Nestled in a valley that bears the same name, Sarajevo is the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For millennia, it has been a crossroads of east and west. It was here that the dividing line between the Western and Eastern Roman Empire ran through. Followers of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, and Judaism have long met and lived here.
While the mix of cultures has produced a rich heritage for the city, this convergence of ethnic lines has also led to Sarajevo’s unfortunate fate tied with wars.
Admittedly up until I visited Sarajevo recently, I did not know much about it other than that there was an assassination of a duke which triggered the First World War. And that some terrible stuff happened during the Bosnian War in the 90s.
Just how terrible? The enormity of it did not hit home until I ventured into Sarajevo’s abandoned Olympic venues on Mount Trebević. These derelict, bullet-ridden buildings tell of a tragic tale from a not so distant past.
Thirty some years ago, Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. No more than a decade after the host city proudly showcased itself to the world, the former country of Yugoslavia was torn apart by bloody conflicts.
Between the years of 1992 and 1996, fighters took hold of these Olympic sites situated on the hills surrounding Sarajevo. They turned them into battlegrounds and an artillery stronghold. From there, they unleashed relentless shelling and sniping onto the city below.
The siege of Sarajevo went on for 1,425 days, making it the longest siege of a city in modern warfare. It was reported that more than 10,000 Sarajevans were killed. This RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty photo archive of Sarajevo documents the horror and casualties inflicted on ordinary lives during those years (warning: graphic images).
Today, the firing has stopped and locals climb up the hills to enjoy views of the vibrant city below. The decaying Olympic sites remain abandoned. Some parts, like the bobsleigh track, are covered in graffiti added by a new generation of youths. For those who know where to look, these crumbling structures offer a somber reminder of the reality of war.
Tips for Visiting
– If you decide to drive to Mount Trebević (which we did in our case), be prepared to navigate extremely narrow roads in the lower part of the hill with residential houses. Our small rental car barely fit the width of the road. Making it tricker was having to share the road with oncoming traffic and residents going on about (kids playing, parked cars, etc.).
– When exploring the abandoned structures, watch out for broken glass and stray dogs.
– Do not go off-track and stay on hard surfaces. Landmines are present in the surrounding woods, and you may not spot the landmine warning sign.