Posted by: Alex MacGregor | May 7, 2010

A Stone Bridge in Bosnia

You might be thinking that Bosnia is a war-torn country that probably has little left in the way of major tourist draws. That may be true to some extent, but there’s one major exception to that rule: Mostar. (Actually, there is another exception that Caroline will talk about soon, but that’s another story.)

Makes the day trip from Croatia seem like it might be worth the trouble, huh?

Mostar means ‘bridge keeper’, and the bridge in this picture is the reason for this city’s existence, as it gave a big part of the Ottoman-controlled region a trade route with Dubrovnik. In fact, it was perhaps the most famous Ottoman bridge in the world until it was destroyed by Croats during the war; the bridge that stands today is a replica, symbolizing the effort to reunite the country’s fragmented population.

The area surrounding the bridge is a picturesque old town, with minarets jutting up perfectly in every shot.

Mostar’s (surprising) tourist boom has made the old town quite the place for trinkets, but it’s very pleasant nonetheless.

The translucent blue and grey water rushing through the city in its various rivers looks very refreshing. Makes you want to jump in!

Even this neighborhood of Yugoslavian housing blocks looks inviting with one of these cool streams flowing through.

Also, it makes for an abundance of restaurants perfectly positioned by the rushing water, where you can sample Bosnian meat specialties at a reasonable price. (Don’t count on being able to sample any non-meat specialties.)

This Ottoman house, on display for tourists, made us miss Turkey.

We went down to the riverbank to get a view of the house, and found out the room we were in was supported like this!

In case you were thinking all of this is much too idyllic for postwar Bosnia, it frankly is.

Out in the housing block neighborhoods, you can see block after block of war-damaged buildings. This building is in much better shape than many buildings on the front line, which are still bombed out shells. Nowadays, the war is remembered through art like this.

Before the war, Mostar had a decent population of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims (Bosniaks). The Serbs were quickly defeated and left the area, and, for a period of years, the city’s Bosniak and Croat forces fought. In graveyards such as this Muslim one, the dates of death are all disturbingly close together.

One shocking thing about the ethnic conflicts in BiH is that everybody looks the same! Like, outsiders would never be able to tell the differences between different ethnicities. But as different influences–Turkish, Croat, and Serb–made their way into BiH, family names and places of worship began to differ. When the conflict broke out, some children didn’t realize they were of a different ethnicity than their friends and neighbors.

Although things are obviously much improved today, there are still visible signs of the divide. Schools, religion, political parties–even beer!–are strictly divided along ethnic lines throughout the country.

Take how this cathedral was rebuilt after the war. In America, such a thing would never be permitted. In BiH–especially in a municipality that is dominated politically by Catholic Croats–this gets built. Perhaps it’s just a way for Croats to practice their religion. But Bosniak Muslims view this church, and its unimaginably massive tower, as marking the area in the name of Croats.

Mostar’s Muslim population also views with intimidation this cross, erected on a hill that was used by Croat forces for sniping and bombing the city below.

But symbols of hope are present as well. This building, in the center of town, is BiH’s only integrated school.

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Responses

  1. […] reminded us of Eastern Europe (or the Balkans, specifically): SS prides itself on its old bridge. Just like every Balkan city. The bridge in Sancti Spiritus is definitely a lot more out of context, […]


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