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Home Page > Travelogues > Bosnia and Herzegovina > Sarajevo

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo -- Seeking to Put Aside It's War-torn Past  

Bosnia and Herzegovina

It is strange that I should be writing this story on the day after the conclusion of the Media Building2002 Salt Lake winter Olympiad.  I very clearly remembered my days as a college student back in 1984 when I spent all-nighters with my fraternity brothers drinking cheap beer, playing cribbage, and watching the Olympic Games from Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.  Like many of you readers, I never dreamed that an Olympic city would become the center of a major war.  I watched in sadness as the media showed the beautiful stadiums, arenas, and the entirety of the downtown destroyed amidst a torrent of bloodshed during the early 1990s.

When I visited there in October 2000, I was pleased to find Bosnia and Herzegovina had come a long way since the Dayton Peace Agreement.  But, while the city reformed and rebuilt itself to the point of actively seeking the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, it elected to retain some somber monuments of its past.  I supposed they did this for two reasons -- as a way of reminding themselves of the terrible strife they endured, and to send a message to the rest of the world not to repeat their mistakes.

River Sava and the Sarajevo CastleThe first photograph shows the Sava River, whose valley forms a bowl within which Sarajevo sat.  This was taken from one of the many small bridges crossing the river, which is canalled through the city.  At the top of the scene was the Sarajevo Castle, the seat of the Balkan extension of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.  In fact, as an even further reminder to the Balkans' tumultuous past, the concrete bridge in the lower center of this photo was the very one where Archduke Ferdinand, the hier to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in 1914.  That event launched World War I.  A plaque commemorating this event was mounted on the bridge.  Some of the structures at the left of the photo were originally from that era, but were severely damaged during the Bosnian war.  Much of the damage remained, with only sufficient renovation applied to some to be used as modern-day government buildings.

The road following the bank of the Sava River at the photo's left led west to an infamous straightaway lined with high-rise buildings.  This stretch was known as "Sniper's Alley," so-named because during the early days of the war, snipers hid among the high-rises anOne of the Many Cemetaries in Townd fired at pedestrians and motorists below.  At the far west of the Alley stood the 'Media Building', shown in the second photograph.  I didn't get its real name.  This structure was destroyed early in the war, yet it remained in operations as host of a free newspaper during the war.  This and the surrounding badly shot-up apartment buildings were left in place as of 2000, but I do not know whether or not the Bosnian government will tear them down.

Another reminder of the Bosnian war was the slew of cemeteries surrounding the city, such as the Orthodox cemetery shown in the third photograph.  The cemeteries were located on the tops of ridgelines cleared by artillery batteries that lay siege to the city -- different ones for the Bosnian Serb, Croat, and Muslim communities.

With all these reminders of conflicts past, one wonders how such a city (and for that matter, the country as a whole) can recover and eventually rejoin the peaceful civilized world.  Well, apart from the Treaty and the ever-obvious presence of peacekeeping Gazebo in the Turkish Shopping Districttroops, Sarajevo was doing it the old-fashioned way:  hard work.  Hard work in re-building its infrastructure, hard work in fostering cooperation among the former warring factions, and hard work in bringing in foreign investment.  The results had been slow in coming, and naturally there were setbacks, but by 2000 the downtown was vibrant.  It was reminiscent of other small eastern European cities similarly emerging from the Cold War era -- a mixture of modern business with Communist-era architecture.

Sarajevo had a long pedestrian zone essentially divided in three zones.  Shown in the fourth photograph was a gazebo and market square in the primarily Muslim district at one end.  The Turkish district is old-world rustic, with Mediterranean-style coffee houses, crowded markets, and huge, beautiful mosques.  At the opposite end of the street was the Serb section, dominated by the rebuilt Orthodox Cathedral, shown in the fifth photograph.  The center section was Croatian.  Sitting in the central market was the Catholic Cathedral that sat uSerbian Orthodox Cathedralntouched since the war, with grenade wounds gracing its outer walls.  The Serb and Croatian districts were more modern and European than the Turkish district.  Several big European-brand department and restaurant chains were available to customers.  This was also where many of the bars and restaurants resided -- my personal favorite was a place known as the Club Jez (yehzh), which was actually a posh restaurant hidden away in an old wine cellar.  This restaurant was popular among western Europeans.

When I was there in 2000, I found that the city was dominated by Bosnia's young, many of whom probably moved to the capital in search of a better future for themselves.  In doing so, they've injected new life into Sarajevo.  But Sarajevo was still a very divided city.  Half of it resided in the Republika Srpska and the other half in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Like other similarly divided cities in Bosnia, many residents on one side refuse to step into the other side.  While sharing the same language, the two sides use their respective alphabets -- Cyrillic and Latin.  It was hard to imagine how the city would progress to total peace so long as such divisions remained.  It would seem that patience was key.  Since the country has achieved relative peace for over a decade, one should be encouraged that progress will continue.  Let's hope.

Trip taken in the winter of 2000-2001 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001,2006 Tom Galvin

Useful Links:
bulletCity Information via the Bosnian National Tourist Bureau -- 

Y! Travel Guide --

FOTW Flags Of The World website