Mostar - Bosnia & Herzegovina
The Plunge
Building bridges and healing bullet holes
11th October, 2019

Sitting in comfort at our friend's place in Norway a month before, we'd watched an episode of Chris Tarrant's extreme rail journeys. He had gone to Mostar. It looked like an interesting spot, and not only if you liked trains. When A suggested we go there on a day trip from Dubrovnik, I was all over it.

Kravice Park
Pretty enough
We booked a tour, rather than figuring our own logistics and, while it was an amazing trip, I'd avoid the bus ride next time. We got picked up from the Pile Gate early in the morning (early for us) by a small bus and spent the next ten hours sitting in it. If we'd driven there ourselves, it would have been shorter, but we wouldn't have had the commentary about the war and other histories, so it balanced out.

On the way to Mostar, we visited Kravice Park and its waterfall. If we hadn't been to see the multiple falls of Plitvice in Croatia, it would have had more impact. But, we did go to Plitvice, so...

The day was hot, but the water wasn’t. An especially vain woman paddled in the lake below the falls, posing nonchalantly and smiling for Instagram until the pic was taken, before hauling herself out, just ahead of hypothermia.

We tried some tasty apple sweet from a stall. We were told it wasn't Turkish Delight, even though it looked exactly like it.
“Many buildings had been repaired, but many still had bullet holes."
If there was a way to simplify the history of Mostar, then I would. But, there isn't. At the height of the Ottoman Empire, it was a trading route and strategic location between east and west. The locals made a deal with the Ottomans to establish a defensive fort further down the valley at Pocitelj, in exchange for peace. It might have worked for a while, but the area around Mostar seemed to be too much on the border between Europe and Asia to ever have a quiet existence.
Once the war in the 90's was over, Mostar was so much directly on the border that an avenue was chosen right through the middle of town to delineate Orthodox from Muslim. On one side of the road were churches and Orthodox schools and on the other, were mosques. We couldn't tell the difference as we drove along it, but it was no doubt there. A huge hill near the airport we drove past was, in reality, a bunker. Some abandoned and burnt-out factories were solid evidence of the war. One factory had built apartment dormitories for its staff, but with the factory empty now, folk had moved in and claimed them. They paid no rent but it didn't seem to matter. They had nowhere else to live, anyway. Many buildings had been repaired, but many still had bullet holes. The main building next to the bus stop was ridded along its entire length.

The old town of Mostar and it's bridge were the focus for us, and well worth the trip. It was confined to a small area around the street leading to the bridge itself. Commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557, it was a stone arch curved between two towers that had endured until 1993 when the retreating Croats blew it up. Thanks guys, good effort.

On a building next to the main bus stop
The arch was rebuilt in 2004 as a symbol of unity for the town. The newly-paved arch was already polished smooth by countless visitors. At the top, some locals had made a sport of jumping off, plunging twenty metres into the deep water of the gorge. The tourists would pay them and, once they'd gathered enough cash, the guys would take the leap.
The best thing about the bridge was how the town subtly changed, once we had crossed over to the east bank. The people dressed a little differently on the other side, the things on display in the market were more colourful and interesting, and the atmosphere was much more vibrant. The last time I'd been in this sort of culture was 1997, and I loved being back.

Different places in Mostar all had signs claiming to give the best view in town. Our pick was from the top of the minaret. It was the first time I'd ever been inside a mosque and it was lovely and peaceful. Perched on the narrow balcony at the top we could see a long way, and enjoyed the spectacle of a bridge dive. Arms and legs waving furiously, a guy redefined the word "plummet" before surfacing and swimming to shore, drawn in by the cheering crowd.
Back across the river, we took a turning down an alley to get off the main tourist way and found a second bridge. Looking back, I noticed the building we’d passed that fronted onto the old town street was only a facade. The whole back of it had been blown away and was open to the sky. It had then been patched to look complete from the street and there was only enough of the walls left to keep it upright.

Public phones by the path were shattered and overgrown with vines. Away from the main street and the stalls, Mostar was quiet. The level of unemployment was apparently very high and most young people moved away to the cities to try and get work.
Whatever works
“... but, as long as it worked, it was a far better solution than killing."
The trip back across to Croatia and Dubrovnik was tiring. There was a huge queue at the first border back into Croatia, then another wait at a small strip of Bosnian coast which we had to cross over - their 20-odd kilometre seaward link to the Adriatic. Then, back into Croatia again. The multiple borders made for a long day. I had thought that the small strip of coastal Bosnian land was a result of the last war, but it apparently dated from the Ottoman Empire.

The visit to Mostar and the different political structures within Bosnia and Herzegovina left me bewildered but, as long as it worked, it was a far better solution than killing. The link that the repaired arch made in Mostar, seemed to be bridging more than just a river.
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