The Scarred Beauty of Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina

The beautiful Stari Most majestically arches over the rushing turquoise waters of the River Neretva. This picture postcard perfect bridge lies at the heart of Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina. The city sprouted up on either side of the bridge and was aptly named after the bridge itself. The fast growing, multi ethnic city came to be known as one of the most beautiful and cosmopolitan cities in the Balkans.

The Stari Most (Old Bridge) is an immaculate reconstruction of the 16th-century bridge that spanned the river for 427 years. The bridge was brutally destroyed by the Croatian army in 1993 but thanks to goodwill from around the world, the bridge was reconstructed brick by brick.

The Stari Most (Old Bridge) is an immaculate reconstruction of the 16th-century bridge that spanned the river for 427 years. The bridge was brutally destroyed by the Croatian army in 1993 but thanks to goodwill from around the world, the bridge was reconstructed brick by brick

Unfortunately this diverse harmony was shattered during the break up of Yugoslavia. Between 1992 and 1995, rival factions fought bloody battles throughout the city. The city suffered relentlessly, it was held under siege by Serbians, and later again by Croatians. Images of the reckless destruction of the Stari Most bridge by Croatian forces were beamed across the world, symbolising the utter chaos that had struck the region. Happily, thanks to large scale international efforts, the city rebuilt and now welcomes visitors from all around the world.

Couldn’t get enough of…
Watching divers plunge 23 metres from the Stari Most into the river
Sipping rich Bosnian coffee, overlooking the bridge
Exploring the surrounding country side, including the incredible Kravice Falls

Splashing the cash…
Ćevapi meal with fries and drink – €4
Bottle of Beer (Karlovacko Pivo) – €1.20
Double Room in 3* Villa Riva Guesthouse – €25

Jumping into Mostar
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Jumping and diving off the bridge in the chilly waters below is a centuries old tradition. At 23 metres, it’s not for the faint of heart. Countless jumpers have been injured and even paralysed over the years

I first set foot in Mostar way back in 2007 and was immediately awestruck by the beautiful Stari Most. The WOW! factor increased when we saw a Speedo-clad man dive into the chilly waters below – a drop of over 20 metres! Jostling to impress the girls, local men have been diving off the bridge for hundreds of years. There is a lot of show boating involved, with the scantly clad diver prancing through the crowd, much to the delight of elderly Japanese women who hoot and holla. Eventually, after what seems a decade, the diver clambers over the fence and prepares to dive. The onlookers fall silence and the diver gracefully jumps off the bridge and moments later splashes into the frigid waters below. A deathly silence envelopes the crowd….and then a huge round of applause as the diver resurfaces!

It’s possible for tourists to jump the bridge, but there is a rigorous exercise beforehand to test your mettle. I went for it, but then chickened out when we were practising jumps on smaller dive boards below the bridge. Nooo way was my fear of heights allowing me to jump off a frickin’ bridge! If you do go ahead – be warned. There have been plenty of injuries over the years, so really think about it before even attempting – and double check your travel insurance!

The charming old town as night falls. The old town is a joy to stroll around, despite the slippery cobblestones everywhere!

The charming old town as night falls. The old town is a joy to stroll around, despite the slippery cobblestones everywhere!

 

Trinkets and souvenirs line the old streets. Everything from copper coffee pots and Ronaldo jerseys can be haggled down to a bargain price

Trinkets and souvenirs line the old streets. Everything from copper coffee pots and Ronaldo jerseys can be haggled down to a bargain price

 

A reminder of what life was like in the Old Town. Much of the old town has been rejuvenated since the war, however reminders can be still be found on side streets

Visiting the city today, it’s hard to image the destruction that ripped through the city 20 years ago. The narrow, cobbled streets leading to the Stari Most have been restored to their Ottoman glory. The Stari Most was built by the to bolster trade with the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 16th century. A small, entrepreneurial town sprouted up around the bridge and by the 20th century Mostar was renowned for it finely preserved Ottoman architecture. The clattering and clanking of copper echo through the streets as traditional craftsmen create coffee pots and jewellery. Some of Bosnia’s finest pottery can also be found in Mostar, needless to say bargain hunters will not be disappointed!

The rebuilding of the Stari Most was at the centre piece of revitalising the city. It’s a truly majestic bridge and it’s no wonder that it’s one of the most photographs sights in the Balkans.  After taking hundreds of photos of the Stari Most from dozens of angles, swing on down to the Crooked Bridge (Kriva Cuprija). This is a cute micro version of the Stari Most. The original was sadly destroyed in floods in 2000 but thanks to UNESCO funding, it was rebuilt almost immediately. This is the perfect place to stop for a coffee or some food, as the bridge leads on to some lovely little restaurants set amongst lush greenery.

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The Crooked Bridge in the cool valley of the small Radobolja stream just below the Stari Most. Atmospheric restaurants such as Konoba Taurus offer great food and peaceful views.

Ćevapi and Coffee
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Served in a handmade džezva, Bosnian coffee is very strong. In my opinion, the best way to have it is with Lokum (a sugary soft sweet) and a shot of mouth burning rakija. Perfect hangover cure 🙂

Bosnian and Balkans food in general is massively under rated, and Mostar is home to some of the finest restaurants and cafes in all of Bosnia. The go to snack is Ćevapi, grilled minced meat with fresh bread and usually a side of fries. It’s char-grilled goodness, very filling and can be found for as little as €2.50 in street cafes. FastFood MyWay which is close to the University, is one of the best and cheapest in town.  My favourite restaurant in the Old Town is Konoba Taurus, set on a beautiful terrace next to the Crooked Bridge. This friendly restaurants serves some of the best grilled meats and traditional food – including Mozak (fried veal brain). Yes that’s right, come on….. go on, go for it!

No trip to Mostar is complete with sampling the local coffee. Bosnian coffee is similar to Turkish coffee, but don’t mention this to a coffee make…. it’s Bosnian! The coffee is brewed and served a copper tray in an ornate džezva, a handmade copper pot. For a newbie, the coffee making process is quite complicated (Youtube) but the result is a strong, rich coffee that awakens the soul. Best accompanied with Lokum, a sweet similar to Turkish Delight, and a shot of rakija. Rakija is a plum brandy which depending on the source, can be extremely strong in alcohol content. So take it easy folks!

The Great Divide

The visual scars of war are still evident in Mostar. To this day there are dozens of bombed out buildings, and apartment blocks throughout the city have bullet and artillery scars. This was the view from our original hostel – awful to think of what the local population went through

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Along the main boulevard remain bombed out buildings. The Boulevard is the invisible frontier between the two sides of the city.

In 1992 the Yugoslavian Civil war quickly spiralled out of control. Bosnians and Croatians fought together to prevent Serbian forces from taking Mostar and the wider Herezegovina region. However, once the Serbians were repelled, the Croatian army turned on their Bosnian partners and tried to gain control of Mostar. The city bore the full force of urban warfare, with over 2,000 civilians being killed, 70% of buildings in ruins and the cities diversity shattered. The heart of the city was ripped out when the Croatian army cynically destroyed the Stari Most in November 1993.

Today bullet and artillery shell damage are a physical reminder of the war, but the real scar is the invisible divide between Bosnian Muslims, Croatians and Serbians. Despite once having the highest number of mixed marriages, today Mostar is split into the western Croatian side, and the mainly Bosnian eastern side. The main Boulevard through the city was the frontline of the war, and continues to be the dividing line between the two communities. There is no violence today, just a lingering political stalemate that shows no sign of comprise any time soon.

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It would be wonderful if the towns people would reconcile their differences. Reconciliation efforts by citizens on all sides continue however with politicians pushing for two fully separate city councils, it is unlikely anything will change any time soon

Sleep

For budget backpackers, one of the craziest men in Bosnia, Bata, owns Hostel Madjas. He’s insane, and offers  fantastic Day Tour around the region. More of which I hope to post about in the coming days. The hostel was originally on the left side of the city, but due to the hangovers of the war, the family have more recently moved to a larger premises on the west bank of the river. Available on Booking.com from €8 for dorm bed.

Second time round we stayed at Villa Riva, in a quiet neighbourhood in the Old Town, just minute from the Stari Most. This small guesthouse is wonderful. The diminutive owner Senad is extremely welcoming and helpful; he’s also a qualified masseuse if you’ve got a sore back from that heavy bag! Double Room on Booking.com from €25.

7 Comments

  1. 26/10/2016 / 5:23 AM

    Its good to see a city in two contrasting images before and after war all together. Jumping from the bridge sounds to tempting but the warnings to make me keep it in thoughts and not make it a reality.

  2. 26/10/2016 / 11:44 AM

    I would love to visit this place, we live in Vienna so we are not far at all. I could never imagine jumping down off that bridge. I can imagine those who hit their head of rocks and being badly injured. Too risky for me.

  3. 28/10/2016 / 6:21 PM

    Mostar is a beautiful city to explore and I enjoyed reading the history of the city and the country from your post. The bridge jumping seems exciting but I am too sissy to jump off the bridge. Wonder how deep the water is.

  4. 01/11/2016 / 3:20 AM

    What a lovely post. I wanted to go to Bosnia and never got there. It is terrible how the Yugoslavia break up ravaged the area, but it is nice to see that they are peaceful now. Jumping off the bridge sounds interesting. I would maybe do it, until you said people have been paralyzed!

  5. 01/11/2016 / 10:10 AM

    I would really love to visit Bosnia and Mostar would be my first choice! I have seen so many photos and stories of it that I really want to see it myself. The cobbled streets and people selling things on them… Can’t believe people are actually jumping from that bridge, looks really scary!

  6. 07/11/2016 / 12:54 AM

    It looks like a beautiful city. I didnt thought abaut to go to Monstar, i think becouse i didn`t know anyone who travel to that part of the world, but when i read your post I`ll consider to go to that place.

  7. 30/03/2017 / 3:25 PM

    That is some postcard views right there! Good thing the city has maintained its old town charm, still the evidence of the war is pretty heartbreaking.

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