|The twentieth century started and ended badly in Sarajevo, from the shooting of crown prince Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28th 1914 to the 1,425 day siege of the city by Bosnian Serbs from 1992 to 1995, reducing the population to starvation, cold and a permanent risk of death. They ended up burning floorboards, car tyres and even books as well as any standing tree to fight off the bitter winter months. The landmarks of this period are everywhere, from war damaged buildings to vast cemeteries covering whole hillsides in every direction.
But despite all, the residents of the city were a resourceful lot and eventually found a way to relieve the city (the airfield was only open to UN personnel) by building an 800 metre tunnel under the airport runway (see attached photo top right) in order to be able to import food, livestock and othe provisions though conditions were appalling, both for building it over four months 24 hours a day, and transporting the foodstuffs in 40 kilo backpacks while bent double, wading in water and with limited oxygen supplies. At least is was preferable to being shot by hilltop snipers which killed over 200 before the tunnel was finished.
Today the city is still largely Muslim as it has always been but citizens of Muslim, Orthodox and Christian faiths are all trying to reconcile their differences in the interests of the community as a whole, but corruption, unemployment and poor economic conditions suggest that this volcano may yet again one day re erupt.
The city is not without charm especial in the old town with single story wooden buildings with tiled roofs, small park areas, shady trees and numerous mosques are reminiscent, not unsurprisingly, of Istanbul. An overwhelming number of busy (mainly men! though in the evenings girls join them, many smoking hookahs), coffee shops, ATM machines, mobile phone shops, cafés, jewellery shops brassware and tourist tat emporia. Thronging street crowds are made up of small groups of Japanese tourists, UN staff, local militia in camouflage fatigues without weapons, pomegranate juice vendors, and young women often smartly dressed and surprisingly tall as are young men. Smoking, even in restaurants, is common, probably reflecting the fact that cigarettes were used instead of army pay and generally as currency during the blockade in the 1990s. One young fellow must have been almost seven feet tall making me feel short which makes a change. Outside the old town architectural interest is rather less in evidence and the trams and busses are the most antiquated I have ever come across. You have to be aware whether you are in a Muslim area or not when it comes to liquid refreshment: alcohol is not served in the Muslim areas and Bosnian (i.e. Turkish) coffee not served in the non Muslim area, so logically you start your evening in one area and end in another.