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Published: January 9th 2012
Stari Most, Mostar
In the heart of the Old Town's cobblestone streets.
The people of Sarajevo endured the longest siege in history during the course of the Yugoslav wars from 1992-1995. This is an historically significant European city, and her 300,000 citizens lived a life of hell for four long years under relentless shelling and small arms fire from enemy forces, who occupied strategically important hills surrounding the city. They also had to deal with ever vigilant snipers who wreaked a deadly toll on those brave enough to run the gauntlet of sniper alley. Sarajevo has been the recipient of a massive reconstruction fund since the cessation of hostilities in 1995, however it's painfully obvious with thousands of bullet holes violently impacted on building facades that the city was shot up all to hell in the war. As a result of being besieged during those bleak years the city lost 11,000 of her citizens, before a peace treaty was finally signed by the combatants to end hostilities in 1995.
To recap briefly, dear reader, we left off in Budva at the end of a relaxing break on the Adriatic coast. I was up early to catch a minibus for the eight hour journey from Budva to Sarajevo, and it was exciting to
There is also a hill in the city covered in gravestones for the war martyrs.
cross the border in to Bosnia for the first time. The journey featured loads of snow and winding roads, and after arriving at the international bus terminal it's a further twelve kilometre taxi ride into the city centre. I checked into the immaculate City Centre hostel with great staff for the perfect introduction to this extraordinary city. There's so much to experience in Sarajevo, so it's time to get cracking...
I booked on a tour of the city the next day, and my guide for the day was a young Bosnian with a university education and excellent English language skills. We drove to the important sights in Sarajevo, and Adnan gave an excellent summary of the historical importance of the city to Europe and the rest of the world. Sarajevo is where east meets west in Europe, and there's been a clash of cultures between the Turks and the Austro-Hungarians stretching back centuries. However they've gradually been subsumed into the general mix that makes Sarajevo a great world city. Mosques and churches, christians and muslims, jews and orthodox, they're all an integral part of this amazing city. The tour culminated in a visit to the tunnels, which were built
under the UN controlled international airport to provide a lifeline for the city, linking her besieged citizens with the free Bosnian hills directly behind the airport. Prior to the four month construction effort 800 citizens had been targeted by snipers and killed, while attempting to make it across the airport to the safety of the hills.
I then climbed aboard a Eurolines bus for a day trip to Mostar, the capital of Herzegovina. My driver came to life after I greeted him and asked how he was. Bosnians seem to appreciate a small kindness, and our lively discussion ended with his trying to line me up with a good Bosnian girl for the purpose of eternal matrimony. The journey to Mostar takes a little over two hours through the snow covered mountains, before we arrived in the gorgeous town. The Old Town is pretty as a picture, and the gorgeous buildings on cobblestone streets provide seemingly endless photo opportunities. The most famous attraction in the city is the Stari Most (old bridge) over the Neretva river. The five hundred year old bridge has traditionally linked the city, and was destroyed at the height of the Yugoslav Wars in 1993.
The steep bridge has since been rebuilt, and during my visit the wind was blowing a gale. Thank goodness for the high railing bolted on over the traditional stone works, otherwise I would've been tossed straight over the side and into the drink. And believe me that would've been without the graceful dive the locals are famous for!
My visit to Bosnia has been a special part of coming to the Balkans. Sarajevo plays a central role in European and world history, and it's overwhelming trying to get a handle on the information at hand. During the last century there have been three Balkan Wars, and Bosnians have suffered a life of privation over the years. And consider this for a moment; just a block from my hostel accommodation is the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated by a young Bosnian Serb in 1914. There were seven attempts on his life as they drove through the city on that fateful day. The disjointed and hamfisted attempts by the Austro-Hungarians and the Serbs to deal with the aftermath of the assassination ended in utter catastrophe; with the Balkan crisis escalating inexorably toward a devastating worldwide
conflict that left a wake of total destruction and unprecedented loss of life for the protagonists. Coming back to the present I find myself in a contemplative mood and seemingly drawn to the quiet dignity of the Bosnian people, who've been through so much but still have so much to give.
The city of Sarajevo gets bucketloads of snow, and was a fine choice to host the 1984 winter olympics. The falls have been the first I've experienced since arriving this winter in the Balkans, but Bosnia has made up for that in spades! Every day it's snowed at some stage, however the temperature hasn't dipped much below zero in the evenings. Sarajevo has houses perched up on the hills surrounding the city, and with so much snow on the ground the city's as pretty as a picture, basically all of you should be here now!
Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative." John Stuart Mill
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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