Mostar’s fairytale scenery encouraged a teachable moment: a city once flourished in the harmony of three religions was annihilated in blood and war.
A few years ago, my friend and I took a girls trip to Croatia. In midst of old walls from Game of Thrones and a delicious “Croasian” restaurant in Dubrovnik, we spontaneously booked a day trip and cruised our way to Mostar, Bosnia. Prior to our drive, war-torn streets below windows shattered by bullets was one of many cerebral imprints scattering through my mind. Thus, I was emphatically eager. Longing to discover a possibly different reality of Bosnia, even if the intrepid exploration would only last for a few hours.
Guided by our driver Kristian, a polite 18-year-old sporting a proper tie, we made a two-hour car ride quite fun and exhilarating with an additional American in the car. He was a handsome teacher from Hawaii, around the same age as us.
Sometimes, traveling is like an invigorating adventure on a magic carpet ride inside a Genie’s lamp. Long or short, the discovery of a world wildly different from our quotidian monotony can be all the reminder that we need after exiting the lamp. It’s better when the itinerary is also sprinkled with quirky anecdotes, the best ones are never planned.
When I look back on this particular trip; I’m exhilarated with flashes of looping the Croatia-Bosnia and Herzegovina border three times (it wasn’t an accident, it was the way the roads were) but only receiving ONE Croatia exit stamp on our passports, watching a daredevil jump into the legendary Neretva River from a hump-backed 25-meter bridge, hiding from a sudden rain shower in an unfinished church (thank God – quite literally,) strolling through St. James Church in Međugorje and witnessing lines of women in front of confession booths (men don’t need confession?) and finding mini bottles of dark liqueur branded with images of the Virgin Mary along the path of a Catholic pilgrimage.
In this magic carpet ride, we did pass by collapsed walls from the Croat-Bosniak War in 1993, but we were also reminded of a city once far more accepting of the existence of three religions than anywhere nowadays. Namely between Muslim Bosnians, Catholic Croat and Orthodox Serbs; differences were united just as love and peace existed.
Although we only spent half of a day in Mostar, I think the most ideal itinerary is to spend one night in this lovely city. Since most of the landmarks can be completed in one day, why not end the night with a delightful dinner by the river without rushing back to either Split, Dubrovnik or Sarajevo. Here’s a list of my personal recommendations, be sure to enjoy the travel vlog from a trip taken pre-COVID.
HOW TO GET THERE
When I went to Mostar from Dubrovnik, we bought a day-trip ticket on Viator.com which included a private driver. The ride entailed crossing over the Bosnia border (BRING YOUR PASSPORT!) and each way required approximately 2 hours by car. Of course, there are other forms of transportation, including by bus which stretches to 4.5 hours via Mostar Bus Station West.
Mostar is an easy day trip from Split, Dubrovnik, and Sarajevo (Bosnia.)
Stari Most, Mostar 88000, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Stari Most, or Mostar Bridge, or simply Old Bridge finished construction in 1567, commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent – the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. At the time, it was the world’s widest man-made arch. Not much is written about the original bridge except that its mortar was made with egg whites. When Mostar’s economic development rose during the 17th century, so did the importance of the bridge amid the Ottoman Empire.
During the Croat–Bosniak War in 1993, however, the storied bridge which crossed the Neretva River was destroyed after 427 years. Today, we can sometimes see daredevils jump off the rebuilt bridge that was opened in 2004. It remains to be the most recognized landmark in the city of Mostar.
Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque
Mala Tepa 16, Mostar 80807, Bosnia & Herzegovina
The Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque is not only the second largest mosque in Mostar, it’s also an imperative symbol of the city’s melting pot of religions. Built in 1618, it features elements of an iconic Ottoman architecture, with a classic dome in tan colored stones and a lower minaret. Its porch with three domes also includes meticulously constructed mihrab (prayer niche in the qiblah wall which faces Mecca) and mimbar (pulpit in a typical mosque.) Mehmed Koskija was the founder of the mosque who conceptualized and led the project until his death, afterwards his brother Mahmud completed the entire construction.
Similar to Stari Most, the mosque was terribly destroyed during the war by Croatian military groups. Restoration began in 1996 and was finally finished in 2001. For a small entrance fee, we highly recommend adding the mosque on your list.
Crooked Bridge (Kriva Ćuprija)
Jusovina, Mostar 88000, Bosnia & Herzegovina
The baby size of Stari Most is often referred to as the Crooked Bridge, or Kriva ćuprija. It was built eight years before the larger bridge as a trial run. Today, a hotel nearby is a wonderful option for those who opt to stay a night in Mostar. The mini bridge itself makes a fun photo op!
Gaše Ilića bb, Mostar 88000, Bosnia & Herzegovina
A former harem which belonged to a Turkish judge, Kajtaz House is still managed by the same family today as it’s now protected by UNESCO. Wooden ottomans, colorful textiles garnish throughout a traditional space overlooking alluring gardens and rare plants.
Adding to the cultural fun, the gorgeous 16th century architecture sometimes hosts meals with local performers, if you visit on the right day!