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. Walking around in Sarajevo, you will come across traces of the war on every street corner. In this blog post, I will tell you about 6 places to visit to learn more about the Bosnian war.
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 4 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 a walking tour in 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 neatly rebuilt.
6 places to visit to learn more about Sarajevo’s tragic history
1. 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 resulting in a flower pattern, hence the name Sarajevo Roses. The roses are literally the scars of the city, but they are increasingly disappearing because of asphalt renewal.
2. War cemeteries
More than 10,000 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. It 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. Nearby, there is also a second fort nearby: the Bijela Tabija (White Fort). The medieval castle walls are still partly standing. From this fort, you have a beautiful view of the green valley of Sarajevo.
3. Gallerija 11/07/95
When Dutch people think of the Bosnian war, Srebrenica comes to mind. This town was in 1993 part of a UN safe zone and a Dutch combat unit guarded the area. On the 11th of July, Bosnian Serb forces surrounded the zone and took over control in Srebrenica. This resulted in the death of more than 8,000 Muslim boys and men. I was in 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 shows a collection of portrait photographs of victims, short movies, and photos taken shortly after the genocide. This is a must-visit to learn more about the largest genocide in Europe after WWII.
Entrance fee: 12 KM. Audio tour is 3 KM extra and is definitely worth it.
4. Tunnel of Hope museum
On my last day in Sarajevo I signed up for 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. 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 museum: 10 KM.
5. Abandoned Olympic Bobsleigh Track
Next up on the tour was the Olympic Bobsleigh track, created for the Olympic Winter Games 1984. In addition to the bobsleigh tracks, there was also a ski jump and a series of luxury hotels built on the Trebevic mountain. Ten years later the bobsleigh tracks were used again, 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 abandoned 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.
6. Mr. Chat
The happy cat of Sarajevo: Mr. Chat. This is the striking orange cat painting with a big smile on its face. Originally, artist Thoma Vuille wanted to stay anonymous, but he was caught in 2007 while creating a new painting. In Sarajevo, Mr. Chat is displayed slightly differently than in other places in Europe. The cat is often surrounded by red roses, a reference to the Sarajevo Roses. Another wall painting in the city referring 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.