Taxi scams aside, Sarajevo is a tourist-friendly city with bustling promenades, trendy boutiques, art galleries, traditional restaurants, cozy cafes, and pastry shops…
But the primary reason for my visit was to learn about
The Siege of Sarajevo that wreaked havoc here from 1992 to 1995…
Sarajevo Taxi Ride
My first impressions came during my taxi ride from the bus station to my hostel near the tourist district. Along the way, I observed what seemed like normal workaday city life as well as a curious mix of modern architecture and drab communist-era buildings.
This tram in particular felt like a living relic from the time of Marshal Tito.
But then… Notice the pock marks on the building, left…. artillery, rocket, and sniper damage from the 1990s siege. I am still not sure if this should have surprised me or not.
Siege of Sarajevo
Suada Dilberović and Olga Sučić were the first two casualties of the siege. Suada, a Bosniak medical student, and Olga, a Croat were killed by a Serb sniper during a peace rally at the Vrbanja Bridge (now renamed in their honor).
The Catholic church in the city center was spared by the Serbs not out of reverence, but because the bell towers were a convenient visual targeting reference.
… and now.
The Holiday Inn, then…
Visible reminders of the siege are not hard to find. This is the blast pattern from a mortar shell that approached from the right. By the way, Faruk said that collecting the tails from the mortar fired grenades was a form of playful competition between him and his friends.
A visit to the surrounding hills makes the profound vulnerability of Sarajevo eminently clear….
Much of the destruction remains to this day.
Surrounded by hills in every direction except for a narrow slot to the West, there was nothing beyond the reach of artillery and no street safe from the line of sniper fire.
Notice the cemetery marked by hundreds of white pillars.
Sarajevo Siege Tunnel
The Siege Tunnel, the only way that food, medicine, fuel, weapons, information, and people entered (or exited) the city.
My guide and teacher Faruk pointing out the name of his cousin, who was killed at the age of thirteen.
To this day, landmines are a very real danger when working (and travelling) in the hills and countryside. In fact, a farmer was killed here just the week before my visit.
Olympic Bobsled Track
The bobsled track built for and used during the 1984 Olympics…
Faruk recounts some of his first-hand siege experiences as a teenager. Try to imagine spending your childhood under constant threat of being killed, with little to nothing to eat, no electricity, no running water. Try to imagine that your summer fun was getting to the only swimming hole in the river that was shielded from the snipers’ many lines of fire… and where trying to outwit the snipers was turned into a game.
During the siege, the track was used as a fort and artillery position by the Serbs…
Sometimes laughing is the only way to not cry.
That evening, I visited the
No photography was allowed inside, but this was the invitation inside the elevator to the exhibition…
Take two hours to watch, listen, and learn about the horrors of war, the evils of genocide, the insanity of religious and ethnic division, and to be transformed as a human being.
My visit there inspired me to go to Srebrenica the very next day to see, touch, and feel for myself.
(Srebrenica as a Witness)