I was born in in one of the most beautiful European countries – Yugoslavia, whose territories the invaders from the east and the west snatched for centuries and that, unfortunately, collapsed in a bloody civil war in the 90’s. I’ll try to introduce you to the beauty of this area through the travel reports of the most beautiful cities of the region. The city of which I now write – Mostar – is located in the center of both the former state of Yugoslavia and newly formed state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Mostar is the town where the north meets the south and west meets the east, the city where the river Neretva shared culture and religion for centuries, the city where the differences and contrasts can be seen and felt in every corner. Mostar is a city in Bosnia and Herzegovina located on the banks of the river Neretva, and was named after the bridge keepers (bridge = ”most” in local language). Legend has it that the bridge towers were protected by the bridge guards (”mostar” in local language), a total of 160 of them, so the city itself was named after them.
Mostar is a big modern city today, with nearly 100,000 inhabitants. It is located in an ideal geographical position at only 60 km from the Adriatic coast.
Mostar is one of the most beautiful cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and its most famous tourist location is the Old Bridge, which is on the UNESCO list of protected cultural heritage since 2005, along with the surrounding old town. The Old Bridge was the largest arched structure in the world at the time of its construction. It was built in 1566. by the Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, and the constructor was Mimar Hajrudin. The bridge had firmly stood for 427 years until it was destroyed during the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993, when it had its greatest fame in its most difficult time. On that fateful day in the unhappy year of 1993 the image of the old bridge went around the whole world, when live transmission via CNN and other satellite channels immortalized the tragic moment: the spectacular moments of the countdown as the explosion dropped the bridge into the Neretva river. Human stupidity and arrogance were recorded by camera as a testimony to the horrors of the Bosnian war. It was restored and reopened on 23 July 2004. The new bridge is – the same as the old … In fact, it is the same famous old bridge, with its rocks removed from the bottom of the Neretva river (by the Hungarian peacekeeping forces) and restored so the UNESCO enrolled it in the World Heritage list again, without any problem. The old-new bridge is one of the few bridges in the world which has a semicircular arc shape. The arch is exactly 30 meters long. The bridge is 20 m high and 4.5 m wide, with stone blocks connected by steel ties, which were sealed with lead. A stone plaque on the bridge shows the year of completion of works in 944 AH or 1566 according to the modern calendar. The Old Bridge is part of a larger complex, which consists of the guard towers on either side of the bridge.
Tourists usually take photographs on the old bridge, and there are welcome divers. I asked the diver, who was waiting to jump on the edge of the bridge, if he was waiting for a strong blowing wind to pass, and he said he was waiting to collect 50 BAM (about 25 EUR). One of the divers was raising money for the jump, when collected enough, the second diver would jump off the bridge into the river, causing the delight of tourists.
On the right side of the bridge and the tower there is the exhibition of war photos of Mostar, where you can buy tickets, postcards or any souvenirs and provide financial support for the bridge divers’ association.
If you thought that there are no tourists for a day in Mostar then you were wrong. There are daily crowds of those who have only an hour or two to visit the town.
When you cross the bridge you are welcomed by stone paved streets on both sides, surrounded by characteristic stone houses which today serve as open boutiques of various souvenirs. This richness, color and kitsch quite happily match its architecture.
Making kettles with decorations and marquetry craft is nurtured here.
There are also tanners who sell belts, bursa and another souvenirs, and some souvenirs arrived at Mostar counters directly from Turkey, as offer varies from copies of world famous players’ jerseys for 10 to 15 euros, silk scarves for 5 EUR or handmade souvenirs from 3 EUR upward.
You have several vintage buildings in which you can see how people lived once in Mostar. At the entrance to the old town is an old Turkish bath called hamam. Also, there are some interesting old houses layouts, such as the famous Mostar Biscevica House, which had a kitchen in the yard separate from the rest of the house, and special lounges for men and women, with a semi-open porches where people sought shade and refreshment in summer by the Neretva river, where the water temperature is at a constant 10 degrees throughout the year. In these houses which serve as tourist spots you may see traditional Turkish furniture, ornaments, rugs, dishes…
Mosques are what you should not miss in Mostar. Permission is granted to come in many of them , when prayer is not in progress. Admission is charged, with a separate fee if you want to climb in and up the minaret. To those claustrophobic and afraid of heights this is not recommended, but for the others – do not miss climbing the narrow circular scales because you will be rewarded at the top, overlooking the breath taking scenery of the old Mostar. The best to check out is the Karadjozbeg mosque – the oldest and most beautiful mosque in Herzegovina. In the Karađozbeg mosque a kind nobleman at the entrance told us that it was restored after the war, but did not regain its old brilliance. From the outside it looks the same, but inside only small areas of the original arabesque, which had covered the entire walls of the mosque, were preserved. In front of the mosque you must take off your shoes and if your feet are spork there is a small fountain to wash them. Inside, the carpets. Men pray on the floor, while women are on some kind of balustrade. Hoxha (muslim priest) is sitting on the staircase, which symbolize the path to heaven. As a servant of God, he is worthy to sit at half the scale. just a little above the rest, while the highest staircase is reserved exclusively for Allah and Muhammad. The ticket money is used for the mosque maintenance, but if you buy some souvenirs at the entrance, it reportedly goes for medications for those without health insurance, and there are a lot of those in Mostar as we were told.
MOSTAR Wine ‘n Dine
After touring the old Mostar we got hungry, so we headed into the restaurant “Sadrvan”, nearby the old bridge, which we chose for its old ethnic outdoor style and waiters’ ancient uniforms. We ate Karađozbeg steak (veal escalope beaten up thin, stuffed with cream cheese and beef prosciutto, then fried, and also a local mixed dish (sagan dolma + japrak + beef + mashed potatoes). Excellent. Huge portions, but the most expensive main course you get for about 8 euros. We drank a homemade local wine Zilavka which cost EUR 10 per liter, or 5 EUR a pint, so the total bill for two entire large meals, along with half a liter of wine and 2 mineral waters, came out 24 EUR, with the tip 25 EUR.
For dessert in Mostar – do not miss Turkish coffee and baklava cake in one of the old-fashioned cafes.
MOSTAR SHOPPING MALLS
In the evening I fulfilled my wife’s desire to check out the shopping scene in Mostar. There are several shopping centers, of which the most famous is the Mepas Mall, which can compete with shopping centers in most European capitals. Everyone can find something for themselves, so I enjoyed the movie at the Cineplex Cinestar, while she toured the shops of this four-storey shopping paradise.
MOSTAR DAY TRIP in Herzegovina area
For those who decide to stay for a couple of more days, here is a proposal for a full day trip itinerary.
MOSTAR’s beauty and uniqueness – makes me come back again
Despite the crisis and not very good living conditions, Mostar residents manage to survive, with some of them renting their homes to tourists for the weekend, when they move in the apartment of their parents or friends, for two days. They work hard, but they also know how to chill and rest with coffee breaks chats, with plenty of humor and self-irony.
For us the cheapness of Mostar, when it comes to food, drinks, taxi, and even tickets for museums, is another reason we often stop by. But that’s not the only reason, this city on the river, for which I am not bound by any personal or family ties, with its beauty and uniqueness, makes me come back again and again. I like to walk around the old part of Mostar and imagine how it used to be in the past, I like to observe changes in humans and buildings, with their war wounds still not completely healed, while the country and the city is divided constantly by their politicians who, in order to remain in power, had taken over alien invaders’ successful formula of ‘divide and conquer’.
Mostar has its dark side. The war occurred here and has brought evil, intolerance and hatred, separating the east and west side of the city and people. Many homes are still not rebuilt, even some in the center, and stand as markers of sick and open wounds, destroyed or damaged by shells. Along with a few honorable exceptions, Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats live strictly separated on the other side of the river, not only in religious matters but also in everyday life, including sports. Mostar Orthodox Serbs fled to neighboring Serbian territory. This is why an essential part of Mostar’s charm is lost, as its magical combination of three cultures is just a facade, while in real life all of them are separated. Even the tower of the beautiful Catholic church that dominates the town was built as high just to exceed all mosque minarets in the city. I find it most difficult to accept, in fact, I still do not. Tolerance and respect for other religions and customs is my way of life, and even though I’m an Orthodox, prayer call from the minarets is somehow heartwarming as well as our church bells’ ringing.
However, at the northern city entrance fruit plantations and vineyards are noticeable. The country was stolen from a stone. Lavender makes a field towards the Mostar airport look purple. Yes, I imagine that thirty planes a day land at the airport and that their true destination is the city of Mostar, not the neighboring cities. Or that new bridges and buildings are not built by Hungarians or Turks, but Mostar residents.