The 1984 Winter Olympics
Sarajevo, also Sarayevo, city and capital, Bosnia and Herzegovina (commonly referred to as Bosnia), on the Miljacka River, in the east central part of the country. Before civil war broke out in 1992, the city was an important cultural and commercial center with a multiethnic population of Muslims, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats.
Sarajevo's principal manufactures included carpets, silks, fabrics, jewelry, tobacco goods, and machine tools. The war had a disastrous impact on the city's economy. Much of Sarajevo's infrastructure, industry, and housing were damaged or destroyed, and production in all major industries declined sharply. Unemployment climbed to more than 100,000 people, or about half the workforce.
Several educational and cultural institutions operated in the city before the war, including the Bosnian and Herzegovinian National Museum (founded in 1888). The University of Sarajevo (founded in 1949) remained partially open during the war, and a rudimentary school system continued to function.
Sarajevo was settled in the 14th century. From 1429 to 1878 the city was part of the Ottoman Empire, and numerous examples of architecture from that period still remain. Sarajevo then came under the rule of Austria-Hungary. On June 28, 1914, Francis Ferdinand, archduke of Austria, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serb nationalist. This event touched off World War I (1914-1918). After the war, Sarajevo, as part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, became part of Yugoslavia. In 1984 Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympic Games.
In 1992 Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia. War erupted shortly thereafter between Bosnian Serbs, who wanted to remain part of Yugoslavia and Bosnian Croats and Muslims. More than 150,000 residents fled Sarajevo while thousands of poor Muslims from rural areas settled in the city. Serb separatists abandoned the national legislature and refused to recognize the authority of the Bosnian government in Sarajevo. They established their own parliament in the nearby town of Pale, with their administrative headquarters in Banja Luka, and mounted an armed siege of Sarajevo. More than 10,500 residents were killed in the Sarajevo area between 1992 and 1995, and thousands more were wounded. Several city districts were captured by radical Serbs and non-Serbs were forced to flee. The separatists wanted to divide the city into two distinct areas: one as the capital of Bosnia, the other as the capital of a Serb republic. The predominantly Muslim Bosnian government opposed partition and gained international support to keep Sarajevo united. Under the peace plan signed in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) force was stationed in the country and all three groups (Muslim, Serb, and Croat) agreed that Sarajevo was to remain united as the capital of Bosnia. Population (1991) 415,631; (1997 estimate) 360,000.
(Intro notes from Encarta 2002)
Landing at Sarajevo Airport.
The downtown area is in the background, and
the highway leading into it was known as “Sniper Alley”.
Waiting for our ride after arriving at Sarajevo Airport.
Our hotel near downtown Sarajevo.
War damage is still evident on the adjacent buildings.
The next morning, I awoke early and began a long hike up on the hillside around town. Here, I am looking down on the east side of town, looking down on the Miljacka River. There is also a nice swimming pool visible on the right. This was a beautiful overlook. I spent quite a while here admiring the beauty of the city. If you look closely, though, just above my knee is one of numerous cemeteries scattered around the city. It is just one of the reminders of the long and brutal war.
Walking along the hillside above town, I passed the former Parliament Building on the left. It was totally devastated since the Serbs viewed it as a highly symbolic target. Just behind it, the yellow building is the Holiday Inn that housed foreign journalists during the war. It is also the location from which the first sniper shots of the war killed two people gathered on a nearby bridge. The most valued rooms were those WITHOUT a view. If you could see the snipers on the hillside, they could see YOU.
A close-up of the Parliament Building. Artillery shells blasted holes in the end of the building. There is not one window in the entire building that is not broken.
This apartment building is just up the street from the Parliament Building. Facing the hillside, it was heavily damaged from incoming sniper fire.
This lady was enjoying the morning air in the apartment building pictured above. The bullet holes are more visible in this photo.
The lady in the previous picture had a view out her window onto the Vrbanja Bridge, where 2 people in a crowd gathered on April 6, 1992, were killed by a sniper firing from the Holiday Inn.
This plaque marks the spot on the Vrbanja Bridge where these two ladies became the first two victims of the long and bloody war.
This gentleman was repairing damage to his home.
There was a great deal of rebuilding going on all over town.
This apartment was one of the most heavily damaged homes I saw near the downtown area. It was obviously in the line of fire in some pretty nasty fighting. People have moved back into the building and are starting to rebuild. The upper floor of the building in the background has collapsed onto the lower floor. It was probably the site of an artillery explosion.
A nearby house with the roof destroyed.
Just up the street from the previous pictures was this home
that has been carefully restored to its previous beauty.
Life is returning to normal in most parts of the city.
Here, a lady enjoys her back yard flowers.
One morning, our contact at the American Embassy (Mahmutovic Edin – “Eddie”) took us out on a tour of the city and surrounding area. He was here the entire duration of the war, fighting to protect his hometown. He first took us to this neighborhood near the airport. This was one of the front-line areas that sustained heavy damage during 3 years of sustained fighting.
Another heavily damaged house near the airport.
This gentleman has probably lived here throughout the war.
He was walking up the street of this abandoned neighborhood near the airport.
But, the city is rebuilding. Look at the next picture.
This picture was taken directly across the street from the previous picture.
I simply turned around and took this picture from about the same spot
as the previous picture.
*Update* - A friend who was there in 2003 said most of this
area near the airport has now been restored.
Later, Eddie took us to the site of the “Tunnel”. During the first part of the war in 1992, the Airport was used as a United Nations base. They could not provide assistance to either side, though, as part of the agreement with the Serbs. On the other side of the airport was free territory, but the residents of Sarajevo were not allowed to pass through the airport area. In addition, Serb snipers on the hillside killed many who tried to sneak across the runways. The solution was to build a tunnel under the runway. Done under great secrecy, digging began in January, 1992. It was very hard work – due to the secrecy of the project, equipment was not readily available. Digging was started at both ends and was carefully planned to meet midway. Most work was done by hand using picks and shovels. On July 30th, diggers from both sides met at 9:00 pm. Sarajevo had a link to the outside world.
The current owner of the house used as the entrance to the tunnel.
He now runs the museum.
The owner pushed carts like this through the tunnel numerous times. Once, he pushed a cart carrying the President of Bosnia through the tunnel. Normally, it was used to carry food and weapons into the city, and for people to leave the city. But, it was still a long, dangerous route from the city to the tunnel.
Many people died trying to reach the tunnel.
Inside the tunnel. Tracks were laid to run carts through.
The picture is deceiving -- the tracks are about 18 inches apart,
and the tunnel is only about 3 feet high.
More information can be found at
After leaving the tunnel museum, we passed through this United Nations checkpoint on the way to the mountaintops surrounding Sarajevo.
On the way up the mountainside near town, I was reminded of
many places around my home of West Virginia
Another picturesque view of the Bosnian
countryside just outside Sarajevo.
One of the mountaintops looking over Sarajevo. Once occupied by the Serbs and their artillery used to rain terror on the residents of Sarajevo. In the field just past these houses, UN forces were still clearing the area of landmines 5 years after the end of hostilities.
From positions like this on surrounding mountaintops, the Serbs were free to fire their artillery down on the city. A total of 260 tanks, 120 mortars, numerous rocket launchers, machine guns, and snipers surrounded the city. An average of 4000 shells hit the city every day. From here, you can see the Olympic stadium just to the right of center on the far edge of town.
From this mountaintop spot, you can see the radio/television tower that was frequently shown on news clips during the war. Built to withstand war shelling, it was used to broadcast news out of the city during the entire war.
Our last stop our tour was the Olympic Village used in the 1984 Olympics.
Nobody thought at the time the stadium grounds would be used 10 years later
as a cemetery. The Olympic Rings are still visible on the tower.
Another view of the Olympic Stadium.
Looking to the left of the previous picture. The entire Olympic grounds was used as
a cemetery for those killed during the conflict. Thousands of graves.
A marker in the cemetery tells the story of a young
girl killed just before her 13th birthday.
On the last morning in Sarejevo, I awoke early (again!) and rode the trolley to the far end of town near the airport so I could walk back the entire length of the famous Sniper Alley, about 5 miles. Although we were strongly advised not to leave the hotel area, I am always ready to explore the world. Besides, everyone else sleeps 'til noon. The first stop on my walk was the old newspaper building. Heavily damaged from frequent shelling, they still published newspapers every day throughout the war. The printing presses were moved to the basement, and workers carried the papers out to the city through hidden exits. (*Update* - My friend who was there in 2003 says the building has been mostly rebuilt)
The television office. Built like a bunker, it survived heavy shelling to broadcast news of the war (including the killing of innocent civilians) to the world. This angered the Serbs, who tried even harder to destroy it.
After I walked past this old apartment building that I thought was empty, this young girl came running out playing with a cart handle and a box. This was obviously her family’s home.
These apartments along Sniper Alley showed the effects of war.
The front building is covered with bullet holes, and
the building in the background showed damage from shelling.
As I got closer to town, there were more and more areas that have been rebuilt to
what the city probably looked like during its prime in the 1980s.
Near the downtown area, Sarajevo today looks like many other European cities.
This stretch is part of the "Sniper's Alley".
Church of St. Joseph, on Sniper Alley.
Even churches were not immune from shelling.
Repair work on the Bristol Hotel.
There were many holes from artillery and tank shells.
This building was heavily damaged during the war, and was rebuilt
from just a skeleton framework.
Another new building along the old "Sniper's Alley".
Sarajevo is once again a modern, beautiful city.
A new Mosque being built between Sarajevo and the airport.
The Miljacka River divides the city of Sarajevo into North and South.
The Boulevard Mese Selimovica is the main road. A very important part of history
was written just 3 or 4 blocks up the road on the left. On June 28, 1914, Francis Ferdinand,
Archduke of Austria, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serb nationalist.
This event touched off World War I (1914-1918).
One of the many stone bridges crossing the Miljacka River.
For almost 4 years, the Serbs rained artillery from the mountaintops above.
The old market section of Sarajevo. There are hundreds of shops lining the streets where merchants are ready to bargain for the best prices.
Another section of the old market area.
Metal crafting is a very popular business in Sarajevo.
This one street in the old market is filled with copper shops.
Inside one of the copper shops.
This gentleman was entertaining passers-by.
I also bought an “I Love Sarajevo” keychain from him.
I bought a copper serving tray from this craftsman.
This gentleman was waiting outside his shop for the next customer.
This lady is preparing a popular local meal of sausage in a pita bread wrap.
It's proper name is cevapcici (pronounced - che vahp tsee tsee).
Although I do not speak the language, I thought this is a funny advertisement.
The Academy of Arts continued to hold classes and exhibits
throughout the war.
Sarajevo even has its own GREAT beer!
The Sarajevsko brewery was an important source of water during the war.
Today, Sarajevo’s streets are alive with cafes and shopping.
It is a beautiful city once again.
Yes, we actually did some work while we were in Sarajevo.
Our band performed on this stage to a large crowd of very appreciative and fun-loving people.
The old library made a magnificent backdrop. Early in the war, the Serbs set fire to the library. Thousands of priceless books were destroyed.
Ida and Ines Kuburovic were two of our translators for the concerts.
They both survived over a year of the war before escaping. They told me as they were escaping, they were spotted by a Serbian soldier who would have probably killed them. But he recognized their mother as his school teacher, and spared them.
It is with mixed feelings that I leave Sarajevo -- sad that I did not have more time to explore the area and meet the people, but happy that I had the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful and historical cities in Europe. I do hope to return someday.
I hope you enjoyed your brief visit to Sarajevo!