Sarajevo was, in a way, perfect for my obsession – pursued in this blog, of trying to find bigger stories in the ground’s surfaces. In many of the town’s different quarters, the pavement corresponds so well to their architecture that I almost didn’t need to look up in order to get their general style and feel.
For example, in the Old Town, just like the Baščaršija’s small, Ottoman-style shops suddenly got replaced by the grander and more majestic Austro-Hungarian houses dating to the beginning of the 20th century, so did the pavement – a sharp line divided the market area’s large uneven stones, shined slippery from the billions of feet that walked upon them since the 16th century, and the orderly, uniform and rougher tiles – neatly aligned at 90-degree angles, that lined the streets of the Old Town’s literally and figuratively western part.
Another, though not intentional, marking of the pavements told the story of a more recent chapter of Sarajevo’s history – the siege on the city that lasted between April 5, 1992 and February 29, 1996. That is 44 months, or 1,335 days.
In that time, an average of around 329 mortar shell impacts hit Sarajevo every day, though their numbers could – and did, reach into the thousands, with the most shells (3,777) fired on the city on July 22, 1993.
The spot in the ground where the mortar shell hit bears a scar with an almost floral pattern. It could easily be mistaken for an irregularity in the pavement, but once I knew to look out for them, these scars – now bitterly known as Sarajevo Roses, were all over the city, serving as a constant reminder of what was happening there less than 15 years ago.
Although it is of course impossible to imagine in any meaningful way the daily horror of living under siege for nearly four years, the locations of many of the Sarajevo Roses are enough to suggest the extent to which regular people’s existence was disrupted and their lives threatened on a daily and hourly basis – there are mortar shell marks on the city’s main pedestrian street, on the little square in front of a church, by an open-air market and a children’s playground near a park.
This was no abstract war fought by soldiers somewhere far away in the hills.
Since the end of the siege, I was told, some of the Sarajevo Roses have been filled in and erased as part of the post-war renovations of the city. Many people, however, are fighting to preserve them as a memory of what happened and a memorial to those who died. Some have been left as they were originally, with splattered marks indented in the pavement, while others have been filled in with a red resin. I heard that this was done to mark a place where people lost their lives. I’m not sure if that was always the case, but I caught myself breathing a sign of relief every time a saw a mark with no resin in it. It was also somehow comforting to see the red of the resin has started to fade with time.