Escaping Death & Arrest Exploring Mostar’s Abandoned Sniper Tower
My most dangerous mission of this 35-day trip was to trespass and climb to the top of the abandoned Sniper Tower in Mostar without falling to my death or getting arrested.
One day in 1992, this was a bustling bank building, filled with professionals and secretaries and bank receipts and customers. Then another day, it was taken over by the Croatian (Catholic) Bosnians and used as a sniper tower to kill their neighbors. Notice its position in the middle of the city.
I drop my bags in the guesthouse and take off walking through Mostar. I know I will chicken out if I wait. And I walk right into the middle of a movie being shot about the war above!
It is illegal to trespass here. But sometimes you have to break the rules. I finally make it and go in, tentatively looking around. Graffiti covers the bullet holes.
Back then, it was a beautiful glass building with wonderful views over the city. You could see onto people’s balconies and onto the streets below. I start climbing up stairs. Stairs with no walls. Freaky. And I can see right into these people’s kitchen.
So if you wanted to shoot your former neighbors, who you and your family have lived next to peacefully for centuries, because now you’ve determined that your religion/ethnicity is superior to theirs, this was the perfect place.
My palms are getting sweaty and I’m afraid I’m going to drop my phone. I walk like a dork, so methodical. With each floor, the views get better. But the higher I get, the more I know I can be seen by cops from the outside as a trespasser.
Over three years, snipers controlled the activities of everyday citizens walking, driving, or living in their homes. For most of 1993-94, Bosnian Muslims were under constant threat of sniper fire from the Croats. Residents constructed sniper warning signs in the dangerous areas, but they were often ignored because people had to get to UN-supplied water and food.
It is eerie as the stairs are exposed to the outside without walls. You can literally fall right off the stairs and splat on the cement from 9 stories high.
The elevator shaft is out of order so you can see down nine flights of stairs. It feels like eyes are on me, alone in an abandoned building. I kept looking down, afraid I’m going to step onto bad concrete and fall through.
Today the building hovers over the city as a reminder of the war. But it also continues to separate the city and remind the Bosniaks (Muslims) that the Croats are still in control politically, deciding which buildings get restored. So the Croat side on the west is rebuilt and modern, and the eastern part still looks like a war zone. You can see two bombed out buildings below.
I stop at the 7th floor, kind of shaken. I start to think too much and turn around. But when I go back down, I almost step over a ledge. When going up, the stairs are right in front of you. Going down, they optically disappear. I decide I’ll regret it if I don’t go all the way.
Damage remains because of confusion over who owns what building. The Yugo Bank held mortgages on many of these properties before it went out of business, and no one wants to invest in any construction on these buildings until clear ownership is established. Mostar was like Stalingrad, even more heavily bombed than Sarajevo.
The city is also home to an education system of “two schools under one roof” in which children are separated into different classes, and taught different lessons, based on their ethnicity. This only ensures that each side never owns their part and will eventually fight each other again.
25 years ago, 100,000 people (mainly civilians) were killed. Tens of thousands of women were raped. 2 million people were displaced and lost their homes.
I finally make it to the top floor. But then you have to climb up through a turret.
The views and experience are worth it. You can see a minaret in the foreground and a huge cross on the distant hill.
I go back down as quickly as I can and run out of this creepy place of death. I admit I am shaking a little bit, but I didn’t die. I didn’t get arrested. Mission accomplished. I am done for the day and it’s only noon! Read more about my time in Mostar and Sarajevo here.
I’m safe, Mom! Love to all.