Travels through History: Journeys in the former Yugoslavia – Sarajevo

This excerpt from the book about my travels in The Balkans

Now it was time for me to find the place where the first World War started on the street by the river. On their wedding anniversary, June 28th 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated by a member of the Black Guard group called Gavrilo Princip. That’s a stark fact I hope most people know. What is not well known is the absolute tragedy of errors that preceded this shooting. Princip was not a lone gunman. There were five other assassins in Sarajevo that day, but either they froze and were unable to carry out their attack or they were incompetent. In the latter category, so the story goes, was Nedeljko Cabrinovic. At 10:10 am, Franz Ferdinand’s car approached Cabrinovic where he was standing on the riverside road. Cabrinovic threw his bomb at the car. Sadly for Cabrinovic, and many other people, the bomb bounced off the folded-back convertible cover into the street. The bomb’s timed detonator caused it to explode under the next car in the procession leaving a 1-foot-diameter, 6-inch-deep crater in the road and wounding 16–20 people.

Cabrinovic swallowed a cyanide pill and jumped into the Miljacka river. This suicide attempt failed for two reasons. The first was that the cyanide only induced vomiting. The second was that the river was only 6-inches deep due to the dry summer. The police dragged Cabrinovic out of the river and he was promptly beaten by the crowd before being taken into custody. Franz Ferdinand carried on his way to the City Hall where he complained, perhaps not surprisingly, about the welcome he had received. Plans for the return journey were changed although the driver of Franz Ferdinand’s car forgot and followed the original route. When he was reminded of his wrong turning, he reversed the car, and this was when Princip fired two shots. He did not miss. If the driver had not been reminded and continued on his way, Princip would not have killed Franz Ferdinand and events might have been very different. As it was, Princip was prevented from shooting himself by a sharp-witted bystander and stood trial. Princip died of TB in 1918, roughly seven months before the chain of events he started came to an end.

Mostar – Triangular War memorial

If the visitor just sees the area around the Turkish bridge, they would find it difficult to believe there was ever a war in Mostar. To find this evidence the visitor should walk past the Karadozbeg Mosque and the Roznamendi Effendi Mosque to the Musala Bridge and look at the ruins of the Neretva Hotel. 80% of Mostar was destroyed during the Balkans War and the ruined buildings in the area of the hotel bear witness to this devastation. The Bosnian Muslim elements within Mostar and the Croats were allies against the Serbs and when the latter were defeated there was peace in the city for roughly a year, before fighting between Bosnians and Croats began with the front line being the street called Kralja Zvonimira.

Walking along this street, the visitor can see the bullet holes in some of the buildings, but otherwise the only evidence of a battle is the Ljubljanska Banka building on the corner. This monstrosity, with its triangular point jutting towards the river a few hundred yards away, is pockmarked with bullet holes that at least give the building some character and interest, which I hope preserves it for future generations to see and remember what happened here. Most war memorials are small and easily missed, but surely no one could miss this ugly, nine-storey, triangular shaped memorial?

Travels through History: Journeys in the former Yugoslavia – Bosnia-Herzegovina

This excerpt from the book about my travels in The Balkans

If the visitor just sees the area around the Turkish bridge, they would find it difficult to believe there was ever a war in Mostar. To find this evidence the visitor should walk past the Karadozbeg Mosque and the Roznamendi Effendi Mosque to the Musala Bridge and look at the ruins of the Neretva Hotel. 80% of Mostar was destroyed during the Balkans War and the ruined buildings in the area of the hotel bear witness to this devastation. The Bosnian Muslim elements within Mostar and the Croats were allies against the Serbs and when the latter were defeated there was peace in the city for roughly a year, before fighting between Bosnians and Croats began with the front line being the street called Kralja Zvonimira.

 

Travels through History: Journeys in the former Yugoslavia – Macedonia

This excerpt from the book about my travels in The Balkans

Five hundred yards further on things started to get interesting. I saw a large equestrian statue on top of an enormous plinth. Even though the official name of this statue is “Warrior on a Horse”, when it was raised the Greeks were upset because they believed the Macedonians were making an unfair claim on Macedonia being the birthplace of Alexander. A strongly worded note from Athens to Skopje outlined the reasons for the Greek displeasure. Underneath rider and horse, a co-ordinated display of leaping water caught my attention. The word fountain doesn’t come close to describing the choreography of the jets as they played in tune with the classical music emanating from loudspeakers attached to nearby lamp standards. The music was Johann Strauss waltzes and extracts from Wagnerian operas such as “Ride of the Valkyries”.

Trebinje Bridge

The second Ottoman bridge is in a Bosnian town called Trebinje close to Dubrovnik. This bridge is called the Arslanagic Bridge and was built in 1574, though it was moved to its current location, almost in the suburbs, in the 1970s. It has a unique double-backed structure and was built under the direction of Mehmed Paša Sokolović, who was also behind the Višegrad bridge. The Trebinje bridge only received its name in the 17th Century, from Arslan-aga a nobleman who fled Herceg Novi, in modern day Montenegro, after it fell to the Venetians, and set up a toll collection in the middle of the bridge.

Zlatna Ribica Cafe in Sarajevo, Bosnia

The cafe called Zlatna Ribica is on a small side street called Kaptol just off the main Marsala Tita avenue. Nothing can really prepare the visitor for the inside of this amazing cafe, which looks at first glance like a bric-a-brac shop that has branched out into catering. There is a large mirror on one wall of the outer area of the cafe, which has five smaller tables, with an inner area that has four larger tables. On the walls there are American medals, posters for French films, Spanish fans, saxophones and adverts for Nelson Mandela exhibitions. Lamps hang from the ceiling and are attached to various other surfaces; no two of the lampshades are the same. The music varies from jazz to disco versions of “Je ne regrette rien”. People are allowed to smoke inside so try and sit close to the door. Now, I probably won’t write this next recommendation again in my whole life – you must go to the toilet here and take your camera with you – as this two-part bathroom contains one smaller room for the toilet and another for the washbasin, which has a variety of toiletries on a shelf above it, that would shame some chemist’s shops (see accompanying image). There are toothbrushes, toothpastes, tubs of cream, hand cleaners, razors, and soaps. There are many multi-coloured towels. When you are back in the cafe, don’t forget to order a drink or two as it’s one of those rare places where it’s OK to discuss the variety of paraphernalia on the walls with the people around you.