Mostar: A City Divided
Driving into town, we heard about the bridge, Stari Most: the star of Mostar, a UNESCO world heritage site. It was built in the 16th century by the Ottomans and stood until 1993 when it was blown up during the Croat-Bosniak War. For the next 11 years a cable bridge stood in its place connecting the two sides of town until the stone bridge was reconstructed using the original methods and as much original stone as possible. People now refer to it as the New Old Bridge. If you’re there on the right day you may even see young men collecting money. Once they reach €50 they leap off the bridge, landing in the cold Neretva 20 meters below.
For a town with such rich and ancient history what first got my attention in Mostar however, were the buildings covered in bullet holes and shrapnel hits, looking as if soldiers had only moved out yesterday, instead of nearly 20 years ago. Between 1992 and 1993 the city was subject to an 18-month siege – mosques, cathedrals and Orthodox churches were destroyed along with many secular buildings. The city was divided. Today, the buildings left untouched are generally in poorer neighbourhoods or former government buildings that no one has claimed and so will eventually become ruins. It’s an eerie feeling to see the evidence of the war slapping you in the face so many years later.
Most locals are tired of talking about the war with tourists, which I can understand, but for a lot of people it’s that history that brings them to town more than the reconstruction of a bridge. It’s not hard to understand the curiosity about a place that has seen such turmoil, without wanting to get too close. Is it morbid curiosity or a quest for a deeper understanding? For me, maybe a bit of both. I was only a tween during the Yugoslavia wars so my understanding was very, very limited. I only knew that it was a dangerous place.
Despite the claims of co-operation, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still a country divided: between Bosniak Muslims, Serbian orthodox and Croat Catholics. The national anthem has no lyrics since the three groups couldn’t decide on a set of words. The flag borrows themes from the EU flag because they couldn’t decide on a design. The country also has three presidents at a time so that each group is represented. While they may not be fighting, their co-operating could still use some work.
Our tour guides says that things are better now but I’m not so sure. Just because your car doesn’t get stripped if you park it on the wrong side of town doesn’t mean that things are hunky dory although it’s certainly an important step in the right direction. It’s hard for peace and co-operation to gain traction in a bad economy and the economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently shit with 40% unemployment. I don’t even know how you go about starting to fix that. Tourism is a big part of the puzzle for Mostar, the largest city in Herzegovina. Nowadays, busloads of tourists roll into town every day and flood the old town, spending euro, kuna and convertible marks at restaurants and shops.
While they could all use our money, none of the vendors in the old town are pushy or aggressive with the masses shuffling along the cobblestones. While this place feels touristy, in sharp contrast with Dubrovnik, it doesn’t feel commercial or slick. I bought a handmade copper bracelet for a mere €8, earrings for two. A large plate of ćevapčići (sausages) at a restaurant set me back just over €5. Though the currency of B&H is the convertible mark, if you have Croatian kuna or euro, the businesses of Mostar will take it.
Visiting the town has given me a more immediate understanding of what happened. I wish I had left with the knowledge that it couldn’t happen again in this region, but I’m not so sure. Mostar is still rebuilding and I do hope that that sense of co-operation will continue to grow. Although Stari Most has been put back together like Humpty Dumpty never could and spans the Neretva once more, the city itself is still divided.
October 30th, 2012 at 1:11 pm (#)
Looks interesting. I plan to stop off in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a couple days next spring. Not sure if I’ll make it to Mostar or not.
October 30th, 2012 at 8:31 pm (#)
good article, try sumitting it to a travel magazine, cath
October 31st, 2012 at 5:00 am (#)
I certainly would consider visiting although I’ve always wanted to go to Croatia as well.
It is such a great shame that what are very beautiful places have been damaged so much by war.
Your article is very sombre, yet very revealing and enlightening. Once the war is over the TV cameras leave. We are all left to assume these people will now get on. Your article helps tell us the reality of life there today.
Hopefully one day I’ll get to visit and portray a story of further unity and prosperity.
November 1st, 2012 at 1:47 pm (#)
I hope that I’m wrong and that the change happening over the next 20 years is all positive. I just didn’t leave with that feeling of optimism. I would like to visit again sometime, explore more of the country and talk with more locals. One day only gave me a glimpse of one town.
October 31st, 2012 at 5:30 am (#)
Hi there, Melissa!
I do have plans to travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Croatia in summer next year so Mostar is definitely in the list. So thanks for this write up, it helps a bit in setting the right expectation of the place and its people.
November 4th, 2012 at 1:26 pm (#)
Mostar is beautiful. It is also on my list. Hope the place is not too touristic yet.
November 11th, 2012 at 5:16 pm (#)
I have always wanted to see the Mostar bridge. It’s strange to think of these areas in such turmoil and not too long ago.
November 20th, 2012 at 4:05 pm (#)
I’m really interested in a visit to Mostar now! Great post. And lovely photos!
January 28th, 2013 at 5:33 am (#)
don’t have an IDEA how UN is working in Bosnia now or how it has woekrd in the war. You’re informed by the media about UN taking action here and I don’t blame you for your false information. But please, don’t comment without the right knowledge, the knowledge of people who have survived and is still surviing extremely rough times. Greeting from Bosnia & Herzegovina (:
January 23rd, 2013 at 9:22 am (#)
[…] the Stradun with their ice cream, sip coffee at outdoor cafes and walk the city walls. Unlike Mostar, you have to look very hard to see any evidence of destruction. Up on the walls is about the only […]
February 12th, 2013 at 6:38 pm (#)
Mostar looks so incredibly beautiful.
March 10th, 2013 at 8:01 am (#)
[…] day trip to Mostar included a short stop in Počitelj, Bosnia and Herzegovina, a small town on the Neretva River with […]
February 19th, 2015 at 9:57 pm (#)
wonderful post.Mostar is a my favourite city in a country that i should have grown up in. But being an Australian citizen i am lucky to be able to go back every year. Ive gone back 3 times in 14 months and plan to go back this july for a summer volunteer job, travel around bosnia more and blog about the beauty it has to offer.
August 9th, 2015 at 8:48 pm (#)
Hi, after I’ve read your article about my hometown, I had need just to say thank you girl, for your pleasant words! Thanks for your recommendation for visiting Mostar. This is the only true way to represent what Mostar really is like. And not just Mostar, but whole BiH. Our nature, landscape, people and food…and our history, too. I was a war child. We went trough everything. But we all must look at the future, not past. Thats why Mostar is just worth visiting, indeed.
One more thing, if anyone plan to visit my town, need a room to rent in a private house in Mostar, less than 500m away from Old Bridge and Old Town, for a budget price, I would appreciate if you could check it on a link
Thank you. Regards from Mostar :)
March 7th, 2018 at 8:23 am (#)
I´ve been to Mostar, some day I want to go to Sarajevo.