I usually consider myself a solitary person. I have long held this belief about myself, which has served me well in the past when traveling in large groups. Time alone can be a valuable commodity in these situations, and I have often relished in the opportunity to withdraw, to seclude myself, to silently reflect in solitude. With that in mind, I struck out on my own this afternoon, our last day in Sarajevo. As is rare for me (I’m a meticulous planner), I began walking with no destination in mind and no real goal for the day. I took a left where I had only previously turned right, went uphill where I’d only previously gone down, and found myself climbing the hills that encircle Sarajevo.
Up I hiked, from residential neighborhoods to massive graveyards to small hilltop farms. What was sidewalk turned to staircase, which had crumbled to near disrepair over the past hundred (several hundred?) years. Finally, I found myself on a dirt road, sweating and panting. How much further could this road go? My feet were determined to find out. With a quick pause to observe the receding city and steep path, I turned to continue upward towards my undetermined destination.
After several more kilometers, up and around and up, I turned a corner to find a sign painted on a barn: “BIBAN.” Not being one to ignore obvious signs, I followed the arrow pointing left, up a dirt path circumventing a small orchard. As I gazed up the drive, I saw a large building, surrounded by a white fence, with a large terrace. Upon closer examination, I noticed that the terrace was blooming with thousands of roses. I had, apparently, arrived at Kod Bibana. The view from hundreds of feet above the city was breathtaking. The landmarks, the minarets, the neighborhoods, the architectural separation…all so clear and defined from this high up.
I ordered a čaj and considered where I was. Where my feet had unconsciously taken me. What a strategic advantage such a perspective would have provided to an enemy looking to lay siege to a modern city. Such a vantage would have proven invaluable in 1942, 1992, and all other times this city has been sacked and subsequently occupied. How many artillery shells were fired from this very spot? How many snipers crouched here? How did they choose their targets, or even reach them from such a distance? How did the city resist falling to a better-armed, tactically superior military force?
I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to objectively and contemplatively consider these things 20 years after the end of the war here, drinking tea and eating squid and reading fiction at my leisure. I also feel a pang of sadness that I experienced this alone. This is an unusual feeling for me.My solitude has always been something of a fortress, safe and impenetrable. Not so this afternoon.
At the same time, this point of view gives Sarajevo a protected sheen. I have not seen it like this in my time here. The grit, the noise, the tourists…all sum up to create what I looked down upon this afternoon. From the inside, there is no way to zoom out, to see the ocean of orange-red tiled roofs, the surreal union of mosques, or the haze of smoke from cook-fires. I am certainly not the first to cherish this view – though my reasons are more pure than many who have come before me. Nor will I be the last. While the aimless wandering that led me here necessitated being solo today, I am determined to share this place, to turn my solitude on its head – to harness it – by helping people connect to what is so enchanting about Sarajevo.