The cultural capital of the Herzegovina region has become a popular spot for adrenaline junkies. Cliff divers especially
“Come on, either jump or don’t”. Honestly, I’m scared to death. My friend is “encouraging” me to jump with him from Stari Most, the famous bridge in the centre of Mostar.
27 metres separate the point in the centre of the bridge where you jump from, and the freezing waters of the Neretva River.
I look at the water, take a breath and away I go. After a few seconds of freefall, I hit the water violently. Everything seems fine, but as I splutter and swim, I swear I’ll never do it again. A bad impact against the surface of the water could have had tragic results.
Home to more than sports
And indeed I haven’t jumped from Stari Most again, but I have returned to the cobbled streets of this beautiful Bosnian city that, after leaving behind the harsh years of war and post-conflict, has become a nerve centre for lovers of extreme water sports.
Diving, rafting, canoeing or canyoning are some of the activities that can be done in and around the swiftly-flowing Neretva.
In Mostar, the ringing of the bells of the Catholic cathedral and the call to prayer of the imam of the main Mosque mingle together, creating a strange but pleasant symphony.
Croat Catholics on the western bank and Bosnian Muslims on the eastern shore make the second city of Bosnia-Herzegovina a true crossroads of culture. Let’s discover some of its most emblematic places.
Heights don’t scare me, and after surviving the 27-metre leap, I climb the minaret of the Mosque of Karadjoz-Beg to observe the city from a bird’s eye view.
Built in 1557, during the first century of Ottoman rule, and rebuilt after the war that devastated the country from 1992 to 1995, it’s one of the most iconic Islamic temples of Mostar.
After descending the dozens of steps that separate the sky from the earth, it’s time to head towards the old Kujundziluk bazaar.
Goldsmiths, jewellers and souvenir shops fill the narrow streets of this busy market, where articles of war commemorate the great number of battles that have taken place in the Balkans.
A few meters from this point is the Stari Most (Old Bridge), without a doubt, the true symbol of the city. Life in Mostar – which means ‘fortress on the bridge’ – revolves around this majestic piece of work, erected in 1566 during the sultanate of Suleiman I the Magnificent.
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and flanked by two towers, the Stari Most stood firm for more than four centuries, but on 9th November 1993, it could withstand the howitzers of the Croatian artillery no longer.
Despite being allies against the Bosnian Serbs during the beginning of the conflict, Croats and Bosnians battled each other between 1993 and 1994. And Mostar was the epicentre of this struggle between two communities who had previously maintained years of peaceful coexistence.
That one year of the conflict alone caused thousands of deaths and the destruction of heritage and architecture, reducing parts of the city to dust.
Rising from the rubble
Rebuilt in 2004 with the help of international peacekeeping forces, the revival of Stari Most was the symbolic relaunch of the city and the return of tourism. After years of darkness, the city recovered the splendour that had once made this the pride of the region.
On the bridge, there’s a feeling of expectation. Hours after my jump, now it’s time for the real professionals. One of the members of the ‘Jumpers Club of Mostar’ clambers onto the bridge railing and prepares to launch himself into Neretva.
After leaping into the void, the diver hits the water to cheers from the crowd. Every July, the city hosts a jump contest that brings together the best and craziest divers from around the world and draws thousands of spectators.
Once the jumps end, people quickly disperse. It’s time to look for a table on the busy Onescukova street, home to several restaurants of great local cuisine.
The intense smell forces the traveller to sit down and fill up on cevapi – a type of roasted, skinless sausage made of beef or lamb – accompanied by onions and typical Bosnian bread.
Diners at the adjoining tables, many of them Bosnians, quench their thirst with Sarajevsko beers. Despite being of Muslim heritage, many Bosnians of this religion drink alcohol on a regular basis – a more flexible version of Islam, inherited from Tito’s Yugoslavia.
After finishing the meal with a Turkish coffee and a glass of rakija (brandy), it’s time to leave behind the winding streets and the stone houses of the Muslim suburbs, and go to the Boulevard, the great avenue that separates the Croatian area from the Bosnian, and which represented the front during the war.
In this main artery, the effects of the war are still very visible, with some skeletons of buildings remaining, having been wrenched apart by the impact of the projectiles. Imposing, the Cathedral of Mary indicates to the visitor that they have reached the Catholic area of Mostar.
Nearby you can find souvenir shops selling pictures of the Virgin of Medjugorje, a saint that apparently appeared before some local children in 1981.
Hum Hill is the perfect place to enjoy the sunset
With tall housing blocks and burgeoning new shopping centres, the Croatian part of the metropolis is usually less visited by tourists.
But if you venture into the poplar-lined streets, you will discover a Mostar full of manor houses built at the beginning of the 20th century, when Bosnia-Herzegovina was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Going up the Boulevard to the north, the huge remains of the Privedna bank tells you you’re close to the Plaza España.
This point of the city was renamed as a tribute to the Spanish troops who, working alongside troops of other nations, were in charge of ensuring the restoration of peace.
On the square, there is a commemorative plaque in honour of the twenty-two Spanish soldiers and an interpreter who died during on missions throughout the country.
As evening draws in, Hum Hill is the perfect place to enjoy the sunset. Crowned by a large cross, this site offers spectacular views of the town, and the entire valley made verdant by the Neretva. The last rays of sun make it clear that Mostar, once again, shines with peace.