Austria-Hungarian Towers Around Sarajevo

With the beginning of the Austria-Hungarian Empire in BiH, and thus Sarajevo, the capital of the country has received a Western face in addition to its former Ottoman profile. These changes are visible in the political organization, the cultural life and social customs of the city. Sarajevo used be treated like the first city in the country because of what the government aimed to make it shining like the rest of the centers in the Empire, Vienna, Budapest, Zagreb and other places. Because of that the Monarchy spent disproportionately a lot of attention to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

One of the main reasons for this was gaining the trust of the people in the whole country, especially Sarajevo. This has become especially visible after appointing Benjamin Kalaj as the Minster of Finances between 1883 and 1903. His politics was much better and acceptable to its people from that of General Filipovic who was very harsh towards Muslims. On the other hand, Kalaj conducted a lot of reforms in Sarajevo. He perceived rational, just and noble governance as the best remedy for the popular unrest. It was thus necessary to civilize Bosnia and Sarajevo and make it an educated European state and society. Besides that, he made important changes in the appearance of the city centre in order to emphasize the importance of religion and draw the attention of the public away from the potentially destructive nationalism.  On his behalf, the greatest religious, cultural and educational institutions of all three religious communities have been moved close to the central market place.

Zemaljska_Vlada_staraThe importance of Sarajevo is also visible on ground of the construction of railways, what is indeed significant for this period of our country. Sarajevo has then on become the first railway crossroad in the country as the first railway which went from Brod to Sarajevo was completed in 1882, then the one in Metkovići which was completed in 1892, and the one towards the eastern part of the country in 1906. Sarajevo has thus become a center for construction and maintain of railways in BiH, while the railway has become the key of the economy, i.e. the Austria-Hungarian government turned the main railway workshop into the center of state companies in Sarajevo. Besides that, the government supported the grow of the industry in Sarajevo, through the establishment of new factories (e.g. the Sarajevo Tobacco Factory), or the inheritance of the Ottoman power (like the Sarajevo Bier Factory).  The establishment of nine new brickyards until 1904 has especially contributed to the development of the city. The first one was established in 1880 – the August Brown. The city has become its first electric light in 1895. The transition from the natural to monetary economy has been significantly developed  in  the period of the Austria-Hungarian occupation.  07

Many communal buildings were established, besides railways and the industrialization. The Austria – Hungarian capital  was given free hands for exploitation of natural resources, primarily forest and mines.

The Austria-Hungarian authority  has provided its factories over 300.000 ha of the best forest surfaces and started to build sawmills and other industries for  wood procession.  Special attention was given to the managerial, administrative and army objects, especially prior to the occupation of the country. As these buildings were established within the first two decades of the Austria-Hungarian   power in BiH, these objects were built in a neo-Renaissance, neo-Romance, neo-Gothic or neo-Moorish style, while only a few were built in the session period.  The most important  administrative or army buildings are: the State Government, the City Hall, the Officer’s building, the Post and Telegraph Office, Filipović Barrack and many other buildings.  Important to emphasize are small fortification objects in the near of Sarajevo. The further development of events has proved that Austria-Hungary has come to Bosnia and Herzegovina as an imperialist power with the intention to turn the occupied territory into a basis for further acquisitions on the Balkan.

Prior to the arrival of the monarchy, its government  has ensured strategic positions throughout the whole country as well as in the center, i.e., Sarajevo and its surroundings. This project included building walls as well as small bastions which were meant to be small  militaries in case of attacks,  but also for easier control and movement of people and goods.  At the beginning there were 15 and then on 16 such military points and many other military areas.  The first recruitment was in 1882, which passed calmly, while the government feared unrests and similar. The Ottoman military buildings were not enough because of what the government started to build new officer quarters    as well as other  towers, military quarters, bastions  and  so on, which would serve  for military purposes and enable an easier control of the population, and where soldiers and weapons would be placed. Hospitals accompanied the establishment of towers and military barracks. Around ten years after the end of the occupation the establishment of new towers started.  Through these towers, Sarajevo has become a fortress for which large amounts of money were thrown away purposeless.

After the beginning of the First World War, the Austria-Hungarian Empire attacked Serbia and was defeated in Cer.  In order to connect the enemy powers and  make their main army position easier in front of the enemy attack, the Montenegro army and Užice unit of the Serb army conducted a penetration  towards Sarajevo in October 1914 and came out  in the area of Romania.

Parts of the Montenegro army entered then Pale, while their patrols and  predecessors came until the Kozija cuprija (so called Goat’s Bridge) on the edge of Sarajevo. On that occasion several objects were fired up, including almost all rail stations on Miljacka.  Most probably, military objects were destroyed as well during the attack of the Montenegro army.  The Sarajevo defense line was established in 1918, on which occasion today trenches can be found on Gradac/Hodidjel. One bunker is dug in the hill, while on the edges of upheavals iron chains, which served for telephone lines, can be found. There are similar chains on Trebević.  Researches encountered that the row was surrounded by barbed wires. According to some sources some towers had tunnels for weapons  and equipment and would easily send signals and prepare the defense in case of attacks. The first defense line included seven  towers around the city which were supported by the army and munitions from four army  objects from the same city.  A fast defense was thus organized in this way. Besides the military role they had a door  and revenue purpose. All seven towers were equipped with strong artillery in which military troops were placed.



By end of the XIX century the Austria-Hungarian power builds a tower on the southern part of the city, in the area marked on  Austria-Hungarian maps under the name VRACA, what associates on small doors through which the city was entered.  The position of the complex, comparing to the city,  dominates  above the parts of the settlement  above which it has been established – Grbavica and Kovačići.  It is also visible from other locations in the city. There is a good sight onto the new part of the city and other surrounding hills form this place.

The whole complex is placed on one epileptically formed hill, which goes from the southeast to the northwest. There is small plateau on the hill with an Austrian-Hungarian tower.  The establishment of the military towers was complete in 1898, while the fortification object on Vrace was build like “blockhouse”. It is a fortress as those being built of rocks, being very massive. In the second phase of the works, after 1903, such objects were being made of concrete and ferroconcrete. The tower on Vrace was linked to the Filipović Lager (Maršalka) military house on the very place where now the US Embassy  and the buildings of the University of Sarajevo are.

During World War II, in addition to the suffering in Sarajevo prisons, in Vrace and other battle sites around Sarajevo (Merhemić brickworks in Velešići, Bentbaša, Kozija cuprija, Hreša etc.), mass arrests and deportations of citizens of Sarajevo in the Nazi concentration camps of Europe were conducted. In the period from May to December 1942 more than 1.0300 people in Sarajevo,  were brought into concentration camps without trial.

At that time, the Vraca fortress was turned into an official execution ground where citizens of Sarajevo were killed, either individually or in mass executions. Massacres were conducted constantly from mid-1941 throughout the entire four-year war in Vrace. Approaching the end of World War II massacres increased and people were murdered and buried on Vrace. The majority of prisoners who were killed or died in police torture chambers in Sarajevo were also buried in that place.

Fortress on Vrace became after the end of World War II a deserted military object. Being a place of execution the fortress on Vrace became a synonym of resistance and the struggle against fascism, a Memorial Park has been established  in this place, while the fortress was turned into a museum.

The Monumental edifice was opened on 25 November 1981.

Due to its excellent strategic position from which the city of Sarajevo can be examined clearly, the complex of the Memorial Vraca was used as  a place from which Sarajevo was targeted by heavy artillery and snipers. The Vraca Memorial Park was one of several positions forming the encirclement around the besieged city where heavy weapons were placed. The whole complex was devastated – both, the fort and individual memorials, park areas, plateaux, steps, etc.



One of the mentioned objects is also the tower on Zlatište. The direction that leads to Trebević goes over Bistrik and Brajkovac to the intersection for top of Trebević and Ravne. The Brajkovac was a turnoff for the tower to Zlatište (823 meters above sea level) and the tower on Vrace (645 meters above sea level).  There is only a little knowledge about this tower. It was built during the first years of the Austria-Hungarian Empire and  contained thus  a small regiment of the Austro-Hungarian army. The very position of Zlatište enabled an excellent controlling position and was thus a good foothold in case of attacks. The tower on Zlatište and other fortifications were bound into a semicircle to prevent incursions into the city as well as to control the city better from all positions. From an architectural viewpoint, this tower fits into the Austria-Hungarian style, including walls, space for the army, armory and command center. Functionally, the tower was connected to Franz-Jozef’s barrack on Bistrik.  There used to be a mountain lodge next to the tower which was destroyed during the war from 1992 to 1995. Both buildings are abandoned and no one uses them.


There exist signs of the existence of fortification objects on the Small Čola Gate; there is still a memorial plaque with the engraved road name APPEL-STRASSE. There were two road directions from the city to the military forts on Trebević. The first leads over Bistrik and Pogledine between the Small  (897 mamsl) and the Big Čola Gate (986 mamsl). The road was  named Appel’s Road  after Baron Johann von Appel (1826-1906), the Austrian general and governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1882 – 1903). The tower was connected to the tower at Zlatište and Vrace.

The tower on Čola’s gate was rebuilt into an astronomical observatory and domes of  3 and 4.5m diameters on it. A double astrograph was placed in the smaller dome, while a 30cm spotlight named “Vaisala” was placed in the bigger dome.

From 1975 to 1982, the  second phase of the observatory construction took on. Then he purchased a reflector telescope with a diameter of 62 cm. A  completely new four floor building with a dome diameter of 8 meters was built for it.

The Astronomical Observatory at Trebević was completely destroyed by the Serbian army  in the summer of 1992 during a bestial attack.

The towers on Trebević were built in the period between 1890 and 1910. Besides fortification objects, and their primary role as defensive lines, they had also another role. By now it has not become clear nor has it been proved how and for what purposes the tunnel systems under these towers were built.   The towers on Zlatište and Palež were connected by tunnels. There exist no clear  information about the exact time and purpose of their construction, but it the assumption is  that they were built during the Austria-Hungarian Empire. There exist one separation from the tunnel to the right side; however, after a long climbing on the soiled ground you will meet loopholes at top of the hill. There is also a story that the barrack Bosut is connected to the Thick Hill (Debelo brdo) by the same channel system, but that is still unexplored. Because of the  strategic importance of the Thick Hill, Zlatište, Vrace and Palež, these towers were connected. The tunnels were most probably constructed in order to ensure secure and fast weapon supplies in case of inability to arm the military.  


Situated on the southeastern slopes of Sarajevo, the White Bastion hides in its stone mantles the history of the city from the Middle Ages to the present. The White Bastion surely represents one of the most impressive and the most valuable architectural heritages of the area. The dominant position of the White Bastion in relation to the natural amphitheater of the historic urban core, and the view that stretches along the river Miljacka to modern residential areas in the west of Sarajevo, creates a specific, almost natural, choreographed nature and human creativity. Regarding the time of occurrence of the White Bastion has imposed different opinions.

According to one opinion, the object has been constructed in 1550 (this opinion relies on data given by the traveling writer Katarino Zeno), and was destroyed during the construction of the last Vratnik city  whereby a new fortress was built on its place which today can be recognized by a polygonal shape.

According to a second opinion there had been another fortress on the place of the White Bastion during the Middle Ages. That one was not a fortress of the typical Middle Age Fortress kind of defense fort which preserves the opened settlement (suburb) in the  near of it. It was a fortress of a rectangular base (length approximately 75 m north-south direction, a width of approximately 50 m in east-west) with four towers at the corners, a square base and the fifth tower above the entrance gate. This look dates back from the end of the XIV or the beginning of the XV century.

There is one interesting peculiarity about the architecture and conception, in this case unique fortification in mediaeval Bosnian fortification architectures. The configurations of the  rectangular fort with four towers at the corners has similarities with Central European fortresses, being strongly influenced by Gothic Hungarian construction. There are holes for canon barrels in the thick rock walls. With the establishment of the permanent Ottoman power on these areas, in the mid XV century there have been no significant changes in such constructions. Timar crews  have been placed therein while also a mosque was built in the fortress for their needs.

The Austrian map from 1882 shows the mosque foundations in the form of an octagon, with an entrance parallel to the entrance gate of the fortress (the northern side). Currently there archeological procedures are being conducted aimed at restoration and conservation of the spaces. Occasionally, especially during the summer, the space serves as an amphitheater in which diverse cultural and art performances are being conducted.


Pasha’s hill was certainly very important during the very occupation of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. It is located on the northern part of the walls of the old city Vratnik from the Ottoman period, and is situated between the bastions on Ravne Bakije and Zmajevac to control  the entrance to Sarajevo from the Faletići direction. Small barracks and a shooting ranges with walls about five hundred meters to the north are formed within its complex. It had been used as a barrack for the needs of the Yugoslav Army until 1992, and then the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Currently, the tower is not used and is exposed to decay.


The same can be said about the fortresses on Grdonj (the Spiky Rock) and Barice. These two fortresses were built in the same period as the fortresses Vrace, Zlatište ,Palež, Pasha’s Hill and the White Bastion. The fortress on the Spiky Rock and Barice had two roles. On ground of them the entrances to the city from the eastern and western sides were controlled.  Due to their geostrategic position, they controlled completely the city opposed to the Trebević side. According to few sources, it is assumed that these two fortresses were also connected with tunnels like those on Trebević, but during the war and post-war events in the XX century on these places those were completely destroyed and buried.

As an important strategic area during the Austria-Hungarian monarchy it was unified into the functional fortress system around the city. Both fortresses possessed  artillery units. Besides that, they were a focal point for the control of exports and imports of goods in this area. Through this part of and behind the White Bastion, there was the main route for the connection with eastern Bosnia via Romania. From the location of the Small Tower during the 1992-1995 war, many Sarajevo citizens were killed by snipers, while the  Maternity Hospital – Jezero and the Olympic Hall Zetra  were destroyed by artillery shootings.

After the aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina the  museum 105th Motorised Brigade was opened in the Small Tower, while the Big Tower is currently abandoned.

The White Bastion on Pasha’s Hill, Grdonja and Barice were functionally related to the Prince Eugen (Jajce)  Barrack which was which was located within the fortifications of the Old Town-Vratnik.



Baron Johann Freiherr von Appel


baron johan

Baron Johann Freiherr von Appel (11. 11. 1826. to 07. 09. 1906.) – Field Marshal stationed in Sarajevo and this the Head of the Provincial Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1882 to 1903. Baron Von Appel originates from Germany and came from Slavonia.

He was a reliable partner to Benjamin Kallay, and was showing a strong affection for the Bosniac Muslims. After 63 years of active work and experience in the Army he retired, upon his own request. The City Government of Sarajevo declared him an honorary citizen  and  named the right bank of the Miljacka  River Appel’s Coas (Appel Quai). How  important Baron von Appel was and how much he had done during his mandate in Sarajevo, can be seen through the forts around Sarajevo, because almost all were constructed during his administration. Besides the coasts, which today bears the name “Obala Kulina Bana”, there is also one of road is named after him, APPEL Strasse.

He also managed to systematically connect and establish an entire complex of fortifications around Sarajevo, from which Sarajevo will itself become one big fortress!