Holiday Hotel in Sarajevo – a grand promise for a better life!

Holiday Inn Hotel was a silent witness to all that took place in Sarajevo for something more than three decades – the enthusiasm that filled the city before and after the Olympics, the tragic events of the war and then the cruel post-war transition period.

This now-familiar “yellow cube” sprung up on Cirkus Platz, a spot where circuses were held several times a year (during the Austro-Hungarian period and all the way up to the 1980s), complete with fanfare, merry-go-rounds, an amusement park….

A City within a hotel

The hotel was designed by Ivan Štraus, an architect who envisioned it as “a city within a hotel that you would never need to leave”. It was built to receive guests for the XIV Winter Olympics, but when the façade began to appear as yellow and brown tiles in 1983, the public was mostly taken aback by such “extravagance”.

- I recall that everyone thought it was a joke, Štraus once said.

The hotel officially opened in October 1983 with a ceremony that was attended by Juan Antonio Samaranch, the then-President of the IOC. In the years that followed, famous guests, such as Kirk Douglas, Elton John, King Olav V, Carl XVI Gustaf… enjoyed the hotel’s comfortable rooms, restaurants, disco and casino.

During the Olympics, thousands of postcards with images of the hotel were sent around the world and after the games and until the ‘90s the hotel was still a glittering destination for both local and international celebrities.

And then came the madness of the war! One of the first bloody incidents had a direct connection to Holiday Inn, as this was where Radovan Karadžić’s Srpska Democratic Party had its headquarters and snipers aimed from hotel windows to hit members of a massive anti-war protest held on April 5, 1992 in front of the RBiH Parliament.

Ground zero

The hotel stopped working during the early days of the war, but later became a base for international peacekeepers and war correspondents working in Sarajevo. Given its location in the part of town that was a prime target for snipers positioned on surrounding hills, it was dangerous getting into the hotel.

Martin Bell, a BBC journalist who was wounded in Sarajevo once said: “Holiday Inn is ground zero; it’s a hotel you don’t have to leave to go out to the war, the war comes to you”.

By the end of the war, Holiday Inn had become a symbol of the transition taking place within BiH society. It was also the subject of a few unsuccessful and scandalous privatization deals; it lost its international license and was forced to change its name to Holiday Hotel. To top it all off, the hotel went bankrupt and workers ended up on the street.

The agony ended in the summer of 2016, when it was purchased by the Hotel Europe Group Sarajevo and was able to reopen its doors to guests.

It’s an interesting fact that the famous BiH director, Danis Tanović, shot his film, Death in Sarajevo in Holiday Hotel. The film received the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and the BiH Oscar winner had this to say about filming at Holiday:

- The whole story was lent a special charm by the hotel that I lived next to as a boy and which will always remain, in my memories, a grand promise of a better life, as part of a lovely youth – those wonderful ‘80s”.