This week I explored new areas of Sarajevo mostly on foot. Sarajevo’s famous cable car (Sarajevska Žičara) was on my list, but I did no research before the ride. The cable car is the fast way up Mt. Trebević to incredible views, popular recreational areas, and favorite picnic spots for locals escaping city life. Riding the cable car made me think of alpine skiing which I miss, but so far haven’t tried in Europe.
Sarajevska Žičara – Sarajevo Cable Car
Base station is on Hrvatin Street in Bistrik, a neighborhood on the mountain’s northern slopes. It’s a short uphill walk from Old Town, Latin Bridge, and Obala Kulina Bana along the Miljacka River. A round-trip ticket is $12 with tourists paying four times more than locals. It costs extra for bicycles and pets. The new system has 33 cable cars that can accommodate 1,200 people.
During the Siege of Sarajevo, Mt. Trebević became a “deadly sniper position on the frontline”.
I shared a gondola with three fun German guys from Hanover. One pointed to a village below where his grandmother had lived during the siege. As we worked our way up the mountain, the area along the lift line was full of ice, snow, and protruding rocks.
Before the 1990s Siege of Sarajevo millions rode the cable car. Built in 1959, it was one of the “most recognizable symbols of Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Sadly, it was destroyed during the early days of the war, and Mt. Trebević became a “deadly sniper position on the frontline”.
Lungs of Sarajevo
With fabulous panoramic views and fresh mountain air, Mt. Trebević became known as the “lungs of Sarajevo”. I’ve explored a few of the lower hiking trails, but in winter the upper ones have snow and ice and are difficult to transverse without snowshoes or skis.
Like everything in Sarajevo, the war had a devastating effect on Mt. Trebević. Shortly after Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence in 1992, a guard on the old Trebević gondola, Ramo Biber, became the first victim of the war. “The Serb-dominated Yugoslav army shot him dead as they began their campaign to encircle Sarajevo and capture key strategic positions.” The 1,425-day Siege of Sarajevo began four weeks later and became the “longest blockade of a capital city in modern history”.
Ramo Biber, the guard on the Trebević gondola, was the first war victim. The Yugoslav Army “shot him dead” as they began encircling Sarajevo.
Front Line Sniper Position
“Hundreds of mortars and countless bullets rained down on Sarajevo from Mt. Trebević, killing a large proportion of the 11,541 people slain during the war. Gunfire was part of daily life for more than three years.”
In 1995, NATO intervened by bombing artillery encampments on Mt. Trebević forcing the Bosnian Serbs into retreat. The Dayton Peace Agreement followed. The nation was “split along ethnic lines with two autonomous entities – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska“.
The boundary between the two entities “skirts the mountain”. Disagreements between the Federation and Republic on redevelopment “turned Mt. Trebević into a ghost town”. The remains of destroyed houses, restaurants, hotels, sports facilities, and mountain huts “were abandoned and left to rot”.
After the war, the process of clearing thousands of landmines moved slowly. Bandits “roamed the hills attacking tourists visiting the bobsleigh tracks”.
“With death hot on their heels people sprinted from one side of Sarajevo Sniper Alley to the other to deliver supplies to family and friends.”
Cable Car Reconstruction
Rebuilding the cable car wasn’t a top priority. Sarajevans drifted away from the troubled mountain, divided between two entities and strewn with sorrow, bad memories, and landmines.
Sarajevans slowly returned to Mt. Trebević, once a “favorite excursion site”. An “awareness that the cable car could be renovated” began to grow. After 25 years, renovation was finally complete, and the cable car began running again on April 6, 2018.
“PAZITE SNAJPER – Beware Sniper warning signs appeared along Sniper Alley – the name for Sarajevo streets exposed to marksmen looking through telescopic sights from the top of Mt. Trebević.”
Reconstruction of the cable car may be a final step in the restoration process. Despite considerable frustration that it took so long, there’s a sense of optimism with the reopening of access to beloved Mt. Trebević.
March 1st was Bosnia-Herzegovina Independence Day. It was observed by half of the country – the Bosniak-Croat-dominated entity called the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the other half – Serb-dominated Republika Srpska – March 1 was an ordinary working day.
For a few days before and after the March 1st holiday, police patrolled the area along the Miljacka River. Since I wasn’t certain of the right spot to turn off toward the cable car, I asked a machine-gun-carrying policeman for directions. He didn’t speak English, so I pointed toward the mountain and said, “cable car”. He gave me a slightly funny look – now I understand why… Of course I should have asked for directions to “Sarajevska Žičara” :o(. He may have been too young to have experienced the snipers firsthand, but his parents and grandparents must have frightening tales to share!
Views from the cable car are great but the outing itself was disappointing. Unless you have skis, hiking up and down the mountain is better than riding the cable car – summer is the best time for hiking. Hiking trails include Prvi Šumar recreational area, remnants of the Olympic bobsled and luge track, and the Observatory (Čolina Kapa), an Austro-Hungarian fortification formerly known as Bistrik Kula.
War Bunker Museum
As I walked back down to Old Town, I saw a makeshift sign for a “War Museum” and stopped to check it out. It was an amazing emotional experience. The man leading tours had lived through the siege with his wife and six-month-old son.
The museum was an underground bunker exactly like those used during Siege bombings. He described what it was like living in a dark, overcrowded bunker without electricity, food, plumbing, or water. Despite great obstacles and the tragic deaths and injuries of friends and family, somehow they survived. They used innovative methods to protect themselves, communicate, and get food, water, and other essentials needed to survive. Their life was difficult and certainly not for the faint-hearted.
My photos aren’t great but they give an idea of what the bunker looked like inside. It contained mortar shell remnants and other items from the war. On a mountain full of booby traps and landmines, it’s amazing that these brave people survived!!