One night in Mostar: past, present, minarets & magic

Mostar at Night

We know Mostar only from news and modern history, yet don’t know what to expect. Arriving at night the first impression is strangely magical.

One night in Mostar: past, present, minarets & magic

Stuart Profile SmallBeyond Hvar our Balkan biking journey takes us inland from Croatia into Bosnia, to visit the pilgrim shrine of Medjugorje and then onto to the Southern Bosnian city of Mostar. As the sun goes down on another day of tough Balkan riding it’s a relief to cruise down a mountain into the city suburbs. We know of Mostar and the famous Stari Most from news and modern history, but are unsure what to expect in person. Having heard rumours of renewal and regeneration, we are interested to see for ourselves how the city’s spirit and appearance are faring beyond its brutal recent past…   

An ugly past is close at hand

Bullet marked Girder in Mostar

Reminders of a brutal past are never far away, even in the most Disneyseque parts of town and especially beyond the centre.

We blast down steep hairpin bends in a haze of hope, heat and hunger. And the picture changes from green to grey as mountain slopes become abandoned, twisted concrete. Abandoned buildings pock-marked with bullet holes mark it out as a Balkan city that was once ravaged by war. Scarred and scared by its own history perhaps. A city still reinventing itself, one perhaps that doesn’t always like to talk about its past or even the undercurrents of the present?

Bullet marked house Mostar, Bosnia

Bullet marked house Mostar, Bosnia

Yet in the heart we find a golden glow

But beyond the past, in the new old heart of this city there is a golden glow. This is the Mostar of tourists. A Disney scape in pastel shades. A fairytale bridge set in starry night. A needle sharp minaret, an arresting silhouette. Technicolour vendors selling tourists delights.

Tourists shopping in Mostar Old Town

The centre of Mostar Old Town seems given over to tourists and their shopping.

Just the same but different

Just like it was, but obviously not. Cobbles copied meticulously from the past, now polished by the feet of a stream of holiday makers, dreamers, lovers and history buffs. Buildings restored; the front line gone, but present in the mind. There is jumping from the bridge, but for money not for life. The war is a souvenir shell, a photograph, a museum exhibit. And, I imagine, a vivid and unspoken memory in many tortured hearts and minds

Mostar Old Town at Night

By contrast the Old Town seems almost too perfect, a Disneyesque version of the city that seems mostly inhabited by tourists.

Stari Most: a bridge from the past

The Old Bridge, Stari Most, spans the valley of the Neretva River. It is an icon and a meeting point. The bombing of Stari Most in 1993 during a brutal fight between Muslim and Croats was one of the most shocking symbols of the Bosnian war. TV coverage by worldwide media meant the international community took notice as east of the city became separated from west in just a few seconds. These days the two parts of the city have been joined with a thirteen million dollar restoration project that saw the bridge being painstakingly reconstructed and took significantly longer. Yet despite the time and effort involved, and the undeniable symbolic power and beauty of this bridge, it is hard to imagine it healing deep underlying divides.

Mostar Old Bridge Star Most at NIght

The Mostar Star Most (Old Bridge) is a potent and powerful symbol of a Mostar being rebuilt after the ravages of war.

But we cannot cross this bridge

But even today the bridge is still difficult to cross. By bicycle anyway. With trailers, and kids. But at least it’s not because of snipers or ethnic divisions. No, it’s much more prosaic; there are simply too many tourists in search of souvenirs and supper. We turn back, pushing our bicycles through the crowds and evening heat. A local asks if we are lost. He begins his query by waving his hands into the air. “Welcome to Bosnia,” he cries. Behind him a tall thin tower, glimmers in the evening dusk, one of the many rebuilt minarets of Mostar.

Mostar Old Town Cyclists Arriving

We cannot cross Mostar’s Stari Most though, not with bicycles.

Welcome to Mostar

As we make our way through town the  air fills with the haunting chant of a muezzin’s call to prayer. Through a round of text messages and pigeon English we make contact with our host who meets us in town to guide us back to his apartment, our accommodation. He raises an eyebrow at our bikes and baggage, hops on a scooter and takes us off the wrong way down a one way street. Already I feel at home.

Looking over Mostar Bridge

Looking over into the night at Stari Most, Mostar

For more Balkan Adventures…

180--x-150-Balkan-Adventures-LogoFor more pictures, stories and video from our summer adventures cycling and touring in the Balkans, check out our Balkan blog archives, browse our Instagram #balkanadventure gallery or check out our Balkan Adventure YouTube playlist.


You may like these related posts:

7 Responses to “One night in Mostar: past, present, minarets & magic” Subscribe

  1. RaW | Ramble and Wander October 16, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    I love this. Esp. love this –> There is jumping from the bridge, but for money not for life. Hoping to go there soon somewhat following your trail in the Balkan :-)

    • Stuart October 16, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

      Thanks. :-) The Balkans certainly made for a very interesting, eventful and beautiful journey.

  2. Jenny @ The Brick Castle October 16, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Wow. Such amazing pictures showing such a huge swoop of the city. I can imagine there was barely a moment when you didn’t feel the past with you.

    • Stuart October 16, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

      A very curious juxtaposition of past and present. Sometimes one seems in your face while the other almost dissappears, then a moment later the reverse is true.

  3. Paige Conner Totaro October 16, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    Great photos and great writing!


  1. 14 Incredible Adventure Destinations for 2014 - Family Adventure Project - December 4, 2013

    […] tourist capital Mostar is an intriguing mix of temples and cathedrals, (sometimes the catholic bells and the Muslim call to […]

  2. Dream Road Trip Croatia - South Coast Jewels - Family Adventure Project - April 4, 2014

    […] the border if needed. We cycled there on on quiet roads, following the banks of the Neretva river. Mostar’s Old Town is much smaller and very different to Dubrovnik but I found it quite enchanting with it’s […]

Leave a Reply