In 1984, Sarajevo (sara YAY voe) was the host city for the Winter Olympics. The ski runs were about 40 miles from the city and high in the mountains. They are still in use today. However, the Olympic Village built nearby is in total ruin destroyed by a devastating civil war less than seven years after the Olympics.
This brutal war lasted for nearly four years. The graves of the tens of thousands of people murdered by the warring factions cover the hillsides. They remain as silent testimony of an event that occurred such a short time ago in comparison to the two millennia of recorded history of this land.
It is this history coupled with the beauty of the mountains, the shiny new buildings, and the villages that makes Bosnia an important tourist destination.
Sarajevo was a city in ruin just a few years ago. The multi-story news building, long a symbol of the violence of the war, is new again. Apartment buildings, offices, and hotels are currently open for business. The famous Holiday Inn Hotel, the place where news reporters documented the carnage of the war, is also refurbished. Nearby is the bridge that crosses the Miljacka (mil YAH ka) River. It was here that the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand occurred sparking the fires of World War I. A leisurely stroll across to the other side of the river is safe now. The violence is held in abeyance through the presence of a large contingent of soldiers from European Union countries.
High on a nearby hill is the mansion where the Austro-Hungarian officials ruled this area in the late 1800s. Even higher up on the hill is the fort built by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century. It was the Turks who brought Islam to this land. Today, mosques, with their tall minarets, are the most prominent feature of the Sarajevo skyline. Loudspeakers, mounted on these towers, call the faithful to prayer five times each day.
Before Islam there was the Roman Catholic Church. However, there are only a few Catholic Churches remaining. Along about 1000 AD, the Greek Orthodox Church became dominant. Orthodox churches can be found throughout the area but are not nearly as numerous as the mosques. A visit to one of these religious worship centers is an interesting experience. Inside the Orthodox Church, the priest often welcomes visitors as he explains the significance of the icons and paintings. He explains that these icons represent various saints of the church and are considered to be windows to heaven a place for followers to pray.
In medieval times, another group known mostly by the tombstones of its followers came to be known as the Bosnian Church. The tombstones have been found all over the country and many are now museum pieces.
The Bosnian Church and its followers, known as the Bogomils, (BO go meels) practiced a distinctive form of Christianity but were considered heretics by the Catholic Church. Through persecution and intimidation, most converted to the Catholic faith and, by the mid-1400s, the Bosnian Church was no more.
Religious history is, in many respects, the history of Bosnia and religion continues to play a major role in the country. New mosques and churches are commonplace but it is the gleaming new offices and apartments of Sarajevo that show economic progress and, hopefully, point to a bright future. For those wishing to explore the past, there are many old buildings and narrow streets throughout the city. While these are of a time gone by, sidewalk restaurants, catering to the younger crowd, are always filled.
Pigeon Square is a spot for tourists. . Here one can purchase artifacts of the recent war. Shell casings intricately embossed are a favorite. All sizes are sold and are just a sample of the over one million projectiles that rained down on the city a few years ago. Other handcrafted metal works can be purchased from the craftsmen who hammer out coffee sets, plates, and jewelry. Other handmade items are available as well. The tradition of fabricating items in this way began hundreds of years ago and has been passed down through the generations. Here too you can be like a child and chase the hundreds of pigeons around the fountain or you can sit on the steps and watch as the diversity of the ethnic makeup of this land passes by. For others, a chess game may be interesting. Here many enjoy the game as well as the quiet friendship.
Located high in the mountains of Bosnia are villages that give tourists an illustration of the way life once was in this country. Many of the villages were destroyed during the war. Rebuilding has taken place with the charm remaining as well as some of the salvaged materials. The rusty sheet metal roofs are stark reminders of the original burned out homes.
One of Europes most diverse locations, a cultural crossroads of east and west; this is Bosnia and Herzegovina. (herz go VEE na) Take time to listen when you visit. People may need to tell you of their experiences. The years have been few since hearts were broken and the effects remain. Come and visit this historic land and its people!
Bogomils (BO go meels)
Herzegovina (herz go VEE na)
Miljacka (mil YAH ka)
Sarajevo (sara YAY voe)
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