A visit to Sarajevo’s Tunnel of Life
This rather unprepossessing, pock-marked (i.e. bullet-riddled) house was Sarajevo’s lifeline during the 4 year siege in the mid-9os. I posted about that siege the last time I was here. Am here for the first ever Bosnian Langham Seminar (the preparations for which brought me here in February) and had an afternoon off yesterday to visit the Tunnel Museum. Road signs near by direct people to Tunel Spasa – the tunnel of hope or salvation. And it was well-named. For it kept a city of 1000s of people alive.
From the outside, it looks like many of the other buildings in this area – a narrow strip of land by Sarajevo airport which was held by the UN during siege (the main runway is beyond the end house’s garden fence in the right photo above).
The city was completely surrounded by Serb forces apart from the airport – an area that cut the city off from the Bosnian forces up in the mountains (as this map below shows). The UN was only allowed to occupy the airport (the blue strip crossing the neck of Bosnian territory) on condition that they did not allow Bosnians to cross it. As a result, the Bosnians were forced to build a tunnel underneath the airport. The Serbs knew it must exist, and they shelled the area constantly – but never actually found its exact whereabouts.
It was an extraordinary feat – nearly 1km (half a mile) long and only 1.6m (ca 5ft) high. It’s impossible for a man of average height to stand up straight in it – as my good friend Slavko Hadzic proves. But this was a lifeline – as someone rather ironically highlighted in the sign above the entrance (left): 1993-1995 SARAJEVO CITY GATE
Through this tunnel came troops, weapons, food, oil (in pipes along the roof), animals, supplies – everything in fact. It was controlled by Bosnian military police – and could only work if traffic travelled in one direction, and then swapped around every 30 minutes or so.
In my two visits to Sarajevo, nothing has brought home to me the horrors of a living in city under a 4-year siege more than visiting this place.