I saw a funny slogan on a bus as I was leaving Split on Saturday: “Croatia -Home of the Cravat!”. The Croatian Tourist Board must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with a marketing campaign like that. Historically accurate though.
Coming from Croatia to Bosnia (actually, Hercegovina) some differences are evident. I have seen my first mosques for quite a while, and hear the call to prayer instead of church bells. The population of Mostar is about evenly split between Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim. Burek (pastries with meat or vegetables) and japrak (like dolmas, vine-leave wrapped rice, veg and meat) are more popular than pizza or pasta.
Mostar is all about the bridge. THE bridge. The Old Bridge (or Stari Most) spanning the Neretva River. In the middle of the 16th century the Ottomans constructed a bridge designed by the famous architect Hayruddin (student of the even more famous Sinan) and made of local stone. It was 28 metres long and 20 metres high, the widest man-made arch in the world at the time of its completion. There is a tradition of young local men diving from the bridge into the river below which has continued over the centuries. I took a photo of a guy about to jump. I missed the shot of the dive, but caught him swimming to shore, apparently OK.
In 1993 during the military conflict the bridge was destroyed by artillery. The main street in Mostar was the front line and the shells of many destroyed buildings along it can be seen. The destruction of the bridge was probably carried out more to destroy a cultural symbol and to sap morale rather than for any military reason. In the Muslim cemetery slap bang in the middle of town, 95% of the tombstones have the date of death as 1993, mostly young men. The husband of my hostel host says that half of his high-school classmates died and he was wounded twice.
The bridge was rebuilt, reopening in 2004, from stone taken from the original quarry and using original 16th c. techniques. They did a superb job and the bridge now looks magnificent. On a nearby plaque it said: “The reconstructed Old Bridge of Mostar is a symbol of reconciliation, co-operation and of the coexistenceof diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities.” Hear, hear!
I went on a day trip to: 1. Blagaj (with 500 year old Ottoman Sufi dervish house 2. Kravica waterfalls 3. Medjugorje (where in 1981 six teenagers had visions of the Virgin Mary) 4. Pocitelj (walled town with old Ottoman fort on top).
A young American guy staying at my hostel was keen to try the jump from the bridge. I acted as substitute father and advised him to get some local advice first. He did and went through a rudimentary training session which seemed mainly to consist of repeating the words “balance…balance…whoosh!”. Here are the pics.