Mostar: a town from a fairytale

Having decided that my first rendez-vous with the Balkans on this trip was way too short, the only question to be answered was how to find a cheap and efficient way to get there from Estonia. Generally speaking there is not a wealth of options to get out of Tallinn, but I found a secret exit – an Estonian Air once-a-week flight to Split. I’d been to Croatia before, I’d even been to Split before, but my real destination was different. Bosnia and Herzegovina! And tentatively there was a bus from Split to Mostar.

The road though turned out to be an interminable ordeal. First the bus to Mostar was outrageously late – instead of leaving Split at 10:55, it left at 12:30 – by that time I’d been waiting for it at the Split bus station for 4 hours. The bus station there is ridiculously uncomfortable: too small for the quantity of tourists, no announcements, everybody tries to squeeze by everybody with all of their bags. It’s a nightmare. Luckily I have got my downloaded podcasts and they help me to fill such otherwise useless time with some content. Once we got on the road, a terrible thunder and rain starting falling on our heads (or rather the roof of the bus); I had the impression that the bus turned into a submarine navigating the bottom of the sea. There was an interminable wait on the border to top it off.

But finally after a long slog through the mountains the clouds cleared and suddenly from a mountain ridge we saw Mostar.

The Old Bridge, raison d’être of the town of Mostar. The very name of Mostar comes from the word most – bridge.

I didn’t have a lot of time to walk around Mostar – one day. I started my visit from Koski Mehmed Pasha mosque. This photo is made from the Old Bridge and the mosque is right in the centre. Mostar is half Catholic (which here means Croatian) and half Muslim (here is synonymous with Bosniak). The border between the two communities runs along the river: the Croatians are on the right (the West), the Bosniaks on the left (the East). The Old Bridge connects them literally and symbolically.

Inside the mosque: this is a mihrab – a niche in the wall symbolising kibla, the direction of Mecca. On the right is a minbar – a cathedra from which the imam is leading prayer.

The ceiling of the mosque:

The entrance to the minaret is the little opening in the corner of the mosque under the internal balcony.

A narrow staircase climbs up inside the minaret.

Let’s climb the mosque’s minaret and take a look around. The Bridge is the focus of Mostar’s urban space. The river, the mountain, the clouds, the town, all of this together creates a unique ensemble.

Visitors are legion. Yet at night there are moments when there is not a single soul on the Bridge.

I thought that jumping from the Old Bridge is a rare occurrence, but in front of my very eyes a number of crazies went down as I was making photos. The whole process is commercialised, there is a rescue team waiting downstairs with a boat in case of trouble. I was severely tempted by the same kind of jump, but I had no swimming trunks with me and no time to pick them up at the hotel.

I am full of envy:

That’s how the river looks from the jumping spot. Quite impressive!

The Old Bridge is actually a copy of the original Bridge. In 1993 the Croatian artillery shot down the original Bridge (built by the Turks in 1487). It was restored only ten years later using Western funds. In the Mostar Museum you can see a fascinating 20-minute movie about how the Bridge was restored. This task is not obvious from the engineering point of view because the particular form of the Bridge – it’s arch appears to float in the air – is achieved through a number of engineering tricks. For example inside the Bridge there are rectangular cavities that substantially decrease its overall weight.

I stand on the Old Bridge:

From the Mostar Museum – which includes one of the towers guarding the Eastern end of the Bridge – it is possible to look down the Old Bridge:

The Old Bridge is not the only thing you can see from the minaret of the mosque. This is the mosque’s courtyard and the adjacent streets.

The view towards the East. Mostar valley is surrounded by hills from every side.

The view towards the North from the Mostar Museum. The main touristic street runs along the river in the Eastern part.

Mostar is extremely touristic. All the streets are full of shops like this:

Tourists on the main street:

The main mosque in Mostar is called Karadzobeg mosque.

This miniature bridge repeats the form of the Old Bridge. It serves to cross a tiny tributary to Neretva river in the Western part of Mostar.

Croatians and Bosniaks were allied against the Serbs for the most part of the war in Bosnia. However in 1993 there was a bloody episode when suddenly Croatians and Bosniaks turned against each other and there was a spectacular breakout of hostilities in particular in Mostar. Among other things the Croatian artillery destroyed the Old Bridge. This is another building that has been destroyed and never restored. The conflict between Croatians and Bosniaks significantly weakened both of them which allowed the Serbs to achieve some key victories. As a result they had to make peace again and to renew their anti-Serb alliance. In this configuration the Dayton peace agreements were signed and this is the reason why Bosnia and Herzegovina today is divided into two constituent parts – Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (primarily Bosniak and Croatian).

I stayed in Mostar for only one night, but thanks to my friend’s advice decided to spend that night at the Muslibegovic House. This historical building is a former residence of a rich merchant that still belongs to his descendants. Its main role is a museum, but several rooms are rented out as a hotel. The approach from the street:

The inner courtyard. At the time every city house would have two courtyards, outer and inner, referred to as selim and harem. This is harem. An interesting detail is the star of David on the walls of the house. In the middle ages the star of David was a symbol of all monotheistic religions, including Islam and Christianity. Only recently has it become an exclusive symbol of Judaism.

Unique original pavement in the inner courtyard.

The first floor of Muslibegovic House. This room is called hayam – “life” – as it was always shady and it was connected to the water source. The original items of crockery are placed on the characteristic semiya table. The door to my room is on the right. Although to stay in such a historical house seems pretty incredible, to my surprise the rooms in the hotel don’t seem to be in great demand, despite the hordes of tourists in Mostar. I reserved the room literally two days before arriving and frankly I didn’t see any other visitors in the hotel. The sleep in Muslibegovic House was wonderfully sweet.

The shower in my room was installed in this niche which looks very much like a mihrab. I had a feeling I was committing a sacrilege every time I took a shower.

The dining hall where the breakfast is served.

The second floor housed the so-called divan – a guest room for male guests where they would drink tea and discuss business. The glass ball above is from Murano glass.

A dowry chest. Unmarried girls would spend most of their time embroidering items of clothing and most of their dowry would be embroidered by their own hands.

A lady sleeping room. According to the local custom, a woman would have to sleep alone for 40 days after childbirth. Hence a child’s cradle by the bed. The room can be easily turned into a sitting room simply by removing the bedding.

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