This week I explored new areas of Sarajevo mostly on foot. Sarajevo’s cable car (Sarajevska Žičara) was on my list, but I didn’t do much research before the ride. It’s the fast way up Mt. Trebević to popular recreational areas and favorite picnic spots of locals escaping the city. Riding the cable car made me think of alpine skiing which I miss but so far have not tried in Europe.
Mt. Trebević Cable Car
The cable car base station is on Hrvatin Street in Bistrik, one of several neighborhoods 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 accommodate a total of 1,200 people.
Mt. Trebević became a “deadly sniper position on the frontline”.
I shared a gondola with three fun German guys from Hanover. One of them 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 of passengers 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”.
Mt. Trebević – Lungs of Sarajevo
With its fabulous panoramic views and fresh mountain air, Trebević is 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 on foot.
Like everything in Sarajevo, the war had a devastating effect on Mt. Trebević. Shortly after Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence in 1992, the 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 a campaign to encircle Sarajevo and capture key 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 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. Gunfire was a 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 line between the two entities “skirts the mountain”. For years 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 left to rot”.
The arduous 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 Sniper’s Alley to the other to deliver supplies to family and friends.”
After the war, rebuilding the “cable car wasn’t a top priority”. Many Sarajevans drifted away from the troubled mountain divided between two entities and strewn with dangerous landmines.
Over the years, Sarajevans slowly returned to their “favorite excursion site”. An “awareness that the cable car could be renovated” began to grow. After 25 years, renovation was 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.”
Many see reconstruction of the cable car as a final step in the restoration process. Despite frustration that it took so long, there’s a sense of optimism with the reopening of access to Mt. Trebević.
March 1 was Bosnia-Herzegovina Independence Day. It was only observed by half of the country – the Bosniak-Croat-dominated entity called the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the other half, the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, March 1 was an ordinary working day.
For a few days before and after the March 1 holiday, police patrolled the area near my apartment along the Miljacka River. Since I wasn’t certain of the right spot to turn off toward the cable car, I asked one of several machine-gun-carrying policemen for directions. None of them spoke English, so I pointed toward the mountain and said, “cable car”. They gave me a slightly funny look – now I understand why… Of course I should have asked for directions to “Sarajevska Žičara” :o(. They may have been too young to have experienced the snipers first hand, but I’m sure their parents and grandparents had a tale or two to share!
Views from the cable car are great but the adventure was somewhat disappointing. Unless you have skis, hiking up and down the mountain is better than riding the cable car, and summer is definitely a better time of year. Interesting hikes include the Prvi Šumar recreational area, remnants of the Olympic bobsled and luge track, and the Observatory (Čolina Kapa), formerly Bistrik Kula, an Austro-Hungarian fortification.
War Bunker and 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 6-month-old son.
The museum was an underground bunker exactly like those used during Siege bombings. He described what it was like living in an 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 the other essentials needed to survive. Their life certainly wasn’t 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. The mountain was full of booby traps and landmines. It’s amazing that these brave people survived!!