Dark Tourism | Sarajevo, A Case Study

*I’ve been a bad blogger recently because I haven’t posted for a while. I blame studies! Anyway i’d much appreciate you check out this post because a fair amount of research when into it and i think it touches an interesting topic.

There has been debate between the media and travellers over the emergence of ‘dark tourism’, which is a tourist destination that is some way connected to death or disaster. This could range from Auschwitz to the Parisian catacombs to the 9/11 Memorial site. Generally, the destination is connected to a “dark chapter in history”. The debate stems from the ethics of visiting these places and the obsession with the macabre. In this article I will use Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, a destination I visited a couple of months ago as a case study. It is here I discovered the phenomenon of ‘dark tourism’ and came to question my own stance on the subject.

Sarajevo has been considered a dark tourist destination since 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. However, it is Bosnia & Herzegovina’s recent history; the war following the countries succession from Yugoslavia in the 1990’s that counts for most of Sarajevo’s tourism today. This is noticeable walking around the city as it is not long before you are confronted with a building still full of bullet holes or the ruins of a house. I didn’t visit any of the memorial museums because that is not to my taste. However, I still felt that the effects of the war were very fresh and visible in everyday life for the people of Sarajevo. After a couple of days in the city I began to realise that almost every place of interest was connected to the war. Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984 and so I made the journey to the abandoned bobsleigh course because I wanted to see something out of the city. It was an eerie experience, this was partly due to the weather and partly due to me being the only person there. Saying this, there was still an atmosphere of paranoia, that made me constantly turn my head around because I thought someone was walking behind me. I researched the site once I was back in my hotel and discovered that the track was used as artillery defence during the war. This hit home the reality of what happened historically there. It was once a celebration of sporting achievement and the coming together of nations through friendly competition. Now it has much darker associations.

I had to do some research into dark tourism. My initial view was that it was for tourists who found pleasure in seeing the destruction and misery that had happened to other places and people. However, I have come to realise that this is not the case at all. We are essentially all dark tourists; the umbrella term covers sites of huge historical significance such as the Berlin Wall, all the way down the spectrum to a War Museum. All these sites have in common is that they relate to death, destruction or dark history – either natural or man-made. The term can be adjusted to include just about anything. Dark tourism has received a bad reputation in the media. It is this idea of voyeurism that is the main reason. Tourists visiting these sites are seen as glamorising the disaster and getting pleasure out of the trauma of those effected. It could be compared to the ‘snuff video’ movement that you sometimes see on social media. While I am on the subject – social media also contributes to dark tourism’s bad reputation. Most recently there was controversy over people posting selfies at Holocaust memorial sites. It was this particular incident that made me aware of my own position on dark tourism. While I was in the city I came across a ‘Sarajevo Rose’, which is the remnants of a mortar explosion that has been filled with red resin, making it look floral in its appearance. A tourist brochure also told me it was “the most instagrammed picture of Sarajevo” – I was also guilty of this! Is there a moral stance of posting pictures from these sites on social media? Is it right that a mortar explosion is Sarajevo’s most popular photo, instead of its beautiful old town?

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After researching dark tourism and visiting a dark tourism site I have come to my own conclusions on the subject. I think that generally dark tourism is misunderstood. It is viewed as being consumed by a small portion of travellers, when in reality we are all involved in some way. I think it can be very educational. The Yugoslav wars happened during the first years of my life so I had next to no knowledge of that part of history. However, after visiting Bosnia I have become a lot more clued up on what happened; including the extraordinary stories of the people of Sarajevo and how they coped with the war. Dark tourism also shows that we can’t forget that these events happened, although that would be easier, it isn’t the right thing to do. Only by learning from the past can we stop these events happening again in the future.

 

Most of my research came from; http://www.dark-tourism.com/ so if you are interested in the subject then feel free to learn more!

 

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Think You’ve Seen Hipster? This Is Hipster | ‘Zlatna Ribica’, Sarajevo.

Sarajevo had already won me over with its hospitality, beauty and cosmopolitanism. I didn’t think it had any surprises left for me to discover. This is until I stumbled across Zlatna Ribica. A cosy coffee house/bar situated a couple of streets away from central Sarajevo. Its eccentricity and utter charm will make you want to spend the whole day there – continuously sipping coffees, beers or wines to your heart’s content while the world continues outside.

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Stepping through the doors I felt as if I had stepped back in time at least 50 years to some quaint Parisian café. The decorum screams vintage, with posters and trinkets dating back to sometime before this one. The place really gives me a feel for antique Bosnia. It is quiet. Only a few patrons sip from their cups in the corner so it is easy for me to find a seat. I occupy the one next to the goldfish, happily swimming in its bowl. The waitress does not need to hand me a menu because they hang above my head, on telephone chords. My menu takes the form of a children’s book about animals. You see milk isn’t thirsty kitty’s favourite drink, it is actually lemonade for 4KM. Different menus were written on playing cards and tarot decks and other quirky miscellany.

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At this point I didn’t even care of the coffee was bad (it was not by the way). It was just nice to escape into this little world for an hour. I wish I could take the place back home with me. It is this charm of Bosnia that I want to remember from my travels. Despite the countries struggles it still has a beautiful integrity and culture that I think should be shared with more people.

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You Are Lost, But You Know Who To Ask For Directions.

(A fictional travel piece based off a non-fiction place. A real place you would say. A place that actually exists. Sarajevo’s Contemporary Art Gallery.)

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“If you are looking for Hell, then ask the artist where it is. If you can’t find the artist, then you are already in Hell”
– Avigdor Pawnser

It is your last day in the country. You have visited every museum, café and restaurant. You are now stumbling around the old city looking to find something to do. To kill those final few minutes.

You cross the square, mothers shout at crying children while the father looks onwards at nothing in particular. Students are comparing notebooks. Ideas and drafts that will probably not equate to anything. An old woman sits by the fountain scratching the few whiskers on her chin. She sits alone. You are also alone. A light rain starts to pour from the sky and you take refuge in a nearby building. It is not an inviting building by any means. Plaster peels off the walls and one of the windows has been bordered up. The sign tells you that it is an Art Exhibit. You pay the small commission to allow your admittance.

The walls are decorated with cardboard, not tiles. The number of art pieces is lacking compared to the other exhibits you walked around with your lover in olden, happier days. You walk past the murals of Yugoslavic sieges and Eastern European famine. Guns, then hungry children, then mortar explosions, then prisoner of war poetry, consecutively. Sculptured skulls lay scattered across the floor. A man hangs from the ceiling by this throat, clutching a baby doll. Edgy. Artistic. You think to yourself. The gallery attendants leave for coffee so you saunter upstairs to the rest of the exhibit. There are hundreds of empty seats. You are not knowledgeable when it comes to the Contemporary art scene so you are unsure whether you can sit or not. You are so very tired. You sit on one of the seats since the gallery attendants have gone for coffee. It is quiet now and you are the only one here. In the corner a television only plays static. You swear that for a moment, brief, that a face appeared on that screen. You watch for a few minutes until your eyes hurt, desperately trying to catch another glimpse. Static. That’s all. Your mind must have been playing tricks on you.

You go to the gift shop. A book catches your eye and you flick through the pages. It is a book. It is a book about you. Your birth. A nurse is about to spank you while a doctor holds your mother. There is a photo of you crying on your first day of school. The other children were mean to you. There is a photo of you on the plane here, two empty seats either side of you. You are reading that novel. You should make more time for reading. The last page shows an empty hospital bed. There are no flowers or ‘get well soon’ cards. The sheets look stained and dirty. You put the book down and step back into the square. The one with the fountain. The old woman is still there. You are unsure how long you were looking at the art. You are still so tired. You would like to fall asleep and awake when everything is ok again. It is not long until your plane leaves. You should get to the airport early and check in your luggage. You brought no luggage. You walk up to the fountain and stare at the cool, inviting water. You want to drink the water but the old woman shakes her head. You did not find yourself here. So you must go to the next place. Maybe there. Maybe

“Where is the good life for all of us? You ask yourself”
“Child”. Says the woman
“Such a thing does not exist”.

 

Trekking to Trebinje | A Hidden Adriatic Adventure.

Dubrovnik is definitely one of the largest jewels in the crown that is the Adriatic coast. The Old Town, which is drenched in history is a tourist’s heaven and the beaches, which offer complete relaxation, are a sun seeker’s dream. There is no wonder that it is the choice for thousands of visitors each year. However, If you want to escape from the many crowds of tourists from all over the world who pile into Dubrovnik from the cruise ships throughout the peak season, I have a suggestion for you. It’s better than being squashed up against the castle walls in the Old Town that’s for sure!

I’ve never been one for staying in the same place for too long, especially when it comes to travel. After spending a few days basking in the Adriatic delights of Dubrovnik I felt like I had experienced the city. I wanted to see where else I could visit. There are plenty of places near Dubrovnik that are easily accessible to travellers but I wanted to go somewhere off the beaten track. After some research and miles of walking around trying different car rental places – Tip: don’t leave it too late to rent a car! [1] I had decided that I was going to cross the border into neighbouring Bosnia just 12km from the city of Dubrovnik. Eager to start exploring I got into my car and drove up the winding roads, you had better watch out if you have vertigo because the roads just keep getting higher and higher. You are rewarded with a magnificent view of Dubrovnik so it was worth it even though my heart was in my stomach the whole trip! Bosnia was now just around the corner.

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As soon as I managed to pass the border guards (trouble free!) [2] I was able to continue my adventure. Instantly tour buses full of tourists, soft white beaches and sparkling seas disappear and I was greeted with towering mountainous landscapes as far as you could see and vineyards full of people harvesting in the beating sun. It’s hard to imagine how much things can change after travelling for just a few miles. Eventually I stopped the car in Trebinje the first town that I encountered. Approximately 30 minutes after I set off from Dubrovnik.

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After parking I managed to find a small market square. I was hit with an array of smells; fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses are spread out and a handful of people were trying to get me to buy their products. One woman told me how she made the cheese from her goat this morning. Next to her was another woman selling little fridge magnets with ‘Trebinje’ written on them, as well as over souvenirs. I wonder how many people have those in their kitchen back home in the UK. I wonder how many customers she gets a day because as far as I could tell we were the only visitors there. I continued to walk around the town deciding that I liked the place even more after getting a large beer for the equivalent of £0.70p. I realised that I needed to exchange my money because Croatia and Bosnia have different currencies, there are places in the Old Town that change to Bosnian Marka. However I did it at one of the banks in the market square. Now my Bosnian isn’t very good and the bankers English wasn’t very good either but we managed to communicate. I exchanged 200 Kuna which was more than plenty, by the end of the day I was practically giving it away.

After I had exhausted the market square I wondered around the outskirts of the town. Old churches are dotted everywhere rich with history. I crossed over a bridge which stands above the River Trebisnjica. The mountains still dominate the landscape making you feel pretty small in comparison. The deep blue of the river sparkles in the August sun and the lily pads lazily glide across the water. It’s a place you could stay all day, the tranquillity is what sells to me. I many ways it’s a misanthrope’s heaven as there are hardly any people except local Bosnian’s just going about their daily business.

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Walking in the sun had driven me to hunger so I made my way back to the market and stocked up with a wheel of goat’s cheese and bread from the woman whose stall I was looking at earlier – I would definitely recommend, her goat makes great cheese! There was a park in the centre of the town to enjoy my lunch. I found a spot next to a gleaming white church, which was surrounded by gardens and a pond. I sat there eating away on the grass with the sun beating down on me. Instead of people running around the place posing for photos there was families carrying their shopping chatting away to each other probably about what they were going to have their tea that evening. I continued to lay completely relaxed on the grass in my own little slice of paradise. Not a word of English heard or a tourist in sight.

 

 [1] When looking for car rental places make sure you do research beforehand to avoid dodgy dealers. Make sure you have all the correct documents with you in the vehicle. A Green card is required for road travel (this is especially important if you want to cross borders as the police will sometimes do checks just before you reach the Bosnian-Croatian border.)

[2] Make sure you are up to date on Visa information. UK nationals do not need a visa to enter Bosnia & Herzegovina for a total period of no longer than 90 days. (This will be different for other nationals – check with your government’s travel advice websites). Make sure you get your passport stamped upon entry to Bosnia as you may be fined when leaving the country if you don’t.