The sights of Sarajevo have been nothing but beautiful since I first saw the city from my seat in the propeller plane during the last flight of my journey across the Pond. Our group has already enjoyed Bosnian pitas, coffee, beer, and sweets as our dollars finally stretch to our liking. (My undergrad semester in London was an opposite experience). We have also toured some amazing places in just the past three days, such as the first Jewish synagogue in the city and a Jewish cemetery that dates back to the seventeenth century, the assassination corner where Gavrilo Princip stood and fired those fatal shots in 1914, ornate mosques and a madrasa from antiquity that continues to educate students, the war tunnel, and the old Olympic bobsled run. We are able to venture through the Austro-Hungarian empire’s influences just steps from our hostel, and we also are fortunate enough to enjoy the gift of the Ottomans, Baščaršija, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to explore.
The beautiful hills of this region that surround the city were the first views of this country that I saw from my airplane window. The hills symbolize many things for people here. I find myself turning my attention to them whenever I am outside walking through the city. Bosnian Serbs were able to besiege the city during the war because these hills exist. As we toured the city on our first full day in the country, I noticed bullet holes in the walls of these beautiful buildings here, buildings that survived the war. These buildings stand as reminders of a not-too-distant past of two decades, and transcend centuries of history before that. I believe they say more than the silent and burned skeletons of buildings that were never rebuilt, and they speak volumes against the completely rebuilt structures, although these buildings all tell us something about the war, that nothing was unaffected. People are not as easy to read.
The Bosnian Serbs showered the city with shells during the siege. The shells left behind a point of impact in the concrete of sidewalks or streets, along with small surrounding craters. Bosnians filled these holes in with red paint to symbolize that the shell killed people, a symbol known to Bosnians as a Sarajevo Rose. Many of the Roses are no longer have their color, and some are even covered by concrete slabs, however many Roses remain with or without the color. I stepped over many colorless roses today after a day at my internship as I walked along streets and sidewalks after a day at my internship.
I looked at the hills each time I stepped over a Rose today. I looked at the possible places in the hills where a sniper was positioned who fired that shot over two decades ago, the sniper who ended those lives. We stood in the same places where some of these sniper nests were positioned on Trebevic Mountain, where the bobsled run is located. Snipers actually used the run as a bunker. They also utilized a beautiful Jewish cemetery and various places on the mountain itself, along with thousands of other locations in the hills.
The experience of viewing Sarajevo from the perspective of those under siege and from the murderous vantage point of a sniper was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. This city and this country still tell a beautiful, tragic, and hopeful story.
I only hope I will ascertain just a modicum of this country’s depth as I discover more of the living story.