You Didn’t Know Bosnia and Herzegovina was this beautiful?
Read on to find out why travel to Mostar comes highly recommended, the city’s star attraction, the war in this region, its rebirth and why Mostar is often said to be the jewel of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Reading time: 6 minutes
“When you spend a night in Mostar, it is not the sound that wakes you up in the morning, but- the light. I know this from my own experience. It was the light that welcomed me when I arrived, it followed me from the morning to the evening, and when I left, that light forever stayed in me as the main characteristic of my memories of Mostar…”
Cradled in a valley between mountain ranges, it is split by the rushing water of the Neretva River. The clear, green waters of this waterway run through the fifth-largest city in the country and the most important in the Herzegovina region.
The bus from Dubrovnik lasts hours but the time coasts by as a result of an acquaintance with a young man named Stribor, a local who has been looking for work in Croatia and is on his way back home.
He helps with the translation between the driver and myself and also at the stressful moments at passport control. This leads us to chatting most of the way, as he shares his lunch with me.
It is here, even before entering the country that I am introduced to the generosity of the Bosnian people.
On arrival at the bus station, I bid farewell and make a slow descent into the Old Town.
I can’t explain, but there’s something in the air. It’s as if the entire city is wrapped in a green blanket. Far beyond the herb garden a melodious sound is heard in the distance, the call to prayer from the Karadjoz-beg mosque.
Wandering aimlessly around the village town, I notice the influence of the Ottoman Empire all over. This city could fall into place anywhere in Turkey without hesitation.
As sunset washes the city in golden light, I walk around wanting to see more, further into the main part of town. Church bells are heard in the distance next to the gushing of the nearby river streams and the calls of a salesman.
It’s quiet all around save for one or two tourists and old men sitting on the porch watching time go by.
The symbol of Mostar’s spirit
Passing through the old city, I come across the highlight of Mostar.
The star attraction, standing proudly overlooking the historic center of the city is Stari Most meaning The Old Bridge.
Mostar’s history is irrevocably entwined with that of its bridge.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this beautiful monument was originally built by the Turks in 1566, destroyed in 1993, and rebuilt in 2004, using some of its original pieces recovered from the Neretva River.
Today, it is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, is considered one of the most exemplary pieces of Ottoman-Islamic architecture in the Balkans and is named as the one of the 20th most beautiful bridges all over the world.
The charm of this city lures day- and cruise-shippers from as far away as Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, but once the sun has gone down, the city empties. At night, the bridge is often vacant.
This is great news for anyone staying over, like myself, and I love that I got the bridge all to myself.
Standing here alone with time to reflect, it’s hard to imagine that this city was completely destroyed during the war in the early nineties.
War never makes sense
The city was the most heavily bombed of any city during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the breakup of Yugoslavia. The city and its residents were under siege during most of 1993 and air strikes destroyed many important parts of the city.
I never really understood the war. Of course, war never makes sense, but in this particular case, I couldn’t understand the dynamics and who was fighting whom.
In March 1992, the Bosnian government held a referendum for independence. The Bosnian Croats and Muslims voted in favour while the Bosnian Serbs were largely against independence.
This led to an aggression by neighboring countries, in particular Serbia, to “ethnically cleanse” Bosnian territory by methodically removing all Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks using former Yugoslavian military equipment.
This continued until international intervention finally arrived in 1995.
I rush back to see the Spanish square and the buildings destroyed during the war, which officially ended over 20 years ago. However, remnants of the Bosnian war still remain and many visible signs of Mostar’s troubled recent history can be seen throughout the city. Bullet holes, abandoned buildings and cemeteries — I notice this all around.
Simultaneously, those fragments of war are mixed with moments of generosity, hope, impeccable beauty, delightful villages and multinational architecture all intertwined with stories of its people.
Stories of struggle.
Stories of triumph.
A significant portion of the city has been rebuilt. Travellers might be surprised to see that this formerly war-torn city is a lively and beautiful destination once again, particularly the area within and around the old town, allowing you to appreciate its noteworthy comeback and the loveliness that much more.
I’m really glad to see that this once slumber country is slowly making its way onto the radar of travellers the world over.
My recommendation #1: Wander over to explore this splendor and be charmed by all that it has got to offer
–> Before the majority of tourists and accompanying selfie sticks discover this gem too.
My recommendation #2: “Bridge on the Drina” by Ivo Andric’s is a great travel read for background and context into this area like no other. If you have room, take the whole “Bosnian trilogy”
Didn’t know how beautiful this country is?
Well, now you know 😉
And don’t get me started on the train journey from Mostar to Sarajevo.
The journey is incredibly breathtaking, with views that are out of this world. Mountains that seem to stretch forever, both latitudinally and longitudinally. Covered entirely with tress, green and gold, the peaks extending into the sky.
Only my second favourite train journey… ever
But that’s a story for a future (upcoming) post.