On the 5th, I left Zadar, for Mostar. Unfortunately, it was raining pretty hard in Zadar in the morning, so I waited around a little bit to see if it would die down at all. It did, but the rest of the day didn’t look very promising.
It rained on and off, sometimes pretty heavily, but luckily, it wasn’t when I rode up Sveti Jure, the second highest peak in Croatia. It’s in a National Park, and as I got to the entrance, there was a sign that said it was closed. But there were two gates, both opened, which I’m pretty sure means it’s not quite closed…
It was a short, but very steep ride, from sea level to 1762m, which meant lots of switchbacks.
Looking down from the top, this is the last little stretch of switchbacks
Its kind of hard to differentiate between clouds/sky/water/islands in this one…
Back on the main coastal road, the rain got really bad really fast. By the time it started to seep through my jacket and pants, pools were also forming in the deep ruts on the road. Every car that passed sprayed gallons of water on me. After the first few times, I quit caring, as I was already completely drenched. It was starting to get cold, but I only had about an hour to go until Mostar, so I wanted to just keep at it. But 15 minutes later (at 4:45PM), the sky was so dark it felt like it was the middle of the night. Between the rain and the darkness, I could no longer see anything on the road. Oncoming traffic was a welcome sight, because I at least knew I just had to stay to the right of the headlights to remain on the road. Once the headlights were gone, I’d ride with occasional glimpses of white lines. Discomfort was acceptable, but this was getting unsafe…Mostar could wait a day.
Crossing into Bosnia and Herzegovina the next day brought on a drastic change. Mosques started showing up in villages instead of just churches, cars from the 90s were traded for cars from the 70s, houses were far more utilitarian…but there were still plenty of stray dogs.
I arrived in Mostar (unofficial capital of Herzegovina) and had plenty of the day left to see a bit of the city.
The next morning, myself and another guy staying at the hostel walked through the city with Žika, one of the owners of the hostel. He had plenty of information to share about Mostar, most if it being about the war in 1993. And I don’t think you could find a better source for this information. He has lived in Mostar his whole life, and in 1993, at age 17 he fought (and was wounded twice) with the Bosnian Resistance. At one point, during a rare moment of cease fire, the Bosnians were caught off guard when a 120mm mortar exploded. The mortar landed about 20 meters behind Žika, throwing shrapnel into his back and legs. Four Bosnians were killed, and he and 7 others were injured. Three months later (mostly recovered from the mortar attack) he was shot in the leg by a Croat sniper. During this period, he said half of the Bosnian men in Mostar had been wounded in the war.
This conflict in Mostar started with the Bosnians in the middle, the Croats to the west, and the Serbs to the East.
At the onset, the Bosnians and Croats joined forces to fight off the Serbs. Once the Serbs were out of the picture, the alliance between the Bosnians and Croats dissolved and fighting started immediately. The Croats hit the city from afar with heavy artillery, but there was also fighting in the streets.
In 1992, the Serbian Orthodox church (in eastern Mostar) was destroyed. Today, they are just now starting to rebuild the church
The ruins of the original church are still at the site. They were able to retrieve the church bells from the rubble, which will be used again in the new church.
Originally a park in the middle of Mostar, this is now a cemetery where resistance soldiers were buried. During the war, the city was completely surrounded, so they couldn’t get to their actual cemeteries to bury the dead. Originally, they planned on this being a temporary burial location, and after the war, they’d move the bodies to the proper cemeteries, based on religion. But after the war, the families all agreed that rather than move the bodies to Catholic, Muslim, or Orthodox cemeteries, they’d keep them here. They were all Bosnians, so they agreed there was no reason to separate them because of religious differences.
Some bodies have been moved to the cemetery more recently, as the location of the victims was not always known. In 2007, 20km from Mostar, they found a grave where a group had been executed, by 2008 they had finished DNA testing to identify the bodies and gave them a proper burial. So some headstones have four dates: birth, death, exhumed from mass grave, proper burial.
Some of the headstones identify people that were killed, but they have yet to find the bodies.
Žika said that of his friends that didn’t flee the city, about half are buried here…grim.
We walked along the street that was the dividing line between the Bosniaks and Croats, and LOTS of devastation was still present. It’s crazy to me that the no-mans-land between the two armies was literally the width of one city street.
On one side of the street you see the ruins of a building controlled by Croat soldiers.
Turn 180 degrees and across the street is the Bosnian front.
A few blocks past the Croat front line was the Blue Bank…or…what’s left of it. Before 93, the walls of this building were covered in blue glass windows, hence the name. And this is what’s left.
Snipers and machine guns were stationed on the top of the building.
We walked through the building, and up to the rooftop.
This little hole in the wall was just big enough to shoot a machine gun through, and on the floor underneath it, there’s still a pile of bullet casings.
The old bridge in Mostar is the icon that the town is most known for. On November 9, 1993, it was destroyed by artillery fire. Žika was hiding out with friends near the side of the river and watched as it was destroyed. In 1997, reconstruction of the bridge started, and it was finished in 2004.
Pieces of the original old bridge were removed and set on the bank as a reminder of what happened
This hilltop to the west of town has some Croat bunkers on top, and was the location of the sniper that shot Žika.
On one part of the hillside, there’s a series of posts and signs, which are not to be crossed, as there are still live land mines in the area.
As you walk through the city, it’s spooky to see how many ruined buildings there still are…and to think that 20 years ago, the whole city looked like this…
There are still lots of Croats in Mostar, and some amount of tension still exists. The dividing line that existed in the war is still there, and there isn’t much traffic across it. It’s crazy to compare this to what I saw at the site of the Berlin Wall not so long ago. Since the very physical boundary in Berlin was torn down, there are many areas where you’d never guess a boundary existed except for the fact you can see a brick path that has replaced the wall. And here, despite the fact there is not any type of actual boundary, like a wall, the separation between the two sides is still very clear.
And here is a very stark example of that separation. This monument to the Bosnian Resistance was built on the Croatian side of Mostar. Some months ago, someone blew it up in the middle of the night.
OK, enough of that side of Mostar…The old town is a beautiful little area, and the people here are absolutely wonderful. The original architecture throughout the city has an interesting mix of influences, as the city switched hands between the Turks and Austro-Hungarians throughout it’s history.
The original old bridge was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century. It was the only passage across the Neretva river in the area, so historically was a very important trade route. The bridge keepers, who both protected it and collected fees for crossing it, were called Mostari, which is where Mostar got it’s name.
The bridge is not just an attraction by itself…it’s also well known because of the locals that jump from it. Its a bit of a right of passage to manhood for the local Bosnians to jump from it. They also keep a record of all foreigners who jump from it, and I’m comfortable with the fact that my name will not be entered in that book. It’s a 25 meter drop, there have been numerous injuries from jumping, and even some deaths…no thanks…