The hills that surround Sarajevo make for a scenic view but turned the city center into a deathtrap when occupied by attacking Serbian forces in 1992. The 1,425-day siege lasted until 1996 and daily bombing and sniper fire caused the deaths of more than 11,000 people, of whom some 1,800 were children.
Sarajevo – Been There

The haunted hills of Sarajevo

Photo by Christian Kober

Sarajevo – Been There The haunted hills of Sarajevo

I jump in a taxi and head for the hills surrounding the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.

Gavin Haines
Gavin Haines Travel Writer

These green peaks offer beautiful panoramas of the city, but they are haunted, not by ghosts, but by the legacy of Serbian forces, who positioned themselves here during the infamous Siege of Sarajevo, when Serbian forces surrounded the Bosnian capital and bombarded it continuously for nearly four years.

As we drive up winding mountain roads, the taxi driver makes the shape of a gun with his hands and pretends to fire on the city below. "You understand?" he asks, shuddering at the memories. I nod.

These hills were also witness to happier times. During the 1984 Olympics, the slopes were alive with competitors, spectators and the world’s media. Vestiges of the Games remain, including the bobsleigh run which is where the taxi driver and I part company. He bids me farewell with a warning not to stray off the paths because of landmines. “Boom,” he says. “You understand?” I nod. The authorities say the mines have been cleared now but I take no chances and stick to the forest trails, peeling off them only to walk down the abandoned concrete run.

In 1984 this course was a theater of sporting history. That is hard to believe now. Since those glory years it has been used as target practice by Serbian gunmen, as a canvas by street artists and as a host for flora and fauna. Nowadays the bobsled course attracts hikers, photographers and twitchers, who use the lofty run to admire the bountiful local birdlife. On my hike through the pines I spot jays, woodpeckers and raptors, which glide on thermals above.

As the forest thins and Sarajevo comes into view, I survey the skyline. My eyes are drawn to the city’s sole skyscraper, which glistens in the sun. Opened in 2008, the Avaz Twist Tower is the headquarters of the Dnevni Avaz newspaper group and I have been told there is a bar at the top. Surely, it is my next stop.

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