Sarajevo, capital city of Bosnia Herzegovina really is superb. It’s a city that’s got the lot – history, sights, friendly and open people who enjoy a chat. We bussed into Sarajevo from Mostar (an easy two and a half hours) taking in the stunning scenery along the way. BiH is certainly blessed with water, a far cry from my country Australia, where towns are running out of water and people are forced to buy it.
Sarajevo seems content to promote itself as the city that started World War I. In 1914, Austrian Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in this city by a disgruntled Serb who’d had enough of Austrian control of the Balkans. And so, the war to end all wars began. The feature photo for this blog shows the assassination spot just at the end of Latin Bridge. Our hotel (River Residence) was on the opposite corner.
Not far from our hotel was City Hall, a beautiful Austro Hungarian building built in 1898. It was seriously damaged during the Bosnian War and after years of meticulous restoration, it reopened in 2014.
Bascarsija is the centre of old Sarajevo and it’s a treasure trove of narrow cobbled alleyways where shops sell all things Ottoman and cafes serve strong Bosnian coffee.
An hour’s drive from Sarajevo is the most interesting Marshall Tito’s Nuclear Bunker. We opted for a private guide through Insider Tours (who also operate our hotel). A Bosniak, he certainly knew his history. Tito built his enormous 6500 square metre bunker over 26 years (1953-1979) in complete secrecy. Workers were replaced regularly so that no one would know too much and they were even transported blindfolded to the site so they wouldn’t know its exact location. The bunker is 280 metres underground, has 100 rooms with provision for 350 people for 6 months. Of course, Tito and his family had first dibs, followed by elite people within Yugoslavia’s government. The bunker could withstand a 25 kiloton nuclear attack and had the means to provide fresh water and air. The cost? A whopping $US 5 billion dollars. Our guide told us that the US paid for it. It’s best to visit the bunker with a guide who knows exactly where to buy tickets in the nearby town of Konjic. The bunker is also used as an art gallery with some brilliant works displayed.
The Tunnel Museum is another must see. During the 1990s Bosnian war, Sarajevo was completely surrounded by the Serbian army whose aim was to starve people into submission and force the city to become part of Greater Serbia. The siege lasted an incredible 1425 days and the stories of those dark days are truly heart breaking. The 800 metre Tunnel of Hope built under the Serbian controlled airport runway joined two Bosnian areas and allowed goods like food, medicines and arms as well as people to move freely between the two areas for the duration of the war.
In 1994, two UN workers organised a concert for the brave Sarajevans who constantly faced death and injury from mortar attacks and sniper bullets. Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden (he was solo at the time) was smuggled in, performed and lived to tell his story in the film Scream for Me Sarajevo. I mention this because at some sites we visited, much ado is made of Dickinson.
We stumbled on this cafe with its interesting owner. He plied us with some excellent Bosnian coffee, tea and conversation.
I can’t finish this post without mentioning how a visit to Sarajevo shapes your understanding of people and war. These people have endured far more than most, and to borrow Maya Angelou’s words, ‘still they rise’. Peace is what Sarajevans seek. But, they’re realists. Too many differences, the siege still fresh in people’s minds, Srebrenika not yet recovered from the genocide and Republika Srpska already seceded to Serbia mean political stability may be a pipe dream. Let’s hope not.
We’ll soon be making our way back to Croatia to spend some time in Split then Vis Island, Zadar and Zagreb.