Images of run-down Olympics venues are so ubiquitous that they’ve become their own genre of “ruin porn.”
But no Olympic sites posses the tragic history of those built for the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, the first Winter Olympics ever held in a communist country. Less than a decade after hosting the Games, the city was besieged by Bosnian Serb forces for three years at the height of the Bosnian War. An estimated 10,000 civilians died during the siege, and the venues of the Olympic park were transformed into scenes of heavy fighting.
Three decades later, Sarajevo is the capital of the independent country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the scars of the war remain.
The Games’ bobsled and luge course, located outside the city on Mount Trebevic, became an artillery site, from which Serb forces rained down shells on the city below. It has since been heavily vandalized.
Mount Igman, the home of Olympic skiing events, was the site of a Bosnian Army stronghold during the siege. The medal podium, where Jens Weissflog was once awarded his first Olympic gold, was turned into a stage for executions. (It has since been restored; after the war it looked like this.)
The ski-jumping arena on Mount Igman also saw heavy combat, and was rendered unusable by the fighting. The slopes outside are still heavily mined.
Elsewhere on the mountain, a bombed-out house sits alone.
Sarajevo’s Zetra Hall, the site of the Games’ closing ceremonies, was destroyed by shells and its ruins used as a morgue. It has since been rebuilt.
However, one remnant of the Games came out of the siege nearly intact: The Sarajevo ’84 pavement markings, still displaying their logo 30 years later.
Under the ruins, though, is room for optimism. As photographer Jon Pack, who has made a career of studying Olympic venues after the Games have finished, told Atlantic Cities, “The day I arrived [in Sarajevo], campers were having the time of their lives at the bottom of the hill. They were playing football and competing in a series of challenges they called ‘Games without Borders.'”
“I saw this again at our other stops in Sarajevo – Olympic sites, ravaged by war, being reclaimed and used by regular folks.”
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