There are two sides to every story, so they say. A city divided, Mostar tells the tale of two nations and two religions caught at a crossroads.
When the Mostar bridge collapsed during the Balkan War of 1993, so did the unity of the country. Today, ethnicity still runs a deep divide between the Catholic Croats on the west bank and the Muslim Bosniaks on the east. There are two separate school systems, utility companies, and universities, each serving only half of a small city of only 72,000 people.Despite the visible tensions, Mostar is captivating and full of old-world charm. The Ottoman influence is prevalent, from religion and architecture to clothing and food. A visit to Mostar is a humbling experience, revealing the strength of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as it rebuilds from a turbulent past.
Pass over the Stari Most
Built in the 16th century, the iconic Stari Most or “Old Bridge” gracefully arches over the emerald waters of Neretva River, connecting the two sides of the city. This Ottoman-style bridge stood for 427 years, until destroyed in 1993 in the war following the collapse of Yugoslavia. In 2004, the bridge was rebuilt (by hand!) with support from the United Nations, The World Bank, UNESCO and European countries including Croatia and Turkey.As a UNESCO World Heritage structure, Stari Most is one of Europe’s finest examples of Islamic architecture. It remains a grand symbol of connecting the people and cultures of the east and west.
Climb to the top of Koski Mehmed-Paša Mosque
Koski Mosque, built in 1617 on the banks of the Neretva River, was severely damaged in the war. Yet the mosque still boasts its original colors, ornaments and decorations. After 89 steps up a narrow passageway of the minaret of the mosque, you will be rewarded with a sensational 360 view of the city and bridge below. Enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee in the small courtyard outside, surrounded by fountain taps, tea-stall and a garden area to enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee.
Out of respect, you will need to cover your shoulders with shawls supplied near the entrance. Photos are permitted inside the mosque. Current admission price is 12 KM/6 euro/48 Kuna for both the mosque and minaret.
Watch cliff dives from the bridge
There’s no reason for boredom in Mostar! Brave locals will provide all the entertainment you need. The tradition of diving from the Stari Most bridge began back in 1664. In 1968, the city held it’s first diving competition, which still continues on the last weekend of July each year. The Red Bull Cliff Diving World series also makes a stop in Mostar in September.
If you spot a muscular man walking around in a tight black Speedo, he is likely collecting money before he makes the 78 foot plunge into the cold and quick river below.
Do not attempt to jump off the bridge on your own. It’s dangerous and people have even died. For the daring souls out, you can buy “training” from the locals for 20 €, to make the dive (or flop!)If you wander down to the river below, you can go for a dip beneath the bridge. Beware of swimming too far out as the current is fast and the water chilly.
Shop the čaršija markets
Expect the Old Town to be always buzzing around the čaršija markets along the river banks. The markets are reminiscent of a Turkish bazaar. Shop for jewelry, pottery, glass lamps, paintings and more – all authentic and unique oriental souvenirs. Don’t be surprised if a friendly shop owner stops you for a chat. Take time to look around!The local currency of Bosnia is the marka (KM), which is currently 1 euro to 1.96 markas. Hostels cost around 20KM / 10 €, meals around 8KM / 4 €, beer at a bar around 3KM / 1.5 €.
Reflect on the War
The destruction of the Bosnian War in ’92 is still evident. Sadly, another Siege of Mostar occurred from ’93 – ’94 when the Croatian Defence Council and the Army of Republic of Bosnia fought to gain control of Mostar. The Croats took over the west side of the city and expelled thousands of Bosniaks into the east side. Croation forces engaged in a mass execution, ethnic cleansing and rape on the Bosniaks of the West. Take a moment to reflect on this sobering time and celebrate how far this city has come.
Will Mostar ever fully recover? Or remain a city forever divided?