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New Europe

Day Fifteen: Sarajevo

The Kolar tunnel 
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Inside a restored section of the tunnel. An average of 4,000 people used it each day for over two years.
Michael Palin - New EuropeAt the back of the Kolar house is a scene of rural serenity. Rows of beans, spring onions and potatoes, groves of walnut trees and apple orchards grow where the tunnel used to run. Beyond them, almost up against the perimeter fence, I can see a woman in a headscarf, tilling the soil by hand whilst behind her a red airport radar scanner circles the skies. She doesn't look up as one of the only two flights of the morning roars up and away from Sarajevo.

Only about 100 feet of tunnel remains, but small parties of tourists are constantly calling. There are hardly any visitors from Bosnia.

'They don't want to remember', says Edis. 'But they always will.'

Anywhere with a Hapsburg and Ottoman pedigree will have its fair share of cafés but in central Sarajevo you are never more than 20 yards away from a cup of coffee. Nor do you have to go far to find delightful buildings, like the restful, soothing, wood-scented, sensitively restored Serbian Orthodox church in Mula Mustafa Baseskija. Despite being Serbian it was the first church to be shelled, and once the Serbs retreated it was the first to be rebuilt. In the Turkish quarter there are stone-built minarets and domes which remind me how graceful Islamic architecture can be. In narrow Saraci Street near the old Turkish market eight elegant stone chimneys with conical lead coverings rise above an old library.

Just outside the Old Town the streets open onto a wide esplanade, built by the Austrians and lining either side of the Miljacka River. The flow moves sluggishly through, its thin stream dribbling over a series of low weirs, in each of which a bobbing jetsam of plastic bottles and beer cans collects, turning and tumbling ceaselessly.

Beside a bridge above this modest stream is, both literally and figuratively, one of the great turning points of history. On an easily missed stone plaque set low in an anonymous wall are the words (in Bosnian and English) 'From this place on 28th June 1914 Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia.' Had Franz Ferdinand's coach not stopped here that day and presented Princip with a sitting target, because of the coachman's confusion as to whether to turn into the town or continue along the embankment, the First World War might never have begun. Well, might never have begun just here.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Fifteen: Sarajevo
  • Country/sea: Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Place: Sarajevo
  • Book page no: 41

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