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Published: October 6th 2009
Stari Most (1)
from the river bank
Caught the early morning bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar. The scenery along the journey was great, first up along the Dalmation coast (going in and out of the Bosnian coastal enclave in Nuem) before turning inland over the border again to the mountains of Bosnia. We arrived in the valley of Mostar, checked into the hostel near the bus station before heading into town.
There's just one main attraction in Mostar - the Old Bridge (or Stari Most) from which the town derives its name. With features like this, there's always the possibility that they've been over-hyped so much that they end up being underwhelming. Not this time. Walking my way down the main commercial street and into the cobbled streets of the old town, suddenly the bridge presents itself. Stunning. Words can't describe the beauty and grace of the structure as it stands majestically high over the Neretva river. Hopefully the pictures will give some indication.
Either side of the bridge, the old town is a maze of cobbled streets with shops selling souvenirs (including Turkish goods and items moulded from old bullet and shell casings) and many bars and restaurants. The main attraction though
Stari Most (2)
from the Old Bridge Museum
is finding new spots and angles from which to view the bridge, either on the riverbanks on all sides, from other bridges or the excellent view from Koski Mehmed Pasa mosque. The steady stream of tour groups who day trip in from Dubrovnik just seem to shuffle along the main route and quickly leave however. To be fair though, most of them look like they were around when the bridge was originally built in the 15th century, so maybe climbing minarets and trekking along the riverfront is a little optimistic!
By night, most of the tour groups have left and when I visited there was only the locals and a handful of visitors around the old town. Why people don't choose to stay is inexplicable, because Mostar is wonderful at night. There's loads of quite good restaurants and bars in stunning locations, either along the riverfront with perfect views of the lit bridge or in the old town west of the bridge clustered around the smaller Crooked bridge, a replica of Stari Most. It's a strange thing to wish more tourists upon a town like this (and perhaps what made it so special was the very lack of such
Stari Most (3)
from Lucki Most south of old town
an invasion), but it seemed a shame that so many of the restaurants and bars were so deserted.
The Old Bridge, as well as most of the town, was of course almost completely destroyed during the war in the early 90s. It's hard to grasp the mentality of the people who would look at a structure like this and happily shell it into the river, but then I guess that's the least of the atrocities committed during the conflict. The bridge, and most of the surrounding buildings, towers, mosques and churches, have since been brilliantly rebuilt, using the exact same materials, design and techniques of the original 15th century structure. What had been a symbol of the atrocities of war has now become a symbol of reconciliation and reconstruction.
While much of the city has been rebuilt, there are still many destroyed buildings, especially along the old front line. It's fascinating and a little disturbing to walk along here (and guiltily take photographs). Several buildings are completely gutted, only the walls remaining which are riddled with bullet holes. It was good to see that 19th century Austro-Hungarian Gymnasium (school), mentioned in the guidebook as derelict, has now been
Stari Most (4)
from the river bank
fully restored and functioning as a school again. Much work remains to be done however.
The Gunpowder Tower just on the west of the bridge is the home of the Mostar Divers Club. These are local guys who dive off the Old Bridge from its summit 21 metres down into the river below (which is not very deep so they need to be very careful with the diving technique). Usually they round up some money from passing tour groups and if enough is collected, they will demonstrate their technique. Luckily, a couple of times while I was having a refreshing late afternoon beer by the riverfront, I managed to capture a couple on video (see above). It should be pointed out however, that the 21 metre height is only one-fifth the height of the Vic Falls bridge I jumped off. Fair play, they weren't tied on, but everything is relative......
All in all, a magical town. Not sure if it's the existence of the war ruins or the relative lack of tourists, but Mostar felt a lot more authentic than Dubrovnik. Next, off to the heart of Bosnia - Sarajevo. Frontiers of Travel - Inspiration and Information for the Adventure Traveller
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