Sarajevo is not only known for its multicultural character, the city is often referred to as the city of the war. This refers to the Bosnian war, part of the series of Yugoslav wars after the collapse of the People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. How did this war start? In 1992, the Bosnian government organized an independence referendum. The Bosnian Muslims and the Bosnian Croats voted in favor, the Bosnian Serbs boycotted the referendum. They founded their own republic (Republic of Sprska, it still exists) and surrounded Sarajevo. For four years, the capital city was shut down from the outside world. There was no electricity, heating or water. Moreover, the inhabitants were confronted with mortar attacks and snipers. If you go on tour through Sarajevo, you will undoubtedly hear a lot about it. Many of the guides we spoke to were in their twenties and spent the first years of their lives in shelters. Joining a tour is therefore highly recommended, because you get to hear the personal side of the war. After the war Sarajevo has been reconstructued. Yet you still come across traces of the war on every street corner. In this article I will tell you about six prominent war scars that allow you to learn more about the Bosnian war.
Roses from Sarajevo
In about 100 places in Sarajevo you can see the roses of Sarajevo. The term sounds innocent, but it is not. They are monuments to those who were killed during the siege because of mortar explosions. According to some sources an average of 329 bombs hit Sarajevo every day, with a maximum of 3777 recorded on July 22, 1993. The craters that stayed behind were filled by the inhabitants with red resin. The pattern that was left behind looked like a flower, hence the name Sarajevo Roses. The roses are literally the scars of the city, but they are increasingly disappearing through asphalt renewal. In any case, a rose can be seen on the square in front of the Sacred Heart Cathedral.
More than 10000 civilians died during the siege of Sarajevo. This resulted in the many cemeteries you still see today in Sarajevo. On the way to Žuta tabija (Yellow Fort) you can see one of these cemeteries. This is Martyrs cemetery Kovači where a large number of soldiers of the Bosnian army are buried. The forest of white pillars is a reminder of how many people died during the war. There is not much left of the Yellow Fort itself, but the hill does offer a beautiful viewpoint over the city. Energy left for another climb? A little higher up there is a second fort located: the Bijela Tabija (White Fort). The medieval castle walls are still partly standing. From the fort you have a beautiful view over the green valley of Sarajevo.
If you think of the Bosnian war, then you think of Srebrenica. This small town in eastern Bosnia was close to the Serbian border. In 1993, a safe zone was proclaimed by the United Nations and a Dutch combat unit had to guard the area. In the summer of 1995 things went wrong. The safe zone was surrounded by the Bosnian Serb forces and on July 11 Srebrenica was taken. More than 8000 Mulim boys and men were killed and buried in mass graves. I visited Sarajevo a few days before the 27th commemoration on 11 July and went to Gallerija 11/07/95. This is the first memorial museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina and is completely dedicated to the Srebrenica genocide. The gallery is filled with portrait photographs of the victims, short movies and photos taken shortly after the genocide. Images of mothers looking for their sons, skulls of the victims and broken dolls. This permanent exhibition shows in a compelling way the story of the genocide.
Entrance fee for the museum is 12 KM. An audio tour is 3 KM extra and is definitely worth it.
Tunnel of Hope museum
On my last day in Sarajevo I joined the Total Siege War tour of Sarajevo Funky Tours. I wanted to visit a number of hard to reach places outside the center and this tour was the perfect opportunity. One of these places was the Tunnel of Hope Museum. During the siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian army had dug an 800-meter long tunnel. From the district Dobrinja in Sarajevo under the airport to the house of the Kolar family in Butmir. Tactically chosen, because the Bosnian Serb army would not bomb the airport so quickly. The tunnel was first used for the transport of weapons, but later food and medicines were also transported. This made the tunnel the lifeline of Sarajevo. During a visit to the Tunnel of Hope Museum you can walk through a short section of the tunnel. Personally, I found the small museum very interesting and I would recommend it to everyone.
Entrance fee for the museum is 10 KM.
Abandoned Olympic Bobsleigh Track
After the Tunnel of Hope Museum we went to the Olympic Bobsleigh track. This track is high up in the Trebevic mountains and it is difficult to reach on your own. The bobsleigh track was created for the Olympic Winter Games 1984. A moment of pride for the former Yugoslav Republic. In addition to a bobsleigh tracks there was also a ski jump and a series of luxury hotels built on the Trebevic mountain. The bobsleigh tracks was used again ten years later, but this time as a sniper’s location for the Bosnian Serb army. The track was part of the front line in the Bosnian war. Nowadays, the bobsleigh track is abandoned and is mainly visited by lovers of deserted places (like me). The track is covered in street art and offers an interesting walk down (or up) with views over the hills of Sarajevo. Along the course you will also find the former luxery hotels, now abandoned run-down buildings. Unfortunately, I have not been able to see the ski jump. Maybe next time.
Those who walk through Sarajevo and pay attention, have certainly seen the painting of Mr. Chat. This is the striking orange cat with a big smile on its face. In many places in Europe you can see Mr. Chat. The artist Thoma Vuille originally wanted to remain anonymous, but he was caught in 2007 while making a painting. In Sarajevo Mr. Chat is displayed slightly differently than in other paintings. The cat is often surrounded by red roses, a reference to the Sarajevo Roses. Anothere wall painting in the city refering to the Bosnian war is the mural of a soldier in an alley near the Sebilj. The accompanying text is the following: I love this city. I defend this city.
Though personally I find the war history of Sarajevo very interesting, I can imagine this is not the case for everyone. Fortunately, Sarajevo also has another side. I tell you all about it in my post about multicultural Sarajevo.