Bascarsija, the old Muslim quarter of Sarajevo is a world apart. We landed in this world like in a miracle, late in the evening, and the moment we stepped out of the car we felt a completely different flavor, like we were transported thousands of miles away in the heart of the Middle East. Sarajevo, Bosnia‘s capital, is way more than its Muslim quarter but this is its heart.
Bosnia was quite of a surprise, so different from its neighboring Croatia but so full of life in spite of its not yet healed scars from the Homeland war. We visited and shot footage in the village of Pocitelj, the Christian pilgrimage place of Medjugorje, Mostar with its UNESCO protected bridge and its charming bazaar and the Serbian Republic where the depopulated villages are still full of ruined houses, causalities of an illogical war.
This was a shock. When you watch the news and people talk about was and destruction, in this world where everything is sent through media, you never had an understanding of the real war and the real destruction that war brings. We followed closely the war in Yugoslavia, a country that used to be the paradise of Eastern Europe. We watched in disbelief how the war engulfed the entire country and how people, once living in peace, harmony and with interethnic marriages they were killing each other. But one is to watch on TV between two detergent commercials and one is to see the scars of this war for real.
On our way to Zagreb we crossed the inside border of Republika Skrpska, the Serbian enclave where Karadzic had his haven and ruled by Biliana Plavic, indicted in Haga for crime against humanity. From the beginning it felt weird because you don’t see almost anybody. And at one point it started. You see one house bombed, followed by another and another and another. Entire villages destroyed, houses were like shells, gutted like open sores. Near them another new house may have been built but the old one is there, untouched like a remembering symbol of the hate. Latter we stopped at a monument dedicated to the Serb victims mass murdered in Deventa by ” war criminals”. And after that more house destroyed, suffering and tears. And almost nobody on the road. And it went like this till we finally crossed the border in Croatia. We felt the suffering in the air, we felt like we drove through a eerie cemetery and the dead were screaming at us. We asked latter and we were told something that we knew from the old TV coverages; Serbs and Croats destroyed each others, villages wiped out completely, families terminated, hate, suffering and tears. All people we spoke to in Croatia or Bosnia still regret Tito and the good old days when their country was a model. When they pronounced his name it was always with reverence. We asked in Sarajevo if they have a grudge against the Serbs and we got a categorical NO; they hated the war as we did but their leaders were sick people: “When we talk with friends we don’t make any differences, only our leaders see these differences. Our real problems are with them not with the people” However nowadays Serbia elected another nationalist as President.
30 km out of Sarajevo is Visoko, an insignificant village, if it did not have in its middle a huge hill shaped as a perfect pyramid. The hill is Sunca Pyramid and across town is a smaller version of it, whose name I can not remember. I read some articles about the Bosnia pyramids. There are pros and cons and I just wanted to stop and see the place and maybe feel some special energy. But the great surprise was a sign that I followed and brought me to a shoe factory, at the edge of town. The sign mentioned some underground tunnels. The gatekeeper from the factory was very nice and took us to show the tunnels, right behind it, on the river shore. There are two tunnels, about 7-8 feet tall that connects that place to both pyramids. It is one entrance from the river and divides right away in two separate tunnels. We did not have the right gear and especially time to visit them but we took some pictures posted on our web. The longer tunnels is about 2 km underground and the shorter one about half. The tunnels are sometimes flooded and for sure they were very wet. I never read anything about them but I will start digging the official web site of the place.
Very cool! Who may have build them?
In the morning we started out tour in Bascarsija. The stores were open and full of interesting stuff. When we traveled in Croatia and Slovenia most of the stuff sold are like anywhere else in the world, the uniformity of the mass produced mall items, but here the items sold were very specific: tall chai pitchers, coffee sets, pots and pans for coffee, specific jewelry, etc. I ended up not buying anything but it was charming to look around and see all the stuff …in Europe. In many shops you could see the artisans working, hammering to decorate metal plates. Diversity is a blessing, a thing that for sure Milosevic would have disagreed. After we visited a mosque, from the old quarter we walked to the modern part of the city, where is the cathedral with an interesting interior, the market bombed during the war by the Yugoslav Army and famous Latin Bridge where Franz Ferdinand was shot, triggering the First World War.
We returned in Bascarsija for lunch and to take the car from the hotel and we left with a regret that we could not linger more in this charming city.
We arrived very late in Sarajevo and with no hotel reservation. Sometimes is hard to decided where you want to stay when you don’t know exactly the city. So we followed the sign for the center city and we arrived without knowing in Bascarsija, the heart of the old Sarajevo. From the beginning the city had a different feeling that anything we saw till know. The hustle and bustle of the market made me feel like in Northern Africa or in Asia. Eventually I found a pension , close to the market that had the advantage that you could also park the car in their driveway, and I left to the city at around 11:00 pm. The atmosphere was spectacular. The small alleys of the old town were inviting for a chai or one of the numerous characteristic sweets. I wandered the alleys over midnight, time when most of the businesses close.
By pure coincidence we entered Bosnia on July 11, the anniversary of the massacre in Srebenica. We did not know about it but the news in TV was all about the events happening in the village. We spoke with people who again reiterated the fact that the massacre happened under the eyes of the European forces stationed in Bosnia to preserve the peace. Srebenica will always remain a shame on the consciousness of Europe. A memento of the European impotency
When you walk into Mostar you feel like in a different world. Pebbled narrow streets wind through the stalls that sells everything, a typical middle eastern bazaar. Mostar’s name comes from the people that were guarding Stari Most, the famous bridge over Neretva, the river that crosses the city. When you enter the city you get on this bridge relatively soon. It was destroyed by the Yugoslav Army but reconstructed with an amazing determination in the exact the same style but with different materials. At the entrance to the bridge is a excellent exhibit from War Photo Limited by the photographer Goddard from New Zealand who was living in Mostar during the siege. The images are shocking.After the bridge you are delving deep into the bazaar that winds on the sides of the river. Mosques abound, together with shelled buildings reminders of the fratricide war.
Medjugorje is a place of miracles. A number of children saw on top of the hill the apparition of Virgin Mary in 1981 in full fledged communism in Yugoslavia. Since then some still receive messages from the saint. The site was never sanctio9ned by the Catholic Church that is very reluctant with these phenomenons. After a stern opposition the Vatican formed in 2010 a commission to investigate thoroughly. Meanwhile the place became one of the most visited places for pilgrimage, being considered now the third Christina pilgrimage place in the world.