First of all, thank you for being patient! I started classes at Georgetown on Wednesday and arrived back in the US on Tuesday night, so it’s been a very quick adjustment with only a little time to edit photos and write these posts (I LOVE my classes, though!)
Today, I’m going to take you on a walk through two national museums. The first is Sarajevo itself, which is a preserved testament to its most recent history. The second is the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which opened about two and a half years ago after being closed due to funding issues. This museum celebrates the ancient history of Bosnia, with no mention beyond WWI. This post will be picture-heavy, but also more information-heavy, as I’ll try to explain everything that you’re seeing – and my thoughts behind it.
I tried to go the museum twice- the first time it was closed for the day, but the second time was on Eid and it was open. Instead of going the first time, I just walked through Sarajevo!
This is the Holiday Inn where the journalists and diplomats stayed. In the background are the two major office towers in the city. I’ve tried to add photos of the siege for you for comparison.
You walk past the Holiday Inn and those towers, and you pass apartment buildings, offices, old schools, and renovated buildings. Sarajevo is divided into a few municipalities, including Old Town, City Center, and New Sarajevo. Here we’re in City Center, before the border of New Sarajevo.
This road particularly is called Sniper’s Alley because it was prone to sniper attacks. There are tons of memorials along the road remembering those who died. The farther you get to either side of the main street in Sarajevo, and the farther you go outside of City Center and Old Town, the renovations become fewer and farther between and the visible scars become more frequent.
And, just like any city, there are beautiful moments of pathways, in this case along the Miljacka umbrella-ed by soft green leaves just transitioning into fall.
People take a break and think along the river on benches stationed there for the purpose.
It had been raining here for a few days, swelling the Miljacka to a heaving brown.
This is a beautiful memorial along one of the bridges that translates roughly to “…the stroke of my blood is coming and the Bosna does not dry.” Suada Dilberovic and Olga Sucic were the first two victims of the Siege of Sarajevo in 1992. Across the same bridge in 1993, Admira Ismic and Bosko Brkic, a Bosnian Serb and a Bosniak, were sniped. Known as the “Romeo and Juliet of Sarajevo”, Admira and Bosko, both 25 years old, decided to run and escape together. They were shot by snipers – Bosko died immediately, and Admira, fatally wounded, crawled to Bosko and held him as she died, too. Because one was Bosnian Serb and the other Bosnian Muslim, neither party could decide who was going to retrieve the bodies. Admira and Bosko’s bodies lay in the heat for a week before they were retrieved.
This hangs on the same bridge. It is in Italian and reads:
“Dear Moreno, our blood has entered the cracks of this story. You arrived in this suffering humanity and you left blessed and now from your martyrdom stories are born, new stories that are conciliated in peace…to the ends of the world.”
In the background of this photo, you can see the scars still covering the apartment building.
But as you walk down the pathway, you also encounter scenes that are so normal. This could be my local carcare center in Monroe, NC.
But then you have completely destroyed buildings that are not so normal.
The next day, I was actually able to get into the Museum. The ceiling is beautiful and, amazingly, preserved. A bit about the building in the war, before we get to its holdings. The building itself was not completely destroyed, but since it was on the front lines, it was constantly bombarded by small fire and shells. Between April 1992 and March 1993, the area around it sustained hits from 300 mortar shells, 40 of which directly hit the museum buildings. It also had at least 5 direct hits from tank shells during this time. On December 13, 1993, the museum’s director was killed by a shell blast on his way to a meeting to obtain plastic sheeting.
Some of the most precious artifacts that were small and transportable, notably the Sarajevo Haggadah (which you will see below), were moved to the vaults of the National Bank. Smaller items were brought to basement depots, larger holds were just moved to safer interior rooms, and some fragile collections were just left in their places, because it was riskier to move them in the first place. With roofs and windows blown out, staff would rig sheeting across the breaks, as well as covering display cases with plastic sheeting as well to protect, as much as possible, from the outside elements.
Now we get to some of the holdings! I think it is incredibly important to celebrate the history of Bosnia that existed prior to what we know in the 1990s.
This is a mosaic from the 3rd century, when the area was Illyricum under Roman jurisdiction.
This grand main room towers with yellow columns and ancient stone artifacts.
These are real milestones! One of the biggest contributions the Romans made were the roadways they constructed, some routes which are still used today. When people tell you something like, “you’ve hit a milestone!” metaphorically, it comes from the very real mile stones that were erected by the Romans as guideposts on their roads.
More about the Roman period from the museum itself: “Learning from their experience of warfare against the Illyrians and Pannonians, the Romans set up a solidly-based military and civilian administration in the newly-created province of Dalmatia. Each military district, which might include a number of the indigenous tribes, was headed by a Roman prefect. At first one of the tasks of the civilian authority in organizing the political structure of Dalmatia was to retain the pre-Roman tribal institutions, headed by a preceps and prepositus or tribal leader and headman. Some of these soon acquired Roman citizenship, becoming intermediaries in the Romanization of the local population, whose firmly-rooted tradition left a visible mark on their material and spiritual culture, particularly in the retention of local cults, customs, names and costume.”
These are various Roman gravestones.
I absolutely loved this. For so many reasons that I don’t have time or space to write here… but the humble origins of most humans speaks, I think, to the very best parts of our humanity. Jewels and wealth often bring us farther and farther away from who we really are.
This is ancient glassware. I stared at this thinking of how many wineglasses I have broken in the past six months alone. More than my incredulity that they are still intact is my incredulity that the various hands that must have touched them in the past millennia did not break them.
This was a rather ingenious means of curation I have not seen before. There were plastic pieces completing the missing pieces of larger stone works, engraved with the missing artwork.
Something else I learned at the museum that somehow I had never learned- the top of a column, whether Ionic, Doric, or Corinthian, is called a capital! I had no idea that when we say “capital”, it’s derivative of the top portion of a column!
look at the intricacy of those bas reliefs!
An incredible collection that, through the most impossible odds history threw at it, survived. The study of cultural heritage is important to me, has always been something I cherish. To imagine this room, bombarded, covered in plastic, to reemerge to teach me, so many years later… time.
It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from my favorite book, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: “It was an awe-inspiring and humbling thought…that the whole of contemporary history, the World Wars, the War of Dreams, the Man on the Moon, science, literature, philosophy, the pursuit of knowledge-was no more than a blink of the Earth Woman’s eye. ‘And we, my dears, everything we are and ever will be are just a twinkle in her eye,’ Chacko said grandly, lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling.”
I climbed upstairs to see Bosnian history advance a few hundred years, into the medieval period after the Romans.
Here you see some Glagolitic script! Explained here in more depth, it indicates the importance of literacy in this area of the world throughout its history.
From the museum: “The country’s geographical location between two great cultural spheres, East and West, largely dictated the cultural nature of medieval Bosnia. The nexus of contacts and clashes, the mingling and weakening of Western and Eastern trends, and the still vibrant old Slavic cultural heritage, led to the formation of new and original cultural features. The features and influences of East and West in medieval Bosnia are clear and well-known. The original Bosnian features of this social process are, politically, its status as an independent state; in religion, the Bosnian church; in literacy, the Bosnian Cyrillic script and in the arts, the art of the stecak, miniature painting and local goldsmith’s work. In museum terms, the scope of a culture can be displayed only for those branches of which material evidence has survived. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, this means that the culture of the written word, architecture and sculpture can be illustrated rather more fully than others. The culture of the written word is one of the most significant features of the history of every society, and the best indicator of general culture, as well as forming a record of all the cultural influences to which it has been exposed. Surviving remains of the written word are to be found in the codices of the Bosnian Church, in legal records, and on epigraphic monuments. Some of the surviving codices of the Bosnian Christians are true works of art of calligraphy and illumination, among them Hval’s Miscellany and the Venetian Compendum, dating from the early 15th century. Four different alphabets were in use in medieval Bosnia and Hum: Greek, Latin, Glagolitic, and Cyrillic. Of these, only Cyrillic, Glagolitic, and Latin can be displayed here.”
Here we have some ancient cannon.
Some primitive firepower- arquebuses from the 15th century.
Here we have some swords.
Here we have some more elaborate (post-Roman) capitals!
From the museum: “The few surviving monuments of religious architecture of this period that have been investigated to date, in Vruci, Vidostak, Zavala, Panik, and Crnac, reveal the influence of two artistic circles, the pre-Romanesque and the Byzantine, which met and cross-fertilized each other in this part of the world. This duality is reflected both in their architectural and decorative elements and in the choice of the patron saint to whom the inscriptions or historical sources indicate they were dedicated.”
Ok. So next, I saw the Sarajevo Haggadah, something I have wanted to see for years and something I never thought I would be able to see. A short rundown: a haggadah is the book that Jewish families take turns reading as they commemorate Passover. “Haggadah” comes from the Hebrew root HGD, which means “to tell”- which mirrors the purpose of Passover, which is to tell the story of the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt (The Exodus). Haggadot (plural of haggadah) are not considered holy texts, but rather instructional materials. Because of this, they developed over time into beautiful works of art! One of the most beautiful is the Sarajevo Haggadah, which was made in Barcelona in the Middle Ages, in approximately 1350. In 1492, during the Inquisition, it left Spain, showing up in Italy in the 1600s (*I highly suggest taking a moment to reacquaint yourself with the year 1492 – not only was it the year that Columbus ran into America, but it was also the year of a brutal expulsion of Jews from Spain. Queen Isabella was not exactly admirable…). In 1894 it was sold to the National Museum of Sarajevo by Joseph Kohen. During WWII, when Bosnia saw pretty devastating conflict, the Muslim National Museum librarian, Dervis Korkut, hid the manuscript in a mosque in the countryside to protect it from the Nazis. As noted above, in the 1990s, it was moved to the vaults of the National Bank, where it survived the war.
The Sarajevo Haggadah is 142 pages of calfskin vellum (ask me later about the types of paper you can see throughout history – they include papaya leaves!). It’s 6.5 in x 9 in, but that’s not its original size. In the 1890s in Vienna, an Austro-Hungarian official ripped off the original binding and cropped the pages to fit a new cardboard cover. This Haggadah has three parts- the first part has 69 illuminated manuscripts showing Biblical events. The second part is the text that is read over Passover. The third part is poetry by Middle Age Jewish poets.
The room and restoration has been financed by various organizations and is a project of the UN. Outside the room you can scroll through scans of the entire thing on a computer, which I spent quite a while doing.
And… *bates breath* HERE IT IS. **Deep sighs**
If you want to know more about libricide or the destruction of cultural heritage, read here.
When you leave that building, you get to the Botanical Gardens, which is a beautiful natural space holding most species of flora from Bosnia. You can walk through and read the plaques to see what is what, and watch your feet- I almost stepped on a turtle!
This building is home to a library, which you can get permission to use for research.
This was at the entrance of the ethnography museum, and it was really interesting to me. The plaque beside it reads:
This granite plate is one of the stone tram plates that were exposed to the atomic bomb explosion over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 am. Stone slabs were used for the pavement of public roads for the tram network, which served as the main means of transportation for the citizens of Hiroshima. This stone witnesses the horrific nuclear explosion that killed hundreds of thousands of citizens in one of the worst tragedies in human history. With our sincere hope of a new world order, the image of the goddess Kannon – a character for eternal peace, is engraved on a total of 188 stone slabs that came under the tram tracks of the Aioi Bridge, some 200 meters north of the site of the explosion. Taught by the experience of the accident that we suffered and the feeling of guilt that we feel towards other nations affected by another holy war, we through the constitution advised that we will never again make aggression against foreign countries. We want to give these plates to the peoples of the world, hoping that the entirety of humanity will share our wish for a world without war, with this sign of remembering the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which is also a reminder of the importance of peace.”
This was bequeathed on August 6, 1991, before the conflict began.
There is also a garden of stecci in the courtyard, as well as out front. As you can see, they take many forms!
Some are exceedingly intricate.
You can see the damage on these, directly in front of the museum.
Here you can see these ancient monuments to the dead on display, but right behind them is a stone monument to those that died in the 1990s. I think the choice of memorialization of death and life is a very intriguing concept. I also think that the symbolism here is very important.
In the ethnographic portion of the museum, they had an astounding display on memorialization and death, an extension of the work of Amila Buturovic in her book Carved in Stone, Etched in Memory: Death, Tombstones and Commemoration in Bosnian Islam since c. 1500. I hadn’t known this display was going to be there, and I had checked that book out of Georgetown’s library weeks earlier! It was too complicated to explain and put pictures here, but if you want to hear about it- message me! I’d be happy to chat.
They also had some ancient Turkish rugs, the Arabic along the outside edges reading beautiful poetry.
Seeing the basics of weaving gives me a new appreciation of the time and effort that goes into work like that.
One portion of the museum I wasn’t allowed to take pictures in, but before I was told that I snapped these pictures of the Ottoman-era woodwork ceilings. Just look at that complexity!
That’s all for today! I know it was long- thank you for learning with me!