Informally known as “Bosnia,” and sometimes known as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bosnia and Herzegovina is bordered by Croatia to the north, west, and south. Serbia is located to the east, and Montenegro to the southeast. A twelve-mile strip of Bosnia is on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.
Our visit to the country entailed a short ferry ride from La Perla to the coast of Croatia and a two-hour bus ride to Mostar, as well as bringing our passports and clearing customs at the border along the way. It was well worth the effort, plus doing the reverse on the way back! (Of course, to make our wait at the border go quicker, Sinisa gave a gift of bottled waters to the customs agent as a motivation for him to stamp our passports faster.)
Mostar is the cultural and economic capital of the Herzegovina region of the country. It took a huge hit during the Bosnian War in the early 1990’s when 100,000 Bosnians were killed. President Clinton (thankfully!) forced an end to the war by locking Bosnian and Serbian leaders in a room at an air force base until an accord was signed.
Numerous buildings were destroyed during the conflict. We saw evidence of that destruction since 3% of those buildings have yet to be reconstructed, due to their desire to preserve history of the old architecture. In addition, the cost of rebuilding in the original, historic style is too high. The country is still struggling to recover from the devastation, so bombed-out buildings stand just as they did when they were shelled. It was as if time stood still in some parts of the city.
There are three main religions in Mostar—Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox. We learned about all three during our walking tour of the city, which included a visit to a Turkish home dating back to the 1700’s, and a mosque, which had been destroyed and rebuilt exactly like it was before the war.
The highlight of Mostar is Stari Most, (the “Old Bridge”), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The historic stone bridge crosses the Neretva River, dividing the city into Croat and Muslim sections. Constructed in the 16th century, the original bridge was destroyed by a bomb during the Bosnian war and has since been reconstructed. It reopened in 2004 and is considered an exemplary piece of Balkan Islamic architecture.
Tourists gather on the bridge not only to enjoy its architecture and views, but to also watch the daring divers that take flying leaps into the water 78 feet below. (They won’t dive until they have received 30 Euros of tips beforehand.) The divers make a big show of it, pretending to get ready to dive, just so they can pocket more tips. Once they have gotten their money, they actually take the dive. The funny thing is that some of the older divers aren’t actually the ones to carry out the dive. They are seasoned at enticing the tourists to part with their cash; however, once it comes time to make the dive, a younger (and less beaten-up) diver comes out on the bridge to do it. (Presumably, they have agreed to a fair division of the pot…)
We watched the circus unfold as we dined with our group on the patio of a restaurant with the best views of the bridge. While we enjoyed a local brew and native cuisine, we kept an eye on the divers, wondering if they were ever going to actually make the leap. Two dives took place that we saw; however, it wasn’t worth missing lunch to try to photograph as I waited, and waited, and waited for the dive to actually take place!
During our free time, we wandered up and down the cobblestone pedestrian street, photographed the local craft displays, and joined the other tourists on the bridge to watch the divers. It was all so enjoyable, and time sped by much too quickly. Before we knew it, we needed to head for our bus for the journey back to La Perla.