World News

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Sarajevo reopens landmark city hall and library destroyed in war

* Building destroyed in 1992 Serb shelling of Sarajevo
* Last stop before archduke assassination that sparked WW1
* Seen as a symbol of city's turbulent history

Daria Sito-Sucic

Published 09/05/2014|21:29

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A combination photo shows the National Library after shelling in the besieged Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on August 26, 1992 (bottom), and after being renovated on May 8, 2014. Sarajevo's landmark 19th century city hall-turned-National Library will re-open on May 9, 2014 with its old glory fully restored, after it was reduced to rubble by Serb shelling in the summer of 1992. The re-opening of the city's beloved Vijecnica is one in a series of events that will mark the centenary of the start of World War One, triggered by the June 28, 1914 killing of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia in Sarajevo. A graceful pseudo-Moorish building and a source of civic pride, the hall was burned out in Serb fire in August 1992, nearly 100 years after it was built. The Bosnian Serb 43-month siege of Sarajevo from 1992-95 was Europe's longest after World War Two. REUTERS/Hidajet Delic (bottom)/Dado Ruvic    (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: CONFLICT SOCIETY)
Sarajevo's landmark 19th century city hall-turned-National Library will re-open on May 9, 2014 with its old glory fully restored, after it was reduced to rubble by Serb shelling in the summer of 199

Sarajevo's City Hall, a building marked by two 20th-century wars, re-opened on Friday, restored to its former glory after being destroyed by Serb shelling of the besieged city in 1992.

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The neo-Moorish building, first opened in 1896, has been restored to mark the centenary of the start of World War One, triggered by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand just after he left a reception there in June 1914.

Converted into the National Library in 1949, it went up in flames in August 1992, destroying almost 2 million books including many rare volumes reflecting its multicultural life under the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.

"Tonight ... we mark the triumph of civilisation over barbarism, of light over darkness, of life over death and the triumph of the idea of unity and co-existence over the idea of inhuman and unnatural divisions and clashes," said Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim Bosniak member of Bosnia's three-man inter-ethnic presidency.

The building, which stands out in the city's old Turkish quarter with its dark orange and yellow horizontal stripes and Islamic-style arches, will house the national and university libraries, the city council and a museum about its own history.

"Vijecnica (the city hall) is a symbol of Sarajevo ... because the history of Vijecnica is the history of Sarajevo," Mayor Ivo Komsic said.

But an absence of Bosnian Serb officials at the opening reflected the fact that Bosnia's three peoples still have conflicting visions of both the country's future and its past.

The restored "Vijecnica" (city hall) is seen in Sarajevo May 8, 2014. Sarajevo's City Hall, a stately neo-Moorish edifice marked by the violence of two 20th-century wars, has returned to its old glory after being destroyed by Serb shelling during the siege of the city in 1992. The building, first opened in 1896, has been restored to mark the centenary of the start of World War One and will house the national and university libraries, the city council and a museum about its own history. Picture taken May 8, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY)
The restored "Vijecnica" (city hall) is seen in Sarajevo May 8, 2014. Sarajevo's City Hall, a stately neo-Moorish edifice marked by the violence of two 20th-century wars, has returned to its old glory after being destroyed by Serb shelling during the siege of the city in 1992

RISE AND FALL

Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Vienna, attended a reception at Vijecnica on June 28, 1914 after surviving an failed assassination attempt. Just after leaving, he and his wife were shot dead in their open car by Serb assassin Gavrilo Princip.

His killing lit the fuse for World War One, in which more than 10 million soldiers died and the map of Europe was redrawn, ending Vienna's empire and creating the new state of Yugoslavia.

That multinational state began to fall apart in 1991 and war among the Serb, Croat and Muslim populations in Bosnia and Herzegovina began the following year and lasted until late 1995.

Vijecnica faces the Miljacka river and hills from which the Serb artillery set it ablaze, burning most of its books and manuscripts despite efforts by firefighters and volunteers who braved sniper fire to rescue at least part of the collection.

The ceremony was partly overshdowed by a protest of several hundred people, some of whom arrived to Sarajevo on foot from other Bosnian towns to protest against unemployment and corruption.

Vedran Smajlovic, a cellist who gained world recognition after a photograph showed him playing in Vijecnica's ruins just days after its destruction, was due to play Albinoni's Adagio again.

"The energy in that building was something sacred," Smajlovic said of his wartime performance. "The building was still breathing, regardless of the destruction, I felt its power and it made me cry."

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