Until a couple of months ago, all I knew about Bosnia and Herzegovina was that in the 90s they had a civil war and although 20 years passed since that horrific period, in my mind Bosnia was still a dangerous and destroyed country, where there wouldn’t be much to see. Three years ago, when we went to Dubrovnik, we had to cross through a small section of Bosnia near the town of Neum and I have to admit that I was a bit nervous, as I was expecting to see soldiers patrolling the streets of the country. I even told Bogdan not to stop in Bosnia, as I was afraid of being robbed! How could I be so ignorant and have so many misconceptions?
Although I am ashamed to admit these things, I am sure that some of you also have preconceptions about Bosnia or any other place that went through a war or revolution. The only thing I can tell you is not to do like me, don’t tag a place as being dangerous before you inform yourself. These preconceptions and fears will only harm a country that is trying to recover and move forward. As a parenthesis, I am aware that there are people that consider Romania a dangerous country, but I can totally assure you that Romania is a perfectly safe country with wonderful places for you to visit (and for us – I keep telling myself that we should make time to visit more of our beautiful country).
This year, as we wanted to return to Dubrovnik, we had to pass once again through Bosnia and Herzegovina. But this time, as I was more documented, I wanted to stop a day to visit Mostar and its surroundings. And you know what? I fell in love with Bosnia and its unique architectural and natural treasures.
Our first real contact with Bosnia and Herzegovina was at the Kravica waterfalls, a stunning place located less than 50 km away from Mostar. At the entrance of the Kravica area, we were greeted by the sound of the dropping water, which guided us on the 10-minute descent from the car park to the base of the waterfalls. Although we caught a glimpse of the waterfalls on our way down, only after we reached the edge we could really experience the beauty of this magical place. The emerald green lake that invites you to take a swim or at least a boat ride and high waterfalls searching their way through the lush vegetation grown on the limestone walls create a breathtaking image.
After more than half an hour in the middle of this oasis of peace, it was time to continue our journey to Mostar. Mostar, the city that was most affected by the war, is a place you will certainly remember long after visiting, because it does not resemble any other place in Europe. The stone buildings, the Ottoman-style bazaars, the mosques, the Turkish-style restaurants in the old town made us believe that we are in a Middle East Muslim country. If someone had taken us there blindfolded, we would have believed to be in a Turkish city. But then we saw the Christian churches and women dressed in short skirts and with their heads uncovered, so we realized we were not in a Middle East Muslim country, but in a special place in Europe. A place where people with different beliefs and doctrines (more than 40% of the population of the city consist of Muslim Bosnians, the rest being Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbians and Jewish) live in harmony and respect, even if they don’t always agree with the others’.
Mostar’s Main Attractions
The main attraction of Mostar is undoubtedly the Stari Most Bridge. The bridge connects the eastern and western parts of the city, but it is more than a passing bridge from one side of the river to the other. The bridge has been since its construction a connection between the East and the West, between different cultures and religions. Stari Most is the symbol of Mostar and the symbol of cohabitation between Christians, Jews and Muslims.
After the conquest of the region by the Ottomans, sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, seeing that the area alongside the current bridge was developing and quickly becoming a commercial hub, ordered the construction of a bridge linking the eastern and western parts of the city to facilitate trade. The bridge built in the 16th century lasted 427 years, until in 1993 it was destroyed by the Croats who fired more than 60 shells. Having an unmeasurable cultural, historical and symbolic value, the bridge was rebuilt after the end of the war.
To see the rebuilt bridge in all its splendor, we descended on the bank of the Neretva River, and afterwards climbed into the Minaret of the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, the second most famous tourist destination of Mostar.
On our way to the mosque, we had to cross the bridge, which was extremely slippery. Fascinated by the color of the river and the scenic landscape around us, we stopped for a few minutes on the bridge imagining how different everything must have looked 20 years ago, and then continued our walk on the fairytale cobbled streets.
When we reached the mosque, initially the gentleman at the entrance told us that we had to wait a while as the prayer time will begin shortly. But then, seeing that just the two of us were waiting to enter, he let us go up to the minaret. Inside, the mosque built in the 17th century is so small that you do not even have to take a tour of it. You can easily see it from the entrance and from the inside balcony that you can access from the minaret.
Even though the minaret is extremely narrow and dark (I do not recommend climbing it if you are claustrophobic), the view of the bridge from above, as well as the picturesque valley created by the Neretva River deserves the sacrifice.
Once we left the old town, we could witness the other side of Mostar, the not-so-touristic one. We saw the chaotic traffic with cars that won’t stop at pedestrian crossing, the motorcyclists that don’t wear helmets and the cars parked in restricted areas. We saw the destroyed buildings with bullet holes, the quiet of the streets and the worries on people’s faces. Although the people of Mostar are extremely kind and warm, once you leave the touristic area, you can see that the scars of the past are still haunting them.
Blagaj Tekija Monastery
While searching the internet for places worth visiting in the Mostar area, I found a picture of the Islamic monastery Blagaj Tekija. As soon as I saw the picture I knew we had to visit it. Built almost 600 years ago, during the Ottoman times, the monastery is located in a fairytale place.
The huge rock that seems ready to swallow the monastery at any moment, the crystal-clear blue river mirroring the monastery and the tiny waterfall will delight your eyes.
For the best viewing angle of this enchanting place, you can either stop at the restaurant located opposite the monastery or climb the rocks behind it.
- Being aware that most tourists are in transit through Bosnia and will not spend more than one day in the country, the locals accept payments in euro.
- Although the waterfalls are less than 50 km away from Mostar and 100 km from Dubrovnik, Kravica is not linked to these cities by public transportation. That’s why to visit this wonder of nature, you have to have a car (yours or rented), join an organized tour, or take a taxi (from Mostar). Before we visited the waterfalls, I read that it is hard to find the location, but I can assure you, we didn’t have troubles finding it. We set the GPS coordinates on our navigation system and got there without problems (even if the road is not the best), so if you want to be independent, rent a car and do not worry about getting lost.
- Entrance to Kravica for two people + car parking costs 5 euros.
- In Mostar, you can park for free in the courtyard of the Catholic Church in the western part of the city, just a few hundred meters away from the old town.
- Entrance to Mostar mosque costs 6 euros per person.
- Parking at Blagaj Tekija monastery costs 2 euros, but visiting the monastery’s surroundings is free of charge.
- However, to tour the monastery, you have to pay, but honestly, I forgot how much it costs. ☹
Have you ever visited Bosnia and Herzegovina? Which is your perception of this small country?