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Seven interesting facts about Bosnia and Herzegovina

With THINK Global School’s term in Bosnia and Herzegovina recently concluded, we thought we’d share a few interesting facts about the heart-shaped country with you. Whether you are working on a school project or planning a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina yourself, we hope you find these seven facts useful!!


Fact #1) Sarajevo was the first city in Europe with a full-time electric tram

Trams have a long history in Bosnia tracing back to 1885, when horse-drawn trams were implemented as a means to connect downtown Sarajevo with the city’s train station, which had opened on the outskirts of town. These horse-drawn carriages became known as the “green dragon” due to their green paint job and the dizzying speed (for the time and in comparison to ox carts) which they whipped down the line. Ten years later, in 1895, the first electric tram opened in Sarajevo, drawing its electricity from a recently opened coal plant (the plant also supplied electricity to Sarajevo’s recently installed street lamps.) The tram line ran from Sarajevo’s rail station all the way to the Latin Bridge, and was the first full-time electric tram line in Europe.

Today, Sarajevo has a bustling system of trams and trolleybuses, the latter of which were added in 1939. And similar to every other facet of Sarajevo’s infrastructure, the city’s trams and trolleybuses sustained heavy damages during the 1990’s war: of 90 tramcars, 30 were destroyed, 56 damaged and only 5 escaped without damage. Of the city’s 90 trolleybuses, 67 were completely destroyed.

Fact #2) Twenty years after the war, land mines are still a very real threat

It’s been over two decades since Bosnia’s civil war ended, but over 220,000 land mines are still buried throughout the country — one of the worst land mine problems in the world. All three sides (Bosnian, Serb, and Croatian) laid mines during the conflict, some two million in total, and red signs displaying a skull and crossbones can be found at nearly 29,000 locations throughout the country where land mines still present a threat. Unfortunately, these land mines have affected Bosnia’s poor living in rural areas the hardest, many of whom made a living by scavenging for food in the wooded areas where the mines are now buried. Even more troublesome, flooding in recent years has washed some of these mines into residential areas, posing a very real threat to the towns’ inhabitants (and causing nearly 3 billion dollars worth of damage). Groups such as the Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Centre (BHMAC) are very proactive in removing the mines, but their work is very much an uphill battle.

Fact #3) One of Europe’s last jungles can be found here

When you think of jungles, do you think of the Amazon and the Congo? We can’t blame you for that, but did you know a beautiful, untouched jungle still remains in Europe? Situated on the border of Montenegro, Perućica is one of two remaining primeval forests in Europe. Some of the trees in Perućica are 300 years old, and the undisturbed forest vintage dates back 20,000 years. If you’re an outdoorsman, there’s a lot to love about this part of Bosnia and Herzegovina: the country’s highest peak, Maglić, provides a stunning backdrop to Perućica, and hikers can enjoy a rigorous afternoon identifying flora as they amble towards the 246-foot high Skakavac waterfall, nestled deep within the Perućica Valley.

Fact #4 – Sarajevo was the first communist city to host a winter games.

Neither communism or the Olympics are new concepts, communism has been around since the 1840s and the modern Olympic games originated in 1896, but it wasn’t until 1984 that the two combined for the first winter games in a communist country. The 1984 Olympic games were held in Sarajevo, which at the time was part of Yugoslavia. The games were considered Sarajevo’s crowning achievement and a symbol of the great things that lay in store for Yugoslavia and its citizens. A great deal of work was done to Sarajevo’s infrastructure to prepare it for the games, but sadly the siege laid waste to most of them. Some of Sarajevo’s Olympic sites, like the abandoned bobsled and luge track, have gone on to become popular tourist attractions.

Fun fact: during the 1984 opening ceremony, the Olympic Games flag was accidentally raised upside down. Whoops!

Fact #5) Bosnia has three official languages: Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian

While nowhere close to the most number of languages spoken (that honor belongs to Papau New Guinea, where a whopping 820 languages are alive and well today), you’ll likely hear all three of Bosnia’s official languages spoken regularly during a visit to this heart-shaped country (and possibly Bulgarian, Greek, Italian, German, and Ukrainian — all of which are spoken by communities of transplants throughout Bosnia). Roughly 2.2 million of Bosnia’s 4 million citizens, mostly Bosniaks, speak Bosnian, 550,000 Bosnian Croatians living in BiH speak Croatian, and 1.3 million Bosnian Serbs speak Serbian. Luckily, all three languages are mutually intelligible and more used as a representation of ethnic identity. If you’d like to learn how to speak Bosnian, you might want to start practicing now: the US State Department lists it as a “Category II Hard Language,” but hey — at least it isn’t a “Category I Super Hard Language!”

Fact #6) Mostar is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most divided city

While cities like Sarajevo are a prime example of social harmony (it was, until the 20th century, the only major European city to have a mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church, and synagogue), other Bosnian cities are more sectarian in nature. Nowhere is this more evident than in Mostar, where Bosnian Croatians live on the western side of the Neretva River, and Bosniaks reside on the eastern side. Mostar is divided into six municipalities, but, due to electoral laws, no local elections have been held in Mostar since 2008; both sides have their own national theater, post office, and other separate public services. There is hope that both sides can come together on election reform in 2016, but time will tell.

Mostar's Stari Most. Image by TGS student Pablo H.

Stari Most. Image by TGS student Pablo H.

Fact #7) The Sarajevo Film Festival is a big deal

Sundance and Cannes might have the most name recognition, but true film connoisseurs make their way annually to the Sarajevo Film Festival. Now one of the largest film festivals in Europe, the Sarajevo Film Festival draws more than 100,000 visitors per year. When the festival’s founders launched it in the fall of 1995, right at the height of the siege, they can’t have expected a large turnout. That first year, though, over 15,000 film enthusiasts showed up, a testament to film’s ability to provide an escape. Celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Daniel Craig have become regulars at the festival, which takes place each year in August (time to start planning your next vacation?)

 

Enjoy the facts?

Learn more about Bosnia and Herzegovina on Our Travels page.

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