Mostar

Bullet-holes and muezzins

tl;dr:Mostar is very hot, has a beautiful old town, with a world famous bridge and a lot of houses with bullet holes and some street art.

After just one full day in Dubrovnik our trip started for real and we left this middle-ages Disneyland by bus. Tickets are the equivalent of 15€ (115 KR) and can be had online http://www.buscroatia.com/de/bus-dubrovnik-mostar/. Make sure you a euro in change if you have stowaway luggage. It wasn’t entirely clear, if this was just a little extra income for the driver or part of Bus Croatia’s business model. The latter seems more likely though, since this happened with another carriers as well and you even get a tiny sticker around you bag handle.

The patio of our aptly-named house in Mostar; "The Old Lady"

The patio of our aptly-named house in Mostar; “The Old Lady”

Once again we booked an apartment through Airbnb and our host Dalibor  offered to pick us up at the bus station. Even though it was already late afternoon when we arrived in Mostar, the moment we stepped out of the bus, the heat hit us like a solid wall. Mostar is considered one the hottest cities in Europe. The reason for that is its location in the deep valley of the river Neretva. The city itself is a mere 60m above sea level while the surrounding mountains rise well above 1.500 m – so August might not be the ideal time to visit…. On top of that it is Bosnia-Herzegovina’s (BiH) wettest place with more than 1500mm of rainfall every year – that’s about three times as much as Berlin gets. All that makes for a very green and lush vegetation even in middle of summer,although the mountains in this part are not very good at retaining water.

The old bridge in torrential rains that had the river rise and the bridge empty so fast you could actually watch.

The old bridge in torrential rains that had the river rise and the bridge empty so fast you could actually watch.

The place we rented “The Old Lady” turned out to be whole house with two bedrooms, a living room which even had an AC and a large partly covered patio that was just perfect to hang out – if we wouldn’t have preferred to cool down in the climatized living room. The interior design is aptly described by the name of the place, and it was clear Dalibor didn’t change much after his mother died or moved out, he didn’t really want to elaborate which it actually was. He and his wife welcomed us with Drinks and fruit and were the overall perfect hosts and would be happy to host any of you anytime.

Traditional bakery with a wood oven in Mostar

Traditional bakery with a wood oven in Mostar

After Dubrovnik Mostar felt much more real with real people living there, doing business that is not exclusively tourism, even close to midnight all the cafes on the main street were packed with locals and visitors alike. From the start Mostar felt like a city ready to finally get going, even though there are bombed out houses on almost every street but the old town. In most cases it is simply impossible to locate the owners. To understand the current situation I’d like to give you a brief history if the place.

Abandoned ruin of a residential Bildung with bullet holes in Mostar

Abandoned ruin of a residential Bildung with bullet holes in Mostar

After the fall of Constantinople the Osman Empire moved north and took over the settlement that had developed around the wooden bridge (Most) over the Neretva around 1460. In the following decades they fortified the town, built mosques and replaced the bridge with the now well-known  Stari Most (old bridge) which is as near to a national symbol in BiH as it gets. After the construction of two forts on both sides of the bridge Mostar finally got its name; meaning “guardian of the bridge”. It become one the economic centres of the Herzegovina and for a time even the political. Caravans from Turkey and the coast would meet here. It always a city for Muslims and Christians alike, with the eastern side being predominantly muslim and the western croat and christian, although you could never tell by just looking around. There are churches and mosques on both sides of the river, but, apart from a few hundred exceptions, today almost all citizens live in ” their” respective halves. In the civil war both sides shelled each other for months and a “soft” form of ethnic cleansing took place where people just moved across the river to be with “their” people. Writing this makes the whole story sound even more absurd by the minute. Before the war, in the socialist republic of Yugoslavia, no one really cared what you were or what you believed. I’ve known people born in the 70s who didn’t even know they were Bosniak or Croat before the war broke out.

Panorama of the old town in Mostar.

Panorama of the old town in Mostar.

Of course sooner or later the bridge got hit and was destroyed, becoming a world wide symbol for the separating forces this war unleashed. All the more reason to rebuild it and the surrounding old town. Today it is lovingly rebuilt making Mostar one the biggest tourist attractions of the country, with dozens of small shops and cafés selling everything that is supposedly typical for the region like small mokka sets, cheap replicas of Ottoman daggers or toys made of spent shells. The latter really had me confused, while I was able to see bullets come to second life as a pen as a queer sort of recycling, I couldn’t think of any good reason to turn them into tanks or jetfighters after a war that killed over 100.000 people in total.

The home of the family Muslibegovic is centuries old and a hotel with a small museum nowadays.

The home of the family Muslibegovic is centuries old and a hotel with a small museum nowadays.

One thing that shouldn’t be missed while you’re there is to witness one the local take 27m jump from the bridge into the river. Sooner or later one them will climb the railing and start collecting money. Once their purse is filled they take the plunge, the best place to observe this isn’t on the bridge itself but from one the restaurants that cling to the steep river banks. After a torrential downpour that saw the river at least a metre in half an hour and created quite a few waterfalls the less-experienced cliff divers would even take practice jumps without first collecting money. It as somehow comforting to see that there would always be to guys providing backup safety on the bottom in case something goes wrong. In July there is the traditional cliff diving event, where the locals compete for honour – and presumably the adoration of the opposite sex. This year has already seen the 449th installment of this merry competition. Somewhat younger and more commercial is the stop of Red Bulls cliff diving series in August.

Apartment building from the 60s/70s in Mostar. I loved the way the different flats where stacked upon each other like so many toy boxes.

Apartment building from the 60s/70s in Mostar. I loved the way the different flats where stacked upon each other like so many toy boxes.

Last but not least, Mostar is not only a town of ruins, pitoresque mosques and caravanserais but also of some very interesting street art which I will feature extensively in a separate post. A lot of it can be seen inside and outside an abandoned commercial high rise close to the bus station.

Street art in an abandoned bank building in the modern part of mostar.

Street art in an abandoned bank building in the modern part of mostar.

If you prefer to stay in a hotel instead of private rooms, I suggest the Muslibegovic house, an Ottoman house that’s been owned by that family since it was built 200 years ago and now offers a dozen beautifully furnished rooms around a magical courtyard/garden and houses a small museum. A double starts at 70€ for which you get to stay in a truly unique hotel.

Next: Sarajevo

One of the tower fortresses guarding the old bridge in Mostar - Stari Most

One of the tower fortresses guarding the old bridge in Mostar – Stari Most

A little extra:

 

This is part of a six-issue series from a roadtrip through Bosnia and Montenegro in August 2016:

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