Tunnel of Hope/Tunel Spasa
“The Place That Ended the 20th Century”
Many guided tours in Sarajevo include the Tunnel of Hope and this has become one of the most visited sights of the Bosnian capital. People can go on their own too (www.tunelspasa.com ), but I’d recommend a guided tour, which lasts about 3 hours. We did the Tunnel of Salvation Tour, offered by the Visitors’ Center every day at 2pm, and paid 20KM each (a little over US$ 11) for the driver and guide, and 10 KM each (around US$5.50) to enter the museum. The driver was pretty good—a little dogmatic about some events and their interpretation, but I’m sure that, given the circumstances he was talking about, it was understandable.
Rod chats to the guide outside the Tunnel Museum
The museum is open to visitors every working day from 9am to 4pm.
Map of the Siege of Sarajevo
Background to the Siege of Sarajevo
Bosnia-Herzegovina was a very diverse country in the Balkans in the former Yugoslavia, populated mainly by Muslim Bosniaks (ca 43%), Serbs (31%) and Croats (17%). Yugoslavia began to fall apart when individual countries wanted independence, starting with Slovenia in June 1991. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s president began to pursue independence too in fall 1991 and most Croats and Bosniaks supported the move. However the Bosnian Serbs resisted it and decided to create their own state, with Radovan Karadzic as president. Horrifying and terrible ethnic cleansing began and Bosnia-Herzegovina was torn apart. A supreme example was Srebrenica (previous post https://easterneuropetrip.wordpress.com/2017/11/03/sarajevo-srebrenica-exhibition/ ). The three population groups turned on each other and a bloody civil war raged for years.
The types of fences around the airport the Sarajevans had to contend with
Shell damage on walls of current Tunnel Museum
Map showing blockade of Sarajevo
The capital of Sarajevo (still inhabited by a united community of Sarajevans—rather than calling themselves Bosniaks, Croats or Serbs) was surrounded by Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb army in April 1992, and the siege continued for almost four years (April 5, 1992-February 29, 1996), with 11,541 people killed, of whom 1,601 were children. There was a complete communication, military and economic blockade. People were unable to get in and out of the city, and daily shellings and shootings by snipers occurred. Basic supplies like food and fuel began to run very low and weapons were needed to defend the city.
Model of airport. The white line at the back is where the tunnel ran
Kit for the tunnel diggers
Siege leads to the Tunnel
So, in 1993 the city government began to dig its own lifeline. Construction was under the supervision of the First Corps Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Skilled manpower, tools, and materials were limited so many volunteers were used, who dug the tunnel by hand, with shovels and picks, working 24-hours a day from both sides of the tunnel.
They took several months (March-June) to dig the nearly one-kilometer tunnel under the UN-controlled airport to link up two areas held by the city government: Sarajevo city and the free Bosnian territory on the other side of the runway. As the map shows, these two areas were joined by a narrow section, rather like an hour-glass. The airport runway ran right across this, and was way too dangerous for any Sarajevans to cross, with rings of barbed wire, sensor lights and other bright lights, plus soldiers with weapons (although many did try to cross).
Farmhouse where tunnel began—now the museum
Supplies coming through the tunnel
Photos in museum
The tunnel started in a farmhouse near the airport runway on the Sarajevo City side—the house of the Kolar family, now part of the War Tunnel Museum and a Memory for Peace—and ended in the garage of another house in a neighborhood on the other side of the runway. Both entrances were closely guarded at all times.
The tunnel was big enough for people to squeeze past each other at a stoop, and after some time it had wagons that ran on rails. This was the city’s only connection with the outside world during the siege, the only way to get out of Sarejevo and the only way to bring in food, war supplies and humanitarian aid. It also brought cigarettes, alcohol and petrol, and newspapers.
The guide explains items in the museum
Simple explosive devices used during the siege
End of the Siege
After almost four years of fighting and a mounting number of atrocities, including a bombing of innocent civilians in a market in Sarajevo, the international community finally acted. In late summer 1995, NATO began bombing Bosnian Serb positions, forcing them to end the siege and come to the negotiating table. The Dayton Peace Accord finally ended the wars of Yugoslavia.
The Tunnel Museum
After the war, the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum was built onto the private house whose cellar was the entrance to the Sarajevo Tunnel. The house and the land around the Tunnel’s entrance are owned by Bajro Kolar, a local man who runs the private museum. In a documentary about the Sarajevo War Tunnel, he explained why he turned his house into a war facility, saying “whatever we have, we gave for the defense and liberation of Sarajevo.” The main aim for the museum is for the tunnel to be a reminder of the history of the war and a hope that it will never be forgotten or need to be used again. This is a wartime tunnel turned into a museum. It’s a remnant of war, a tribute to desperation and ingenuity.
The Museum and Tunnel Today
At the museum our guide explained the Tunnel’s construction, role and use during the siege. We watched a short movie (about 20 minutes) about the war, which includes some original footage. We also saw archival materials (like a list of all combat means), war photographs, military equipment, flags, military uniforms, hand-made weapons, and some everyday items from the war. Some of the handmade weapons were made by Hazim Tahmiscija, a mechanical engineer, who could work with his right hand only.
The highlight probably is a short walk in a section of the tunnel. About 20 meters of the tunnel is open for visitors to walk through and it certainly does give a “feel” for what it must have been like walking through the whole length, especially if it were cold and damp and especially knowing that soldiers were all around close by.
Nath and Sonya in the tunnel
Rod in the tunnel
The guide also explains about the Sarajevo Roses.
Thousands of shells rained on Sarajevo during the Serbian siege, and UN forces registered an average of 330 impacts a day. On one particular day, July 22 1993, Sarajevo received 3,777 shells fired from the surrounding hills. Every single shell fired during the long siege left scars on the asphalt roads, pavements (sidewalks) or town buildings. Many of them wounded or killed one or more citizens in the besieged town, while explosions left marks in concrete, similar to flowers. On some locations in town those scars were painted with red resin and became known as Sarajevo roses due to the shape. These Sarajevo roses became the symbol and the memorial of those who were killed in besieged Sarajevo and of their heroic struggle, and the red color is a reminder of the blood of Sarajevo inhabitants shed while queuing for bread and water, of children playing carefree and all those who were only trying to survive in the town without an exit. About 100 Sarajevo roses were marked but many of them disappeared when buildings or roads were rebuilt or reconstructed.
View from one of the hills surrounding the city
The tour in general gives us a good idea of the awful conditions Sarajevans went through during one of the longest sieges in modern history. On the way to the Tunnel we drove along Sniper Alley (a main street in Sarajevo) and heard how Saravejans were targeted day and night from snipers from their hideouts.
At the end of the tour we drove up one of the hills overlooking the city for a panoramic view over the city. This was also one of the spots from which the city was shelled. There is also a Jewish Cemetery up there that we looked at briefly.
This is certainly a tour worth doing—informative, interesting and sobering at the same time.