Travels on the Run: Sarajevo

I’ve wanted to visit Sarajevo since it was part of Yugoslavia, after it had become the darling of the 1984 Winter Olympics. And here I am, going on a run through its historic, war-torn heart, awed by the bullet holes, caved-in roofs, and overgrown foliage that prevail even 20 years after the devastation of the Bosnian civil war (called the Homeland War here).

I run past the Monument to Murdered Children, which lists 1,500 names of kids killed during the horrific three-year siege. The mustard-hued Holiday Inn, built for the Olympics and then used by journalists during the war until it was bombed out, shines once again after a sparkling renovation—one small sign of hope.

This whole stretch along Sarajevo’s main boulevard was known as Sniper Alley, for the precision shooters tucked away in the surrounding high-rises poised to pick off civilians trying to go about their daily lives. Outside the Socialist-era, graffiti-spackled Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, tanks cluster in the yard, a relic of what was.

I cross over the Miljacka River looking for the infamous Romeo and Juliet Bridge, where two lovers—one Bosnian, one a Serb—tried to cross in a quest of freedom, but wound up dead. A pathway snakes along the river, shaded by rows of beautiful, age-old lime trees that were spared only because they were too close to the belligerent Serbian line to be cut for firewood.

I take in riverside fin-de-siècle architecture dating from the glory days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today haggard with post-war neglect. Ambling along, I admire the surrounding mountains, remarking on this city’s glorious setting, marred as it was by tragedy. As if to punctuate the thought, I come to the Latin Bridge—an elegant pedestrian span, though nothing special, really, if a certain Archduke Ferdinand II hadn’t ventured across it one afternoon in 1914. His assassination on this very spot officially sparked the start of World War I.

From here, I cross back over the river and wander through the Ottoman quarter, where people of all religions, bearing scarves and no scarves, mingle among mosques and churches and shops and restaurants, drink coffee and shop and socialize. And I know that despite the horrors bestowed on this city, Sarajevo has heart and courage and it will rebound. It already has—I can see it in the faces of the locals strolling the streets.

> Run Stats:

Mileage: 3.5 miles
Start and end: Gazi Husrev Bey Mosque in Sarajevo’s Old Town
Best time to go: June, when the lime trees are in full bloom

> The Route: 

  • Start at Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque on Đulagina.
  • Go north to Mula Mustafe Bašeskije and turn left; the street soon becomes Maršala Tita (at the Eternal Flame), taking you past the Monument to Murdered Children.
  • Veer left at Ali Pasha’s Mosque, continuing on Maršala Tita, which becomes Zmaja od Bosne, the city’s main drag.
  • When you see the Holiday Inn on your right, cross the street to the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Cut through the alleyway (Franje Rackog).
  • At the river, turn right to Most Ars Aevi, cross the bridge, and turn left, finding the path (Aleja Lipa) along the river.
  • At the next bridge, Most Suade I Olge (a.k.a. the Romeo and Juliet Bridge), the Aleja Lipa pathway ends. Proceed on Terezija, passing by the Olympic Complex.
  • Just beyond Hamze Hume bridge, find Obala Maka Dizdara pathway and continue onward. Pass by the beautiful Byzantine-style Academy of Fine Arts.
  • Cross Most Čobanja to Obala Kulina bana. Turn right.
  • Continuing to the Latin Bridge, you’ll see Aškenaška Synagogue across the river on your right.
  • Reenter Old Town via Zelenih beretki.

Barbara A. Noe is senior editor at National Geographic Travel Books.