Just 30 km south of Mostar lies one of Bosnia’s hidden jewels, the tiny town of Počitelj (pronounced Poach-ih-tell). Perched above the turquoise Neretva River, this small fortified town is a window to the past and a welcome respite from the destruction seen in so many of Bosnia’s most traveled cities. As one of the few towns that survived the war relatively intact, it provides a rare chance to see what Bosnia would have looked like had it not been for the years of war the country endured.
After a brisk thirty minute bus ride, the town came into view and our eyes were immediately drawn up – the impressive fortifications and citadel stood ominously over the city. Although laying partially in ruins these days, we got the feeling that the citadel and walls once stood watch over an important and thriving town. While the origins of the town remain mysterious, it has been surmised that the town was established some time around the late 14th century.
Over the last 7 centuries, the town has served as a strategically important fortified town and an important administrative and trading outpost for the Bosnian, Ottoman, Hungarian, and Venetian Empires. Today it is recognized as a centre of both great cultural importance and great concern as many of its buildings are starting to crumble as people move into the “new town” just down the road. This has resulted in the town being named on UNESCO’s 100 Most Endangered Sites. It’s bid for World Heritage Status is viewed as a possible saving grace for the city and will hopefully stave off any more destruction to the city’s historical features.
Walking around the city feels like taking a step back in time, immediately Perast, Montenegro came to mind as we climbed upwards into the town and it’s numerous rock walls. Vendors selling freshly opened pomegranates and figs, and artisans hawking handmade crafts lined the main street, a small cobblestone pathway about a hundred meters long, and many locals could be seen hanging laundry or making their way down to the mosque.
Hiking around the city is an extremely enjoyable way to spend a lazy afternoon. The winding stone streets are enchanting, and we were immediately taken with this tiny town. Locals waved from the yards or balconies and pointed us down the best paths as we wandered by. We felt very welcome – a feeling that was becoming familiar in Bosnia. A short climb took us up to the donjon tower (aka the keep), one of a few scattered pieces of the town’s fortifications still almost wholly intact. From here it’s possible to see both the new town, located on a flat region near the riverbank, as well as the entire old town with it’s graying tiled roofs and flashes of bright red pomegranates sparkling in the sun.
As far as daytrips from Mostar go, it is impossible to find a more quaint destination, and considering its proximity it would be a shame to pass on Pocitelj. If you’re planning a visit of your own, we’d recommend arriving mid-morning to avoid climbing in the heat. It’s also a good idea to bring water and a picnic lunch as there are only a handful of restaurants in town and many seemed to be closed during our visit in the shoulder season.