Named after its famous, single-arch bridge (Mostar means keeper of the bridge) the second city of Bosnia-Herzegovina was hit hard during the civil war when fighting broke out between long-time allies the Croats and Muslims. The wounds still show, with gutted buildings sprayed with shell marks and cemeteries filled with fresh gravestones. But signs of reconstruction are everywhere and today, in the Old Town, business is thriving. Shops spill Turkish handicrafts onto the street while artisans busy themselves inside. Most of the mosques and churches have been restored and, at night, bars are packed with drinking and dancing students, and cafés with an older crowd drawing out their potent espressos.
Built by the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Great in 1566, Mostar’s Stari Most (Bosnian for Old Bridge) survived centuries of conflict to become a globally recognised landmark and a national symbol for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Its destruction in 1993 by Croat tank shells embodied for many the lowest point of the war. In July last year the bridge was finally resurrected. Built as a replica of its precedent, its opening represented the hope that Muslims, Croats and Serbs could once again live side by side. Ikari, the world’s oldest high-diving competition, which took place off the bridge for 438 consecutive years prior to the war, is also back. In the last weekend of July, international divers gather for the chance to leap 21m into the swirling Neretva River below.
Though Croats and Muslims are once again living peacefully side by side, the west bank of the Neretva remains mainly Christian and the east mainly Muslim (Orthodox Serbs make up a mere 10% of the population here). On the east, as well as most of the mosques you’ll find the quaint, Turkish shopping street Kujundziluk and the Old Bazaar. The restored 30m steeple of the old Catholic church stands on the west, alongside most of the banks, hotels and businesses.
Despite new tourist accommodation opening constantly, it can be difficult to find a bed in the popular summer months, so book ahead. Pensions are the cheapest option with Rose and Tanovic among the best.
Taurus, just below Tanovic is a great traditional restaurant with a cosy log fire and sturdy wooden tables and chairs. Most of the other good restaurants and bars overlook the river, although Fejica Street on the east bank is another, smaller nightlife hotspot.
Worth a look
Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque
Open to visitors and free of charge you can wander through this mosque at your leisure. Drink from the fountain, take photos and admire the beautiful Ottoman, Islamic architecture. Climb to the top of the minaret for a stunning view of Stari Most and the surrounding mountains.
Take a trip out to this nearby town to walk the winding trail to the ancient ruins of the fortress of Herceg Stjepan and explore an old Turkish monastery (Tekija). Built in the 1500s for Dervish cults, the setting is incredible, with huge cliffs towering over Tekija and the gardens overlooking the source of the Buna River. Inside (you must wear trousers to enter and women will be given a shawl) is a series of peaceful rooms decorated with magnificent Turkish rugs.
Bonus points for:
Stari Most: small bridge, big history
Loses marks for:Summer crowds