Three main reasons the world has heard of Sarajevo are:
1. The murder of Franz Ferdinand which started the First World War;
2. The Winter Olympics of 1984;
3. The epicentre of the war in Bosnia, the site of the infamous siege, which was lifted only after the NATO bombings in 1995.
Sarajevo today appears a peaceful yet exotic place swarming with life. In a word, Sarajevo is unique.
Welcome to the Pigeon Square, the centre of the historical Ottoman area of Baščaršija, where the touristic nerve centre of the city lies:
It is said that if you drink some water from the Fountain on the Pigeon Square, you will definitely come back to Sarajevo. As I was sitting in a street café right by the fountain with my friend Olivia, I was imagining coming back to Sarajevo. At that time I didn’t know yet that this was going to actually happen very soon.
Omnipresent mosques on the main street of Baščaršija. Although most of the signs are in two alphabets, today Sarajevo is predominantly a Muslim city. Serb East Sarajevo is located in Republika Srpska, for all practical purposes a separate country within Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And yet Sarajevo is the meeting point of West and East – and a project on the main prospect proudly declares as much.
The Eternal Flame is still burning commemorating the partisans who died in WWII, as if Yugoslavia never disappeared. It is only appropriate that the Flame is located on the prospect of Marshal Tito – still proudly bearing his name.
Gazi Husrev-beg mosque is smack in the centre of Baščaršija.
Another large mosque on the outskirts of Sarajevo – I believe it’s called King Fahd Mosque – I photographed it from a bus window. As the Westernmost Islamic country in Europe, Bosnia gets a lot of attention from the Gulf states. Time and again I noticed signs declaring that this or that mosque or Islamic learning institute was built with the help of say Emirate of Qatar.
The Markale vegetable market in the very centre, on Mula Mustafa Bašeskie street. My hostel was literally in the next house. This market is infamous for the bloody bombing with 70 victims that happened here during the Serb siege of Sarajevo in 1995. The horrific photographs went around the world and galvanised support for renewed NATO bombings of the Serb positions. This pressured the Serbs to resume peace negotiations – which eventually resulted in the Dayton peace agreement that same year.
The Serb version of the events though is that the bombings were staged by the Bosniaks themselves in order to provoke a NATO reaction. This version cannot be reconciled with hard facts and yet it is widely believed. It is another example of how successful the skilful propaganda can be – particularly if the people themselves are eager to believe it.
The Markale market:
As you go up the hill from the Pigeon Square – towards the Yellow Bastion – you first come across this Bosniak cemetery. My understanding was that these graves symbolically represent those who died and were lost in Srebrenica and other genocide locations.
At the centre of the cemetery is the grave of Alia Izetbegović, the Bosniak leader during the war of 1992-1995. In today’s Bosnia he is equally (in)famous for the corruption he engaged in after the war.
The Yellow Bastion itself:
This wonderful café is located on top of the Bastion:
The breathtaking Sarajevo from the Bastion:
At the centre of the previous photo you can see the unusual building in Arabesque style. It is Viećnica – the Sarajevo town hall built by the Austro-Hungarians. Today it houses the National Library:
The incredible main hall of Viećnica:
Viećnica was bombed during the siege of Sarajevo and for many days it burned with all the documents that it contained. This signboard reminds us about this with characteristic emotion.
The river and the South bank of the river from the Viećnica:
Viećnica was the place which Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, visited on that fateful day in 1914. As he was returning from Viećnica to his residence in the West of the city, Franz Ferdinand met Gavrilo Princip who shot him dead. This is the very spot where it happened. The archduke’s car was driving on the river bank on the right and in this spot it turned into the Old City. The spot of the assassination as you see it from the Latin bridge over the river:
According to the initial plan, the car had to return through the narrow streets of the Old City. However because another (failed) assassination attempt had already taken place that morning, it was decided to change the return route as more attempts were feared. The decision about changing the route was not passed on in time to the car driver of the archduke and he was informed about it only as he turned into Franz Josef street on this map.
When the driver stopped and started to turn around, the car happened to be right in front of Gavrilo Princip. He only had to take out his gun and shoot the archduke and his wife.
This car stands by the museum in the very spot where Franz Ferdinand was killed. If you want to feel like him or his wife, this is your chance!
On the previous photo you can see the entrance to the Museum Sarajevo 1914. These are the seven assassins. All of them were placed in different spots on archduke’s planned itinerary. Gavrilo Princip was by no means the main or the most important. The fact that his name entered history is an accident.
He could not be hanged according the the laws of Austro-Hungary at the time because he was considered underage (he was 19). But he was severely beaten as he was arrested, so severely in fact that his arm had to be amputated later on. He died in prison of tuberculosis four years later, as the war he started raged on.
These wax figures of Franz Ferdinand and Sofia are in the centre of the museum. Their marriage was morganatic, which means that Sofia wouldn’t have become the empress and their children wouldn’t have inherited the throne. Indeed the emperor at the time was extremely unhappy about this marriage. It was Sofia’s first official visit with her husband. Who knew it would also be her last.
As Churchill said, the Balkans produce more history than they can consume. Sarajevo is full of buildings bearing the scars of the siege. One such building is right next to the Catholic Cathedral in the city centre:
In a building next to it is an exhibition about the genocide in Srebrenica.
This is a truly devastating exhibition. The event defies human comprehension. Below I permit myself to show two photos from the exhibition.
Srebrenica enclave was declared a safe zone by the United Nations. Bosniaks who hid there were disarmed in return for the security guarantees provided by the UN. A Dutch battalion was responsible for ensuring the security on the spot. But due to a number of factors the battalion failed to defend the Bosniaks. As Serbs overran Srebrenica, the unarmed Bosniak population was simply handed to them. The Serbs methodically executed 8000 Bosniak men.
These are the inscription made by the peacekeepers inside the building of the UN base. Somehow they illustrate their perception of the locals and their readiness to defend them.
I joined an excursion around the exhibition. Srebrenica today is inside Republika Srpska (a semi-independent part of Bosnia and Herzegovina). On this photo a Bosniak woman is returning to Srebrenica for the 10 year commemoration of the genocide. The shocking part is that many of the very policemen guarding the event were the same people who had perpetrated the genocide 10 years prior. The Bosniaks who went to the event would recognise many of them.
About 5 km to the West of the centre of Sarajevo is located another sombre remnant of the War. Sarajevo was physically cut off from the rest of the world during the Serb siege. However in one place the “free Bosniak” territory came very close to the city and was only separated by the airport. Quite early in the course of the war the airport was taken over by the UN and humanitarian deliveries into Sarajevo were allowed by the Serbs (on condition that the same deliveries would also be handed to the Serbs). Another condition was that the UN would remain neutral.
By some incredible effort the inhabitants of Sarajevo built an underground tunnel under the airport. The length of the tunnel was about 1 kilometre. It was camouflaged and both entrances were located in basements of houses. One of the entrances (the one outside of Sarajevo):
The tunnel went under this land. The second entrance is I think in the purple house in the centre:
You can visit a small part of the tunnel today in the so-called Tunnel Museum. Most of the tunnel is closed though as it went under the airport which is used today. The UN did know about it but pretended it wasn’t there.
The tunnel was in permanent exploitation during the war. The Serbs knew about it too but never stormed it. One reason is that they may have hoped that the civilians would eventually leave Sarajevo through it. Apparently both the Serb and the Muslim army also earned good money from the tunnel – the difference in food prices on each side of the tunnel was enormous and much of it was pocketed by the army.
The Tunnel is actually very low – only about 1m60. Our guide who was 1m62 said that for people like him it was the most difficult because the tall people cannot forget about the need to pay attention.
Sarajevo is not only war and drama. The historical centre today is full of cafés, tea houses and ice cream parlours. This is Kuća Sevdaha, a historic café known for crazy male dancers. Performances are regularly organised even today.
Zlatna Ribica – i.e. Gold Fish – an atmospheric café right next to the Eternal Flame.
And finally two words about the Bosnian food. The cult dish is certainly cevapcici. Even though you find them everywhere in the Balkans, it is Bosnia who is responsible for inventing them and the local version is considered the best.
The richness of local foods is not limited to cevapcici though:
Gulash in the Dveri restaurant:
Bosnian coffee in Cajdzinica Dzirlo. It is served in Turkish style. In Dzirlo it is also accompanied by honey water. Some Bosnians do not drink the foam that is formed on top of the coffee cup, hence a little spoon to remove the foam. Of course you don’t drink the thick coffee at the bottom of the serving cup. The best part of the coffee is found in the middle, and this is what you try to pour into your drinking cup.