On the morning of June 25th 1914, Archduke Prince Franz Ferdinand, the heir-apparent of the mega Austro-Hungarian empire, arrived in Sarajevo to do what heir-apparents of mega-empires do – walk the bazaars, shop, while inaugurating a few monuments. Though there were rumors of an assassination by the Bosnian Serbs, it wasn’t taken seriously, and security was relatively lax.
3 days later, at 10 a.m. on June 28th, the Archduke’s motorcade consisting of 6 open-top cars eased down towards Sarajevo City Hall.
The first set of operatives got cold feet and did nothing. Few minutes later, as the motorcade wound its way along the river, a second set of operatives launched a grenade, but missed Ferdinand’s car – hitting the one behind it instead. Panicking, the motorcade sped away. But Ferdinand decided to go visit the hospital where the injured were sent instead of heading to safety.
As the motorcade turned right on the narrow Latin Bridge – ironically, a bridge built by the Ottomans in 1500 – a third operative, Gavrilo Princip was lying in wait with a pistol. He unloaded a bullet into Ferdinand’s neck and another in his wife, Sofie’s abdomen. Both succumbed to their injuries at the hospital.
The Austro-Hungarian empire blamed Serbia for the plot, declaring war one month later. Various nations jump in to support each side, triggering a set of events and political drama that culminates in World War I.
World War I took the lives of more than 9 million soldiers, 10 million civilians, while 21 million more were wounded. The sanitary conditions following the war also resulted in the Spanish Flu that ended up consuming another 20-25 million people. The war generated quite a few of the modern warfare instruments that we see today – machine guns, tanks, chemical weapons and introduced aerial combat.
Today, the city is trying to get back to a critically balanced sense of stability after decades of multiple wars. As you walk down the nondescript pedestrian Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, there isn’t much to guide you there except for a tiny museum and an inscription. And there is nothing that conveys the gravity of the events that took place here, that lead to more than 150 million deaths worldwide.