Our first impressions of Mostar were of the electronic variety, photos online of the city’s famous Stari Most Bridge give a sense that the city is a tropical paradise, with crystal waters shining turquoise in the sun and charming blocks of perfectly preserved brick facades, sandy and worn by the fierce sun. We even debated making a daytrip of it from Dubrovnik last fall, but decided that just a few hours wouldn’t do it justice. We didn’t forget these images, however, and made sure to work Mostar into our current trip through the Balkans.
Reading up on the city, everyone is eager to talk about “the bridge” (no, not the TV show). Since the 16th century visitors have stood in awe of this Ottoman masterpiece, a true engineering marvel in its day. Presently the Old Bridge (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the old town) covers everything from postcards to magnets to t-shirts to watercolour paintings by local artists – in fact, we were hard-pressed to find any souvenir that didn’t have an image of the bridge on it. The story of its history, tragic destruction, and reconstruction even has its own museum. However, after four days in the area we realized that Mostar is much more than the Stari Most Bridge, even if its other parts are a bit rough around the edges.
How long are you here for? Four days! You can see the bridge and the nice streets in two hours – maybe you should leave early.
– Cranky American Lady at the Bus Station in Mostar
These were the first words we heard in Mostar, from a peach of a lady sitting in the bus station. Perhaps her demeanor should be excused, as she didn’t realize that the clocks fell back an hour the night before. Our fears were quickly dissuaded by our amazing host Mia when she picked us up from the bus station to take us to her place. She assured us that there was lots to see and do, both in Mostar and in the surrounding area.
Much like Sarajevo, Mostar is in a state of repair. Nearly twenty years after the end of the Bosnian War, many buildings still show the scars inflicted by bullets and mortars, and a surprising percentage of large buildings still stand completely abandoned, left for Mother Nature to reclaim. We were struck with a familiar sobering feeling when we saw pictures of the Old Bridge (which collapsed after being struck by 60 mortars) and the destroyed Orthodox Cathedrals. We even walked the old front line along Bulevar Revolucije, which in 1993 separated the Croat- and Bosnian-controlled sides of the city by just 5 meters.
Perhaps the most surreal experience came when we decided to explore some of the abandoned “snipe towers” that line the old front-line. Climbing up the crumbling staircases over shattered glass (definitely a “Pat wouldn’t like this” moment), we stood in the exact locations that snipers would have picked off enemy soldiers and citizens just 20 years ago. We even found a surprisingly high number of shell casings still leftover, just waiting to be cleaned up one day.
I don’t want anyone to read this and think there is nothing beautiful in the city, In fact, it is perhaps one of the most beautiful cities in all of the Balkans. Set in a stunning valley with the dazzling turquoise Neretva River running through it, the city still exudes charm like it’s going out of style. The winding streets of the Ottoman old town lead to parks, mosques, and some of the best examples of Ottoman houses in all of the Balkans.
Upon leaving the city, we contemplated whether allocating 4 days to Mostar was the right choice. Sure, you could see most of the city in a couple hours like the lady in the bus station said – but why would you want to? We spent hours relaxing in the sun, exploring different parts of the city, eating burek and cevapi, and taking Mostar in. Who knows, in 10 years Mostar may be at the point where travelers reminisce about when “Mostar had a truly authentic feel” and wasn’t just another destination overrun by tourists.
Have you ever been to Mostar? What did you think of the city? Let us know in the comments below!