Bosnia and Herzegovina

From Istanbul we boarded a flight bound for Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sarajevo, the capital and largest city in the country, is nestled in a picturesque valley surrounded by the Dinaric Alps.

The Latin Bridge in Sarajevo. This bridge was the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria which was the catalyst for World War I in 1914.

Sarajevo’s City Hall, Vijecnica, which also served as the National Library. This structure was completed in 1896 and was burned down in 1992 during the war, destroying thousands of irreplaceable historical documents. It was rebuilt after the war.

One of many pomegranate trees in the region

Before our visit, I have to admit I knew nothing much about Sarajevo besides its war-torn past. For those not familiar, here is a brief recap. The city was held under siege from 1992-1995 during the Bosnian War. Serbian forces took up strategic positions in the mountains above the city and continually bombed the city used artillery, mortar, and rockets for 1,425 days.  Residents also became trapped in their homes due to the fear of sniper shootings. On one day in July 1993 almost 4,000 shells rained down upon the helpless city. The shootings and bombings resulted in the death of 11,541 Sarajevans and the destruction of 35,000 buildings.

One of the many cemeteries in Sarajevo. Most of the cemeteries hold victims of the Bosnian War and the Siege of Sarajevo.

sarajevo6

Dan overlooking the city from the Yellow Fortress

Just a decade before the war, Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics when it was part of the now defunct nation of Yugoslavia.  The Olympic venues unfortunately are now mostly derelict and abandoned.

Remnants of the 1984 Winter Olympics

Overlooking the city, Mount Trebevic holds the old bobsled and luge track from the Olympic Games.  Here competitors raced down the 1.3 kilometer long track at speeds topping 100 km/hr. Dan and I decided to hike from the city up to the track to see what it looked like 30 years later.

View from our hike up to the bobsled track on Mount Trebevic

The Dinaric Alps

The start and finish line of the bobsled track

We walked the 1.3 kilometer track from start to finish. The track is now graffiti covered and the forest vegetation is slowly creeping in, threatening to take over the track.

Another popular use for the defunct track is as a mountain bike course. Bikers now bomb down the track which is evident by the tire marks along the tracks curves and the video below.

Practicing perfect luge form

For a look at what the track once was, see the video below from the 1984 Olympics.

An abandoned,bullet-ridden building nearby with a “monsieur chat” tag on it. Thoma Vuille first created this tag in France and has tagged over 60 sights in Paris with this cat and 3 places in NYC. We actually randomly saw one of his NYC tags later on our trip!

View of Sarajevo from Mount Trebevic

Sarajevo continues to undergo post-war reconstruction today.  While many buildings have been rebuilt, others still bear scars from the war including bullet holes. Walking through town, we had expected to see the many war-damaged buildings, but what we didn’t expect was how beautiful the city is despite its war-torn past.  Sarajevo is filled with cobblestone streets, red-roofed houses, luscious fruit trees, and magnificent hilltop views.

Bullet and mortar scarred buildings. The center photo is of the The Sarajevo Rose. Scars caused by mortar shell explosions were filled with red resin which is a powerful reminder of the war while walking the streets of the city.

A graveyard outside the Olympic Sports Complex. The Olympic Hall Zetra once stood nearby. The Zetra was destroyed by shelling, but its basements served as a morgue during the war and its wooden seats were used as material for coffins.

The Sebilj is an Ottoman-style wooden fountainin Old Town built in 1753.

An Art Deco building that survived the war but fell victim to graffiti artists

The Academy of Fine Arts Sarajevo

Bosnian coffee is served with sugar cubes that you munch on while sipping the espresso-like coffee

We found a cherry plum tree in town that provided a tasty afternoon snack

In Sarajevo we boarded a well-worn train bound for Mostar.  The three hour journey ended up being the most scenic train ride we had ever been on. The train contained old-school wooden cabins with windows that slid down allowing us to poke our heads outside the train to take in the awesome views.

 

Scenes from the train ride from Sarajevo to Mostar

Mostar lies on the banks of the Neretva River. The city is famous for Stari Most, a bridge built by the Ottomans in the in 1566 that is 28 meters long and 21 meters high. During the Bosnian War, Mostar was subject to an 18 month siege during which the iconic Stari Most was destroyed along with many other buildings and structures. The bridge was rebuilt using the same technology and materials as the original in 2004.

In the warm months of the year, young men of the town leap from the bridge into the cold river below once they have collected 50 Euros from the ogling tourists.  This traditions actually dates back to the 17th century, though I’m sure the price wasn’t as steep back then.

BridgeJumper

Views from above the Neretva River in Mostar

A large portion of the population in Mostar is made up of Muslim Bosniaks. As in all of the Muslim countries we visited, the call to prayer (five times daily) was a prominent reminder of the religion of the area. The video below captures the call to prayer as we walked through the town.

Krive Most with one of the many mosques in the background

Stari Most

Bosnia’s stunning beauty really surprised us.  Despite its painful past and continuing ethnic and cultural divisions, this diverse country’s resilience and multifaceted history made it a wonderful place to visit.

From Mostar we headed east towards the Adriatic Sea and up the Balkan Peninsula. Montenegro and Croatia are up next!

 

 

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