Mostar: beautiful and welcoming, yet still bearing the scars of war.

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Stari Most, or the Old Bridge, is to Mostar what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Built in the 16th century, it is one of the finest example of Ottoman engineering.

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Local men collect money from visitors and jump from the centre of the bridge. At first glance this may seem lame, but if you have ever stood on top of a 10 m diving platform, you will understand that this jump from 20 m into a freezing cold river is no small feat. The nerd in me couldn’t help but calculate what this means, assuming free fall. The drop takes a little over 2 seconds and they hit the water at about 70 km/h. Who knew high school physics would come in handy in Mostar?

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Did I mention it was a popular tourist spot? Now put yourself in the shoes of a local woman with a baby stroller who needs to get to the other side to pick-up her dry cleaning, and you will agree that living in a hyper touristy area is not always that great of a thing.

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Stupid tourists…

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But in fact, I don’t know how often locals use the bridge, given the historical divide between the mainly Muslim Bosnian side and the mainly Catholic Croatian side. This massive three storey high mural depicts the coming together of the communities in 2004, when the bridge was re-built. In a salute to history, it was supervised by a Turkish company.

This reconstruction was required because the Croatians shelled the 427 year old structure to the ground in 1993, claiming it was a strategic asset. Initially the Bosnian Muslims and Croats fought together against the Serbs. But as the situation evolved, they began fighting each other. Since the Muslims had a foothold on the Croat side, the destruction of the bridge partiality cut them from their frontline. From a purely academic perspective, this became a much debated and controversial example of the Law of Armed Conflicts’ principle of proportionality, which states that acts hurting the civilian population must be justified by military necessity.

I mentioned the bridge was a fine example of Ottoman engineering. Built with 400 year old technology, it took more than 60 direct hits with various mortar or rocket rounds to knock it down!

1280px-Stari_Most_temporary_cable_bridge_1997

Stari Most temporary cable bridge 1997. By Npatm (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

This suspended bridge, the work of Spanish soldiers, kept the city linked after the war.

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While a lot of restoration has been done, unlike in rich Dubrovnik here the destruction remains everywhere, except perhaps in the touristic centre of the city.

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This building was a sniper position right on the frontline for most of 1993.

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To this day, the politics of Bosnia and Herzegovina are an absolute mess. The consequences of the Dayton Accord permeate all aspects of the politics and economics of the country. But perhaps a very imperfect system is still much better than a civil war. I will talk about it more when I write about Sarajevo.

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The pictures I took of the bridge were taken from the top of the minaret of the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque. It was the first time I entered a mosque with my shoes on. In fact, I had initially removed them, but the guy selling the tickets said: “It’s more like a museum now”. OK, not exactly religious fanatics around here. You may think the minaret seems a little too narrow to have a staircase, right?

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Let’s just say that when someone comes the other way you can’t avoid body contact.

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If you read my previous story about Dubrovnik, you know I left in torrential rains. As you can see form the umbrella used for the mandatory selfie on the Old Bridge, it was no different inland. In fact, it kept me indoors more than I would have liked and I wouldn’t mind paying another visit to the city.

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Along with Irene, who was sitting next to me on the bus from Dubrovnik, I had this massive plate called the “National Plate”. On paper, “stuffed onions” and “boiled beef” doesn’t sound that great, but it was all very tasty and tender. A pleasant surprise and a reminder that it is not in every country that tourist-oriented restaurants are overpriced, under performing establishments. I could tell you that this was a celebration dinner, since I had been travelling nearly non-stop for 2 years that day. But while I knew the date was approaching, that particular day I had forgotten about it! Thanks to my friend Valentin from Bulgaria for reminding me the next day.

Next, Sarajevo.

#Bosnia

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