Mostar, an old city with fresh wounds

Sorry for the amazing delay in getting this post up (I’m mainly apologising to myself). It’s been nearly one month since I was in Mostar, in the Herzegovina part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and only now are these photos going online.

One neat thing about Mostar, for me, is that my grandmother was there more than once before the war, and crossed the original bridge. I sent her a postcard with a picture of the bridge on it, and she recognised it immediately!

Greg decided he was tired of visiting organisations in Sarajevo so he took off to Dubrovnik on his own, while the remaining five of us visited EUFOR, ICMP, OSCE, and UNHCR on our last day in Sarajevo before catching a train to Mostar in the evening. The windows of the train were filthy, so it was difficult to get good photos of the amazing scenery as we passed through the Dinaric Alps. There were heaps of amazing views, including many beautiful bridges for the rail lines.

On arrival, we walked around a bit, got a nice hotel for cheap and, after a short walk about town in the dark, we all went to bed. This is the famous Stari Most (Old Bridge), after which the city is named. The towers on each side of the bridge, the bridge keepers, are called Mostari. More about this below.

With only the short day to spend in Mostar, we headed out in the morning to meet with two organisations: The Abrašević youth centre, and the Nansen Dialogue Centre.

On our walk, we crossed a different bridge with some nice views. This is the Neretva river, which basically divides Mostar into the Bosniak side to the left (East) and the Croat side to the right (West). This division stems from the 1990s war, and did not exist before.

According to the gentleman at the Nansen Dialogue Centre who spoke with us at length about ongoing attempts to bring Mostar society back together, Mostar was the city with the highest number of mixed marriages in the former Yugoslavia. When ethnic divisions were created and used by politicians and military commanders to help them gain power, Mostar became one of the most active battle fronts in the war. Now, twelve years after the war ended, it is safe for a Bosniak Muslim to sit and have coffee on the Croat Catholic side of the city and vice versa, but the divisions remain to a great extent.

This is the Croat side, where a huge cross was built on the mountain, allegedly to rub it in the faces of the Bosniaks.

What the Abrašević youth centre and the Nansen Dialogue Centre attempt to do is to show people that they can be friends with other ethnic groups as they were for many years before the war. Both organisations seem to be making a positive impact, but the process is slow and it will likely take another generation or two before society is normal again. Several mosque minarets are visible on the left of the river, with the Catholic church on the right.

At the Abrašević youth centre, we sat around for a while in the sun waiting, and this cute puppy came around to us:

Several of the buildings around the Abrašević building are partly or completely destroyed and still not reconstructed. In Sarajevo, very few destroyed buildings remain in the main part of the city, whereas Mostar still has a fair number of buildings awaiting reconstruction or replacement.

This house is definitely inhabited and is most likely reconstructed on the inside, but the bullet holes remain on the outside:

It may be a joke, or it may not be, but this drawing which says “Osama je kod mene” means “Osama is with me.”

There are now many bits of artwork on the outside walls of the Abrašević building, while the bullet holes and shrapnel marks remain. These ones, while not particularly notable for the artistic skill employed, are at least conceptually quite nice:

This is the logo on the wall of the Nansen Dialogue Centre. If you’re ever in Mostar, I’d recommend paying them a visit and if they have time to speak a bit about what they do, definitely take the opportunity to learn.

An empty building in central Mostar. My guess is that it will be fixed or gone within 5 years maximum.

A destroyed building in the early stages of reconstruction. Many others nearby look terrific, but in old photos looked similar to this one.

A view looking East from one of the bridges:

Another destroyed building in the city centre:

This mural was quite huge, painted on the side of a building. It shows a maze being completed by two red dots, which finally meet in the centre. The shape of the maze is the famous Old Bridge after which the city is named.

This building in the city centre has a tree growing inside it:

The Old Bridge was originally completed in 1566 or 1567, but was destroyed by Croat shelling on 9 November 1993. The bridge was rebuilt at a cost of 12 million euro and reopened on 23 July 2004. Originally commissioned in 1557 by Suleiman the Magnificent, the longest-ruling Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the bridge took about 9 years to build and (according to Wikipedia which can’t always be trusted but is super convenient) has been considered among the most amazing architectural feats of the time, as there were no modern cranes or anything at that time.

Cross on the mountain ridge, mosque in the river valley:

Old buildings in Mostar:

What you find at a typical Mostar souvenir shop. These are real weapons from the different armies of the 1990s war, patches from the uniforms, the stars from the old Yugoslav Army uniforms, and shells turned into small art trinkets.

No floating hearts allowed!

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