The city we can't forget: Much of Sarajevo, the symbolic heart of the war in Yugoslavia, is in ruins, While the truce still holds, there is a chance to assess two years' damage

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TO THE PEOPLE of Sarajevo it has seemed that the Bosnian Serbs wished not just to conquer Sarajevo but to crush it, to destroy every remnant of its culture, every reminder of its liberal, tolerant history. Thus, from the high ground around the city they turned their heaviest fire on those buildings that symbolised the old Bosnia: the library, the post office, the parliament, the Olympic skating rink, the offices of Oslobodenje, the daily newspaper. In the process, they killed 10,000 people, wounded 50,000 more, and shattered hundreds of buildings.

The artillery assault seems to have taken two forms: the relentless, deliberate destruction of specific sites, or the random, careless shelling of ordinary areas. Two years after fighting began, the city is a patchwork of destruction - some buildings razed to the ground, their neighbours almost unscathed, apart from the scars of shrapnel and sniper fire. Along the banks of the Miljacka river, the National Library, pulverised by incendiary shells, stands in ruins just yards from a row of sturdy offices and apartment blocks. Across the river, the pink-washed synagogue is still in mint condition - as are the Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals a short walk away.

The domed glass roof of the National Library is shattered and the marble pillars twisted and torn; but through a stained glass window, its panes of red, blue and green still intact, light shines on to a snow-covered heap of rubble, all that remains of the sweeping staircase. From the first-floor balcony, the summit of Mount Trebevic, source of the fire, is clearly visible. The bombardment of the library was a deliberate act of vandalism. It destroyed two million books and thousands of precious manuscripts, including the Tefter - a kind of Bosnian Domesday Book containing all the tax and administrative records of Ottoman rule - and burnt off all but a few scraps of the decorative painted frieze. But even acts like this didn't defeat the city's spirit. In response, Sarajevo put on its battle-dress. Narrow side streets, now functioning as sight lines, were blocked off with cars, trucks, trams, blankets, boards, news kiosks, sports lockers - with anything that might shield the fortunate from the snipers. Signs were posted at dangerous corners: 'Danger Zone - Run or RIP.' Parks and football fields were dug up and planted with war dead, each grave topped by a crude wooden marker. Important buildings - the presidency, the ministries, the UN offices - have been fortified with sandbags and planks of wood. Barely a window is left; instead sheets of plastic, stamped UNHCR, fill the gaps. And piles of rubble lie everywhere, their contents carefully sifted by citizens searching for food, for anything useful.

But in the sudden calm of a ceasefire that has held (more or less) for almost two months, rebuilding plans are already under way. Nobody knows if the war is really over; not the locals, nor the United Nations troops and aid workers whose job it will be to administer the city for the foreseeable future. But every available patch of grass is under attack, this time from people digging vegetable gardens. The streets are full, trams run along Sniper's Alley, the one-way system is strictly policed, and, for the first time in many months, the darkness is punctuated by points of light - the power is on.

Last month, after a year's delay, a group of local and invited foreign architects met to discuss the rebuilding of the city. For Hasan Cemalovic, director of Sarajevo's Association of Architects, and his colleagues, the challenge is not only physical but intellectual: to create new homes and new civic buildings, but also to incorporate the memory of the war into the new city, to set in stone 'a warning for the future'. 'I can't stand the idea of rebuilding old buildings,' Cemalovic said, 'but I might keep some damage on the facade.' This was also an opportunity, he said, for 'breaking the bad mood in architecture in Sarajevo'. It's easy to see what he means looking at the grim concrete tower blocks, a legacy of Communism, lining the road to the airport. 'This sort of destruction is a very new experience,' said another Sarajevan architect, Vesna Hercegovac-Pasic, 'not just for Sarajevo, but also for architects. After all, it last happened in Europe 50 years ago.' She has already drawn up plans to renovate one particular building: 'It doesn't matter how divorced from reality that is. We must have plans ready, whether the siege is lifted or not. At least we're not starting from zero.'

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