From their perches atop high-rise buildings that overlooked “Sniper Alley,” sharpshooters of the Army of Republika Srpska took deadly aim at anything that moved down below during the nearly four-year Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s.
Today, I’m part of an 18-person contingent of travel writers and photographers seated inside a sleek, comfortable Insight Vacations‘ (Insight) motor coach that’s rolling down that same infamous thoroughfare as we cut across the capital city of Bosnia. The only difference, we’re doing the shooting, with our cameras, as we zoom in on occupied buildings still riddled by rifle and mortar fire that stand as stark reminders of what life was like along Sarajevo’s Ulica Zmaja od Bosne (Dragon of Bosnia Street).
We’re just passing through, sans white flags and flak jackets, making our way to see firsthand the remains of a man-made, underground passageway that singlehandedly saved Sarajevo from total annihilation during the Bosnian War: The Tunnel of Hope. It’s the latest stop on our weeklong journey around Bosnia and the Dalmatian Riviera with Insight.
Located in the suburb of Butmir, the Tunnel of Hope Museum, butted up against Sarajevo International Airport on the grounds of the modest, bullet-scarred home of the Kolar family, is dedicated to the memory of “the place that ended the 20th century.” Just outside the embattled area, the Kolar home was used as one of the tunnel’s two entry/exit points.
“Everything came through this tunnel: food, electricity, telephone lines, fuel, military equipment, medicines and the wounded,” comments Dino, Insight’s Sarajevo expert. “Without the tunnel,” Dino adds, “Sarajevo would not have survived.”
Dug by pickaxes and shovels, the Tunnel of Hope — codenamed “Objekt BD” for the entry/exit points at Butmir and Dobrinja — took six months to secretly construct and became the only connection embattled Sarajevo had with the outside world.
The 800-meter-long stretch, painstakingly carved out from underneath the then United Nations-controlled runway, is a claustrophobic 1.5 m high by 1 m wide corridor and was the only safe land route in and out of the city during the Siege.
One of the most frequently visited museums in and around the Bosnian capital, the Tunnel of Hope complex is a living history lesson of Sarajevo’s recent past.
Draped with oversized maps detailing the war zone, the Spartan-like complex showcases military uniforms, weapons, humanitarian aid, hand tools used during the excavation, and several screening rooms to view an 18-minute highlight reel of television news and documentary footage of the Siege and the construction of the tunnel.
Not to be overlooked is a lone Sarajevo rose, a floral arrangement-like concrete scar caused by an enemy mortar shell’s explosion that was later filled with red resin.
But the most important exhibit of the museum is the tunnel itself, or at least what’s left of the original 800-meter-long passageway.
Visitors up to the task can step down and walk carefully through the remaining 20 meters of the tunnel.
Now, if you promise to watch your head, let’s go down and have a look.
For complete information on Insight’s premium and luxury-escorted itineraries, including 113 journeys across Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
Join me back on the motor coach tomorrow at first light when our intrepid “band of merry media” goes in search of daredevil divers in Mostar, and takes an informative stroll through Emperor Diocletian’s massive seaside palace in Split.
Vidimo se uskoro! (See you soon!)
©The Palladian Traveler