They say that history flows like a river. If that be the case, then nothing sums up the tumultuous history of a region, and the world, like Miljacka river that flows beneath the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo does.
For a river its size, there are several bridges across the Miljacka river. Unless you know exactly which bridge you are looking for, it can take a bit of time. Which is what happened when I went looking for the Latin Bridge. Without any thought or plan, I set out looking for the bridge, and instead chanced upon another discover – the Festine Lente, which you can read about here.
But find it I did, eventually. At first glance, there is nothing spectacular about the Latin Bridge, or Latinska Ćuprija. Built during the Ottoman rule in the 1500s, it took its cue from the design prevalent at that time. The views from the bridge aren’t all that great either, except for the hills in the background. Nor does the bridge have any artistic value, as compared to a more modern Festine Lente a short distance away. Its only purpose should have been to simply facilitate the movement of people from one side to the other.
All that changed on a fine sunny morning on the 28th of June 1914. It’s from the northern end of this bridge that a bullet was fired. A bullet that started the first World War a month later.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was visiting Sarajevo, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, set out with his pregnant wife Sophie to inaugurate a new museum. While driving through the narrow streets, one of three assassins waiting by the side didn’t use the grenade that was in his possession. Lucky, you would think.
As the car went along, unaware of what had transpired, they pass the second assassin, who does throw a grenade at the Archduke’s car. It bounces off the car and explodes immediately behind, causing injuries to the entourage that was following. Twice lucky.
A few hours later, the Archduke, concerned about the injuries that the grenade may have caused, decides he wishes to see the injured in hospital. He is instructed to not drive through the city centre by his military officer. However, as luck would have it, these instructions aren’t communicated to the driver, who, sure enough, drives across the Latin Bridge and takes a right turn on Franz Josef Street. And there, as luck would have it, was Gavrilo Princip, the third assassin, who till then was busy cursing his bad luck at things not going quite their way all through the morning.
Third time lucky?
It’s at this point that the driver, aware that he has made a mistake, tries to rectify it by reversing the car. As he does so, the car stalls. Princip, not believing his luck, walks up, opens the door and fires at both the Archduke and his wife. Sophie died instantly, while the Archduke would die about an hour later at the hospital. Third time lucky? No way.
The Austro-Hungarian empire, itching to start a war, seized upon this opportunity to promptly start drumming support for an all-out war against Serbia. Sure enough, a month later, that is exactly what happened, with the official declaration of war. With various empires and countries taking sides, it officially marked the start of the first World War.
The site today
While Gavrilo Princip remains a controversial figure even today, barring a small plaque at the site and a small museum close by, there is no indication that you are standing at the very same site from where, more than 100 years ago, bullets that would change the course of history, and nations, forever, were first fired.