Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope
Story and photos by Tom Weber
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
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 1.5m high by 1m 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.
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, hunched
over, 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 ourselves.
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Join me back on the motor coach tomorrow
at first light when our intrepid "band of merry media" heads
for Mostar to watch a few daredevil divers take a "leap of faith"
off the iconic Stari Most.
Vidimo se uskoro! (See you soon!)
Kup Runneth Over with Kafa; Sarajevo's
Storied Bridge to World War I; Dinner
in Sarajevo with Mrs. Safija; Bird's-Eye
Views from Sarajevo's Yellow Fortress; Surprising
Sarajevo Dinner in Grandma's Kitchen