Imagine living in a city that became a prison; a city with no escape where you fear for your life every second of every day. Imagine that hundreds of shells from machine gun fire raining down as rockets lit up the sky was part of normal daily life. That snipers were just waiting for you to step outside as you got in line for a ration of bread and water. That all resources including electricity, food, and water had been cut off from the city you called home. That you helplessly watched friends, family, even children senselessly murdered in massacres. No need to imagine; just visit Sarajevo and its residents will regale you with tales of the siege of Sarajevo.
The siege of Sarajevo, which lasted from April 1992 until February 1996, was the longest siege of a capital city in modern warfare. Sarajevo is certainly the only place we have visited where such a war was so recent and still so apparent.
As we walked amongst the Sarajevo’s main pedestrian street, Ferhadija, a Sarajevo Rose caught our eye. Sarajevo Roses are where mortar shells caused scars in the concrete, the shrapnel splashing out in an almost floral pattern from the point of impact. The gouges were filled in with red resin to commemorate the spots where one or more lives were lost in these mortar explosions.
Every where we looked as we strolled along the streets of Sarajevo we were faced with the city’s battle wounds. Bullet riddled buildings brought to life the horror from pictures we saw at the small Siege Museum at Sarajevo Insider. Other buildings are patched with bricks where bombs blasted rooms out. And others still damaged beyond repair and left as reminders of the terror Sarajevo’s citizens endured for nearly four years.
We visited just a few days after the anniversary of the second Markale Massacre and the memorial was decorated with hundreds of flower arrangements. The Markale is the marketplace located right in the heart of historic Sarajevo. The first happened on February 5, 1994 in which 68 people were killed and 144 more were wounded. The second occurred on August 28, 1995 when five mortar shells killed 37 people and wounded another 90.
We had dinner at the Sarajevska Pivara, Sarajevo’s brewery established in 1864. The brewery played an important role during the siege as it was one of the few reliable sources for citizens to get drinking water when all resources were cut off from the city.
We visited the iconic Holiday Inn on the outskirts of the old city; it was the only functioning hotel during the siege. Not only did most journalists reporting live during the siege all gather and stay here, snipers also fired from and killed two women peacefully protesting in front of the hotel.
Sarajevo’s salvation was a tunnel constructed to transport food and supplies into the city from Bosnian held neutral territory on the other side of the Sarajevo Airport.
I was just young enough to not remember much about the siege and while I knew Bosnia had a tumultuous past, I suppose I didn’t realize just how horrific it had really been. No where else in our travels has quite affected me in the same way.