Added a new stamp to the passport this weekend
as we ventured outside of Croatia for the first time since arriving in Dubrovnik.
Friday morning, the Study Abroad group and a few relatable additions boarded a bus to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia often has the reputation of a country still tender and torn from their fight for independence during the Bosnian War. A peace treaty ended the war in 1995 and efforts to rebuild began shortly after.
Our tour made two stops. Mostar, in Herzegovina, was the first.
When you board a bus in a tourism Mecca like Dubrovnik and get off in a city like Mostar, initial response tends to be…
“…what the hell am I doing here?”
But Bosnians technically invented the saying, don’t a judge a book by its cover, and it’s entirely applicable here. A remarkable recovery and picturesque Old City hide among Mostar’s gruesome history and bullet-ridden, graffiti-highlighted ruins.
War broke out in 1992.
Initially, Croats and Bosnian-Muslims living in the city were fighting together against invading Serbs. Land disagreements between Croats and Muslims would eventually end the alliance, starting a sort of war within a war in Mostar. A peace treaty was signed in 1995, but by that time the city had paid an architectural, economic and social price.
Stari Most (the Old Bridge connecting the city on either side of the Neretva River) had been destroyed to cut off communication and interaction between the Croats and Muslims. City buildings, religious centers and homes were burnt and battered from artillery fire. I imagine only those families still homeless have much use for them now.
Reconstruction began in 1996.
The bridge was restored to its original state in 2004 after seven years of building and the Old City has been patched up. The people now make the best of their situation and have steered their economy towards mining and processing aluminum, and actually tourism! Doesn’t seem to make sense until you’re past the outer city limits and into the Old City.
Sure, it’s cliché but cozy and quaint just fit this place. The Old City is tucked into the surrounding mountains with the Neretva running through. A tributary waterfalls it’s way through town before opening up into the green river. Wooden restaurants and shops line the cobblestone street, serving traditional meals and selling souvenirs made from Wartime materials. Bullet and mortar shells turn into pens and vases and make a seemingly authentic keepsake.
Mosques, headscarves and prayer calls show the Islamic influence in the city. The prayer calls echo through the city, signifying times to pray – a required five times a day for practicing Muslims. Shop owners shut down for a few blessed minutes to kneel and worship on decorated prayer rugs.
There are 100,000 people living here now, but the city is quiet during the day and we don’t stay long.
Ate lunch, acted like tourists, boarded the bus to Sarajevo.