Mostar is a very special place — a small pocket in western Bosnia where one can learn, create, eat, pray if you’re so inclined, and explore a place of history.
The city was named after the bridge-keepers, or mostari, who long ago guarded the old stone bridge that sits in the heart of the city. It is one of the most celebrated examples of Islamic architecture in the world; in Mostar, it is a symbol of hope, history, diversity, religious and ethnic tolerance, strength, rebirth and coordination. The backdrop of the emerald Neretva River and surrounding buildings and spires makes for an idyllic scene to paint or draw or to simply stare at.
The bridge was first made of wood in the 1500s, then rebuilt and replaced with stone a century later under Suleiman the Magnificent, the ruler of the Ottomans. Standing beneath it, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how builders got it up there and enabled it to stay, but that’s beside the point. It underwent more redevelopments in the 19th and 20th centuries under rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire; and during the Bosnian war in the 1990s, the bridge went through the worst change of all when it was all but torn down in the wake of war — an event that literally (and figuratively) broke the heart of the city. It has since been restored by an international scientific committee established by UNESCO, and today, it stands strong again.
While the bridge is the most well-known point of interest in Mostar, there is much more than that to see and experience. The influence of inhabitants throughout history — the Ottomans, the Turks, people of the Mediterranean region, western European’s under the Hapsburgs, the Balkan people from the former Yugoslavia — has helped to establish a truly mutli-cultural modern settlement atop an ancient city (the fifth largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina with a population of just over 100k in 2014.) There are many boutique hotels to stay, religious artifacts to visit, photographs to take, and cobblestone streets and alleyways to wander through. Visit the old market on the left bank once used by soldiers, traders and passers-through on the old trade route between the Adriatic Sea and central Bosnia. Drink strong Turkish coffee and eat traditional Burek (BOO-rek) or Ćevapčići, two signature dishes of Bosnia. You can get there easily as a day trip from Dubrovnik, Croatia or from Sarajevo.