advertisement

No one was more surprised when Sarajevo won the right to host the 1984 Olympics than the Yugoslav people. After all, no Winter Olympic Games had ever been held in a socialist country and Yugoslavia was immersed in both an economic and political state of disarray following the death of Josip Brod Tito. Being awarded the Olympics meant that the Yugoslav government started to invest in expanding and restoring the historic city of Sarajevo, which was a combination of Austro-Hungarian grand imperial buildings and Ottoman-inspired minarets and mosques in the original Turkish part of town. In the 1980s, tourism in Sarajevo was minimal with few westerners venturing to the central Yugoslavian province of Bosnia, except for small numbers of neighboring Europeans.

Prices were low, especially for food and accommodation. Music was a very big part of the city's identity and it was a place where young people from across the country would go to hang out and listen to local bands. Many of Sarajevo's half million citizens had contributed a small percentage of their meager salary to construct Olympic venues. The best and newest hotel in town was the Holiday Inn, specially constructed for the Games. Although it was yet to surface on a grand scale, ethnic tension was mounting and the stage was already being set for the massive violent conflicts of the 1990s.

Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina Now

Many of Sarajevo's Olympic memories are just that -- memories. When Serbian forces left the region in the 1990s they managed to blow up most of the Olympic facilities and several of the hotels. Today, Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina and most of the city had been rebuilt or repaired, with only a few visible reminders of nearly a decade of unrest and warfare. Alongside traditional Moorish style architecture, you find modern office buildings and skyscrapers that have been constructed throughout the city. Tourism is still small in Sarajevo, apart from adventurous backpackers who enjoy the city's historic and cultural diversity despite its war-torn reputation. Today, historic cobblestone streets are lined with cafes full of locals, buildings are freshly painted and flowers adorn the sidewalks. Small blobs of red wax called "Sarajevo roses" mark the spots where people were killed during the war and patches of paint mark shrapnel and bullet holes on building facades. The city is still a unique blend of Eastern and Western architectural styles and religious buildings -- from mosques to synagogues, Orthodox churches to Roman Catholic cathedrals.

Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Bosnia Message Boards.