Time & change in Mostar
I spent the last couple rainy days in Mostar, a major city in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city although physically divided by its river has seen its sides change dynamically in history. The city is probably best known for two things: the old bridge the spans high above the river, stemming from the Ottoman empire which spans the high cliff that has an annual diving competition off into the rushing river below; secondly for the past ethnic and political conflicts which displaced and killed many, and also destroyed the before mentioned bridge. After many years of peace, the region and city has seen significant reconstruction effort and now is mostly highly modern and remarkably normal. The bridge has also been rebuilt as best to its original form and remains a strong tourist drawcard. The occasion summer media reports filed showing this small glimpse of this town and region hardly raise a snapshot of its presence. Spending a few days here provides a small bit more insight, but really my take away from this place was life goes on and it is staggeringly normal on the surface. There remains scars from previous decades around the city’s landscape but anyone should find this place more a symbol of hope and dedication than separation.
I actually came here completely unaware of Mostar, hell I kept checking where I was going / how to spell it for the first day. I was leaving Split with the aim of entering some new countries and exploring different regions. Particularly this part of the world which is known more for its past conflicts than anything meaningful about it. As much as I’ve had to study this conflict and others in that dreaded class last semester in Utrecht, I’d rather focus on the place and people today.
The Neretva River has cut through the city since the beginning. Although it has now sprawled out toward the west, this river cuts deep into the landscape. It is what brought on the building of bridges during the Ottoman empire and it also often ended up in creating an ethnic line during conflict. During communist times the river powered the cities industrial manufacturing.
The Old Bridge and Old Town
The Old Bridge the (Stari Most) is the symbol of the city and its main tourist drawcard. Even in the low or shoulder season there were still many visitors. It is surrounded by the old town from the Ottoman Empire. Both the bridge and town has extensive reconstruction after the Bosian War. The sixteenth century bridge was admired for it’s crossing high above the river. Although I did not see anybody dive off the bridge I believe some were practicing. The Diving Club, whom in part make the bridge so famous is location on the bridge itself.
The Old Town extends off both sides of the Bridge. It is nearly entirely tourist shops, restaurants and museums today. The atmosphere is quite relaxed and the food quite good.
I did have dinner at one of the restaurants and made the slight mistake of order a €10 dish when most items were half the price but this was still described as the ‘small’ option. Of course out came a 40×60 cm plate with about 20 pieces of different grilled meats and lots of bread on a bed of chips. Oh boy, was more than enough for two big eaters, maybe a family if they eat like I normally do. But I did well, ate several kilograms of meat and finished most of it somehow – even after having a starter. Felt full but not sick full. Amazing.
The Normality of the Modern City
Normality may sound harsh but I’m trying to describe how perfectly normal and ‘ok’ things were. It’s a good thing. So often you read into places and they’re either overly romanticised or demonised. Outside the small section of the old town and the Old Bridge it is a highly functional city. On first arriving into Mostar the first thing I stumbled upon was Mepas Mall (described by Wikipedia as the biggest mall in the country) and McDonalds. Well that was somewhat unexpected and a complete change coming from Split. The mall contains a cineplex in addition to a top hotel.
But walking through the city life was mostly normal. Many young families or groups of teenagers probably too young to know any different. Whether it was people just taking life slow in the parks or rushing for their next errand. Normal can be quite comforting. The city has a range of architecture from difference times and influences. Reconstruction post-conflict, most new buildings are rather ordinary but there are always some gems to be found.
It isn’t all positive of course. This city still has stories to tell. Among the beautiful mountains and landscapes that surround the city, sits a complex mesh of human stories that often sit juxtaposed.
Mostar still holds on to many buildings left abandoned and damaged from the Bosnian War. Like the many people caught up in these conflicts, some stay resilient, others wear heavy wounds are some are shells of their former lives, but it is those you no longer see at all that are now only memories.
I arrived from Split by bus. The main (eastern) bus and train stations are together and decided the best place to stay was as close as possible. As I found out when I went to leave however, the trains are currently not operating, leaving the station empty.
Before arriving I booked a quite affordable place only a minute walk from the station, providing an easy place to leave the luggage while exploring from there. The owners were very kind and helpful as are people here in general. Because I arrived in the springtime I was the only guest! I had some trouble with the wifi but easily fixed by sitting in the next room. I stayed an extra day as the second day was mostly rained out. The outside area was otherwise great for lapping up the sun with the constant sound of the river never too distant.
My next stop would be the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.