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Date : 13th August, 2015
Time : 58’
Total distance run to date : 580 km
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/897740025
For much of the 20th Century, Sarajevo was probably best known as the place where, in June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand – the heir presumptive to the Hapsburg throne – was assassinated. An act that was intended to promote the cause of regional independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire led, through a series of extraordinary twists of fate, to that tragedy of unthinkable proportions – World War I. Or the ‘Great War’ as it is referred to on the innumerable memorials to the dead dotted round my home country of Great Britain.
Lest we forget.
However, for younger generations at least, I suspect it is now best known for the Siege of Sarajevo which lasted from 1992 to 1996. The longest city siege in modern warfare. Our guide book declined to talk about the siege on the grounds that any version of events was bound to offend someone. That’s probably a good approach so I’ll stick to the bare bones.
Following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence in 1992. This was a deeply divisive issue with many in the Bosnian Serb community (c 30% of the population at the time) firmly opposed to independence. Violence ensued and Sarajevo, which sits on a valley floor surrounded by mountains, came under siege from Serbian forces and suffered enormous damage and loss of life. NATO bombing in 1995 effectively ended the siege and, in December 1995, the Dayton Agreement was signed bringing stability to Bosnia.
Signs of the siege are everywhere. Damaged buildings, Sarajevo Roses (shell marks filled with red resin), walls pockmarked with bullet holes, and (utterly fascinating in our experience) siege tours on offer to tourists. But you get the feeling that many Bosnians would like to move on. And understandably so.
Sarajevo is a compelling city, famous for its cultural and religious diversity. You will find mosques, catholic and orthodox churches and synagogues virtually cheek by jowl. You will come across traditional Muslim establishments full of shisha pipes and coffee juxtaposed with bars, restaurants and clubs. (We were there on the eve of the Sarajevo Film Festival and the town was clearly ready to party.) A great mix of culture, history and entertainment and the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Dare I say it, the perfect place for a city break.
The people are also very friendly and I met a number of them on my run organised by Erol Mujanovic. Erol works for the British Embassy and, in his spare time, also organises the Sarajevo half marathon and, with his team, runs a running club. Fortunately I was able to join about 50 members of the running club – pictured above – for a session along the banks of the Miljacka river. It was a lovely evening, lots of people to talk to, and the first 6 or 7 km slipped by. At that stage the club stopped to stretch and exercise so I bid my farewells and headed back into the centre of town. Along the river before cutting into the heart of the old town and running round the Sebilj fountain in Baščaršija square. From there I went to the Latin Bridge and the spot where Franz Ferdinand was killed before meandering my way back to our hotel. An excellent run in a wonderful city.
Thank you Erol and thank you Sarajevo for a remarkable couple of days!