Not such a great start to the day, I had been struggling with pain from a failed root canal and resorted to fairly heavy pain killers which reacted badly with my blood pressure medication. I needed to get the taxi driver to stop on the way to pick up our last hire car in order to farewell my breakfast!!
The impact of the medication left me feeling very wobbly and we then had a 180km drive into Bosnia through winding roads that did not end, it was a bit of an endurance test!!! Did eventually arrive in Sarajevo and had to agree that despite the challenge, we were very glad we came.
Sarajevo has been acknowledged through the centuries as the centre where all faiths meet, accept each other and live side by side with understanding and support. On one main street there is a mosque, a synagogue, a Roman Catholic church and a Christian Orthodox church, and these buildings represent hundreds and hundreds of years of faithful tradition. Jews were accepted first in the 1500's following their expulsion from Spain and 400 years later from Eastern Europe where pogroms began to escalate. The present Jewish pop of Sarajevo honour many Christians and Muslims who kept them safe during WW2, they are honoured with the title; 'Righteous Among the Nations'.
Latin Bridge. very famous landmark in Sarajevo. John resting
One of the many different types of churches we visited. This one had a statue of a Greek God in the middle of the archway.
Sarajevo is remembered as the notorious site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia, heir to the Austrian throne, which became the trigger that started WW1. We managed to visit this site and view the Museum that fleshes out the story, we also saw the alleged footprints of Gavrilo Princip the assassin. Walking through the streets of Sarajevo has a very different feel to towns in Croatia, there is a very strong influence of the Ottoman rule, the atmosphere is much more that of an open bazaar that you may expect to find in Turkey or Morocco. The food, ornamentation, clothing and architecture reflect this heritage whilst the coffee culture with men gathered around talking is also predominant. Bosnia displays a much stronger influence of its Muslim past than is present in the neighbouring countries.
The corner (museum corner) where the assassin stood to shoo the Archduke and his wife. Apparently he was standing in wet concrete when he killed them as these are supposed to be his footprint (Hmmmm).
The other significant event that Sarajevo is remembered for is the siege that occurred during 1992-1995, where the entire city was surrounded by the Serbian army. It was the longest modern day siege, even outlasting Lenningrad and Stalingrad. Bosnia is a very mountainous country and Sarajevo sits in a valley surrounded by rocky mountains which were ideal for the enemy to bring in their heavy guns to pound the city with. The citizens lived under siege conditions for over three years without power, water, basic food and medical supplies. There was no way for basic needs to come in yet, despite this the people tried to maintain some degree of a normal lifestyle. Collecting water in plastic jerrycans, gathering trees destroyed by the bombardment for fuel, queuing for very basic supplies like bread all of which required the inhabitants to leave their housing and become targets for the snipers who encircled the city and picked off children on their way to school, old woman queuing for bread or people carrying water. Walking through Sarajevo now there are patterns on the pavement called 'Sarajevo Roses' which remain as reminders of sites where people lost their lives.
Sarajevo Rose A picture drawn by a child during the Siege of Sarajevo.
Two building that were marked with holes caused by bomb explosions, rifle fire etc. The building on the left has been patched up whereas the building on the right hasn't.
The pain of this time is palpable as you hear the stories, look at the reminders and see the damaged buildings that are still present. People here are obviously finding life more challenging than the citizens of Croatia, life is still tough, unemployment is high and everywhere there are indications of a coming election (Oct) , but there are very mixed feelings around that. Posters display smiling individuals with 'great' teeth and hair but there is little confidence in the prospect of corruption free leadership.
We visited a tunnel which had been dug under a very exposed area in order to try to bring urgent supplies in or attempt to get people out, it was 800 metres long and became the life blood for besieged citizens. We travelled along a section of road called 'Sniper Alley' which was renowned as the most dangerous spot to pass through because of the snipers who sat up at a distance picking off their hapless victims. Some of the buildings along this road still bear the scars of the gunfire. The museum was also in this part of the city and suffered serious destruction, it was renowned as the site of the "Sarajevo Haggadah" * an ancient Jewish text which had survived multiple attempts to steal or destroy it over millennia, yet being protected most notably on the last two occasions (WW2 & the most recent war) by Muslims. I didn't think that it would be possible but I managed to get to see it, it was one of those experience which make your hair on the back of your neck stand on end.
This was one of the few lucky buildings that survived, not may did.
The Sarajevo Haggadah
The following are some pictures taken at the tunnel (which as mentioned was 800 metres long) dug under the landing strip of the Sarajevo International Airport. This allowed goods both humanitarian and military to be brought into Sarajevo.
The tunnel started under this house which was in the "safe zone".
The story of war is ever present and this is represented in the range of museums you can visit, We saw "The children's Museum" which reflected on experiences of children and adolescents during the war, it was chilling to read the birth dates and know that they were the same age as our children and friends' children. I was also confronted by a toy that we had had for one of our boys and to see it and its story on display. We saw the museum of genocide, the museum of the Siege Story and the museum remembering the massacre at Srebrenica where over 8000 defenceless men and boys were murdered on July 11th 1995, The story is still so palpable, and leaves you reflecting deeply on humanity. Some people may suggest that it is ghoulish focusing on these evil events but I believe that their story needs to be remembered and that the victims deserve to be heard.
We also visited a 500 year old Synagogue, built by the Jews fleeing persecution in Spain (they were probably the ones who first brought the ancient Haggadah to Sarajevo)
- "The People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks