Sarajevo Cable Car and War Bunker

View from Mt. Trebević Cable Car – Monocle

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.

Houses from Mt. Trebević Cable Car

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. 

Trebević Cable Car – Dijspora.tv

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Mt. Trebević became a “deadly sniper position on the frontline”.

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Trebević Cable Cars – Sarajevo Travel

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.

Trebević Cable Car – Balkan Insight

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”.

Inside Sarajevska Žičara

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.

Mt. Trebević Vista

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”.

Makeshift Homemade Rifle

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Ramo Biber, the guard on the Trebević gondola, was the first war victim. The Yugoslav Army shot him as they began encircling Sarajevo…

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Mini Snowman Mt. Trebević

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.”

Mt. Trebević Vista

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“.

Inside Mt. Trebević Bunker

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”.

Cable Car Ticket

The arduous process of clearing thousands of landmines moved slowly. Bandits “roamed the hills attacking tourists visiting the bobsleigh tracks”.

Cable Car Entrance Hrvatin Street Bistrik

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“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.”

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Top of Mt. Trebević

Reconstruction

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.

Inside Mt. Trebević Bunker

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.

Bunker Makeshift Radio

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“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.”

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Mt. Trebević Snipers – Kurir

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.

Village Water Supply During Siege 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.

Bunker Map of Encircled Siege Territory Mt. Trebević

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!

PAZITE SNAJPER Sign – haber.ba

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.

Map of Mt. Trebević Hiking Trails

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.

Mortar Shells and Landmines from the Siege

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.

Trebević Mortar Shells

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!!

Trebević Landmine – Swissinfo

Sarajevo Walking Tour

Latin Bridge Near Assassination of Franz Ferdinand 1914

I’ve been exploring Sarajevo but decided to join a guided walking tour today. We walked several hours mostly covering territory in Old Town. Several Bosnians started the tour group – Meet Bosnia – a few years ago. They’re clearly passionate about their city. The tour was rich in history and stories.

The Meet Bosnia office in Old Town is at the corner of Gazi Husrev-Begova and Mula Mustafa Baseskija Streets. With its jewelry shops, Gazi Husrev-Begova is also known as Zlatarska – Goldsmith’s Street. Mula Mustafa Baseskija is near the Eternal Fire, a monument to Sarajevo’s liberation in World War II.

Austro-Hungarian Architecture

Baščaršija  Square – Churches, Fountains, Mosques, Towers

The tour started at Baščaršija Square, the “lively core of Old Town” and home to Sarajevo’s oldest streets and most notable landmarks. Except for churches and temples next to mosques, the area is like a scene from Istanbul. We walked by the Old Orthodox Church dedicated to Archangels Michael and Gabriel. Built in the 16th century, it suffered from fires and destruction, but was repeatedly reconstructed.

Sarajevo Post Office – Destination Sarajevo

Old Town Wall Sarajevo

We paused at Sebilj, a famous wooden fountain on Baščaršija Square. According to local legend, if you drink water from the fountain you’ll come back to Sarajevo.

Bezistan Bazaar – Muzel Sarajevo

Gazi Husrev-Bey Mosque – National Geographic Your Shot

We passed Gazi Husrev-Bey Mosque, a beautiful building from the 1500s considered Sarajevo’s “most important architectural monument from Ottoman rule”.  We walked through the Bezistan, Sarajevo’s oldest shopping area. It’s near the 16th century Clock Tower which has an unusual clock that keeps lunar time. The clock indicates the five times for daily Islam prayer – dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and night. With the lunar system, “the day begins at sunset and the time shown is 12:00”.

Šeher-Ćehaja Bridge Sarajevo

Old Orthodox Church Sarajevo

Sarajevo City Hall

The group admired beautiful Sarajevo City Hall (Vijećnica), the most recognizable Austro-Hungarian building in Bosnia. It was the National and University Library and seat of Sarajevo’s city council. Now it’s a venue for major exhibitions and concerts.

Isa Begov Hamam Hotel – Sarajevo Construction

Isa Begov Hamam

We passed Isa Beg Hamam, one of two hammams in Sarajevo. The hammam is named after Isa Beg Ishakovich, a successful Ottoman General and the Beg (Governor) of Bosnia Sandzak. Ishakovich is known as the founder of Sarajevo.

Isa Begov Hamam – Cicelićka Portal

I’ve enjoyed a few invigorating Turkish hamams. Visiting Isa Beg’s Hamam is on my list of things to do before leaving Sarajevo. I’ve never felt so clean, relaxed, and refreshed as after the hamam process! This blog post explains the experience.

Sebilj Baščaršija Sarajevo

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“The main idea in the Hamam is to use steam and hot water to cleanse the body and create a sensual relaxing.”

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Rebuilt Sarajevo City Hall

Diversity

Our guide highlighted Sarajevo’s exceptional diversity and the mutual respect among Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, and Islam religions. Sarajevo’s Jewish community has existed for almost five centuries. The Old Jewish Temple is within walking distance of churches and mosques. Today it’s a Balkan museum.

Tombs Governors Gazi Murat and Gazi Husref

Old Jewish Temple Sarajevo

Meeting of Cultures and Roses

We stopped at the “Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures” point on Ferhadija Street – a  location tied to the Habsburg MonarchyThe Cathedral of Jesus’ Sacred Heart with a statue of Pope John Paul II is one of many iconic buildings on Ferhadija. Toward the eastern end there’s a marker showing the spot where “East meets West”.

Bosnian Copper Coffee Set

Our guide talked about Sarajevo Roses, “craters left by fatal mortar strikes that were filled with red resin to remember those lost during the Siege of Sarajevo”.

Ćevapi – Hostel Franz Ferdinand

Bosnian Food

The group listened to pointers on restaurants, cafés, and the best places for local cuisine like ćevapi and burek. Coffee is a very important part of Bosnian culture. Drinking their special strong brew – never to be mistaken for Turkish coffee – is a must. As you drink the coffee you must linger and enjoy the time with your companions.

Burek – Destination Sarajevo

Baklava Dućan Sarajevo

Latin Bridge and Ferdinand’s Assassination Site

We walked over famous Latin Bridge and stopped at the sight of Franz-Ferdinand˙s Assassination. The story of the nearly botched assassination is fascinating.

Sarajevo Roses

It was a beautiful clear day with temperatures in the high 40s. I’m smitten with Bosnia. Since the weather forecast is good, I’ll take full-day tours tomorrow and Wednesday:

Sarajevo Ottoman White Fortress