Mostar is my favourite place to visit in Bosnia, partly because the scenery looks like its taken straight out of a fairytale book. But its also hard for me to summarize this magical city into one post , I would need 10 just to get started so I’ve complied a list of the top 10 things to do in the Old Town of Mostar. I have been to all of these places each visit, and have always enjoyed it. Another thing about this charming city, is that there is always something new and exciting to see; and amazing people to meet.
If you only have a day in Mostar check out my “Mostar in One Day” post
1. Koski Mehmed Pasa Mosque
This is in my top 10 things you must do,and must see in Mostar because; the views from the minaret (mosque tower) are incredible. It enjoys a 360 degree view of the old city, the river and the old bridge. Entry to the mosque is 4 Marks or 8 marks for mosque/minaret and entrance to a fenced courtyard, which is fantastic value.
There is a small cemetery next to the Mosque, and inside the courtyard and this has an amazing vantage point for photo taking. The 89 steps to the top may seem claustrophobic, as the staircase is very narrow meaning that only one person can go up or down in one direction at a time. But take the time and effort to reach the top, as the views are sensational.
Koski Mosque was built in 1617-1619 and is the only one in Mostar where the original colours, ornaments and wall decorations have been preserved. Although under the “protection” of UNESCO, the mosque was heavily damaged in the war in 1993, with its minaret destroyed and roof dome heavily damaged.
You can also enjoy coffee at a Turkish cafe called Koski Basta Caffe, and take in the beautiful views of the old bridge and the Neretva river. This gorgeous outdoor cafe is filled with blue drapes hanging from posts and their benches and tables were made out of old pallet crates covered in cushions, giving it that authentic Turkish feel. I enjoyed the view of the Old bridge with a nice Turkish black coffee and some Turkish delights.
2. The Old Bridge (Stari Most)
The Stari Most is one of the countrys most recognizable landmarks and a fantastic piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkan region. The name Mostar comes originally from the word Mostari, which means “Bridge Keeper”. Sadly many peoples memories of this Ottoman bridge stem from November 1993, when the Croatian forces bombarded the bridge for days; eventually causing it to collapse into the river below. Thanks to the UN, The World Bank, UNESCO and several European countries including Croatia and Turkey, this bridge was rebuilt by hand (using the traditional methods) to its former glory. The original Stari Most was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557 to replace the older wooden suspension bridge, and it took nine years to complete. When it was finished it was the widest man-made arch in the world and it stood for 427 years until it was destroyed on the 9th of November 1993. Apparently more than 60 shells hit the bridge before it fell into the river below.
In the years that followed the bridges destruction, many countries assisted the city in its effort to rebuild. These included Japan which provided the city with buses, Turkey and Jordan both helped to restore a mosque each, Italy, the Netherlands, Croatia and Turkey also donated money to the bridges restoration.
For 11 years a cable bridge stood in its place, connecting the two sides of town until the the new bridge was constructed. The bridge was painstakingly rebuilt using the same technology and materials used during its original construction,with the craftsmen even following the same imperfections the original designer had made. Teneila stone from local quarries was used as well as original stones discovered by the Hungarian army divers from the river below, but most of these were damaged beyond repair.
The bridge itself is 28 meters long and 24 meters high, and attracts tourists from all across the globe on a yearly basis. But as well as being a beautiful and symbolic structure, the bridge plays host to a number of spectacles each year. On the last weekend of July each year, an annual diving competition is held where divers from several countries take part in plunging some 24 meters from the Old Bridge. In addition to the annual competition, on the 15th of August this year Mostar will welcome the elite divers for the Red Bull Diving World Series.
However jumping from the bridge isn’t as easy as it looks.
Year after year the bravest visitors to the city can test their resolve by jumping from the bridge, training is offered by the local divers for around 25 euros (50 marks). Less than a thousand tourists have made this jump, and upon completion your name is entered into the record books of the diving club.
3. The Neretva River
Just after you walk under the arch on bridge, you will pass an ice cream shop (right near the bridge), and a cafe called Cafe Lasta, (sometimes through the cafes windows you can spot a diver jumping from the bridge). Once you pass the cafe turn left and head down the stairs. This will lead you to the bottom, where the river Neretva is. The Neretva, emerald green in colour, is the largest river in the eastern part of the Adriatic basin, with a total length of 225km. It is one of the coldest rivers in the world, often as low as 7 degrees Celsius in summer. We have a saying in Bosnia “its as cold as the Neretva”
In the summer months many young locals will be swimming and tanning by the water. If you are a strong swimmer, I do recommend taking a dip as it is very refreshing on a hot day; and will leave you feeling invigorated. Be sure to splash the water on your body first so the cold water is not a big shock to your body. Even the bridge jumpers shower in cold water first to bring their body temperature down. You can sit by the water at the many cafes down the bottom open during summer, enjoy a nice ice cream, and even if you aren’t swimming its always good to dip your feet in.
4. Muslibegović House
Muslibegović House, a National Monument and a museum, dating from the second half of the 18th century, is a great example of residential architecture from the Ottoman period. The house includes a residential building and two courtyards, including the surrounding walls with entrance gateways. The Muslibegović family were a noble lineage in Herzegovina, a where its members were governors for many centuries.
Today, the section of a building is used as hotel and it consists of twelve bedrooms. Expedia Travel placed the Muslibegović House into the top-ten accommodation locations in the world for 2010. I stayed in this gorgeous hotel one night, when we decided to extend out Mostar trip by an extra day, and decided to splurge on a bit of luxury. The price isn’t too expensive for what we were used to in Sydney, in fact it was so much cheaper. But it is a luxury hotel in Mostar. Everything was amazing. I didn’t get a chance to take a photo of our room, as we went straight back into town after checking in, but the 4 poster bed with wooden frames was amazing. The hotel owners showed us where to have breakfast, told us best cabs to take in the city, even made us sandwiches for our bus trip to Dubrovnik, which came in handy because we left early the next morning. When my brother stayed here a few months later with his fiancée, they let me in to have breakfast with them as they remembered me from my previous stay. Honestly amazing service, and if you cant afford the stay, come in and see the museum (small entry fee).
5. Old Bridge Museum
Just like the Opera house in Sydney, the Old Bridge is the iconic symbol of Mostar. If you wanted to learn more about the history of the bridge which gives the identity of this magical city and it’s cultural heritage, I would strongly suggest the Old Bridge Museum. Head to the Tara Tower, which is located on the bridge in the left tower up the stairs. The entry ticket is cheap, 2 KM (1 EU) and the museum has 3 sections. The old bridge museum is a fantastic experience, and a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the busy summer day.
1) Tara Tower showcases the history of the bridge with a lot materials used to construct the bridge
2) Archaeology where you’ll see the base of the bridge from the ancient times. They only discovered this after the bridge was destroyed and they were in the process of rebuilding the new one.
3) Video viewing about the bridge and its demolish/reconstruction process during and after the war
6. War photo Exhibition
For a real look into Mostar during the war be sure to check out the WAR PHOTO EXHIBITION. This gallery has a collection of photos taken by New Zealand born photographer Wade Goddard. Wade, in his early 20’s arrived in Bosnia in 1992, to try his hand in photojournalism. Over the next several years or so he covered the events in Mostar both during and post war. These photos show the emotions and struggles of people trying to live every day life in a war zone, with a type of artistic honesty that is very moving. Wade also has a exhibition in Dubrovnik.
Elma & Sanja, two friends of mine work at this museum, both speak English and would be happy to tell you the history behind the museum. Entry to the exhibition is around 3-4 marks (6-8 euros). Be sure to sign their guest book!
7. Carsija (Markets/bazaar)
The čaršija (markets) in Mostar lie on both river banks connected by the Old Bridge, and stretch out from the bridge in both directions. The bazaar in Mostar is oriental, and it might feel as though you have been transported to Istanbul; Bosnia has been influenced heavily by the Ottoman era. Shop owners can be seen standing at their shops, and often enjoy a chat with each other. Most of them speak some English, so don’t be afraid to say hi, they love the chat. The old town is always buzzing with people walking around, streets are decorated with tradition Bosnian rugs, Turkish style glass lamps, snow globes of the bridge, traditional pipe flutes, embroidered tablecloths, copper work, handmade jewellery, colourful paintings, mini Aladdin lamps, and Persian style decorated plates. Even empty bullet shells and other artillery pieces made into pens and keychains. Australians you will have to declare any wood items, but they aren’t too strict with it, only talking second look at items in customs
8. Kriva Cuprija (Crooked Bridge)
The mini Stari Most and the oldest single arch stone bridge in Mostar. Kriva Cuprija was built in 1558 by an Ottoman architect Cejvan Kethoda. Supposedly it was the “Guinea pig” before the construction of the Stari Most began, to test the designs plausibility. Its so pefect you can’t tell that it was a test dummy for a grander bridge. It crosses the Rabobolja creek, a right-bank affluent of the Neretva River, and so many nice restaurants/cafes that have a view of this smaller bridge and the river. This particular bridge was also weakened during the war, the floods of December 2000 were enough to destroy it; thankfully its full reconstruction was completed in 2001, financed by Luxenbourg.
9. Mostar Mountain biking
10. Biscevic House
Just like the Muslibegovic house, the Biscevic house is one of the three Turkish houses in Mostar and a great place to get a glimpse of life during the Ottoman days. It was built in the 1635 and is is located near the Karadjoz Beg Mosque, Inside you will see a fountain in the courtyard, where you pay a small entry fee.(2 €). It is customary to take your shoes off at the door, and up the stairs there’s a trapdoor that staff can open for you to head up. Throughout the house you can see traditional rugs, tables, beds, nurseries, clothing, and household things from the Ottoman period. There is also a chest of traditional clothes you can dress up with! Downstairs in the courtyard, you can see a kitchen with all the cooking utensils we use today.The courtyard is surrounded by high walls, to stop the prying eyes of the men back in the modest days, as men and women had their own rooms.
The war in Bosnia & Herzegovina, ended about fifteen years ago, but their effects are still felt throughout the Balkans. For centuries, Balkan people from all faiths and ethnicities co existed side by side peacefully. During the war however, many mosques, churches and monasteries were destroyed. The city of Mostar was under siege for 18 months, and still shows signs of war. Bullet ridden walls and half-levelled buildings still remain un-repaired, and to some extent the people still remain divided. The once multicultural city of Mostar is now a town divided into east and west, the Bosnians on the east, Croats on the west.
Although the town is still rebuilding its infrastructure, the spirit of its people, their generosity, their ability to maximise every single day of the tourist season is easy to feel. The food is incredible, and largely the service levels are of a very high standard. Every trip to the Balkans, should include a trip to Mostar and its surrounds!