Split to Mostar - Lost Again

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April 26th 2018
Published: April 26th 2018
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Car hire was definitely the way forward for a day trip into Bosnia from Split. The bus, as usual, is a rather time consuming affair and car hire is comparatively cheap. However, a serious of tunnel closures, diversions and the absence of a sat nav and we became quickly unstuck. Instead of barrelling down the major inland conduit of the E65, we found ourselves hugging the coastline on the Route 8 coastal road. The scenery was moving sluggishly by as we went through the closely spaced seaside resorts along this route. Traffic stopping regularly at every crossing and road work. Fortunately the further along we went along Route 8, the more dramatic it became and we eventually started losing the signs of tourist industry over-development and the straggle of cheap pensions and motels. Time anxiety in the end got the best of us and we cut inland on the route 39 climbing through a succession of switch-backs before heading through the rolling karst scenery richly forested with small trees and shrubs. Once we were on the E65, it was double-quick to the air lock system of the land border crossing between Croatia and Bosnia. With minimal queues we were into Bosnia in very little time.

Approaching Mostar from this direction is a joy as the run takes you along the very verdant Neretva river valley using the M17. There is intermittent views of the surging greenish waters of the river as you drive along. The first striking landmark is the Citadel of Počitelj and it's small town. This is a small octagonal shaped fortress that is still inhabited today. It was built in the late 14th century, but was expanded by the Ottomans and the Hungarians throughout its history. The citadel used to be of high strategic importance, but since the late 1800s it lost its usefulness. Consequently, much of the original architecture has not been tampered with since then as it has become bypassed by time, and it is therefore exemplary of medieval and Ottoman design. Within the citadel is a fortress built in the 15th century, which is also well preserved. The citadel benefited from being relatively unscathed during the civil war of the 1990s.

It was then on to our first proper stop, turning east off the M17 at Buna, keeping right and driving along the boundary fence for Mostar airport for around 14 km you eventually find yourself in Blagaj. Pathways lead you to where an impressive underground river emerges at the base of a steep limestone escarpment. Snuggled into the folds of this cliff is a Dervish monastery. This Blagaj Tekija was built around 1520, there is a striking fusion of architectural style with a mix of both Ottoman and Mediterranean. Blagaj Tekke is a monastery built for the Dervish cults. The buildings are two-stor, with protruding oriel windows. One of the upper rooms contains tombs of lslamic missionaries of Turkmenian origin who lived and practiced Sufism at in the mid 13th century.

It was then onto Mostar, parking some way from bridge, we were struck by how much damage remains from the 1990s war. A number of once-grand buildings stand empty and condemned. The plaster of the outside walls of these buildings are pockmarked by bullet holes are extensively scarred by bursts of shrapnel. It ensures that the restored bridge of Stari Most is all the more a testament of renewal and continuity. As we approached, divers were moving along the outside railing hand-over-hand hustling cash form tourists in preparation for a plunge into the water below. The guy is his mid-twenties, fiddled relentlessly with the zip of his wet suit and then stepped off the bridge tucking his knees up and shooting down to the water some 30 m below.

Retracing our route along the M17 and onwards we were soon back in Croatia. The E65 was deserted of vehicles; the road an empty concrete ribbon spooling out over the craggy limestone karst countryside. We were soon back in Split, and in the early evening the lights were coming on around Diocletian’s Palace.


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