Beautifully Abandoned Sarajevo Olympic Bobsled Track
In 1984, the very first Winter Olympics taking place in a Communist state was held in the unique and remarkable city of Sarajevo – then a thriving metropolis in the now-defunct host nation Yugoslavia, but these days the modern capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2014 – thirty years after the Sarajevo Winter Olympics – the seaside Russian city of Sochi also held the attention of television viewers, in that unique way only a former communist nation in a world entranced by western media is capable of doing, as it played host to 22nd Winter Olympiad.
Yugoslavia doesn’t exist anymore, except in the minds of Yugo-stalgic lovers of all things Tito. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a democracy. Russia has given communism the flick, moving on to a decidedly more on-trend corporatocracy. And the cities of Sochi and Sarajevo share something else in common – an abandoned Winter Olympic site. As Sochi begins it’s inevitable decay, perhaps the abandoned Winter Olympic bobsled track, high on Mount Trebević above Sarajevo, will be an eerily accurate bellwether for the future of the area above Sochi’s Imeritinsky Beach.
At the time, a record 49 nations participated in the 1984 Winter Olympics. Tens of thousands of spectators covering Mount Trebević cheered on the brave Sarajevo bobsled and luge competitors, as they raced down the 1.3km long track at speeds of over 100 km/h, in snowy, blustery conditions. For several years after the Olympics, the Sarajevo bobsled track was used for world cup competitions. And then, came the rub. When 1991 rolled around, the ugly and complex Yugoslav wars commenced, and the Olympic bobsled location was utilised by military forces as an artillery position.
By 1992, just eight years after the very peaceful Winter Olympics, the city of Sarajevo became victim of the longest military seige in modern history. Sarajevo was cut off from the world, and relentlessly bombarded by forces who had now overtaken the hills surrounding the city. Residents had little chance of escape, as over 5000 civilians were killed by rockets and mortars from above, and snipers within the downtown streets of Sarajevo. The Olympic fields, became killing fields, and television viewers around the world were again focused on Sarajevo. This time, bobsleds and figure skating had been replaced by the uneasy voyeurism of death and destruction, televised to audiences around the world, remote control in hand.
Understandably, for those in Sarajevo, preservation of the Olympic bobsled track took a back seat to things like water, food, medicine, and not becoming another statistic during an unimaginable period of bloodshed. By September 1993, the Sarajevo Winter Olympiad remained a surreal memory from another time and place, and it was estimated that virtually every building in Sarajevo had now suffered some degree of damage. During the siege, thirty five thousand buildings were completely destroyed, in a city of around a half a million inhabitants. On one single day in July 1993, almost 4000 shells blitzed the city, all part of a nausea inducing average of 329 shell impacts for every day of the 1425 day urbicide.
click to see an interactive map showing the location of this article
Today, the Mount Trebević Olympic site is totally abandoned. The vegetation has recovered and is threatening to finally take over the graffiti-strewn and war damaged concrete bobsled course. Seeing the track gracefully snake it’s way through hauntingly scenic forest, is a sight unlike any other. Now, decaying restaurant buildings only serve up perfect views of the picturesque city below, and the last remaining spectators are the occasional intrepid tourists carefully eyed by roaming packs of stray dogs. This was my third visit to the bobsled track, and each time the weather and season has provided a different experience. It’s otherworldly, serene, mysterious and has now become strangely familiar.
Comparisons with Sochi are inevitable. Olympic sites around the world, both summer and winter, have a habit of becoming disused not long after the last IOC member has collected his bribe and moved on to greener pastures. However, Sarajevo could have been different. After the 1984 winter Olympics, the Sarajevo bobsled and luge site remained popular and fully operational. Certainly, if it wasn’t for a war that left Sarajevo living under a storm of heavy artillery fire for many years, the track and Mount Trebević would look very different today. Sadly, the Sarajevo siege well and truly upstaged the 16th Winter Olympics. Sarajevo’s fate was to not be remembered as an Olympic city, but as the owner of an unenviable set of 20th century bookends – starting out as the precise location for the commencement of World War 1, and rounding off suffering through a siege without parallel in modern history.
Still, war or no war, my money is on Sochi looking exactly like Mount Trebević, circa 2024.
Maybe a lot sooner.
How to Get to the Sarajevo Bobsled Track
The map above pinpoints the exact location of the Sarajevo bobsled track. However, no public transport is available. If you have your own transport, the location is about a twenty minute drive from the Sarajevo city center. Without your own transport, you should be able to organise an local taxi driver to take you there and back, or you could always rent your own vehicle for the day.
Some local organisations have commenced tours of the Mount Trebević bobsled track, but I’ve been told by some participants the tours are rushed, and can be overpriced. So, buyer beware. They normally run around 20 Euro’s and up – so unless you’re travelling solo, it’s cheaper to take a taxi, or even hire a car for the day. Check the comments below for discussion on the options.
Of course, hitchhiking could be an option, but you may be in for a long wait. Walking or cycling is also a possibility, but keep in mind the climb is substantial, and that land-mines still exist in the area. And Wolves, so I’ve been told.
25 thoughts on “Beautifully Abandoned Sarajevo Olympic Bobsled Track”
I just went to the Sarajevo bobsled track today – it’s definitely worth seeing if you’re in town. You get some great views of the city and an interesting perspective on the siege of the city in the early 90s. We went on a tour with Sarajevo Funky Tours, specifically because it included the bobsled track. The tour itself was really interesting and informative, cheap (only 20 Euro) and you got to spend quite a bit of time at the track – actually, you’re required to walk about 500m down the track. Plus he takes you to some other interesting viewpoints above the city. Highly recommended!
Cheers for the info, Kyle.
I’ve also had someone contact me today, and let me know he paid 17 marks for a taxi, and 10 marks for making the taxi wait for an hour up at the track. So, that’s only about 13 Euro’s in total. It would be a cheaper option than a tour – and much cheaper if you had a few friends to tag along. Good luck to the Funky Tours, but I think it’s important that people know the average wage in Sarajevo is about 50 – 100 Euro’s a week, so 20 Euro’s multiplied by several people really is a “tourist” price in that part of the world.
But as you say “highly recommended”, so I’m glad you enjoyed it!
50 – 100 Euros a week? Damn… How do they do it?
They don’t. They rely upon family, friends, and loans. It’s a tough life – and yet it’s probably the happiest part of the world I’ve been to.
yes. 300-400e are wages in balkan’s region. And somehow we manage to live, to be happy and to be satisfied :) but if you ask me how we do that all I’ll say is: I don’t know
Yep. And all the cafes and restaurants are full! Cheers Stefa.
you have been to bosna and hercegovina (ex YU county) now it’s a devided country but still beautiful. you can come to serbia and visit us also. serbians, bosnians, macedonians, … we are all the same but politics from 90’s divided yugoslavia and make that stupid war. you saw how good life is in sarajevo, how people are awesome and how people lives.
I’m in Belgrade right now, it’s the longest I have stayed anywhere in the last two years. It’s my favourite city in Europe. And yes, the war was STUPID, and the people in the Balkans are AWESOME.
I’m reading you posts about “plavi voz” and old YU buildings. pics are so good. I’m in belgrade to and it is a beautiful city. please post some more pics and let the world to know that balkans are not savages and that we are not so “lost in time” how world media present us :(
I really need to go back to Sarajevo at some point I realize there is so much I haven’t seen that I’d love to though, like this incredibly cool bobsled track. You always find interesting sites to visit Nate, thanks for sharing :)
Hey Franca… Sarajevo is a bit like that – there really is a lot of secrets, although this one isn’t such a secret anymore. Thanks for your comment, and for stopping by, I really appreciate it!
another excellent piece from you Nate! for the reason I cannot really explain I’m very interested in the Balkans war and especially Sarajevo Siege and if there’s one place I still have to see in Sarajevo it is the bobsled track. I only can imagine how standing over there in the hills and looking at the city below gives you another perspective of the events from 20 years ago…
I read they estimate 11,541 civilians died during the siege. Have you seen pictures of how they commemorate them last year, with all the empty chairs in the Sarajevo’s downtown? One of the most heartbreaking scene, it showed very well how many 11,541 people really is…
Oh, and if you have some time I recommend reading “Logavina Street” by Barbara Demick (and her book about North Korea as well). It’s about the life under the siege but it tells the stories of people just from one street in the heart of Sarajevo. Probably the best book I’ve read this year so far.
Hi Kami! I bet there’s more than just the Bobsled track for you to see, there is so much in Sara (I am yet to even scratch the surface properly, after three visits). I saw the photos of the red chairs, wow, really such a stark and visual reminder.
The siege is extremely interesting, even more so when you talk to people who personally experienced those years. And so now, I’m going to look up the book you recommend!
Let me know when you read it, I’m curious to hear what you think of it!
Please post more of these pictures. they are amazing.
I’ll post some more after I’ve visited in the snow, Daniel. ;)
it is sad that it was abandoned but it is a really cool place that I would love to visit one day.
Just wanted to let your readers know that as of late 2014… the Slovakian team has used this track for training (luge and skeleton I believe…with wheeled carts).
As such… From Turn 5, the bullet holes and sniper points have been patched and the bottom of the track resurfaced.
I have lived in and visited Sarajevo numerous times, yet I have still not bade it to the bobsled track. Looking at this pictures makes me really question why it has taken me so long. I’ll be visiting in March, but I fear the snow will make it too difficult.
On the other hand, I’ll get to try my hand at snowboarding. Awesome!
Great site, keep up the good work.
I should really know how to proof read by now.
Great post Nate!
It’s definitely worth a visit there, I’ve recently visited too but my pictures are not as nice as yours ;)
Maybe i’ll take better pictures next time!
I spent 9 mos. at the bobsled site (Oct.99 thru June 00) There was a small U.S. military site located there. I have quite a few photos, let me know if you would like to see some. I really enjoyed my time there.
Hey Andrew – I would love to see some photos, I’ll send you an email!
Dear Nate, yes Sarajevo was under siege until tunnel was build that was kept secret from general population. So all poiticans and warlords inside of “city under siege” were selling one kilogram of sugar equivalent to todays 200 euros…or one ltre of alcohol for 300 euros.If you want to leave Sarajevo that could be done for around 7000 to 10000$. For those 4 years of war in Sarajevo, lots of millionaires were created.
I still do not get comparison with Sochi (I guess Russia will forever be a villain to US?) , because Athens will be a better comparison what happened when all spotlights are gone and IOC officials were filled their pockets.
Athens venues are literally falling apart.
Greetings from Sarajevo.
I was a member of the 1984 US Olympic team, that participated in the games at Sarajevo. I competed in the 4-man bobsled, and those 2 weeks were certainly one of the highlights of my life! The competition was thrilling, and the people of Sarajevo were among the warmest I’ve ever encountered. What happened to them, and their country, truly left me heartbroken. Thank you for these photos, and for stirring up a lot of wonderful, yet bittersweet, memories.
Sincerely, Frank Hansen, USA