Cultural barbarism

After Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the town of Mostar was subjected to a bloody siege that left the town’s cemeteries filled with young men.

In 1993 the city was surrounded by Croat forces for nine months and much of it was severely destroyed by shelling. Residents were cut off with no electricity or food during the siege.

All around the town are haunting reminders of the conflict, more than two decades on. Buildings still wear the strafing scars of bullets while a rusting reminder of the siege sits directly in the path of tourists.

Shell casings were so numerous that they are now transformed into slightly macabre souvenirs to take home.

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Mostar was divided into a Western part, which was dominated by the Croat forces and an Eastern part where the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was largely concentrated.

However, the Bosnian Army had its headquarters in West Mostar in the basement of a building complex referred to as Vranica.

In the early hours of May 9, 1993, the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) attacked Mostar using artillery, mortars, heavy weapons and small arms.

The HVO controlled all roads leading into Mostar and international organisations were denied access. Radio Mostar announced that all Bosniaks should hang out a white flag from their windows.

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HVO forces then engaged in mass killings, effectively an ethnic cleansing on the Bosniak people of the West Mostar and its surroundings as well as a fierce shelling campaign on the Bosnian Government run East Mostar.

During the siege the 16th century bridge was completely destroyed having been hit by 60 mortar shells before it finally collapsed. It was later described as an act of cultural barbarism at The Hague.

All around Mostar are the reminders of conflict, the legacy of the horrors of war. The new Muslim cemetery is full of graves, nearly all of who perished in 1993 and 1994.

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The cemetery is a former tree filled park that has been given over to white grave marker after white grave marker.

Apparently during the war, snipers would shoot at anyone who moved, making it difficult for families to bury their dead.

The city’s cemeteries were too exposed, but this former park was relatively safe from snipers. People buried their loved ones under cover of darkness.

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Marvellous Mostar

Mostar is a city in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina situated on the Neretva River. Its quaint cobbled streets are lined with colourful stalls and converge on the main focal point of the town, the (newly restored) old bridge.

From multicoloured scarves, bags and wallets, wooden instruments to shiny copper jugs, the bazaars are a cornucopia of consumables.

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One of the most unusual souvenirs to be found all over the town are carved shell cases and bullets, left over from the bombardment of the town in the 1990s.

The purchase of one such object lead to my first ever confiscation at airport security . . .

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The scenery is spectacular with mountains stretching into the background, colourful flags flutter in the warm breeze while bullet scarred buildings still nod to the war torn past.

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It feels a little like we’ve stepped back in time as we pass old men beating pattern’s into ornate metal work and laughter lined women offer us fragrant teas and pastries as we pass.

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Mostar was named after the bridge keepers (natively: mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva.

The Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, and is considered one of the most exemplary pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans

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The original bridge over the Neretva River stood for 427 years before it was destroyed during the Bosnian war in November 1993.

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In the summer months young men perch at the edge of the bridge and wait for enough coins to perform breath taking plunges into the river below. It’s about 24 metres from the bridge to the water.

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Even in October a single solitary man waits, ever hopeful of a few coins in return for a perfectly poised decent.

(Note this man in is not waiting to dive . . )

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Losing the plot in Bosnia

My grandparents visited Mostar, formerly in Yugoslavia, over 25 years ago and I had always been charmed by the photographs of the old bridge that is its most famous image.

Sadly the grand old bridge was completely destroyed in the 1990s during the Bosnian war but I have always wanted to take a trip to see the city.

Cruising on the wide, expansive sweep of Croatia’s A1 highway, we headed to the checkpoint, passports in hand and confident of a relatively pain free journey.

After assurances from the somewhat brusque border patrol guard that Mostar was easy to find “yes, yes, you follow signs!” we were on our way!

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Early progress was good as we found the same huge, empty roads that we had grown accustomed to in Croatia.

We passed lots of clear signage, assuring us we were heading in the right direction.

Growing up in the 90s, with the headlines full of the horrors of the war, certain place names such as Sarajevo still have a certain impact, even decades later.

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Our initial direction related optimism was soon to be thwarted however, as we followed the dual carriageway to a small village we passed heaps of rubble, a stationary JCB and then the dual carriageway just ends. In its place a single track, dusty road snakes into the distance!

There appears to be some sort of disagreement between the two countries about the road, so it stops!

Wonderful . . so the the big signs might have said Mostar sadly however the road just “disappears”. Our sat nav from home only featured one Bosnian road and it didn’t happen to be the one we were on unfortunately.

Equally useless was sat nav that came with the hire car. It took about an hour to boot up and then simply refused to acknowledge that it was actually anywhere at all. . . . sigh.

So for about an hour we were utterly and totally lost in Bosnia. Passing small villages on a dusty track, unsure if we were ever going to get out, let alone reach Mostar.

Then suddenly, an actual road with signage reappeared! Not entirely sure if this was the town of Metkovic or somewhere else entirely . . (bit rubbish on directions TBH)

Either way, miracle of miracles we’d managed to keep heading in the right direction, and we were on our way again!

Next stop Mostar! Here’s a sneaky peak . . .

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Tiny Trogir

P1020672 Having finished our whistle stop tour of some of the stunning national parks, we headed back to Spilt.

We had a tiny bit of spare time so decided to head into Trogir, a lovely little medieval town.

Here’s me enjoying some late afternoon sun on the bridge over the canal that separates the new town from Trogir’s medieval core.

Trogir’s centre, surrounded by walls, comprises a preserved castle and tower and a series of dwellings and palaces from the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods.

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Surrounded on all sides by water it is a tiny gem of a town.

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Trogir has a high concentration of palaces, churches, and towers, as well as a fortress on a small island, and in 1997 was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The orthogonal street plan of this island settlement dates back to the Hellenistic period.

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*Interesting fact alert* Trogir featured in two episodes of Doctor Who. Due to its specific architecture, it served as a double for Venice in “The Vampires of Venice” and as a double for Provence in “Vincent and the Doctor”.

We mooched around as the sun set on the imposing facade of Kamerlengo Castle.

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The castle was built in the mid-15th century by Marin Radoj as part of an expansion of the Veriga Tower, built on the site in the late 14th century.

It is used as a location for performances during the summer months. The word kamerlengo refers to the title of a Venetian administrative official (a chamberlain).

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As the light was fading fast we quickly admired some of the flashy boats clustered in the harbour before heading back into the twisting alleyways of the old medieval town.

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Once again we’re loving the mellow stonework and quirky details to be found throughout the town.

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I used to have one of these tiny little wind up music boxes as a nipper.

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