An easy drive from Split or Dubrovnik, Croatia, the charming city of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzogovenia is worth a visit for a morning, afternoon or whole day. From the picturesque river and iconic bridge to the enchanting bazaar and landmark mosque, Mostar is a place to soak up history, culture, art and cuisine. Guest blogger Satarupa Datta gives us her 5 reasons to make a stop in this fascinating town.
Flanked by craggy dinaric Alps and the emerald green Neretva river, the historic town of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina is famous, and not just for hosting cliff diving competitions off its iconic Stari Most bridge. The old Ottoman-era bazaar is filled with copper artifacts, tagine pots, and colorful shishas dotted by riverside cafes serving Bosnian and Turkish coffee. As you explore the town, you can’t help but notice the skyline, mostly dominated by minarets, yet the tallest structures are the new Catholic church and the huge cross seen in the hilltop.
The ‘Don’t Forget 93’ signs all around the Old Town reminds travellers of the damage, the pain, and mostly the courage to stand up after the 1993 Bosnian war. The story itself is reason enough to visit Mostar. Here are 5 more reasons to visit this historic town:
1) Marvel at the Stari Most
Stari Most, a 16th century Ottoman style bridge connecting the two sides of town continues to be the main symbol of Mostar. The bridge was once the widest man-made arch in the world, standing proudly for 427 years until it was shelled down by the Croatian army in 1993. After being rebuilt, Stari Most is a testament to the outstanding contribution of UNESCO and many foreign alliances in restoring it to its former glory. It was said Hungarian divers recovered many of the stones which had fallen down into the river. Charming cafes and restaurants serving local delicacies jostle for space along the river bank to offer their customers the best views of the bridge.
2) Cheer on the Daredevil Sportsmanship
Like most, you will be surprised to see young divers jumping off Stari Most into the river below, known to be one of the coldest rivers in the world, often as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months. This seems nothing short of a suicide mission. The bridge jumpers sometimes plunge into the river ten times a day for the tourists - or at least, for their dollars. The practice of diving off the bridge started back in 1664 and became a tradition for the young men of Mostar. In recent times, Stari Most is the most sought after venue for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. This unique sporting event invites some of the world's best athletes to participate.
3) Visit the Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque
Across the bridge, another 16th century Ottoman marvel is the Koski Mehmed Pasa Mosque. Walk to north of the old bridge to gaze at the blue dome that shows up in every Mostar photo. The architecture inside is a fascinating look at Mostar’s Ottoman past. Numerous mosques were restored after the 1993 war but it was Koski Pasa, only of its style, which was preserved in its original color and wall décor. If you are a passionate photographer on the hunt to get the best view of the town, climb atop the minaret to get the sweeping vistas of the Neretva valley and the Stari Most. Beware of the claustrophobic stairway, but the climb is totally worth it for the incredible shots.
4) Be immersed in the bustling bazaar of Kujundziluk
The maze of cobblestone streets are brimming with shops selling coppersmiths handicraft plates, handmade jewellery, and copper-plated džezva used in making Bosnian coffee. If you ‘re a lover of finer things, stop by to admire the delicate laces and haggle for the traditional kilim rugs, Turkish style lamps, traditional pipe flutes, embroidered tablecloths and Persian style decorated wall plates. Especially after sun down when the lights glitter and the energy of the travellers peaks, there is no denying the ambience that feels on par with the bazaars of Istanbul. To all the biggest connoisseurs of coffee, settle in one of the Bosnian coffee houses with a pot of sludge-thick coffee and you’ll know the little difference why a Bosnian cuppa is not Turkish coffee.
5) Introduce a new cuisine to your palate
Come summer, there are always crowds waiting in front of the best Bosnian restaurants in Mostar. Those making fleeting trips from nearby Sarajevo and Dubrovnik patiently line up for their fill of Cevapi (meat sausages paired with pita kinda bread and served with sour cream and onion) or a Burek, a filo pastry with minced meat, spinach, cheese or potato fillings. You can also find the exotic Dolma, stuffed meat or rice into eggplants, zucchini or bell peppers eaten dipped in lemon sauce. When I went for a lavish Bosnian dinner, the ever questioning foodie inside me didn’t hesitate to ask the chef what is so different about this cuisine. Little did I know then Bosnian flavors adds a fine balance between Western and Eastern influence, and the recipes are closely related to Turkish, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. If you like ravioli, try its sister Khepe, a Bosnian dumpling filled with meat, spinach or cheese and served with a garlic sauce or yogurt.
On a vine- and tree-shaded corner, I found Sadrvan, an authentic Bosnian diner with friendly waiters in traditional attires who helped me to choose Bosanki Lonac, a creamy stew of vegetables and meat cooked in white wine with spices like chili, garlic, paprika with a flavor that your taste buds will never forget.
As the the chef told me “Bosnian cuisine in our family is not just a tradition, it’s a way of life.”
And don’t forget what happened in 1993
Be sure to visit the war photo exhibitions on the west tower of the bridge and the memorial cemetaries, a stone’s throw away from the Old Town. The Museum of Herzegovina commemorates the war heroes of the tragic civil wars of 1992-1995 and shows a 5 minute video of the darkest hours when artillery shells and sniper shots rained down on the Stari Most and most of the town in the name of ethnic cleansing. To this day, when you walk past some of the abandoned buildings flanking the old town, you cannot turn your face from the bullet-holed walls. Though the war has left its marks deep in Mostar, local artists come forward to use these buildings as a canvas to express themselves creatively and paint messages of peace.
Today, 20+ after the events of war, Mostar is incredibly peaceful and challenges the world that nothing is ever lost if you have right hands to rebuild. The efforts of UNESCO and other international organizations along with locals in preserving and recognizing Mostar’s old bridge area as a World Heritage site is a full proof in itself.
A visit to Mostar strikes a chord: We often say that seeing is believing but in many cases, the reverse is also true, believing results in seeing. But above all, Mostar taught me to never stop discovering.
Satarupa Datta is a world traveller and television scriptwriter based in Mumbai, India. On days she is not working, shouldering her camera backpack, she flies off to new destinations in the hunt for cultures, landscapes, gastronomy, art and shots that tell stories.
Interested in visiting Mostar with us? Check out our Nature Escape Croatia adventure!