Franz Ferdinand assassination site & museum

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Franz Ferdinand assassination site - Sarajevo Latin BridgeThe site of the assassination on 28 June 1914 of Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo – the event shortly after sparked off World War One. It is thus of immense historical gravity, but there isn't much to see for tourists – although a new museum tries its best to commodify the event and its historical background.  
More background info: Between 1878 and 1918, Bosnia-Herzegovina was part of (or rather: occupied and administered by) the Austro-Hungarian empire. Towards the latter part of that period, tensions with neighbouring Serbia, then in one of its most nationalistic phases, had already mounted (and Serbia had annexed Montenegro and Kosovo and also laid claim to Bosnia), when Archduke Franz Ferdinand visited Sarajevo in late June 1914.
Here the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire and his pregnant wife Sophie became the target of an assassination plot by a Serbian Bosnian underground organization under Dragutin Dimitrijevic, a group that went by the name "Black Hand" or "Young Bosnia". The assassination was supposed to help break Bosnia away from Austria-Hungary and ultimately facilitate a Serbian takeover of the province.

On the morning of 28 June 1914 Franz Ferdinand and his wife were driven in an open-top car through Sarajevo when the assassination plotters sprang into action. There were actually at least seven of the group strategically positioned along the car's route, but apparently some of them failed to take any action as the car drove past them. A first concrete attempt was made when Nedeljko Cabrinovic threw a hand-grenade at the Archduke's car – this however missed and exploded behind the car, wounding several people.
As the car then sped up and crowds gathered, there were no more chances for the assassins to strike – or so they thought … when later Franz Ferdinand decided to visit the victims of the earlier bombing in hospital, his car first took a wrong turn into Franz-Joseph-Street (today's Zelenih beretki) at the head of the Latin Bridge and then stalled when reversing – just in front of another one of the plotters, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, who, assuming the chances for the plan had passed, had just had a snack (possibly a sandwich, as many sources claim, though I find that particular sort of snack rather unlikely for the time, location and in this context). Anyway, seizing the moment he drew his pistol and fired two shots at the car. The first hit Franz Ferdinand in the neck, the other hit Sophie. Both died minutes later.

The assassins were all arrested – some were later executed, but Princip was too young for the death penalty and was thus sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. He was incarcerated at the Theresienstadt prison (which later gained even more notoriety as a Nazi concentration camp) under harsh conditions – from which he died less than four years later (from tuberculosis, to be precise).

On an international scale, the assassination sparked off what was to become the First World War: when the Austro-Hungarians got wind of Serbian Military Intelligence involvement in the assassination plot, this was used as the reason to declare war on Serbia. Alliances between various countries meant that soon after much of Europe was plunged into the extensive bloodletting that the "Great War" of 1914 to 1918 turned into. Thus young Gavrilo Princip can be said to have shaped the course of history in the 20th century – although it is quite likely that war would have broken out anyway, given the political tensions and military mobilizations of the time.

The way the Sarajevo events of 1914, and the roles of Gavrilo Princip and Franz Ferdinand, were commemorated afterwards bears witness to the changeability of attitudes towards and classifications of important historical events: first a pompously large monument/shrine to the Archduke was erected – while Princip was obviously denounced as nothing but a murderer. The Austro-Hungarian monument/shrine was later removed under Serbian/Croatian rule after World War One. Instead, the memory of the assassins was now celebrated and a memorial plaque erected that almost praised them – and the Latin Bridge was renamed after Princip. In other words, he was now rather regarded as a national hero (and Franz Ferdinand as a member of the former imperialist oppressors).

When the Nazis took Sarajevo during WWII, the memorial plaque for Princip was removed and he was even denounced as "Jew" (in that typical Nazi reflex). The pendulum swung back yet again after the partisans under Tito liberated the country from the Nazis and formed communist Yugoslavia – so Princip could once again be regarded as a national hero and pioneer of Yugoslavia's struggle for freedom. A museum about the event was set up, and another new plaque unveiled. Now even footprints were etched into the pavement to mark the spot were Princip had fired his fateful shots.

The war in Bosnia & Herzegovina in the 1990s brought change yet again: the footprint marker was removed or destroyed (there's conflicting information on this), the Bridge given back its old name Latinska ćuprija, and the museum, which suffered severe damage from shelling, wasn't restored for over a decade.

After the war, Princip (a Serb, after all) went back to being regarded as a "terrorist", and the renovated former "Museum of the Sarajevo Assassination" was renamed "Museum of the Austro-Hungarian period (1878 – 1918)" when it opened in 2005, although outside on its walls it simply says "Muzej / Museum". The memorial plaque is now a sober factual statement: "From this place on June 28 1914 Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia". It is mounted so low, close to ground level, that it is easily overlooked, though.

Incidentally, the actual car that Franz Ferdinand was travelling in that fateful day in Sarajevo, as well as his blood-stained uniform (!), are on display in Austria, namely in Vienna's Museum of Military History.
What there is to see: The assassination site itself is just a street corner, and a memorial plaque marks its historical significance. The Latin Bridge is across the road, and is a very pretty sight in itself – but it was not on that bridge that the assassination took place (as is often erroneously assumed). To get more information and see some artefacts, you have to visit the small museum at the very street corner that was the site of the assassination.

About three quarters of the museum's contents are about the historical period before the assassination, i.e. the Austro-Hungarian period of Bosnia (1878 to 1918). This may be of less interest to the purely dark tourist, but the section about the assassination itself makes up for it a bit. Apart from a chart and timeline of the events of 28 June 1914, there are photos and documents, and also on display are the clothes worn by Gavrilo Princip – and so is what must be regarded as the "prime exhibit": his gun used in the assassination. The museum has just one single room, dominated by the dummies of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie in the relevant period costume at the far end.

Historically significant as the assassination may have been, as a dark tourism destination the assassination site and the museum are comparatively minor sights in Sarajevo.
Location: The museum is located across the road (Obala Kulina bana) from the northern end of the Latin Bridge (Latinska cuprija) over the Miljacka river right in the centre of Old Sarajevo. The spot from where Princip fired the deadly shots is today marked by a new bilingual (Bosnian and English) plaque on the wall of the Museum.
Google maps locator: [43.85783,18.42886]
Access and costs: easy and cheap/free.
Details: The bridge and the plaque marking the spot from where the shots were fired are obviously accessible freely at all times. The museum's opening hours are: Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; admission: 2 KM (1 EUR).
Time required: between 10 minutes and up to ca. half an hour (if reading all the historical background texts not directly related to the assassination).
Combinations with other dark destinations: see Sarajevo.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see Sarajevo.

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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