Landmarks Crumbling, Skyscrapers Climbing in Sarajevo

A man carries his bag into the train station, built during the socialist era, and now in the shadow of the Avaz Tower designed by architect Faruk Kapidzic for Bosnian media mogul and former Bosnian nationalist presidential candidate Fahrudin Radoncic, in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina on October 17, 2014.

Supported by a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant, I’ve been exploring Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital that was besieged during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. It took nearly four years to end the violence, a feat that was achieved through a power sharing agreement between Bosnia’s ethnic groups know as the Dayton Peace Accord. As we approach the 20th anniversary of Dayton, I’m learning how ethnic divides have affected the reconstruction of the city, as residents try to shape a new multicultural Bosnia. (Read all posts in this series.)

The Avaz Twist Tower, owned by business tycoon and politician Fahrudin Radoncic, is the tallest building in Sarajevo. It stands in stark contrast to the adjacent Central Railway Station (left), which was built during the Socialist era. (Photo by Amanda Rivkin)

In Sarajevo, there was a concentrated push to repair important landmarks in the aftermath of the Bosnian War, spearheaded by the international community. Indeed, much has been restored, including the iconic National Library, whose E.U.-backed restoration produced a dazzling new building that opened in the summer of 2014.

Still, other properties are caught up in Bosnia’s ethnic politicking, with a mess of competing land claims preventing rebuilding. One camp argues that the state and defense property formerly owned by the Yugoslav government should be passed on to the Bosnian national government. Yet politicians within both the Federation and the Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s two sub-national entities, have claimed properties within their borders as their own. While they argue, historical landmarks are literally crumbling.

I took a drive up to see the Jajce Barracks, an Austro-Hungarian military camp overlooking Sarajevo, which now resembles a cataclysmic disaster out of a Hollywood movie. The building was abandoned after the war, and the roof in a number of rooms has now caved in, creating unintentional skylights. The floor —> Read More