Sarajevo is freaking gorgeous. Situated in a small valley in central Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), orange tiled roofs and conifers of every variety descend from the tops of evergreen-covered hills down towards the sparkling Miljacka River, weaving its way through the valley floor. Buildings encompass a mix of elaborate Austro-Hungarian facades and simple Ottoman architecture. Cathedral steeples and mosque domes and minarets puncture the skyline, and days are passed by ringing church bells, the call to prayer, and sometimes both at the same time.
And all of this can be enjoyed from two hillside forts, dozens of cafes and restaurants, and even random back alleyways snaking up through Sarajevo’s vertical neighborhoods. My husband and I moved here in the dead of winter at the very end of 2017, and even cold and snow failed to deter us hiking to these vantage points. But now Spring has come, and in every direction Sarajevo is in full bloom. And the timing couldn’t be better for the magnificent vantage point provided by Sarajevo’s newly reopened cable car provides the best views of the city (and surrounding area) yet.
Coinciding with Sarajevo Day on April 6, 2018, and almost 30 years since its destruction during the last war, the famed Sarajevo gondola began again, hauling visitors up two kilometers from Sarajevo’s Old Town station to a plateau on Mount Trebević.
As it climbs, panoramic views of the sprawling city give way to rolling green hills and sheer cliffs before reaching the top, where riders are deposited into crisp, clean mountain air, laced with the scents of pine and dirt and the promise of rain. I took the trip up twice in three days.
There is not much at the top of the hill, though a café is expected to be completed by summer. For those wishing to stretch their legs, however, hiking trails and walking paths descend from the top platform, leading pedestrians to picnic areas, graffitied Olympic bobsled track ruins, multiple valley and mountain view points and newly rebuilt hotels and restaurants.
Originally opened in 1959, Sarajevo’s cable cars ferried people out of city hustle, bustle and smog up the hillside for fresh-aired picnics and hiking, rightly bestowing the looming Mount Trebević with nickname “The Lungs of Sarajevo.” During the 1984 Winter Olympic Games the gondola served as transport for bobsled event spectators. It was the pride of Sarajevo, if not the entirety of BiH; a feature locals felt put the city on par with the great capitals of Europe.
Unfortunately, the cable car, and eventually the rest of mountain’s hotels, restaurants and sports facilities, were destroyed in the early 1990’s during the four-year siege on the city. The mountain languished for over twenty years, and the area gave way initially to terrorizing sniper perches, then to abandonment and neglect, and eventually to bandits and thieves. But no longer – today the cable car is a hopeful symbol of peace and reconciliation.
“We are reconstructing the last destroyed symbol of Sarajevo. We are building and talking about emotions here; we are taking down the invisible border here and working jointly on building Bosnia and Herzegovina and on reconciliation of peoples,” Sarajevo major, Abdulah Skaka, reportedly told a packed platform on opening day.
A majority of the rebuilding fund came via donation, the largest of which was made by married nuclear physicists Edmond Offerman and Maja Serdarević, who managed one ride up the gondola before the war and have worked tirelessly on its restoration ever since.
The reopening has been emotional, especially for those who remember spending weekends enjoying the mountain in the decades before the war. Everyone I chat with is excited to take advantage of their restored access to the mountains.
Almost a month since opening, long lines and packed cable car cabins have become the new weekend norm.
As of posting:
- Daily Hours: 8:30 am – 6:30 pm
- First ride at 9:00 am; last ride at 6:00 pm
- Round Trip Cost: 6 KM for residents; 20 KM for non-residents (around $14)
- Children ages 7 and under are free