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I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Travel Dates 30th-31st May 2011.
Click on any picture to see a larger version. 

The bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar was cheap and comfortable.

The route went through several border crossings, because Dubrovnik is separated from the rest of Croatia by a narrow extension of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) which gives that country an Adriatic coast. We stopped and showed our passports to the official who boarded the bus as we entered BiH, then again as we re-entered Croatia a few short kilometres later as we followed the coast, then again as we entered BiH on the way up the Neretva River to Mostar. We stopped for refreshments on the BiH side of that crossing. Actually, we stopped so that the driver could have lunch; I suspect it was laid on by the proprietors as thanks for providing a bus full of customers. I didn't mind; I was not in a hurry and it was a pleasant spot by the river. 

The scenery was interesting and varied on the bus ride, becoming increasingly hilly as we approched Mostar.

As we entered the outskirts of the city we were immediately reminded of its sad recent history by the new small graveyards and the many buildings still showing the scars of war.

To understand the terrible wars in the Balkans in the early 1990s some background is necessary. If the history does not interest you, skip to the picture of the bridge.

There have been settlements on the banks of the river Neretva where Mostar now stands since ancient times. Pre-Roman and Roman cemeteries and other ruins have been discovered under the old town by archaeologists. In the 15th century the town and surrounding district of Bosnia and nearby Balkan states came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for most of the next four centuries. The Ottomans allowed preservation of Bosnia's identity as an integral province of the Ottoman Empire; a unique arrangement in the Balkan coutries under the Ottomans.

Mostar was at a vital point on the trade routes through the Balkans; the name is derived from Mostari, the bridge-keepers. Wooden bridges crossed the river since ancient times. Suleiman the magnificent ordered the wooden bridge to be replaced by stone in 1566; that bridge became famous as the Stari Most (Old Bridge).

By the 19th century a significant proportion of the population were Muslims although the majority were Christians of various sects and there was also a significant Jewish population. In the 19th century Bosnia was absorbed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Under both regimes there was a fair degree of tolerance for the different religious groups, but there was still some friction which flared at times and the successive Islamic and Christian bureaucracies entrenched favouritism for their own religions in their eras.

During the early 20th century, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire faded, the Balkans was a simmering powder-keg of nationalist and religious differences waiting to explode. One consequence was the assassination of the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire by a Serbian nationalist, an act which effectively lit the fuse for WWI.

Post WWII Tito, with his own version of autocratic communism, welded the various Balkan states into the single entity of Yugoslavia. But it seems only he was able to wield the authority to keep them all from literally killing each other. After the collapse of the USSR and the allied collapse of post-Tito Yugoslavia in the late '80s and early '90s they promptly started doing exactly that. In the confused and terrible conflicts Mostar suffered under two linked but separate extended battles.

In 1992 the Bosnians voted for a state of “of equal citizens and nations of Muslims, Serbs, Croats and others”. Almost immediately Sarajevo came under siege and Bosnian Serbs, who did not agree with that majority vote, formed a paramilitary force aided by Serbian military units which started a campaign of ethnic cleansing. They surrounded Mostar and shelled the city from the overlooking hills during May and June of 1992. 

Over 100,000 were forced from their homes, more than 1600 were killed and many ancient buildings were destroyed. Mosques were a favoured target. But the bridge still stood.

The city appeared to be saved when a Croat-Muslim Federation expelled the Serbian forces in June 1992. Sadly, an internal war, the second Battle of Mostar, was to follow as local Muslims and the Croats went to war. The Bosnian-Croatian Militia (the HVO) took over the more populous west bank of the river and commenced further ethnic cleansing. Many were expelled from their homes. Those who could fled to the east bank but more than 3,000 were killed and more than 10,000 were put in concentration camps. The shelling re-commenced and the bridge became one of the targets; it represented a symbol of hope to the citizens. It finally fell into the river on 9th November 1993 when hit in a vital spot by a tank shell.

Eventually the war ended and Mostar became part of the new country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. International efforts by the World Bank and UNESCO, supported by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the World Monuments Fund assisted in restoring the bridge using original materials and techniques wherever possible.

I took a cab from the bus terminal to the Motel Kriva cuprija. I eventually found it after I realised the hotel was out of sight down steps from a restaurant which was apparently not part of the hotel. A clean and comfortable double room cost 39. The hotel is in the old town. It is only a short walk from the bridge on the western bank but be aware that everywhere in the hotel is up and down steps; it would not suit a wheelchair or a person with mobility problems.

I spent the afternoon wandering the old town, visiting the bridge museum (which included a movie presentation of the destruction of the bridge) the bazaar and the eastern bank shopping district.

Boys were diving from the bank below the bridge but I must have arrived on the wrong day to see the local youths diving from the bridge. People were using the beach below the bridge for sunning and swimming.

It was beautiful and idyllic. A lovely, peaceful, industrious town. But it was impossible not to recall the history every time I saw a pock-marked wall or a shell crater. This was the wall and roof of a mosque that I noticed while I was drinking coffee in a downtown cafe.

A rivulet, which can be seen in the beach picture, flowed past the hotel and into the main river. This bridge was across from the hotel. 

I have tried many styles of Middle Eastern and East European coffee. I think the Bosnian version is the thickest, strongest version I have come across. I tried several times, but it's not really to my taste. It reminded me of playing in mud puddles as a very young child, when I got a mouthful if I neglected to keep my mouth shut.

I ate the local version of ćevapi for lunch at a riverside restaurant; delicious and low-carb provided I left most of the chips on the plate. I ate it often for lunch in Croatia and BiH.

In one of my previous lives I was a cab-driver; I was intrigued to see this method of meter display in the cab that took me to the train station when I departed to Sarajevo.

Next, the train to Sarajevo.

Cheers, Alan


  1. Anonymous2:30 pm

    "The Bosnian-Croatian Militia (the HVO) took over the more populous west bank of the river and commenced further ethnic cleansing. Many were expelled from their homes. Those who could fled to the east bank but more than 3,000 were killed and more than 10,000 were put in concentration camps."

    Left out is that Mostar Serbs were in jointly run Muslim-Croat concentration camps and illegal prisons at the outbreak of the war, and that the ethnic Serbian population of Mostar, over 20% before the war, has been permanently ethnically cleansed.
    Serbian civilians were being killed by Muslims and Croats throughout Bosnia from the very beginning. The Bosnian Muslim wartime president, Alija Izetbegovic, had been jailed several times in his life for violence against Serbs and for wanting to make Bosnia and independent Muslim-run state. He and his followers jailed in the early 1980's for that were the same ones who gained power over a year before the war.
    The west advertised him as a moderate, but he was not. In his book "Islamic Declaration" he stated that Islam could not coexist in a state with another religion.
    And some Bosnian Muslim military records released in 1997 revealed that scores of Sarajevo Serb civilians were killed in the very first several days of the war. They hit the ground running on killing off the Serbs: they were not innocent. UN Canadian and other officers living there during the war have stated, written and testified of the Muslims staging and provoking for PR purposes.

  2. I am unable to confirm or deny the claims in the previous comment. I have allowed the comment for that reason, to give a different perspective.

    I am an observer and traveller, not a historian. I attempted to distil wide reading into a brief summary and I accept that has led to missing some details. I am also aware that all wars have at least two sides and the victors write the history. Mostar, and Bosnia, had far too many sides.

    I do not want to re-start the terrible Balkan wars here, so if anyone wishes to comment further please keep it civil.


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