Things to Do in Mostar
Constructed in 1566 during the Ottoman occupation on the sight of an earlier wooden bridge, the Old Bridge (Stari Most) in multi-cultural Mostar straddles the Neretva River; it was designed in a single stone span by Turkish architect Kodja Mimar Sinan and built by Mimar Hayruddin, who was threatened with execution by the Sultan if the bridge should collapse. Thankfully it stood the test of time until its destruction by shells during the Balkan Wars, but now once again soars over the river, 30 meters (98.5 feet) in length and standing 21 meters (69 feet) at its highest point. Today the Old Bridge is world famous for several reasons: it unites the city’s Muslim and Christian residents between the Ottoman left bank and the largely 19th-century Austro-Hungarian enclave on the right bank; it was blown apart in 1993 when the two communities of Mostar turned on each other; and yet has come to symbolize peace and reconciliation since its restoration – using the original white limestone dredged from the river – and reopening in 2004 with a reinforced metal framework. In summer the youth of Mostar use the UNESCO World Heritage-listed bridge as a diving platform in a spectacular display of foolhardy bravery; an annual diving competition is held in mid-August, watched by up to 15,000 spectators.
A ‘tekija’ is a Muslim Dervish monastery, and the one found near the rural settlement of Blagaj near Mostar has probably the most spectacular location of any religious building in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Built between 1446 and 1520 while the country was under Ottoman rule, The Blagaj Monastery (Blagaj Tekija) is tucked in under a sheer, 200-m (656-ft) limestone cliff face overlooking the emerald-green source of the River Buna. It was constructed for a sect of soldier-monks somewhat akin to the Christian Knights Templar called the ‘bektašije’, and is a striking mixture of Bosnian and Oriental architecture, a whitewashed, half-timbered four-story structure leaning over the water’s edge. Today monks from the Naqshbandi order inhabit the monastery and Dervish ceremonies still take place there; the remains of two 15th-century Dervishes are interred under ornately carved wooden roofs and are the subject of Muslim pilgrimages. This lovely spot is backed by spectacular rock formations and a complex of caverns that lead well underground; boat trips make the journey to explore the subterranean passageways. During snowmelt in spring, 43,000 gallons of water per second shoot over the weir in front of the monastery, sending spray high into the air; several open-air restaurants linked by wooden bridges peer over the river from under colorful awnings.
Spectacular Kravice Waterfall (Vodopad Kravica) in Bosnia and Herzegovina are one of Europe’s best-kept natural secrets. Plummeting over 98-foot (30-meter) soft tufa cliffs on the Trebizat River southwest of Mostar, the waterfalls have sliced out a natural amphitheater spanning nearly 400 feet (120 meters) as the river splits into more than a dozen separate waterfalls cascading into the lake below.
Just a few steps away from Mostar’s landmark Stari Most, the historic bridge that was destroyed in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, lies the Stari Grad, the oldest part of town. The historic and commercial heart of this district is the Kujundziluk (Old Bazaar) overlooking the left bank of the River Neretva, which in Ottoman times was where all the trading and bartering took place. In the 16th century, Turks and Bosnians alike congregated here daily to do business; today the Kujundziluk is just as crowded with international visitors keen to seek out traditional crafts and street snacks from the tiny stalls and artisan shops of this cobbled warren of alleyways backed by pink-painted houses. Colorful geometric-patterned rugs, intricate handmade jewelry and gaudy beads, embroidered scarves, bags and shisha pipes are some of the treasures to be unearthed here; be prepared to bargain for discounts off the initial prices.
Running 225 km (140.5 miles) from Lebrsnik in the Dinaric Alps to Ploce on the Adriatic Sea in Croatia, the Neretva River (Rijeka Neretva) is Bosnia’s longest river. The waterway is fed by five tributary rivers, including the Buna (overlooked at its source by the Blagaj Tekija monastery) and Trebižat (home of the awesome mini-Niagara at Kravice Falls), before flowing through Lake Jablanicko and turning southwest toward Mostar. The icy upper reaches of the emerald-green river near Glavaticevo flow through dramatic canyons and limestone gorges, but lower down the current is managed by four large hydroelectric dams.
On its way into Croatia, the Neretva flows underneath the historic Stari Most (Old Bridge) in Mostar, which has come to symbolize reconciliation between the Christian and Muslim communities since the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. From there it meanders past the historic town of Pocitelj, which sits high above the river amid the ruins of a medieval fortress and the Ottoman Hajji Alija mosque. Once into Croatia, the Neretva broadens out into a delta fringed with reeds and lilies and covering more than 260 square kilometers (100 square miles).
Tucked away in Mostar’s historic Muslim Quarter and overlooking the east bank of the River Neretva, Kajtaz House (Kajtazova Kuća) is a perfectly preserved late 16th-century Ottoman nobleman’s mansion built behind high walls to protect the women of the family from unwanted attention. Once the home of Mostar’s Turkish governor, it is surrounded by a shady, fountain-filled courtyard garden, pebbled in circular patterns representing the five daily prayers of an observant Muslim.
Crafted from stone, the two-story building is whitewashed and supported by wooden stilts; the overhanging roof was designed to shade the lower floors. Inside it is furnished in its original form, with separate living quarters for men and women, brightly patterned kelims covering the floors and traditional low sofas lining rooms that are dotted with centuries-old, ornately carved wooden furniture. The ancient kitchen is crammed with copper cooking pots and utensils, while upstairs, traditional harem pants and fezzes hang on the walls.
The landmark Mostar Clock Tower (Sahat Kula) dates from the Ottoman period of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s history and is one of many Turkish-influenced buildings in Mostar’s photogenic Old Town (Stari Grad). It was built around 1630 and is a square, creamy-stone tower topped with a clock and a gray slate roof, it reaches 15 meters (49 feet) in height and stands up a steep flight of worn stone steps next to the Herzegovina Museum. Originally the tower had a bell, which apparently could be heard up to three hours’ walk away, but this was melted down during the Austro-Hungarian occupation of the country and has never been replaced. Like many of Mostar’s prominent historic buildings, the Sahat Kula suffered serious damage during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s but was fully restored in 1999.
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