Although recently ravaged by war, Sarajevo has now recovered and is thriving. It’s a lively city that still retains a small town feel to it. From the bustling markets to the glistening river to the great views atop its surrounding hills, Sarajevo has a great atmosphere. However, the scars of war are still visible, with bullet ridden buildings and mortar craters on the footpaths. Sarajevo is a city embracing modernity yet hasn’t fully shaken off the ghosts of the past.
The war casts a shadow over Sarajevo. From 1992 to 1995 the city was under siege from Serbian forces. No supplies were allowed into the city. Mortars fell indiscriminately on the city. Snipers killed people as they went to work and about their daily lives. These so called “Sniper Alleys” became no go areas (my hostel was located on one). The only means of supplying the city was through an 800 metre underground tunnel to the airport. This tiny so called “Tunnel of Hope” had to feed an entire city. Somehow they managed to do this for almost four years, though not without suffering huge casualties. The abnormally large cemeteries are testament to this. Walking around you will see numerous so called (sorry I keep using that word) “Sarajevo Rose”. These are what look like potholes or cracks in the road. They are actually craters from the mortars that were constantly fired at the city during its siege. If someone was killed by a mortar a rose would be left there, hence the name.
For a good history of the city and the war, go to the Historical Museum of Bosnia. There is a very impressive and moving photographical account of the war (the woman in front of me was in tears). It really puts a human face on the reports of ethnic cleansing. Also good is the Tunnel of Hope itself where you can see a part of the tunnel that a whole city had to survive on. The city is home to the infamous Latin Bridge where Franz Ferdinand was shot in 1914, the event that sparked the First World War. I surprised that such a small and otherwise insignificant bridge could be the cause of so much bloodshed and destruction.
Heading into the city centre you might never guess there had been a war, so well has it recovered. The centre of the city is filled with bustling stalls and a lively market. There are many (cheap) food stalls. The local food is quite tasty. The two main types are bureks (pastry’s filled with minced meat or cheese) and cevapici (panini style bread with onion and beef sausages). Although Bosnia is a Muslim country, the only sign of this was the occasional mosque. Alcohol was available in every cafe, though I didn’t see any bars. There were almost no people in burka’s which goes to show how wrong Muslim stereotypes can be. Muslim Bosnia was very similar to Catholic Croatia and Orthodox Serbia. Sarajevo is surrounded by hills and houses are sprawled along them Latin America style. If you have a chance you should walk up one, the view is a good reward for the effort of wandering through the maze of houses.
Sarajevo is a beautiful city steeped in a wonderful culture and a somewhat haunting history. Off the beaten track it is well worth a visit and is certainly not what you expect.