De­spite its dark his­tory, op­ti­mism is ring­ing through the streets of Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina’s cap­i­tal, Sara­jevo

From the shadow of its war-torn past, Sara­jevo is now a buzzing East­ern Euro­pean city with fas­ci­nat­ing cul­ture, mov­ing his­tory and a bright new fu­ture, says Chris Bean­land

Friday - - Contents -

It hap­pens in slow mo­tion – woozy, poignant and fleet­ing, like all im­por­tant mo­ments. A drag­on­fly hov­ers in front of me as if it’s try­ing to start a con­ver­sa­tion. Its wings flare and glis­ten in the morn­ing sun. Its gaze drills into me. The drag­on­fly’s home is Baščaršija, Sara­jevo. I stand agog in this an­cient area’s thrum­ming main square. It is Is­tan­bul in the Alps – minarets thrust up to­wards azure sky and Ot­toman ar­chi­tec­ture daz­zles with a brood­ing ex­oti­cism. The scent of Turk­ish cof­fee and spices – white pep­per, co­rian­der, pa­prika – hangs in the air on the tight side streets. This is the city in Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina where the Oc­ci­dent meets the Ori­ent. The city where Europe meets the East; a melt­ing pot for cen­turies.

Baščaršija’s pre­cious her­itage has been re­stored on a huge and daz­zling scale – the rem­nants of the Tal­is­han Inn are pre­served as an open-air ar­chae­o­log­i­cal mu­seum. The site is presided over by the daz­zling mod­ern lines of a newer ho­tel – the Europe. Its star­tling ex­ten­sion is a fas­ci­nat­ing coun­ter­point to the an­cient build­ings.

Out­side the beau­ti­ful Academy of Fine Arts, a mod­ern bridge formed like a loop-the-loop roller coaster crosses the bab­bling river Mil­jacka. The river flows down from the city’s en­cir­cling bu­colic jade-coloured moun­tains as a trickle in sum­mer and a tor­rent in win­ter.

The Latin Bridge crosses the river a lit­tle up­stream, a stone fairy tale-like struc­ture that, when I was vis­it­ing, was cov­ered in scaf­fold­ing and re­ceiv­ing some much-needed TLC. A plaque by that bridge marks the spot where Aus­trian Arch Duke Franz Fer­di­nand and his wife Sofia were shot dead in 1914, spark­ing the First World War.

In­side the Academy of Fine Arts there’s a poster ad­ver­tis­ing a Star­tup­Week­end to sup­port the city’s un­likely nascent com­mu­nity of coders and in­ter­net en­trepreneurs. Down­stairs, a course on pho­to­jour­nal­ism is tak­ing place.

Jour­nal­ists hold a mythic place in Sara­jevo’s re­cent past. The road from the air­port is named af­ter Kurt Schork – an Amer­i­can who re­ported a story ti­tled Romeo And Juliet In Sara­jevo about a doomed pair of real-life lovers, Bos­niak Ad­mira Is­mić and Bos­nian Serb Boško Brki, who were killed in the siege. Half of Schork’s ashes are buried next to the cou­ple here.

The 1992-96 siege tore the heart out of the city. As a sen­si­tive child,

I sat glued to the TV cov­er­age, hor­ri­fied, and yet con­vinced that if Imy­self be­came a jour­nal­ist I could one day save other stricken peo­ple. I could never be as heroic as the jour­nal­ists who lived at the Hol­i­day Inn built orig­i­nally for the 1984 Win­ter Olympics, and I feel a lump inmy throat as I look up in­side its lobby and imag­ine its now quiet cor­ri­dors filled with des­per­a­tion and bravado and the rum­ble of dis­tant ord­nance. Not even the jour­nal­ists could be as heroic as the Sara­je­vans who en­dured four years with­out run­ning wa­ter, elec­tric­ity or gas and the con­stant threat of be­ing shot by snipers. At the SiegeMu­seum I find it im­pos­si­ble to sup­pressmy tears as a guide talks calmly of his friends and close rel­a­tives who were killed, while a doc­u­men­tary film show­ing the full horror plays in the back­ground.

Places in the city cen­tre where civil­ians were mas­sa­cred are marked by grim stretches of red pave­ment and stone memo­ri­als on walls. Fresh flow­ers are metic­u­lously main­tained and flames burn bright in small metal torches to keep the mem­o­ries of the in­no­cent vic­tims alive.

Mu­se­ums like the brand new lowlit Gallery 11/07/95, which opened last year, re­mem­ber vic­tims of the geno­cide out­side the city – in this case the horror that took place in Sre­brenica. Yet, de­spite the trauma of re­cent times, de­spite the ache that must per­sist within ev­ery­one who calls Sara­jevo home, the city to­day is noth­ing less than a joy. Its streets ring with life, with hope.

Round the cor­ner from Markale – where two such mas­sacres oc­curred – out­side the Or­tho­dox Church, old men play gi­ant chess. Ev­ery ta­ble at ev­ery pave­ment café is taken by lo­cals and tourists drink­ing cof­fee. I hag­gle a trader down from the equiv­a­lent of Dh50 to Dh35 for some fake sun­glasses. I buy a slice of meat bu­rek

from Fino, one of the best bak­ers of the filled savoury pas­tries, and munch it in the sun while I watch the hordes stream out of the Ali Pasa Mosque. Fri­day prayers have just ended and men throng the streets, some yet to put their shoes back on. The mosque’s wa­ter gar­dens are lush, emer­ald green, care­fully man­i­cured.

The city cen­tre’s shop­ping streets buzz. In­ter­na­tional brands are ev­ery­where. The BBI Cen­tre is an award-win­ning, up­mar­ket new mall, brown with big win­dows and full ofWestern stuff for sale in this most cos­mopoli­tan of cities. Lush, Tim­ber­land, Lego and Ap­ple have shops in the mall.

Al Jazeera has a big bureau up­stairs cov­er­ing Euro­pean news and its sign is on the side of the build­ing. I change some money into Bos­nian Kon­vert­ible Marks at the bank in­side. One of the cashiers is a Bos­nian Mus­lim wear­ing a head­scarf, the other a Chris­tian who wears her hair uncovered. A small sign that mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is re­turn­ing – a wel­come sign.

You can take a clank­ing tram from here to the train sta­tion, pass­ing the mas­sive Amer­i­can em­bassy where signs loudly pro­claim, “NO PHOTOGRAPHY”.

Out­side the sta­tion the Avaz twisted sky­scraper, the HQ of a pub­lish­ing com­pany, rises as a sym­bol of the new Sara­jevo. In a skate park down be­low, a huge work of play­ful pub­lic art dom­i­nates – two gi­ant trum­pets try­ing to talk to each other. I find a hole in the fence and gin­gerly cross the rail­way tracks, through Sara­jevo’s haunted hin­ter­lands, past the Ho­tel Grand, where I’m holed up. A stray puppy makes plead­ing eyes at me then loses its courage and darts into a hedge. A road leads up to The TV Tower at the top of the hill and this van­tage point af­fords heart-stop­ping views of the whole city and is the per­fect place for a pic­nic of sweet Bos­nian cakes and fruit juice.

This cap­i­tal city is get­ting to me; it’s get­ting un­der my skin; it’s al­ready in my blood. This city has en­tranced me from afar for years.

Back down be­low, at the end of the day, Sara­je­vans laugh and drink in the chic cafés and jump­ing bars of Ulica Stross­mayerova. Peo­ple are hav­ing fun, and it’s in­fec­tious.

Across the street a group of 20-some­things is fool­ing around. They’ve been paid to ad­ver­tise some­thing – half of them are dressed as or­anges and half as mo­bile phones. Their faces are painted with smiles. They are the fu­ture of Sara­jevo.

They joke and laugh and all look like the best of friends. Their op­ti­mism is in­fec­tious.

The 1992 to 1996 siege tore at the heart of Sara­jevo, but to­day a sense of calm and op­ti­mism pre­vails


The Baščaršija bazaar is the per­fect place to bar­gain, while the

beau­ti­ful Academy of Fine Arts (inset, be­low) has fine views of the Mil­jacka river on which Sara­jevo

was founded

The Sara­jevo Hol­i­day Inn, pur­pose-built for the 1984 Olympics, shows the stead­fast­ness of spirit in Sara­jevo – seen in the midst of a dan­ger zone in this 1994 photo, and as it stands proudly to­day (be­low left)

Be­ly­ingly beau­ti­ful Bre­brenica has a dark his­tory, but to­day its streets ring with hope

The Mul­ti­cul­tural Man Builds The World statue sym­bol­ises peace and was a gift from Italy

The Latin Bridge over the Mil­jacka has a plaque mark­ing the spot where Arch Duke Fer­di­nand was as­sas­si­nated, spark­ing events that led to the First World War

While Sara­jevo has moved for­ward, the trou­bles of its past are well doc­u­mented in mu­se­ums, for­mal and in­for­mal. This tun­nel was built by be­sieged res­i­dents

xxxxxx xxxx travel

Visi­tors en­joy the slow pace of life at the cafés in the old Turk­ish Quar­ter in Baščaršija,

while the Avaz sky­scraper (be­low) re­flects the rise of the bustling new Sara­jevo

The BBI Mall with its shops stocked full of Western items re­flects the cos­mopoli­tan na­ture of the city

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.