By Rob Packer

I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere like Sarajevo. No other country that I’ve visited has seen war as recently as Bosnia, no other city a siege. I was ten when Bosnia declared its independence and was immediately consumed by war. It’s the first conflict that I remember well and I think that the memories that I do have will always be connected with the names of the country, the capital and several other cities in the country—a sign to Travnik or a bus to Srebrenica bring back memories of news footage of the war. These won’t go away; but now that I’ve been there, they’ll be mixed with my own memories of the country.

Unlike Mostar, Sarajevo feels much more alive: the city is much bigger and the far-wider rebuilding effort makes you feel that it’s looking towards a normalized future, rather than just towards the past. Having said that, however, history bears its mark on the city: if you simplify things, Sarajevo’s tramline runs from east to west, passing from the Ottoman-era market of Baščaršija through Austro-Hungarian Ferhadija to the Yugoslav city built for the 1984 Olympics, which later became known as Sniper Alley during the Bosnian War where snipers from the Serbian army were able to shoot Sarajevans as they crossed the road.

The Sebilj, a fountain at the centre of Baščaršija, Sarajevo's Turkish quarter.

Ferhadija, the main drag of Sarajevo's Austro-Hungarian centre.

Zmaja od Bosne, a.k.a. Sniper Alley during the war. The yellow building on the left is the Holiday Inn, which was built for the 1984 Winter Olympics.

As I walked through the Sarajevo Under Siege exhibition at the city’s History Museum, I was reminded of the hardship that people had to go through 15 years ago—a lot of which I’m also ashamed to say passed me by at the time. Read more of this post


Mostar: Is it over?

By Rob Packer

Apart from the odd piece of political news from Sarajevo about the possibility of further fragmentation of the country, Bosnia and Hercegovina has produced remarkably little news since the Dayton Accords were signed in 1995 and I think most people would assume that no news is good news, that the conflict is over and that life has moved on. Walking around Mostar today, however, the scars of war are still more than visible: for example, the walk from where I’m staying to Mostar’s famously destroyed, and now rebuilt, Old Bridge is roughly 10 minutes and passes by several reminders of the past. Firstly, you come to what was a park before the war and is now an Islamic cemetery—Muslims should be buried within a day of dying and I am assuming the cemeteries ran out of space. You next come to Bulevar, which was the frontline between Croat and Bosniak forces for the period of the war when they were fighting each other: if you turn left you come to at least six of the bombed out buildings that scatter the city, if you look right you see an unfeasibly tall church spire of a rebuilt Catholic church (photo). And if you continue onwards you come to the heart of Mostar’s tourist area around the Old Bridge, a beautiful Ottoman-era bridge destroyed by Croat shelling during the war and since rebuilt.

Mostar's centrepiece, the Old Bridge.

Crossing the former frontline walking into the old town.

Around its Turkish-era central core, Mostar is beautiful in a very different way to the Austrian and Italian influences of Croatia, but it was the reminders of war that stick in my mind as much as the city’s mosques and arched bridge. Read more of this post

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