Saved: April 15th 2013August 23rd 2007
This was pne of the cemeteries containing the war dead from the conflict
The JAT Airways turboprop from Belgrade to Sarajevo took only forty minutes, even if it did sound like a Lancaster Bomber. “Why are you going to Bosnia?” someone had asked me back in the UK. “And please don’t tell me you’re going there on holiday.” Well that was exactly what we were doing. In the arrivals hall of Sarajevo Airport, Michael and I got some local currency (the Convertible Mark) and caught a taxi to our hotel, the Holiday Inn.
I rarely mention hotels, but the Sarajevo Holiday Inn is worthy because of the part it played during the Bosnian Conflict. Foreign journalists stayed in the hotel during the worst of the siege. Situated on Sniper Alley, the hotel was hit a fair few times, suffering widespread damage in the process. This gave the hotel the distinction of offering its most attractive rooms on the basement level.
As we walked into the foyer of the hotel, a few words sprung to mind, opulence and grandeur being just two of them. There was no sign of the ravages of war that had befallen the building. The hotel was also full to capacity due to the Sarajevo Film
Note the bullet holes
Festival, the premier film festival of the Balkans. Famous people like Bono, John Malcovich and many more besides have visited the festival, always held during August. Michael and I scanned some of the faces around us but recognised none. Maybe they were out watching a film somewhere.
Venturing out into the Sarajevo night, we went to find a bar. Five minutes later, we came across one, and walked up to the door. Some pretty girls were guarding the entrance. “Hi!” they said, smiling. “Are you on the guest list?”
Yes, I’m Brad Pit and this is Tom Cruise, is what I should have said, but instead I shook my head and said no.
“Then I’m sorry. You can’t come in. This is private party for the Film Festival.”
Damn the film festival! We walked on, eventually coming across another bar, which thankfully, allowed us entry. We sat and had a local beer, Sarajevsko, which soothed us slightly.
The next morning, after spending a rather uncomfortable night at the hotel due to the lack of air conditioning on the sixth floor (our floor) we jumped in a taxi and drove to
the Tunnel Museum, located near to the airport. As we hurtled along the highway, a road sign above my head read Tuzla, a place made famous during the Bosnian Conflict. As if to back this sighting up, buildings along the side of the road still showed signs of war, pock marked with very visible bullet holes.
The museum was a house with the lower floor converted into a museum dedicated to the famous tunnel. The front was covered with bullet holes, a curt reminder to what had happened in Sarajevo fifteen years previously. The house itself was located at the end of a rural road, complete with an untethered goat ambling along.
During the Siege of Sarajevo, when Serbian forces cut off the city, a tunnel was conceived by the military. Work started in January 1993, and was completed a few months later with the tunnel coming out on the other side of the airport. As well as soldiers and weapons, food and aid came through the tunnel, and it soon established itself as a lifeline to the Bosnians trapped in the city. Running for almost 800 metres, the wooden tunnel was only one and a
View from other side of Tunnel
This field overlooked the airport in the distance
half metres tall and was prone to flooding.
Inside the museum, we watched a short DVD about the conflict (one section showing a shell hitting the Holiday Inn) before venturing down into the tunnel itself. Running for only twenty metres now, Michael and I walked along its length, seeing for ourselves images previously seen on TV. It was quite moving actually, and as I came out the other end, ascending the wooden steps, I felt quite humbled.
Michael wasn’t so enamoured. But it had nothing to do with the tunnel itself. “It should have been honest about what it actually was rather that what it’s advertised as,” he told me.
“What do you mean?” I asked, staring out across fields of corn and melons overlooking Sarajevo International Airport.
“Well, the tunnel is advertised as a humanitarian structure. And that it saved Sarajevo and its people.”
“It did though.”
“Yes, and I’m not quibbling with that, but what you’ve got to remember is that it was a military tunnel first and foremost. Food and aid were only a sideline. And it annoys me that it’s not advertised as such.”
Our taxi had been waiting while we’d been in the Museum, and soon we were heading for the centre of town. As we drove, I looked at the geography of Sarajevo. Through the middle, bisecting the town, runs the Miljacka River. Houses sprung up on both sides of the valley, and numerous mosques (186 of them) and churches vied for position on the skyline. All lost out to the hills though. Lush green vegetation, interspersed with orange-roofed settlements could be seen all around. It certainly made a change from when snipers ruled the high ground around Sarajevo.
The taxi dropped us off in the Turkish District, in a square known as Bascarsija. The square had a Turkish fountain as its centrepiece, and around it, open-air cafes offered a seat from the shade. Sitting down, I remarked to Michael how we could be sitting in a Middle Eastern city, not in Europe. Michael agreed. There in front of us, just behind the fountain was a mosque, with a tall minaret reaching up into the sky, and just left of it, smoke lazily floated into the air. People in Muslim attire wandered past, looking oddly European despite the
clothing and further down the street, shops peddled copper goods, jewellery and pottery.
After lunch, as we sat enjoying a pint of cool beer, a beggar came up to us. He wasn’t the first we’d encountered. In fact, earlier on, Michael had bought himself a bag of plums. As we’d wandered down a street, a young street urchin had hassled him for some. He’d even tried to grab the bag from Michaels grasp. “Get off my plums, you little git!” yelped Michael, causing much hilarity from me.
This beggar was much older, maybe early twenties. He had a few missing teeth, and held a piece of paper in front of us. What it said, neither of us had any idea, because it was written in Bosnian. The man said nothing, just stood there looking pitiful, awaiting our reaction. I turned to him and shook my head. He nodded and wandered off, soon finding a table of women who eventually gave him a few Marks.
About ten minutes later another potential beggar approached us. This one was a young boy of about five. He looked healthy enough, but his outstretched hand gave us the unmistakable gesture
These young women were sitting on the steps off the main mosque - Begova Dzamija Mosque
of want. Again I shook my head, but this boy wasn’t about to give up so easily. Leaning over the table he stretched his hand even closer, giving us a smile as he did so. Fishing around in my pocket, I plucked out a half Mark coin, tossing it to the boy. He grabbed it immediately, uttered something in Bosnian and was off, hassling the next table.
And then something interesting happened. As I happened to look over towards the fountain, I saw another small boy stoop down and collect something from the floor. Assuming he’d found a coin or something, I was about turn away when he threw the object towards a women sitting with her two young children on the edge of our café. A large rock smashed into the ground just near them, causing the woman to jump up in shock. As she flustered around, the boy was already searching for a new missile. Quickly, the woman came out of her stupor and rushed over to her assailant where she began shaking him by his skinny arms. While she did this she yelled at him, gesturing towards her two children. The boy laughed. This made
Inside an old Ottoman Trading Post
the woman angrier, causing people to point and stare.
Knowing she could no nothing, she let the boy go and marched off towards her seat, fury showing on her face. Triumphant, the boy shouted something back at the woman and then wandered off with a nonchalant air about him.
I was loving it all. Witnessing real people doing strange things. And it wasn’t over yet. I spotted a stooped ancient man wander over to a nearby café. He had no teeth and must have been approaching one hundred years of age. He loitered just at the edge of the cafe, wobbling slightly, looking in with an imploring look on his face. A waitress went up to him, leaned in close while he spoke, and then nodded. The old man produced a small bag from his pocket and emptied it on a table. It was a small pile of coins he’d either managed to pick up or else scrounge. The woman carefully counted them and disappeared into the café itself. Meanwhile the man stood there, mouth open, hand resting on a table, gazing after the girl. She returned a few moments later and handed him a couple of
Where Franz Ferdinand was asassinated
banknotes. These he clutched in front of him as he wandered away from the café, as if he couldn’t believe they were actually in his possession, and then he was off.
After the fun and excitement of the square, we had a wander around, seeing some of the famous sights Sarajevo had to offer. First of all we came to the Latin Bridge, made famous because it was here that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, sparking off the First World War I.
Imagine being nineteen-years-old, waiting in ambush, armed with a pistol and a cyanide pill. And also imagine, though it would be almost impossible, that your actions would alter the actual course of history. Well a young man called Gavrilo Princip was doing exactly that. He was a Bosnian Serb.
Early in the morning on June 28th 1914, a group of six young men, including Princip, spread themselves out along the river in Sarajevo. Between them, they had six bombs and four revolvers. They were lying in wait for Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungary throne. He was travelling with his wife, Sophie.
At 10am, the Archduke’s motorcade, consisting of
seven cars (Ferdinand was in the third) set off from a nearby army camp. One of Princip’s co-conspirators was lurking in a garden in front of a café. He was first in line. Fifteen minutes later, as the Archduke’s car was about to pass, the young man lost his nerve and failed to act. He later claimed a police officer was standing just near to him. No matter, five were assassins left. The second man, armed with a bomb and a revolver, failed too. This left four conspirators. Unaware of the terrible interest in their motorcade, the Archduke and his wife blithely continued their journey in their open-topped car.
Man number three was on the other side of the street near to the Miljacka River hiding in an alleyway. As Ferdinand’s car drew near, the young man threw his bomb and depending on which version you read, the bomb bounced off the Archduke’s car and under the wheels of the car behind, or else the driver of Ferdinand’s car spotted the assassination attempt and sped up. Either way, the bomb destroyed the car behind, wounding the occupants as well as some of the crowd watching.
young man promptly swallowed his cyanide pill and jumped into the river behind him. But luck was not on his side. The stretch of water was only four inches deep and worse, his pill failed to act. Very quickly, an angry crowd dragged him from the river and started to beat him up before he was eventually arrested.
Understandably, the scene rapidly turned to chaos. The car containing Ferdinand sped off towards the town hall, making it impossible for the remaining assassins to get a clear shot. Presumably, the assassins dispersed having failed in their task.
Some time later, Franz Ferdinand and his wife decided to visit the hospital to see some of the wounded. This decision proved pivotal. As chance would have it, Gavrilo Princip had just come out of a local food store. With impeccable timing, the Archduke’s car was reversing along that same street after having made a wrong turn just near the Latin Bridge. And then the car stalled, giving Princip his chance. Approaching the car, the nineteen-year-old pulled out his gun and fired twice. One bullet hit the Archduke in the neck, the other entered his wife’s abdomen. As the car
sped off once more, both victims remained upright. “Sophie dear, don’t die. Stay alive for our children,” were Ferdinand’s last words before they both died.
Back on the street, a crowd was gathering around Princip. Like his fellow conspirator, he took his cyanide pill, but this too failed to work. In desperation he tried to shoot himself but his gun was wrestled from his grasp. He was placed in custody and the repercussions of his actions reverberated throughout Europe, giving the spark to ignite the First World War. Princip eventually died in prison just under four years later from tuberculosis.
After wandering along the cobbled alleyways looking at the strange goods on offer in most of the shops, we headed to Morica Han, an old Ottoman inn. During the middle ages, herders and tradesmen from the East frequented the inn, often staying the night with their animals tethered nearby. A fabric market sprung up inside the courtyard of the inn, the remnants of which are still there today. As Michael and I entered through a narrow alleyway, we could see carpets and other bits of cloth on sale next to a busy café. Sitting down, I
ordered a Bosnian Coffee for 1 Mark (35p) wondering what I’d get. It arrived on a copper plate, and comprised of two vessels, one a small, long-handled urn containing the coffee. The other was a small ceramic cup placed inside a copper bowl. This contained a further three items: one large pink piece of Turkish Delight covered in spices, and two sugar cubes.
“What do I do with this?” I asked Michael, referring to the cube of Turkish Delight.
Michael shrugged. “I’m not sure. Why don’t you pour the coffee over it all? It might melt.” Taking his advise, I did exactly that and stirred it awhile. I picked up the cup and took a tentative sip. It was actually rather nice. And when I’d finished it, I picked up the by now soft Turkish Delight and ate that as well. I was happy with my first ever Bosnian Coffee experience.
Wandering back towards a main street lined with trinket shops and cafes, we soon came to Begova Dzamija Mosque, the most important Islamic structure in Sarajevo. Built in 1531, the Mosque is a large one. We could see Muslim people dotted all around. Some
View of Sarajevo
Taken from the hills
were praying, others sat on steps chatting happily to themselves. The sound of the Muslim call to prayer could be heard over everything. As we walked over to the nearby mausoleums, more people started entering the Mosque, which we took as our cue to leave.
Next up was the Markale Market Place, an open-plan market selling fruit and vegetables. Looking at it today, you’d think that the bombs that hit it had never happened. But they had, the first one in February 1994 when a Serb bomb exploded in the centre of the market killing 68 people and wounding 144 more. Footage of the massacre made it into news reports around the world. I remember watching them. A second mortar attack occurred the following year, this time killing 37. This led to NATO bombing of Serb-Bosnian forces, which ultimately ended the war. On a large plaque at the rear of the market, the names of those killed in the market stands as a reminder to the innocent casualties of war.
After passing Saborna Crkva, the largest Orthodox Church in the city, built in the late 19th century, we came upon Liberation Square. Unlike most cities I’d
visited, this Liberation Square was more laid back. There was no imposing Soviet Statues for a start, though a few smaller ones stood nearby. The main sight was a large chessboard painted in the middle of the square, complete with large chess pieces. Old men surrounded the board, laughing and jeering at the two men playing. We watched awhile before heading off for another soothing Sarajevsko. We needed some respite before what was to come.
Later we found out that rabid dogs roamed the hills and even worse, unexploded landmines were still dotted around the fields and open grassland. But as we climbed the winding streets to the North East of the city, we knew none of this. The afternoon was hot, and soon Michael and I were panting, rather like rabid dogs, I expected.
“Are you sure we going the right way?” I managed to say without collapsing to the ground. Perhaps that pint had been a bad idea. We’d just passed a large Muslim cemetery, filled with the casualties of the recent conflict, and were now on a steep incline, passing by a few houses and shops.
“Yeah,” panted Michael. “The White Garrison is
up there, trust me.”
The White Garrison was an ancient fortification located high up in Vratnik Hills. It offered amazing views, which was why we were climbing the up to the bloody thing. Women in headscarves carrying bags of vegetables, men hoeing fields, and groups of children playing football in some of the walled alleyways were just some of the things we passed by on out afternoon trek.
Up ahead, Michael paused, looking this was and that. His view was obscured by some high buildings on both sides of the street. He looked red and he looked lost. When I approached, he finally admitted that we might have taken a wrong turn somewhere.
“Bloody hell, Michael” I croaked. My tongue was sticking to my mouth and I could hardly breath. “How much of a wrong turn?”
“Not sure.” His bald patch was glinting under the sun’s rays. It had already turned an unpleasant red colour.
I nodded and walked back towards a group of children sitting on a nearby wall. They’d watched our passage with interest, some shouting hello, but most giggling. Look at the English fools! they probably thought.
Where people have died in a shell attack
They should be sitting in the shade not climbing up a mountain in the midday sun.
I went up to one lad, aged about eight, and showed him the guide book which had the name of the White Garrison printed in Bosnian as well as English. The boy beamed and nodded. He stood up, gesturing us to follow him. After fifty yards or so he suddenly stopped, pointing upwards at some steep stone steps. I gave him a couple of Marks and he thanked us, soon joining the rest of his friends.
Michael and I carried on, climbing ever upwards, crossing over grassland and bounding over walls. Eventually we reached a summit of some kind and like a mirage a bar appeared. I headed straight for it while Michael took some photos. Ordering some drinks, I soon got chatting to the barman. It was actually a restaurant, he told me, and apparantly a lot of German toursits stopped there. Perhaps because of this, the waiter dissapeard for moment and soon some German Beer Hall music started up. Michael arrived and wondered what the hell was going on. We were the only people there.
reckon we should give the waiter a tip,” I said as we finsihed our beer. I’d rather liked the music, and the view was absolutely amazing.
“Yes. Here’s a tip for him,” quipped Michael. “Build your bloody restaurant lower down a mountain and you might get more people in it.”
The White Garrison was rather disapointing. Just a pile of ruins really. But the view was spectacualur. From where we stood, we could see right down into the valley as well as the surrounding hillsides.
“Do you know what,” I said to Michael as we started walking back down. “Sarajevo might just be my favourite city I’ve been to.”
Michael nodded. Sarajevo had indeed been a special place to visit. And later on, as night fell and the lights came on around the city, it became just as pretty. And there was only one more sight we wanted to see - one of the famous Sarajevo Roses.
Sarajevo Roses are scattered around the city. We found two of them on Tita Street, lying innoculously on a pedestrianised pavement. These are places where shells have landed, killing people in the
Still not reconstructed
process. The way the holes have been filled with red paint is perhaps a fitting testament to those who lost their lives. The next morning as we headed back to the airport, I was truly happy I’d visited the Bosnian Capital. A must see place in my opinion. Lots to see, experience and feel and very little to spoil the place.
• War damaged buildings are amazing to look at, lots of bullet holes
• Very friendly and safe city.
• Lack of tourists!
• All the sights can be reached on foot.
• And amazing mixture of Eastern and Western culture
• Cafes and restaurants.
• The view from the surrounding hills is breathtaking.
• The sheer history that has occurred in the city.
There are more photos below