From Mostar I got the bus up to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I stayed in Sarajevo for 4-5 days; unfortunately I wasn’t so lucky with the weather and it rained heavily for the first two days, however the sun did eventually tentatively make it through the grey.
In case you can’t tell from this post I have a great affection for Sarajevo (I have visited before many years ago), although I’m still not sure exactly what it is that attracts me so much.
The people are warm and friendly, even though many of them have experienced loss or hardship that most of us can’t imagine.
It is often said that Sarajevo is a city where East meets West. Although this sounds like a bit of a cliche it is probably a good way to describe the place.
Sarajevo’s old city is easy to walk around in a couple of hours. There are little shops and cafes. The Ottoman influence is clear and you will find lots of Turkish cafes and baklava shops; at times, you feel as if you are in the Middle East rather than in Europe, particularly when the call to prayer starts up.
The Latin bridge
This was of course the site for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which kicked off the First World War. There is a small plaque to mark the spot; in Sarajevo’s communist past there was a larger memorial celebrating the assassin as a hero, but now it is more low-key.
Directly opposite the spot is a museum showing photos and telling the story (if you don’t know the story you should google it; it is a bizarre tale).
War, genocide and assassination feature large on the tourist trail of Sarajevo.
Other museums reflect Sarajevo’s more recent battles, and there are a few museums showing photos and artefacts from the Bosnian war. I didn’t visit all of them (there’s only so much war and genocide I can handle), but I enjoyed (if that’s the right word) the Historical Museum.
The Holiday Inn and Sniper Alley
When Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984, a brand new Holiday Inn hotel was built for the occasion. It was an odd choice architecturally, either an eyesore or innovative depending on your point of view; the bright yellow exterior didn’t sit well with many of the locals.
However the games came and went and the hotel continued to be the place of choice for visiting actors/musicians/politicos and other ‘movers and shakers’.
Then came the war.
The hotel will certainly be familiar to anyone who watched TV news in the early nineties, as Sarajevo came under siege and the foreign journalists set up their makeshift newsrooms there.
The siege of Sarajevo continued for more than three years and the hotel stood right on the front line, in what became known as Sniper Alley. It was hit by mortar shell multiple times, but never sustained the damage that many of the buildings surrounding it succumbed to. The guests moved to the back of the hotel, away from the windows and things carried on as normal. Many of the hotel’s staff had to dodge sniper fire on their way to work.
If you visit Sarajevo today you will find the hotel still standing, although it has now changed hands and become the Holiday Hotel.
You can walk along the old Sniper Alley, which is now a busy main thoroughfare out of the city with the tram line running through the middle. Today, only the holes in the buildings caused by mortar shells give away its gruesome past.
In the early nineties Sarajevo was under siege. The siege went on for more than three years; it is the longest siege of a city in modern warfare. During that time the city was surrounded by Serbian forces and was completely cut off.
The Bosnians built a tunnel to bring in food and medical supplies from outside the city and this is well worth a visit. The tunnel stretched for 800 metres underneath the airport.
There is a small museum there now giving information and a short video showing the tunnel in use during the siege. You can walk into a small section to try and get a feel for what it was like. There is not enough room to stand up straight; during the siege people would be carrying food and medicines back through, then dodging sniper fire to get it back to their families.
There are tours from the old town or you can just go by yourself. I got the tram to the terminus and then a cab from there.
One of the best things to do is to trek up to the yellow fort to watch the sun set.
Another great view of the city is from any one of its surrounding mountains
Try the local beer
Do a bit of male bonding on this giant chess board
Visit the sites of Sarajevo’s Winter olympic glory.
In 1984 Sarajevo hosted the winter olympic games. British people of a certain age remember it as the time that Torvill and Dean won a gold medal for ice skating with a perfect score; a record still unmatched.
The Zetra stadium where they performed this feat is still there, although it was destroyed in the war and later rebuilt.
The Olympic village remains too, albeit with the odd hole here and there from mortar shelling.
Other remnants of the Olympics lie in the mountains around the city.
More of this in the next post…