The Shot that Sparked World War I: Sarajevo One Hundred Years Later

This year marks the one hundred year anniversary of the start of World War I. A massive war between numerous countries, World War I was called “The Great War” and “The War to End All Wars.” World War I was one of the deadliest conflicts in all of history taking the lives of over 16 million people. Over 70 million people from 32 countries took part in its battles. Yet, the event that sparked this war and changed history were the actions of one man.

On June 28, 1914, on the streets of Sarajevo, a Serbian nationalist assassinated the visiting Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. The assassin, Gavrilo Princips, was only 19 years-old. He had been recruited and trained by a Serbian organization who called themselves “The Black Hand.” The group conspired and trained to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand in neighboring Belgrade, Serbia. They believed the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, which reigned over the region of Bosnia and Serbia, to be an unfair and oppressive governmental regime.

In June of 1914, seven members of the Black Hand came from Belgrade to Sarajevo to assassinate the visiting archduke. They first attempted to assassinate Ferdinand by bombing his car. While Ferdinand’s car paraded through the streets of Sarajevo, one of the Black Hand members lobbed a bomb from the crowd. The bomb missed Ferdinand’s car and exploded underneath another traveling behind him seriously injuring two of its occupants. Ferdinand’s driver sped away ending the parade. However, Ferdinand ordered the driver to the hospital of Sarajevo so that he might visit the wounded men. The driver, unfamiliar with the city’s narrow streets, took a wrong turn on the way. Realizing his mistake, he immediately stopped the car and began correcting his route. As fate would have it, Ferdinand’s car stopped right in front of the café where Gavrilo Princips was waiting for further instruction from his co-assassins. Princips seized the opportunity, stepped forward, raised his pistol, and fired twice into the car. The shots killed both Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. The assassination of the Archduke was used as the pretext for Austrio-Hungary’s invasion of Serbia. World War I would soon begin.

Today, reminders of this infamous event are spread throughout the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. The café in front of which Princips shot Archduke Ferdinand and his wife is now a museum recounting the assassination. A sign marks the spot from which Princips fired into the car. This past summer, Sarajevo held a centennial memorial to the event that sparked World War I at the museum. This included an exhibition of a replica of Ferdinand’s car on loan from the Museum of Military History in Vienna and a recreation of Ferdinand’s parade route. Many tourists also came to Sarajevo to visit the grave of Gavrilo Princips who died in a Austrio-Hungarian prison in 1918. In 1920, Princips’s remains were disinterred and moved to Sarajevo. He was buried in St. Marks Cemetery beneath a chapel honoring heroes of Serbia. The grave remains one of the most visited sights in Bosnia.

Replica of Ferdinand's Car in Sarajevo June 2014Princeps Museum on June 28, 2014

(Ferdinand Car and Princips Museum by Allen Chase)

Princeps GraveSign of Place of Assassination

 (Grave of Gavrillo Princips)


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