MOSTAR and stari most
Spend an a lovely day and an enchanting evening by the river Neretva in the ancient city of Mostar
On our way to spend three days in Split Croatia we took a lovely detour to Mostar in the Country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. An easy day trip from Croatia for most tourists, we elected to visit Mostar as an overnight destination, staying at a sweet family run hotel, Pansion Nur, only steps away from Old Town and its magical bridge .
The famous bridge with its celestial name of Stari Most is the main draw of a town whose nickname is, “The Divided City.”
Mostar’s name comes from the the mostari, the bridge keepers that protected the Ottoman built, 16th century bridge in medieval times.
The bridge that stands today is not the original. As we older travelers know, the original bridge was destroyed November 9, 1993 during the Croat-Bosniak War. I remember seeing the destruction on the news and even though it seemed so far removed from me, I was horrified by the loss of 427 years of history and for what it represented, the demise of a crucial link between cultures, families and neighbors.
But the determination of those very same neighbors, along with a massive contingent of countries, organizations, and religious coalitions banded together to repair the bridge. Hungarian Army divers even went so far as to try to retrieved the original stones from the bottom of the Neretva river.
Unfortunately, the majority of the stones were not usable, but new stones were quarried from a local source using ancient Ottoman methods under the supervision of Turkish company Erbu, thus ensuring the cultural integrity of the newly risen phoenix. And since July of 2004 it once again stands braced to welcome all cultures that come to visit.
Because of the painstaking way the bridge and surrounding homes were rebuilt after the war, the whole area is now an UNESCO world heritage site.
Traditions don’t die as long as there are those willing to pass knowledge and skill onto another generation. In Mostar this applies to the bridge divers who have passed on their diving tradition for over 450 years.
Once only for the brave men of the town to prove their love for their sweethearts, they now allow courageous (Or crazy) tourists to jump as well, but only if they are approved by the Mostar Dive Club. People have died or have been seriously injured jumping from Stari Most, so think carefully before pulling on your swim shorts.
Besides the required fees of ten euros for the training, and 20 euros for the jump itself, you must satisfy the jump masters on the proper diving form. Once they are satisfied you have the form down, they will take you to a lower dive platform situated on the bank of the river. If you have not lost your courage by this point, you will perform the dive from the lower platform, and once you have received their approval, the dive masters will take you to the Stari most for your actual jump with destiny.
While you may not find yourself in the Red Bull Cliff Diving Championship series that stops in Mostar each year, you will have a once in a lifetime experience that will have you adding your name to the massive tome that holds the names of all of the men (And 6 women) who have flung themselves 78 feet (24 m) from the bridge into the icy river and survived.
Congratulations! You will now receive an official certificate to hang on the wall. And you will forever be a proud member of the Mostar Dive club, which allows you to return anytime and jump for free, and will probably earn you a free round of beer back at the youth hostel.
NOTE: For a first hand experience about what it’s like to dive, here’s a great blog post from one of my favorite Balkan centered blog sites: Chasing the Donkey
After lunch, and a crushing stroll through the crowded market area, we hiked toward the upper town to get some breathing room. Following Maršala Tita, the pedestrian friendly street that parallels the river, we were able to see for ourselves the damaged done by the war in the early 90’s.
The walk was worth it to see a different perspective of Mostar. The old buildings that have been patched up post war, sit beside gleaming, newly constructed businesses. We also saw a lovely sculpture dedicated to one of the most famous neighbors of all time, Emina.
A haunting, yet beautiful simplistic cemetery, and there was even modern day graffiti laying witness to past atrocities. And, of course, the ever present bustle of the locals as they moved about their ancient city.
CROSS TIP: As you take the short walk through the upper town, head to Lučki most for that iconic view of the Stari Most.
On our way back to the hotel I wanted a souvenir of our trip to Mostar. Preferring to buy handcrafted items from local businesses we went in search of a shop far from the market area. Winding our way along the cobbled streets, we tucked down a side avenue and stumbled upon a lovely area with coffee shops, restaurants and artists.
There we found a young couple, who were part of an artist cooperative, who had a shop called AbrakaBakra Copper Art, where they produced and sold handmade copper artwork done in the ancient traditional ways.
Surprisingly, the proprietor spoke excellent English (Which we never expect from locals, but are eternally grateful when they do) . He explained the difficulty of opening a shop, the money involved and the “red tape” from officials. He was very happy to allow me to take a photo of his shop for my Instagram account (I asked first) which I added later that day, anything to support a budding entrepreneur and artist. I came away with an intricate copper bracelet and a plaque of the Stari Most.
Finding Mostar to be an ideal place to slow down after our frenetic pace through Croatia, we found ourselves retreating back to our hotel to rest before dinner. Lounging on our hotel balcony, eating the delicious homemade ice cream that our host so kindly offered, we watched the tourists as they wandered through town and listened curiously as the lyrical voice of the muʾaddin called the faithful for their afternoon prayers.
Later that evening, as the heat of the day subsided, we once again ventured out onto the cobbled streets. Now quiet from the teeming mass of day tripping tourists, we felt as if we could inhale a little as we viewed the stoned buildings and alleyways seemingly for the first time.
Locals were relaxing in doorways speaking with neighbors, and the few other overnighters like us were walking arm in arm as they pursued the few remaining open stalls in the now calm market area. The best part was that we had the Stari Most almost all to ourselves; we reveled in being able to move freely back and forth over the smooth stone steps of the iconic landmark.
Tired from a long day, we made our way back to our hotel satisfied that we had made the right decision to spend the night, because seeing Mostar in the evening was pure magic!