The Siege of Sarajevo

Sarajevo is one of the most historic and diverse cities in Europe. It is the city where east meets west, and in the old city of Bascarsija the juxtaposition of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian architecture presents a beautiful reminder of this confluence of cultures. Sarajevo has a rich cultural scene packed with excellent cuisine, vibrant arts, brilliant writers, and skilled craftsmen. It is also one of the most cosmopolitan cities in all of Europe. Home to the second largest Jewish cemetery in the world, the hillsides of Sarajevo are dotted with minarets, and the church bells of the Orthodox can be heard every night. It is here that the Austro-Hungarian Archduke and his wife were assassinated, sparking World War I, and here that the world converged for the Winter Olympics in 1984. Sarajevo is also the location of one of the longest and most brutal events in human history.

Between April 5 1992 and February 29, 1996, tens of thousands of shells rained down upon the inhabitants of Sarajevo. Surrounded on all sides by Serb forces, the Sarajevans fought hard to survive. Some starved, some froze, and many succumbed to disease, but far more died in the shelling and by sniper fire. The Siege of Sarajevo lasted 1,425 days and claimed nearly 14,000 lives by the time the Dayton Accords were signed, ending the war and setting up an untenable power-sharing arrangement that remains in place to this day. Sarajevo has yet to fully recover from the Siege. Some doubt it ever will.


They are a type of
memorial made from a concrete scar

caused by a mortar shell’s explosion that was later filled with red resin. Mortar rounds landing on concrete during the siege of Sarajevo created a unique fragmentation pattern that looks almost floral in arrangement, and therefore have been named “rose”.

After the Siege had ended, residents of Sarajevo located mortar scars in locations of massacres—there were no shortage—and filled them in with a blood-red resin. The visual effect is striking and powerful. At any location where it was known that three or more people had died, the place where the mortar that killed them had struck became a Sarajevo Rose, creating a poignant reminder of the Siege and what was lost. Soon, the streets and sidewalks of Sarajevo were adorned in haunting reminders of the past, which also served as memorials and brought attention to the primary sources that were the locations of so many massacres.

Map of Sarajevo Roses

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Thank you to Sarah MacDonald at Envision Geo for designing the map in its current form, and Virginia Holtzclaw for creating it in Arc GIS. Thank you to Adi Surkovic for his relentless efforts to locate and preserve the Sarajevo Roses. Thank you to Nayera Abdessalam, Zackarea Alhejaj, Zoe Law, Johnathan Riggins, and Peter Suckstorf, the student-researchers who worked on the project in 2022. Thank you to the Fulbright Association and Fund for Teachers for the funding that made this work possible. Thank you to Paul Lowe, Amra Abadzic, Kenneth Morrison, and the PCCN for technical support and encouragement.