walked on: a simple pleasure heightened by history. Getting there: Lufthansa flies from Hong Kong to Sarajevo via Vienna. The Hotel Saraj is one of Sarajevo's best-placed, with 140 rooms perched above the Miljacka River with views across the rooftops of Bascarsija. Pansion Cobanija (tel: 387 7144 1749) is in the suburb of Skenderija.