Sarajevo reopens landmark city hall and library destroyed in war

SARAJEVO Fri May 9, 2014 9:26am EDT

1 of 2. A combination photo shows the National Library burning after shelling in the besieged Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on August 26, 1992 (bottom), and after being renovated on May 8, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Hidajet Delic (bottom)/Dado Ruvic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - 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, 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 two million books including many rare volumes reflecting its multicultural life under the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.

Ceremonies to mark the reopening of "Vijecnica" (city hall), as it is known here, were due to take place later on Friday.

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

"I am so glad it will be opened again," said an elderly woman named Minka. "Especially because they rushed to destroy it but now they see it was in vain," she added, referring to the Serbs who had shelled the besieged city.

RISE AND FALL OF YUGOSLAVIA

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.

Vedran Smajlovic, a cellist who gained world recognition after a photograph showed him playing in the Vijecnica's ruins just days after its destruction, will play Albinoni's Adagio again but this time to celebrate life, not to mourn the dead.

"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," Smajlovic said.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Tom Heneghan)

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