For a lowly Australian like me, the history in Europe is one of the major drawcards of the continent. Walking down streets that have witnessed famine, fire, war and redemption over the course of centuries is worlds away from the relatively new cities in Australia. While much of Europe’s cities were destroyed in WWII, the majority (with perhaps the exception of Berlin) have been painstakingly rebuilt to their former glory.
It’s less the case in the Balkans. The war that resulted in the break-up of the Yugoslavian republic in the 1990’s is very much a living memory; anyone over the age of 25 has stories to tell of hiding from snipers, starving on food rations or playing in empty shells of buildings. While some cities like Mostar and Belgrade are slowly but surely making a recovery, Sarajevo still bears many of the scars from the war that left almost half of the city’s buildings in ruins during the longest siege in modern history.
I spent my first day in Sarajevo walking around the Austro-Hungarian centre of the city, where much of the damage occured during the war. Dotted around the streets are ‘Sarajevo Roses’, dots of pink concrete that serve as stark memorials of those who perished from sniper or mortar fire while braving the streets during the siege.
Dotted on the hills surrounding the city are thousands of graveyards from the war. Many of the bodies were unable to be recovered, and those that were were often unable to be given a proper burial; the amount of casualties was so great there simply wasn’t room for everyone. Walking through the cemeteries is a sobering experience, especially when almost all of the headstones read one date: 1993.
But Sarajevo isn’t all gloom and doom. There are signs of hope springing up all around the city, and the locals are among the friendliest of any that I’ve ever met. International aid is still improving the city skyline, but for now the buildings serve as a pertinent reminder to the perils of war, and in a strange way are the most fascinating thing about this already entrancing city.