Well and truly tourist friendly, BiH with its beautiful landscapes, interesting sites and difficult history was a compelling destination to spend 10 days. Mostar was our first stop and we arrived here by bus from Croatia. Funnily enough Croatia is split in two by twelve kms of coastline that is given to Bosnia, saving it from being landlocked. This was a done deal in Ottoman times. By 2022 though, Croatia will have built a 24 km bridge that bypasses Bosnia rendering the current slow border crossings a thing of the past.
Mostar is home to the famous Stari Most, a 16th century stone arched bridge. Heavily bombed in the 1990s war, it has been rebuilt.
The bridge is a popular place for divers to plunge either head or feet first into the icy waters of the river 20 metres below.
Red Bull sponsors an international diving competition here each August and Australians are up there with the best as The Australian reported on 26 August ‘Australia’s Rhiannan Iffland has raised the bar in taking a leap, jumping from the famous Mostar Bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina into a river 21m below to secure her position as the most decorated woman in cliff diving.‘ Pity we missed her feat by a month.
Mostar’s Old Town with its strong Ottoman influence is picturesque with cobbled lanes that are home to all the things a tourist needs – good coffee, tasty food, some trinkets and the occasional raki.
Mostar surrounds yield some excellent sites worth exploring.
There’s certainly a lot of beauty in this part of Bosnia. However, on the back of this beauty is the awful war that saw Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) attacked first by Croat Catholics and then Serb Orthodox Christians from 1992-95. Bombings and worse, genocide were the order of the day.
Eight thousand Bosniak men were killed by Serbs in what’s been termed an ‘ethnic cleansing’ and a visit to the Museum of War and Genocide Victims whilst hard going, seemed essential. The scenes from the concentration camps and the survivors’ stories are harrowing and you have to wonder what we’ve learnt, if anything from previous genocides. The 24th anniversary of the genocide was remembered during our stay.
The civil war still leaves its mark. Bombed and bullet ridden buildings can be seen everywhere and this I expected. However, I was completely taken by surprise at the incredible warmth of the people. Their friendliness in welcoming tourists, despite their own hardships then and now, underscores their extremely resilient nature.
Our hotel (the excellent Inn Town) was next door to a bombed girls’ school-see photo below. Thankfully the girls had left the building before the bombing.
The two photos below are typical of buildings you see in Mostar – bombed and pitted with bulletholes.
As we learnt, BiH is a country where people see themselves first as Muslim Bosniaks or Bosnian Croats or Bosnian Serbs. We walked from the Bosniak Old Town to the Croat side and the difference was palpable. Tree lined streets, large open aired cafes and some quite gracious buildings were the norm. The Croatian flag flew high and it took me a minute to remind myself that I was in Bosnia. Many are hoping that when the mindset changes and people refer to themselves as Bosnians, then the real job of reconciling the past with the future can begin. For the time being though, that mindset sounds utopic.
There’s so much to see and digest in Mostar that it’s worth spending a few days here. Our next stop is Sarajevo.