top of page

The Architectural Legacy of Sarajevo's '84 Winter Olympics

Updated: Jun 5, 2022

The city of Sarajevo hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 1984 was among the most significant events in the history of Yugoslavia. Being not only the first Olympics to be held in the country, it was also the first time any Winter Olympic Games had ever been hosted in a socialist state or in a nation which spoke Slavic languages. Furthermore, the Sarajevo Olympics were unique in that they were not boycotted by any nation of the world and were instead a shining moment of global unity centered around sports, standing in stark contrast to the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics (as well as the subsequent 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics), which were both heavily protested by numerous countries. As such, Yugoslavia, and Sarajevo specifically, felt a tremendous personal responsibility to exceed in every way imaginable in its role as host nation and host city. And for such a historic event, it should come as no surprise that Yugoslavia aimed to populate the city of Sarajevo with equally befitting historic and transcendent architecture to match and mark the importance of this moment when an attentive world would be closely watching them. To achieve such an architectural marvel of constructing a wholly new built environment for these Winter Olympic Games, some of the most innovative and accomplished architects from across Yugoslavia were brought together to work towards this collective goal. This article aims to examine the history and legacy of these achievements of Olympic architecture, as well as the creators who were involved in designing and constructing them.

A map of the many sites, venues and attractions of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo.

However, while many other articles in the past which explore Sarajevo's Olympic sites excessively dwell on the post-Bosnian War ruined condition of many of these locations (while ignoring other aspects of their history, as well as ignoring other non-ruined Olympic sites), this article aims to instead operate as a more holistic historical survey of ALL major architectural works which were created as part of the infrastructure of the Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games. In each entry of the 16 sites chosen for this article, we will explore the site's creation, its Olympic use, its post-Olympic use, how it fared during and after the Bosnian War, as well as its current condition and utilization. In addition, I will include collections of images for each location, both present-day and historical (not just tawdry photos of ruins), so that the architecture of these Olympic creations can be visualized in such a way as to help give a clearer context and understanding of the amazing and dramatic history behind each of them. With this new historical clarity, not only can the legacy of Sarajevo's Winter Olympics be better understood and appreciated, but also the city of Sarajevo itself.


Winter Olympic Sports Venues


1.) Koševo Olympic Stadium

A vintage image of the opening ceremonies for the Sarajevo Olympics at Koševo Olympic Stadium.
A vintage image of the opening ceremonies for the Sarajevo Olympics at Koševo Olympic Stadium.
A vintage image of the opening ceremonies for the Sarajevo Olympics at Koševo Olympic Stadium.
A recent view of a football match being held at Koševo Olympic Stadium in Sarajevo. Credit: Ulicar/Wikipedia

Name: Koševo Olympic Stadium (aka: Asim Ferhatović-Hase Stadium)

Location: Koševo neighborhood, Sarajevo, BiH

Architect(s): Vaso Todorović & Anatolij Kirjakov (for original 1947 construction), then Lidumil Alikalfić & Dušan Đapa (for 1980s renovation)

Years of construction: Original conception: 1947, renovated in 1966 and 1983

Present condition: Good, used for many events

Coordinates: 43°52'25.5"N, 18°24'31.0"E

Description: One of the centerpieces of the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games was the massive Koševo Stadium, which acted as the place which kicked off the entire event with the Olympic Opening Ceremony being held here on February 7th, 1984. While the stadium at Koševo at it appeared during the ceremony was most certainly tailored specifically for the event, the stadium itself dates back as far as 1947. Just after WWII, the architect team of Vaso Todorović & Anatolij Kirjakov devised an enormous "natural" stadium that would fit into the hilly amphitheatre-like landscape of the Koševo neighborhood of Sarajevo. The stadium, which was built largely through voluntary labor from local citizens, post constructed on top of a location that was originally a large man-made lake that operated as a public swimming space, fed by Koševo Stream (after which the new stadium was named). After the completion of the stadium, it operated as the central sporting complex for Sarajevo, hosting not only local events, but major international sporting events as well. When the announcement was made in 1978 that Sarajevo had won the bid to host the Winter Olympic games, Yugoslav planning officials decided that Koševo Stadium would be significantly renovated to better accommodate the expected crowds. These renovations were overseen by the architect team Lidumil Alikalfić & Dušan Đapa. The original stadium had few architectural flourishes or luxuries, so this renovation and expansion greatly modernized the facility and increased its capacity.

As the above photos testify, the 1984 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony held here at Koševo Stadium was full of pageantry and celebration, with articles from such outlets like the New York Times newspaper describing them as "spectacular". Even the huge colorful platform upon which the Olympic torch sat at the top of was an imaginative creation of stunning architectural brilliance, truly operating as a testament to the architectural wonders yet to be seen during this Winter Games. Sources indicate that as many as 45,000 people attended the ceremony and watched the lighting of the Olympic Flame, which burned here at Koševo all throughout the games. The entire 2-hour ABC TV broadcast coverage of the events of the opening ceremony here at Koševo Stadium can be seen at THIS YouTube link. After the end of the games, the stadium went back to its former pre-Olympic use of hosting local and regional sporting events (primarily football matches). Interestingly, as Koševo Stadium remained in territory under the control of ARBiH through the Bosnian War, sources relate that football matches were played here regularly during the tumultuous and violent Siege of Sarajevo. Meanwhile, former sports fields around the stadium were used as improvised graveyards for the thousands killed in Sarajevo during the war.

After the Bosnian War, the extensive damage which the stadium suffered as a result of the conflict was quickly repaired, with a massive re-opening ceremony held at the stadium 1996 by an Olympic athlete organization. Two years after the war ended in 1997, Koševo Stadium famously hosted the British rock band U2 for their "Pop Mart" tour, while Pope John Paul II also hosted an event that same year at the stadium while on a visit to Sarajevo. Today the complex is widely referred to as "Stadium Asim Ferhatović-Hase" (named after the legendary footballer) and continues to host a wide range of sporting and concert events. Future plans are currently being organized to further expand and renovate the stadium.


2.) Zetra Olympic Hall

A vintage image of the speedskating rink next to Zetra Olympic Hall in Sarajevo.
A view of the exterior of the Zetra Olympic Hall in Sarajevo. Credit: Julian Nyča/Wikipedia
A 1984 postcard showing the Closing Ceremony of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games at Zetra Stadium in Sarajevo.
A view of the interior hockey rink of the Zetra Olympic Hall in Sarajevo. Credit: Denis Siljadzic

Name: Zetra Olympic Hall (aka: Juan Antonio Samaranch Olympic Hall)

Location: Koševo neighborhood, Sarajevo, BiH

Architect(s): Lidumil Alikalfić & Dušan Đapa

Years of construction: 1978-1983

Present condition: Rebuilt after ruins, presently in good condition

Coordinates: 43°52'18.3"N, 18°24'34.7"E

Description: As part of the build-up of infrastructure for the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, a brand new indoor ice-rink was constructed adjacent to Koševo Olympic Stadium. Work on this stadium began as soon as the announcement was made in 1978 that Sarajevo had won its bid to host the '84 Winter Olympics. The design for this arena was conceived by the architect duo Lidumil Alikalfić & Dušan Đapa, while engineering work was coordinated by Osman Morankić. Of all of the sports venues built for these Olympics in Sarajevo, Zetra Stadium was the most expensive, costing near a billion Yugoslav dinars to construct. Unveiled in January 1983 for the hosting of the World Junior Speed Skating Championships, the stadium's primary form is composed of six massive steel trusses which support the weight of the entire structure. Over this angular modernist construction was laid copper roof panels while the interior ceiling was left with its girders and utilities exposed. The seating capacity of the stadium is roughly 12,000. Interestingly, the name of the complex "Zetra" is somewhat mysterious and controversial, as its origin and meaning are not clear. The news outlet Radio Sarajevo relates how confusion over the stadium's name even incited some ethnic tensions in Sarajevo. During the 1984 Winter Olympic Games, competitive matches for speed skating, ice hockey and figure skating were held here, including the many medal ceremonies. At the end of the games, Zetra was used to host the Olympic Game's closing ceremonies. Some video clips depicting the events of the closing ceremony can be seen at THIS YouTube link.

A vintage 1980s view of the original untarnished copper roof of Zetra Stadium. Credit: Arhitektura i Urbanizam 94/95

In the six years following the Olympic games, Zetra was used for a number of sporting and cultural events. However, as tensions boiled across Bosnia in the build-up to the Bosnian War in 1991, Zetra Stadium hosted a concert called "YUTEL za mir" (YUTEL for Peace), which was an anti-war event hosted by the Yugoslav National Broadcasting Agency 'Yutel'. It was attended by tens of thousands of young people from across the region. Video scenes from the concert can be watched at THIS YouTube link. This was the last major event held at Zetra before it was struck by missiles during the Siege of Sarajevo, which resulted in catastrophic damage to the arena. Also during the war, French soldiers with the United Nations used the burned-out ruins of Zetra Stadium as a military post. In 1993, the Sarajevo pop music group "Aid" filmed a music video for their song "Help Bosnia Now" in the ruins of Zetra, which can be watched at THIS YouTube link. After the war ended in 1995, Zetra was in an extremely dilapidated and damaged state, while the fields around the stadium were used as an improvised cemetery for the many across Sarajevo who perished during the war. Funds were put forward in 1997 by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the City of Barcelona and the European Union to reconstruct Zetra Stadium, which was completed in 1999.

A 1990s-era view of war damage at the Zetra Olympic Hall in Sarajevo, with war casualties buried in the foreground. Credit:

Today, Zetra Stadium continues to operate an ice rink, which is used for a whole host of sporting events, while the arena also hosts many other sporting, musical and cultural events as well. The complex is often referred to as the "Juan Antonio Samaranch Olympic Hall", named in honor of the IOC head who worked towards reconstructing the stadium after the war's end. In addition, a modest museum exists within the arena dedicated to the history of Sarajevo's 1984 Winter Olympic Games.


3.) The Skenderija Center

Name: The Skenderija Center