The country of Bosnia-Herzegovia is stunningly beautiful. The deep river valleys, tall Dinaric Alps, and high meadows with wandering cattle reminded us of Switzerland. Unfortunately, politically, the country is probably about as far from the Swiss neutrality as one can get. Before the 90’s war, Bosnia was the former Yugoslavia’s most diverse state with an approximately equal balance of Croats (Catholics), Serbs (Orthodox), and Bosniaks (Muslims).
Considered a traditional point where East meets West, the Old Town of Mostar is very evocative with tons of minarets and the world famous Old Bridge spanning the Neretva River. The Ottoman era Coppersmith Street with its cobbled stones probably hasn’t changed much in centuries, except for the addition of electricity and a change in what gets hawked from the shops. Although many places still sell traditional crafts such as metalwork, and you can often see workmen clinking away making their goods.The bridge and its surroundings are exceptionally beautiful and we ended up dining at sunset in a restaurant with a terrace overlooking it. Commissioned in 1557 by Sultan Suleyman himself, the bridge was completed 9 years later – and then destroyed by Croat forces in November 1993 from the location where a huge cross now sits high on the hill.
The bridge was rebuilt under UNESCO oversight at a cost of US$13,000,000 using traditional materials and methods and again offers a stunning vista of the surrounding valley and a photogenic icon for visitors to photograph.
Mostar is perhaps as good as any example of why the war seemed so confusing to those living elsewhere. Initially the Croats and Bosniaks together defended the city, repulsing the Serbs, but then later the Croats turned on the Bosniaks and are responsible for most of the destruction we see today. Overall, this was a war with no clear “good side” and “bad side”. And although there were plenty of bad people, some of whom were prosecuted in the Hague, others have avoided being brought to justice.
Since the war, two major tall symbols have been added to the town skyline, the aforementioned giant white cross on the hillside, which seems out of place, and an enormous (100 ft tall) Venetian style bell tower at the Franciscan church, which at least seems somewhat less incongruous.
It is not very hard to see evidence of the conflict. Bombed out buildings are all over the place and from what I understand, the main bank in the town went out of business, making the ownership rights of many of these properties unclear, hindering further rebuilding. Walking down a street the next day we came across a graveyard where just about all of the tombstones had the same year of death – 1993. Very poignant.
There are a few other minor sights in town. A new Hammam (Turkish Baths) museum was recently opened so we went to visit that and saw what such a place might have looked like in its heyday. There were displays of the various artifacts used and an explanation of the role of the Hammam, not just in hygiene, but also in social culture. There was a professionally made video showing very beautiful models (male and female) in the separate areas of the bath and what their activities might be like. Kelly and I thought that it looked like the introduction to a soft porno video!
Heading out of town, we made a stop at the nearby village of Blagaj, which is at the source of a spring at the base of a cliff and has a Dervish (a Muslim spiritual sect) house right alongside it. Kelly was helped to put on traditional dress that ended up making her look like she might have in a shtetl 150 years ago. Still, it was a pretty locale and the water was teaming with fish.
Time to say goodbye to Bosnia and return to Croatia.