The Architectural Legacy of Sarajevo's '84 Winter Olympics

Updated: Jul 23

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.