The Bridge of Mostar

Trip Start Jan 08, 2005
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18
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Trip End Ongoing


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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

When Bosnia is mentioned in conversation, people usually think immediately of death and destruction. So when we found out about Mostar and a 16th century bridge, we thought it would be interesting to see how Bosnia had recovered.

Pre-war Mostar had been a small town with the focus on two religions separated by a river. Muslims on one side and catholics on the other, living, seemingly harmoniously. They were connected by 12 bridges, the oldest being the stone pedestrian bridge constructed in the 16th century.

We got off the bus and as usual were greeted by people offering rooms. We went off with an older lady who spoke german - at least we would be able to converse with her a little! We dumped our bags and headed off to find the bridge that we read had been re-built. A short walk later, there it was - standing out like dogs balls and all lit up! Tourists were drawn to it. They were everywhere! Cameras were out and multiple shots being taken, so we did the only possible thing - we joined in!

We had a quick walk round, but as it was late we decided to retire for the night.

In the morning we had coffee with the lady and discovered a little about her life. She'd lived and worked in Germany for 26 years and could still speak it fluently. She'd come back to marry and start a family. During the war she'd lost almost everything. Only her son had survived. Her husband had been killed and her house completely destroyed. She was slowly rebuilding her life and her house bit by bit. At first she'd built one room and lived in that, then rebuilt another and rented that out to travellers. She has almost finished a third room so in the summer she lives in that and rents out the other two rooms. This is her only form on income as unemployment is high.

During our visit we also met a Muslim man in the oldest mosque in town who had lived there during the conflict and gave us a summary of what had happened.

Basically the Bosnian Croats (the catholics) wanted the Muslims to leave Mostar and claim the whole town for themselves. Backed by the Croatian army they proceeded to bomb the hell out of the place. It didn't take long for 11 of the 12 bridges to fall, leaving the old stone pedestrian bridge as the only way to cross the river. The local Muslims tried as hard as they could to protect the bridge with whatever was at hand (tyres, sheet metal, etc). 27 grenades and multiple shots couldn't destroy it so the Bosnian Croats called in the heavy stuff. One tank and continuous heavy bombing brought the bridge down.

Eventually both sides realised they were going nowhere and a cease-fire was agreed. The UN quickly built one bridge so that both sides could cross and the locals set about rebuilding the town and bridge.

The small old town is almost completely rebuilt. The Turkish markets have reopened and there are loads of cafes and bars. There are still skeletal remains of bombed out buildings, some overgrown with trees and plants but they are slowly repairing those that are salvageable and also building new ones.

The old stone bridge has been re-built using traditional techniques and the same type of stone so that it's almost an exact replica. Mostar still has a fair way to go and of course it will never be the same again, but the people are friendly and helpful and are doing the same as our hostess - rebuilding.

We said goodbye to our landlady and headed towards to bus station. We had decided Sarajevo would be our next stop. Another Olympic city.
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